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FCC Expands 5GHz Wi-Fi Band, Allows Higher Powered, Faster Wireless Service

Phillip Dampier April 1, 2014 Public Policy & Gov't, Wireless Broadband No Comments
The 5GHz spectrum at issue used to require limited transmitting power and indoor-use only.

The 5GHz spectrum at issue used to require limited transmitting power and indoor-use only.

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to expand the 5GHz unlicensed Wi-Fi band with an extra 100MHz of spectrum that will open the door to faster connections with less interference.

Manufacturers will also be permitted to raise the transmitting power wireless devices can use in the 5.15-5.25GHz band, lifting restrictions that were in place to protect mobile and fixed satellite services that occupy nearby frequencies. The relaxed rules also now permit outdoor use of 5GHz spectrum. Previously only indoor devices were allowed to occupy those frequencies.

“This change will have real impact, because we are doubling the unlicensed bandwidth in the 5 GHz band overnight,” FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said. “The power of unlicensed goes beyond on-ramps to the Internet and off-loading for licensed [mobile] services,” she said. “It is the power of setting aside more of our airwaves for experiment and innovation without license. It is bound to yield new and exciting developments. It is also bound to be an economic boon.”

Canufacturers are expected to support the extra frequencies and increase transmitting power on the next generation of Wi-Fi equipment likely to be on sale by the end of the year, including more 1Gbps Wi-Fi routers.

Wireless ISPs will also be permitted to use the 5GHz spectrum to expand available bandwidth for customers as use of the Internet continues to grow. Congestion from shared Wi-Fi connections can present problems for small wireless providers because connection speeds will slow for customers.

The FCC also opened up an extra 65MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband and other licensed wireless users. The expanded AWS band between 1695-2180MHz will be shared with federal agency users that now occupy some of the frequencies.

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Comcast Hotspot Wi-Fi Usage Will Be Tied Back to Customer’s Broadband Account

xfinity wifiComcast customers using the company’s growing network of Wi-Fi network hotspots will have their usage tracked to their broadband accounts, opening the door for Comcast to count wireless use against a customer’s future monthly usage allowance.

As part of a press release announcing that more than 300,000 Comcast hotspots are now available in New England, the cable company added that it is preparing to activate its Xfinity Wi-Fi Neighborhood Hotspots in the region, allowing other Comcast customers to share your Comcast Internet service over a separate Wi-Fi channel provided by your gateway. But it noted customers will need to log-in first, permitting Comcast to measure just how much of the wireless service you are using:

wifi hotXfinity WiFi Neighborhood Hotspots – In June of last year, Comcast announced its plans to create millions of WiFi access points for its customers through a neighborhood hotspot initiative. Comcast is the first major ISP in the country to deploy this innovative technology. This new initiative gives customers with Xfinity Wireless Gateways an additional “xfinitywifi” signal (or SSID) in their home that is completely separate and distinct from the private and secure home WiFi signal. Offered at no additional cost, the additional WiFi signal will allow visiting Xfinity Internet subscribers instant, easy access to fast and reliable WiFi without the need to share the home’s private network password and without an impact to the home subscriber’s speed. And since visitors sign in with their own Xfinity credentials, their usage and activities are tied back to their own accounts, not the homeowner’s.

 

Comcast is testing the reimplementation of a usage cap – now set at 300GB a month – in several cities in the southern U.S. Wireless usage could eventually also be counted against that cap.

Many of Comcast’s primary outdoor hotspots are in larger cities, such as Greater Boston. Most of the one million total hotspots Comcast hopes to activate are located in residential customers’ homes using Comcast’s Wireless Gateway.

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Usage Billing Money Maker: Wireless Carriers Will Earn More Than $100 Billion On Data Plans This Year

U.S. wireless carriers are on track to earn more than $100 billion this year from usage-based billing plans for mobile data, the first country in the world to break the symbolic $100 billion mark in data revenue.

