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Verizon’s Idea of a “Modest Rate Increase” in New Jersey: 440%; $15 Billion Collected for Phantom Fiber

Verizon-logoWhile the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities was able to quickly settle its differences with Verizon by granting the phone company’s wish to walk away from its commitment to offer 45Mbps broadband across the state, New Jersey ratepayers are out $15 billion in excess phone charges levied since 1993 for promised upgrades many will never get.

The Opportunity New Jersey plan the state government signed with Verizon was supposed to expand advanced broadband across the state in return for “a modest amount of pricing flexibility” in the fees Verizon charged customers in New Jersey. But Verizon is not a modest company and a new report shows the phone company used the agreement to boost rates as much as 440% — primarily through ancillary surcharges including inside wire maintenance, wire investment, an investment recovery fee, a local number portability surcharge, merged local calling area charge, and various other charges for phone features including Caller ID, Call Waiting, etc.

Tom Allibone, the president of LTC Consulting joined forces with New Networks’ Bruce Kushnick to analyze more than 30 years of Verizon New Jersey phone bills and discovered when it comes to tallying up rate increases, Verizon’s addition skills are akin to taking out a bag of M&M’s and only counting the yellow ones.

“This Verizon New Jersey bill from April 2002 [...] has an “FCC Subscriber Line Charge”, which was $6.21 cents per line. Verizon’s quote doesn’t include this charge in their analysis of no increases between 1985 to 2008,” Kushnick writes. “The FCC Line Charge (it has many names), is on every local phone bill and the charge started in 1985. You can’t get service without paying this charge and the money does NOT go to fund the FCC but is direct revenue to Verizon New Jersey.”

verizonnjrateincreaseAfter adding up various other surcharges, Kushnick’s bill increased a lot.

“Add up the ‘Total Monthly Charges’ for 2 phone lines— It’s ugly,” Kushnick said. “While the cost of the ‘monthly charges’ was $25.62, there’s an extra $17.70 cents — 70%. I thought that Verizon said there were no ‘increases.’”

“Anyone who has ever bought a bundled package of services from Verizon (or the other phone or cable companies) knows that they all play this shell game; the price of service you have to pay is always 10-40% more than the advertised price. That’s because the companies leave out the cost of these ancillary charges and taxes in their sale pitch,” he added.

Verizon raised local residential service rates 79% in 2008, according to Kushnick. Business customers paid 70 percent more. Caller ID rates increased 38% — remarkable for a service that has a profit margin of 5,695%. But Verizon did even better boosting the charge for a non-published number by 38% — a service that has a 36,900% profit margin as of 1999 — the services are even cheaper to offer now.

Telephone service is one of those products that should have declined in price, especially after phone companies fully depreciated their copper wire networks — long ago paid off. Companies like Verizon have cut the budgets for outdoor wire maintenance and the number of employees tasked with keeping service up and running has been reduced by over 70 percent since 1985, dramatically reducing Verizon’s costs. But Verizon customers paid more for phone service, not less.

The cost of service might not have been as much of an issue had Verizon taken the excess funds and invested them in promised upgrades, but that has not happened for a significant percentage of the state and likely never will. Instead, they just increased company profits. More recently, Verizon has directed much of its investments into its more profitable wireless division.

Even though Verizon achieved total victory with the Christie Administration-dominated BPU, the company is still making threats about any future plans for investment.

“It’s important that regulators and legislators support public policies that encourage broadband growth in New Jersey rather than ones that could jeopardize the state’s highly competitive communications industry, or risk future investments by providers like Verizon,” wrote Sam Delgado, vice president of external affairs.

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The Bug is Back: AT&T’s Cricket Brand Launches New Ho-Hum Plans That Are More of the Same

Cricket has relaunched its website with a new logo and service plans as new owner AT&T merges its value-conscious Aio prepaid offering under the acquired Cricket brand name.

Targeting the credit-challenged, Cricket’s new service plans are not groundbreaking, basically copying Aio’s recent offers. Swept away are the low-cost “pay when you use” plans that only levy charges on the days you actually use the phone. Instead, Cricket is looking for a longer, committed relationship with month-long service plans and loyalty discounts:

cell plans

The relaunch of Cricket will bring changes for existing customers as AT&T begins to decommission Cricket’s freestanding CDMA 3G network in March 2015 in favor of AT&T’s GSM 4G LTE service. That means customers with current Cricket phones will need to eventually switch to a newer handset, a process being made easier with $50 rebates that can make some of Cricket’s smartphones available for free. Enroll in Cricket’s rewards program, stay with them a year, make your payments on time and you will also get a $50 device credit which can be used towards an upgrade next year.

cricket-logoCricket’s data plans do not carry automatic overlimit charges. Instead, your data connection is throttled to 128kbps until your billing period resets. Customers can buy an extra gigabyte of data at any time for $10.

There are several other changes that probably won’t affect the majority of Cricket customers:

  • There is a $5 discount for every month you are enrolled in Auto Pay to keep your phone active;
  • A family plan discount provides $10 off the monthly service charge of a second line, $20 off the third line, and $30 off the fourth and fifth line, for a maximum discount of $90 a month;
  • While you remain on your current Cricket service (on the CDMA network) you may keep paper billing. When you transition to the new Cricket (the 4G GSM network with nationwide coverage), you will no longer receive a paper bill;
  • Customers participating in the 5 for $100 promotion can continue with this rate plan only while on the Cricket CDMA network;
  • Cricket no longer offers military or friends & family discounts;
  • Cricket will transition out of the wireless Lifeline program. Current Lifeline customers can use Cricket’s CDMA network until it is shut down, after which they must choose a different provider;
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Cricket Home New Cricket Merger Info.mp4

AT&T keeps its name and brand completely off the relaunched Cricket and Aio combined website. This introductory video explains the merger of the two wireless brands and what customers can expect. (1:44)

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A Merger Watch Has Been Issued for Your Internet Service, Cable-TV Provider

moneywedThe announced merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable is expected to have far-reaching implications for other companies in the video and broadband business, with expectations 2014 could be one of the busiest years in a decade for telecom industry mergers and buyouts.

AT&T + DirecTV = Less Video Competition

Bloomberg News reports an announcement from AT&T that it intends to acquire DirecTV for as much as $50 billion could be forthcoming before Memorial Day. Such a merger would drop one satellite television competitor in AT&T landline service areas and promote nationwide bundling of AT&T wireless service with satellite television.

Historically low-interest rates would help AT&T finance such a deal and would turn DirecTV into a division of AT&T, easing concerns the satellite company has been at a disadvantage because it lacks a broadband and phone package.

“While the Comcast/TWC deal was the trigger, the backdrop of a slow macro economy, new competitors, shifts in technology and consumer habits all come together and force the need for more scale,” Todd Lowenstein, a fund manager at Highmark Capital Management Inc. in Los Angeles told Bloomberg.

Satellite television companies remain technologically disadvantaged to withstand the growing influence of online video and their subscriber numbers have peaked.

If AT&T buys DirecTV, the wireless giant could theoretically bundle its service with DirecTV’s video product, and in some areas of the country its U-verse high-speed broadband to the home, to compete with cable, said Amy Yong, an analyst at Macquarie Group in New York, in a note to clients.

Sprint + T-Mobile = Less Wireless