Analyst Chetan Sharma reports Verizon Wireless and AT&T are statistically the largest recipients of revenue earned from metering data usage. For the first time in 2013, mobile data revenue surpassed voice revenue in the U.S., making data usage the most lucrative product available from wireless carriers.

A graph from the Economist published last year explains the runaway revenue growth at U.S. wireless carriers. The lack of significant competition has allowed U.S. companies to charge an average of $85 a month for data plans, which are nearly always bundled into compulsory packages of unlimited voice calling and texting. In contrast, customers in China pay just $24 for data plans. In the United Kingdom, the average charge is $9 a month.

mobile-data-prices-chart-2Sharma said the only disruption to this revenue growth in the United States comes from T-Mobile USA, which has recently cut prices on its service plans, forcing AT&T and Verizon Wireless to react with moderate price cutting. But with the significant disparity in market share between AT&T and Verizon vs. T-Mobile, neither larger carrier is expected to take a significant hit to their bottom lines without a mass exodus to the country’s fourth largest provider.

Softbank, the Japanese company that now controls Sprint, has launched a lobbying effort to secure permission to acquire T-Mobile and merge it into the Sprint network. But with reports showing T-Mobile’s willingness to disrupt the wireless market, regulators are likely to be reluctant to remove that competition from the playing field.

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New Jersey’s Fiber Ripoff: Verizon Walks Away from Fiber Upgrades Customers Already Paid For

Bait and switch broadband

Bait and switch broadband

Since 1991, Verizon telephone customers in New Jersey have paid at least $15 billion in surcharges for a promised high-speed broadband network that would reach every home in the state by 2010. But now critics charge Verizon diverted much of that money to shareholder dividend payouts and building infrastructure for its highly profitable wireless network, leaving almost half the state with slow speed DSL or no broadband at all.

In the early 1990s, Verizon’s predecessor — Bell Atlantic — launched “Opportunity New Jersey,” a plan promising the state it would have the first 100% fiber telecommunications network in the country. In return, the company enjoyed more than two decades of generous tax breaks and collected various surcharges from customers to finance network construction. But a review of Verizon’s promises vs. reality suggest the company has reneged on the deal it signed with the state back when Bill Clinton was beginning his first term as president.

Verizon promised at least 75 percent of New Jersey would have a fiber service by 1996 offering 384 television channels and 45/45Mbps broadband service for $40 a month. The network would be open to competitors and be deployed without regard to income or its potential customer base.

The state suspected trouble as far back as 1997, when the Division of the Ratepayer Advocate with the New Jersey Board of Regulatory Commissioners blasted the company’s progress five years into the project:

Bell Atlantic-New Jersey (BA-NJ) has over-earned, underspent and inequitably deployed advanced telecommunications technology to business customers, while largely neglecting schools and libraries, low-income and residential ratepayers and consumers in Urban Enterprise Zones as well as urban and rural areas.

Verizon's wired success story

By 2006, New Jersey was being introduced to FiOS, which some believed was part of Verizon’s commitment to the state. But a decade after Verizon’s target dates, customers were still waiting for FiOS video service, the maximum broadband speeds offered at that point were 30/5Mbps and the cost of the package ranged from $180-200 a month. Most of Verizon’s FiOS deployments were in the northern half of the state, leaving southern New Jersey with few, if any service improvements.

Despite Verizon’s repeated failures to meet its target dates, that same year New Jersey made life even easier for the phone company by passing a statewide video franchise law allowing Verizon to bypass negotiating with each town and city regarding its video services and instead run FiOS TV as it pleases anywhere in the state. The company argued a statewide video franchise would allow for more rapid deployment of Verizon’s fiber network. In reality, the company was falling further and further behind. By 2013, when Verizon sought renewal of its statewide franchise, Verizon only offered FiOS TV to 352 of the 526 communities hoping for service. At least 174 communities still waiting for FiOS are likely never going to get the fiber service, despite paying Verizon’s surcharges for more than 20 years. Verizon suspended its FiOS expansion project more than two years ago.

Bait and Switch Broadband

From promises of a cutting edge fiber future to good-enough DSL....

From promises of a cutting edge fiber future to good-enough DSL.

Despite early commitments of providing New Jersey with advanced fiber broadband speeds unheard of elsewhere in the country in the 1990s, Verizon changed its tune when it became clear the company wanted to prioritize investment in its more lucrative wireless network. Instead of a commitment of 45/45Mbps, providing basic DSL broadband at any speed was now seen as adequate. Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski told both Newsweek and the Inquirer the company never promised a statewide deployment of FiOS.

“Nobody knew what FiOS was 20 years ago,” Gierczynski said. “It wasn’t until 2004 when FiOS came on the scene.”

Forget about that commitment for 45/45Mbps speed as well.

“It didn’t say a minimum of 45mbps,” Gierczynski said, “it just says ‘up to’.”

That means DSL service will be a part of southern New Jersey for the near future. Customers unimpressed with the 5Mbps DSL service they get from Verizon can always pay substantially more for access to Verizon Wireless’ usage capped LTE 4G network that Gierczynski believes can be used to download movies.

In effect, ratepayers that wrote checks to pay artificially higher phone bills to help subsidize a promised 100% fiber optic future have instead funneled working capital to Verizon Wireless’ network expansion and helped enrich shareholders with generous dividend payouts.

Opportunity New Jersey Verizon: Christie Administration Proposes Letting Verizon Off the Hook Permanently

Gov. Christie

Gov. Christie

Most victims of costly bait and switch schemes get angry and demand justice. In New Jersey, the Christie Administration believes Verizon is the victim of unreasonable expectations and has proposed a sweetheart deal to both let the company off the hook and keep the surcharges it collected from New Jersey ratepayers for the last 21 years.

While the rest of the country clamors for better broadband, Governor Christie’s State Commission, his Attorney General’s Office and the state Consumer Rate Counsel believe that basic DSL is good enough, and making life difficult for Verizon by insisting it live up to its part of a mutual agreement just isn’t very nice.

All eyes were on incoming president of the Board of Public Utilities Dianne Solomon, wife of close Christie associate Lee Solomon. The BPU has direct authority over Verizon’s compliance with its promises to the state. But Dianne’s only apparent experience is as an official with the United States Tennis Association. Critics immediately pounced on the odd nomination, accusing the governor of using the BPU as a lucrative parking lot for political patronage. Three of the four current commissioners are all politically connected and their experience navigating telecommunications law is questionable.

Instead of demanding that Verizon be held to its commitment to the state, government officials are bending over backwards to let Verizon walk away from its promises forever.

A stipulation proposal would allow the company to shred its commitment to upgrade New Jersey with fiber optics. Instead, Verizon gets permission to discontinue service if you have any other option for service — including cable or wireless. Not only would this stipulation eliminate any hope bypassed communities have to eventually get Verizon FiOS, it would also let Verizon scrap its rural landline network and kill DSL, forcing customers to its lucrative wireless broadband product instead.

Solomon

Solomon

The agreement also eliminates any commitment Verizon had to deliver fiber-fast speeds. Instead, Verizon will be considered in good standing if it matches the slowest speed on offer from Verizon DSL.

“Broadband is defined as delivering any technology including Verizon’s 4G wireless, fiber, copper or cable, data transmission service at speeds no less than the minimum speed of Verizon New Jersey’s Digital Subscriber line (DSL) that is provided by Verizon New Jersey today.”

New Jersey customers can file comments about the proposed agreement until March 24, 2014 with the Board of Public Utilities.

We have found a good sample letter you should edit to make your own. You can e-mail the secretary directly and/or send your message to the general e-mail address: [email protected] (be sure to include “Verizon New Jersey, Docket No. TO12020155″ on the Subject line):

New Jersey Board of Public Utilities
Kristi Izzo, Secretary
44 South Clinton Avenue, 9th Floor
P.O. Box 350 Trenton, NJ 08625-0350

Email: [email protected]

Re: In the Matter of Verizon New Jersey, Inc. Docket# TO 12020155

Dear Secretary Izzo:

I want to alert you to an urgent matter pending before the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. Pursuant to a 1993 law called Opportunity New Jersey, Verizon NJ was obligated to upgrade New Jersey’s “copper wire” network by 2010. To fund the Opportunity New Jersey expansion, Verizon NJ was permitted to collect excess charges from their customers and received lucrative tax breaks from the State. These charges and tax breaks began in the 1990s and are still being collected today.

Verizon failed to meet its timeframe requirements under the Opportunity New Jersey agreement to New Jersey residents. As a result of Verizon’s failures, on March 12, 2012, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities initiated a legal action against Verizon NJ. The Board and Verizon NJ have now entered into a proposed settlement agreement which I believe is inadequate and not in the best interests of myself and other New Jersey residents who have paid for this service that was not fully delivered.

I oppose the Board’s proposed settlement agreement and demand that The Board of Public Utilities hold Verizon to the original Opportunity New Jersey agreement which requires Verizon to expand broadband services to every customer in the State. The proposed settlement has the potential of costing myself and other residents even more money than I have already paid for the last 21 years. The Board of Public Utilities should not allow Verizon to flagrantly disregard the stipulations which are the framework for the charges and tax breaks that Verizon has enjoyed for 21 years.

I am asking the Board of Public Utilities to be my advocate and investigate where our dollars were spent and to require Verizon to give me what I was originally promised under Opportunity New Jersey agreement of 1993.

Sincerely,

[Your Name, Address, Phone Number]

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Bright House Networks to Build Limited 1Gbps Fiber to the Home Network in Tampa

ultrafiDespite the fact cable companies routinely claim customers don’t want or need gigabit broadband speeds, property developers seeking an edge in the real estate market do.

A planned community of 6,000 homes under construction by Metro Development Group (MDG) in Tampa has signed a deal to commit Bright House Networks to install a 1Gbps fiber-to-the-home network within the development. MDG said the first homes wired for the new service will be ready for residents this summer, but the entire project will take three years to finish.

“MDG hopes the fast Internet speeds will attract would-be buyers for the new homes,” said MDG president Greg Singleton.

brighthouse_logoMDG is branding the fiber service as ULTRAFi. It will be accompanied by a gigabit Wi-Fi network accessible throughout the community. In addition to providing fast broadband, the service will include home automation and security services.

The driver for the gigabit broadband project isn’t Bright House Networks, it is the property developer. Even though Bright House has committed to the project, it still denies consumers need super fast Internet speeds offered by providers like Google Fiber.

mdgBright House president Nomi Bergman acknowledged the project is a special deal with MDG and it will be years before average consumers need anything close to gigabit broadband speeds. Bergman said there is insufficient demand to justify upgrading Bright House Networks’ broadband speed offerings to other customers.

MDG obviously disagrees, because it hopes to extend fiber-to-the-home gigabit service to its other new communities. That could mean 20,000 more homes could eventually get gigabit broadband.

“In five or 10 years, I think communities that are not doing this” will be “obsolete,” Singleton said.

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Your Online Privacy — Invaded; AT&T and Verizon Among List of Offenders

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBS The Data Brokers -- Selling your personal information 3-9-14.flv

This weekend, 60 Minutes profiled how marketing companies invade your privacy, track your personal life and locations, and sell the lucrative information with little notice to you to third parties. Among the offenders are AT&T and Verizon, which both have special divisions devoted to pitching your personal details to advertisers of all kinds. Although they claim the information they sell does not include your real identity, third-party marketers make a living putting this kind of “aggregate” information together with other data to discover your name and address. At least with AT&T and Verizon, there are easy ways to opt out. (13:56)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBS How to defend your privacy online 3-9-14.flv

Looking to protect your privacy? 60 Minutes Overtime provides some advice and some examples of the lengths you’d have to go to be completely “off the grid.” (5:52)

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Verizon: Prioritization and Compensation for Certain Traffic is the Future of the Internet

McAdam

McAdam

The head of Verizon believes two concepts will become Internet reality in the short-term future:

  1. Those that use a lot of Internet bandwidth should pay more to transport that content;
  2. The “intelligent” Internet should prioritize the delivery of certain traffic over other traffic.

Welcome to a country without the benefit of Net Neutrality/Open Internet protection. A successful lawsuit brought by Verizon to toss out the Federal Communications Commission’s somewhat informal protections has given Verizon carte blanche to go ahead with its vision of your Internet future.

Lowell McAdam, Verizon’s CEO, answered questions on Tuesday at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, attended by Wall Street investors and analysts.

McAdam believes groups trying to whip Net Neutrality into a major issue are misguided and uninformed about how companies manage their online networks.

“The carriers make money by transporting a lot of data,” McAdam said. “And spending a lot of time manipulating this, that accusation is by people that don’t really know how you manage a network like this. You don’t want to get into that sort of ‘gameplaying.’”

netneutralityMcAdam believes there is nothing wrong with prioritizing some Internet traffic over others, and he believes that future is already becoming a reality.

“If you have got an intelligent transportation system, or you have got an intelligent healthcare system, you are going to need to prioritize traffic,” said McAdam. “You want to make sure that if somebody is going to have a heart attack, that gets to the head of the line, ahead of a grade schooler that is coming home to do their homework in the afternoon or watch TV. So I think that is coming to realization.”

But McAdam also spoke about the need for those generating heavy Internet traffic to financially compensate Internet Service Providers, resulting in better service for content producers like Netflix — not considered ‘priority traffic’ otherwise.

“You saw the Netflix-Comcast deal this week which I think — or a couple weeks ago — which is smart because it positions them farther out into the network, so they are not congesting the core of the Internet,” said McAdam. “And there is some compensation going back and forth, so they recognize those that use a lot of bandwidth should contribute to that.”

McAdam reported to investors he had spoken personally with FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who seems to be taking an even more informal approach to Net Neutrality than his predecessor Julius Genachowski did.

Verizon's machine-to-machine program is likely to be a major earner for the company.

Verizon’s machine-to-machine program is likely to be a major earner for the company.

“In my discussions with Tom Wheeler, the Chairman, he has made it very clear that he will take decisive action if he sees bad behavior,” McAdam said, without elaborating on what might constitute ‘bad behavior.’ “I think that is great; great for everybody to see that. And I think that is what we would like to see him do, is have a general set of rules that covers all the players: the Netflixes, the Microsofts, the Apples, the Googles, and certainly the Comcasts and the Verizons. But the only thing to do is not — you can’t just regulate the carriers. They’re not the only players in making sure the net is healthy. And I think we all want to make sure that investment continues in the Internet and that customers get great service.”

Verizon has already reported success monetizing wireless broadband usage that has helped deliver growing revenue and profits at the country’s largest carrier. Now McAdam intends to monetize machine-to-machine communications that exchange information over Verizon’s network.

McAdam believes within 3-4 years Americans will have between five and ten different devices enabled on wireless networks like Verizon’s in their cars, homes, and personal electronics. For that, McAdam expects Verizon will earn between $0.25 a month for the average home medical monitor up to $50 a month for the car. Verizon is even testing wireless-enabled parking lots that can direct cars to empty parking spaces.

For those applications, McAdam expects to charge enough to guarantee a 50% profit margin.

“These can be very nice margin products,” McAdam told the audience of investors. “So even at $0.25 if you are doing 10 million of them and it’s 50% or better margins, those are attractive businesses for us to get into.”

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AT&T “Insurance” Won’t Cover Lost/Stolen Phones Unless Policy is Activated on AT&T’s Wireless Network

Phillip Dampier March 4, 2014 AT&T, Consumer News, Video, Wireless Broadband No Comments

att insuranceIf you thought AT&T Mobile Insurance would bring you peace of mind if your expensive smartphone is ever lost, stolen, or damaged, think again.

The wireless carrier and its partner Asurion have nine pages of sneaky terms and conditions that give the two companies a myriad of reasons to deny insurance claims and leave you with nothing after paying your $6.99 monthly insurance premium.

The Los Angeles Times reports one customer – Marianna Yarovskaya – learned this the hard way when she purchased AT&T’s insurance to cover her new iPhone 5S she bought before taking a trip to Indonesia. Sure enough, her new phone was swiped right out of her hotel room. Yarovskaya’s disappointment only got worse when her insurance claim was denied not once, or twice, but three times.

An Asurion representative explained to Yarovskaya her insurance claim was rejected because she was outside of AT&T’s network when she completed the last steps of her online registration for AT&T’s insurance. It turned out AT&T Insurance is worthless if customers enroll while using a Wi-Fi connection or any other service provider other than AT&T’s wireless data network.

“This is crazy,” Yarovskaya said. “They are saying that if you travel, the insurance becomes worthless.”

A careful review of the nine pages of barely penetrable terms and conditions unearthed the “tricks and traps” Asurion used to walk away from Yarovskaya’s claim.

On page six, AT&T and Asurion insist that “covered property must be actively registered on the service provider’s network on the date of loss and have logged airtime prior to the date of loss.”

terms and cond

To ordinary people, that would suggest that Yarovskaya would be covered as soon as she purchased and activated her new AT&T iPhone and service while in a Los Angeles AT&T store. That act left her “actively registered” as an AT&T customer. Asurion also specifies their insurance coverage territory is “worldwide,” which would indicate insured phones are covered wherever they are lost, stolen, or damaged.

But then there is pesky page eight — the “definitions” page, where Asurion gets to define the meaning of various English words and phrases as it sees fit.

Asurion’s definition of “covered property” is a device “actively registered on the service provider’s network and for which airtime has been logged after enrollment.”

clear

When the Times asked Bettie Colombo, an Asurian spokeswoman, what that meant, she explained phones are not insured until the customer performs some wireless activity on AT&T’s network after signing up for coverage.

asurionTranslation: You have to do something on your carrier’s wireless network after coverage begins for coverage to begin.

If you are roaming, traveling overseas, or you use your phone with Wi-Fi and AT&T doesn’t see the device on its network after signing up for insurance, you are not covered. The language is so broad, it could also be interpreted to mean you have to be actively registered on an AT&T cell tower at the time of loss or damage or Asurion could walk away for that reason as well.

An insurance underwriter tells Stop the Cap! the real intent of this clause is to protect Asurion from customers signing up for insurance -after- losing or damaging their phone and then immediately filing an insurance claim. As a protection measure, the insurer wants to confirm it is insuring a working phone actually possessed by the owner before activating coverage. If customers registered for insurance on other devices or networks, AT&T wouldn’t have direct, absolute confirmation the customer is insuring a working phone. But most customers are unaware of this requirement, and if a claim arrives shortly after a customer signs up for coverage, insurance adjusters tend to be extra suspicious.

AT&T is staying out of the insurance dispute and declined to comment, leaving Yarovskaya with a $6.99 premium payment and $650 in replacement costs to buy a new phone.

The Times‘ opinion about the merits of AT&T’s insurance? “Buy it at your own peril.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT Mobile Insurance phone service 3-4-14.flv

AT&T makes it look easy to sign up for device insurance, but navigating through the claims process and nine pages of terms and conditions leave a lot of room to deny your claim. (2:02)

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Sprint Faces $400 Million Lawsuit for Stiffing New York State’s Taxman

Here comes the taxman.

Here comes the taxman.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has won the right to continue the state’s lawsuit against Sprint-Nextel Corp., for allegedly underpaying millions of dollars in taxes. If the courts find Sprint fully liable, the company could owe New York up to $400 million in damages.

Schneiderman’s lawsuit claims Sprint has been illegally pro-rating state and local sales taxes on its service plans based on actual customer usage instead of the full amount of monthly access charges that New York law defines as taxable.

The lawsuit alleges Sprint has underpaid New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance at least $100 million since 2005.

sprintnextelSince 2002, New York Tax Law has required mobile phone companies to collect and pay sales taxes on the full amount of the monthly access charges for their calling plans. For example, when a customer pays Sprint a fixed monthly charge of $39.99 for 450 minutes of mobile calling time, the law requires Sprint to collect and pay sales taxes on the entire $39.99. According to the Attorney General’s complaint, starting in 2005, Sprint illegally failed to collect and pay New York sales taxes on an arbitrarily set portion of its revenue from these fixed monthly access charges.

Sprint’s scheme is ongoing, said Schneiderman. As a result, the state claims Sprint’s underpayment of New York sales taxes is growing by about a $210,000 a week, more than $30,000 a day.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit is the first ever tax enforcement action filed under the New York False Claims Act. The Act allows whistleblowers and prosecutors to take legal action against companies or individuals that defraud the government. Fraudsters found liable under the False Claims Act must pay triple damages, penalties and attorneys’ fees. Under the False Claims Act, whistleblowers may be eligible to receive up to 25 percent of any money recovered by the government as a result of information they provide.

Sprint asked the court to dismiss Schneiderman’s lawsuit, but the New York Supreme Court ruled against the company on July 1. Sprint appealed the decision to the Appellate Division, which unanimously affirmed the July 1 ruling on Feb. 27.

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AT&T Proposes Pulling the Plug on Landline Service in Alabama and Florida

carbon hill

Carbon Hill, Ala.

AT&T is seeking permission to disconnect traditional landline service in Alabama and Florida as it plans to abandon its copper wire network and move towards Voice Over IP in urban areas and force customers to use wireless in suburbs and rural communities.

AT&T’s BellSouth holding company has asked the Federal Communications Commission to approve what it calls “an experiment,” beginning in the communities of West Delray Beach, Fla., and Carbon Hill, Ala.

The first phase of the plan would start by asking residents to voluntarily disconnect existing landline service in favor of either U-verse VoIP service or a wireless landline replacement that works with AT&T’s cellular network. In the next phase of the experiment, traditional copper-based landline service would be dropped altogether as AT&T and the FCC study the impact.

“We have proposed conducting the trials in Carbon Hill, Ala., and in West Delray Beach, Fla.,” AT&T writes on the company’s blog. “We chose these locations in an effort to gain insights into some of the more difficult issues that likely will be presented as we transition from legacy networks. For example, the rural and sparsely populated wire center of Carbon Hill poses particularly challenging economic and geographic characteristics.  While Kings Point’s suburban location and large population of older Americans poses different but significant challenges as well.  The lessons we learn from these trials will play a critical role as we begin this transition in our approximately 4700 wire centers across the country to meet our goal of completing the IP transition by the end of 2020.”

Delray-Beach-CrossFit1The transition may prove more controversial than AT&T is willing to admit. A similar effort to move landline customers to wireless service was met with strong resistance when Verizon announced it would not repair wired infrastructure on Fire Island, N.Y., damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Hundreds of complaints were registered with the New York Public Service Commission over the poor quality of service residents received with Verizon’s wireless landline replacement. The company eventually abandoned the wireless-only transition and announced it would also offer FiOS fiber optic service to customers seeking a better alternative.

“Be ready, beware,” Jim Rosenthal, a seasonal Fire Island resident, told Bloomberg News when asked what communities need to know about the changes. “Get your ducks in order. Make the alliances. Speak loudly, make sure you’re not roadkill.”

Customers that have already dropped landline service in favor of wireless and do not depend on AT&T for broadband will not notice any changes. Neither will customers  subscribed to U-verse phone and broadband service. But those who rely on AT&T DSL are likely to lose their wired broadband service and asked to switch to a very expensive wireless broadband alternative sold by AT&T. That alternative may be their only broadband option if the neighborhood is not serviced by a cable competitor.

The biggest impact will be in rural Carbon Hill, where 55% of AT&T customers will only be able to get wireless phone and broadband service, according to AT&T documents. At least 4% of local residents will get no service at all from AT&T, because they are outside of AT&T’s wireless coverage area. The phone company has no plans to expand its U-verse deployment in the rural community northwest of Birmingham. In contrast, every customer in West Delray Beach will be offered U-verse service. That means AT&T’s DSL customers will eventually be forced to switch to either U-verse for broadband or a wireless broadband plan that costs $50 a month, limited to 5GB of usage.

AT&T promises the transition will be an upgrade for customers, but that isn't always the case.

AT&T promises the transition will be an upgrade for customers, but that isn’t always true.

AT&T’s wireless home phone replacement is not compatible with fax machines, home or medical monitoring services, credit card machines, IP/PBX phone systems, dial-up Internet, and other data services. AT&T also disclaims any responsibility for mishandled 911 emergency calls that lack accurate location information about a customer in distress. The company also does not guarantee uninterrupted service or coverage.

AT&T chose Carbon Hill, which was originally a coal mining town, because it represents the classic poor, rural community common across AT&T’s service area. At least 21 percent of customers live below the poverty line. Many cannot afford cable service (if available). AT&T selected Alabama and Florida because both states have been friendly to its political agenda, adopting AT&T-sponsored deregulation measures statewide. AT&T was not required to seek permission from either state to begin its transition, and it is unlikely there will be any strong oversight on the state level.

“We looked for places where state law wasn’t going to be an issue, where the regulatory and legal environment in the state was conducive to the transition,” admitted Christopher Heimann, an AT&T attorney, at a briefing announcing the experiment.

Verizon faced a very different regulatory environment in New York, where unhappy Fire Island customers dissatisfied with Verizon’s wireless landline replacement Voice Link found sympathy from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who appealed to the state PSC to block the service. Sources told Stop the Cap! the oversight agency was planning to declare the service inadequate, just as Verizon announced it would offer its fiber optic service FiOS as an alternative option on the island.

Voice Link sparked complaints over dropped calls, poor sound quality, inadequate reception, and inadequacy for use with data services of all kinds. Customers were also upset Verizon’s service would not work as well in the event of a power interruption and the company disclaimed responsibility for assured access to 911.

carbon hill

Carbon Hill, Ala.

Although millions of Americans have disconnected landline telephone service in favor of wireless alternatives, traditional landlines are still commonly used in businesses and by poor and elderly customers. Many medical and security monitoring services also require landlines.

The loss of AT&T’s wired network could also mean no affordable broadband future for rural residents — wireless broadband is typically much more expensive. AT&T admits it will not guarantee DSL customers they will be able to keep wired broadband after the transition.

AT&T will “do our very best” to provide Internet-based services in trial areas, Bob Quinn, senior vice president for federal regulatory matters, said in a 2012 blog post proposing the trials.

“For those few we cannot reach with a broadband service, whether wireline or wireless, they will still be able to keep voice service,” Quinn said. “We are very cognizant that no one should be left behind in this transition.”

AT&T is likely to be the biggest winner if it successfully scraps its copper network. The company wants to drop landline service completely by 2020, saving the company millions while ending government oversight and eliminating service obligations.

“It’s a big darn deal,” said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. “The amount of cost that it removes from our legacy businesses is dramatic and it’s significant.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT The Next Generation IP Network 2-21-14.mp4

An AT&T-produced video showing a sunny future with IP-based phone service. But the future may not be so great for AT&T’s rural DSL customers. (1:31)

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  • Scott: Perfectly example of why I still don't subscribe to cable or satellite. The only channel I *might* watch out of that entire lineup is Comedy Central....
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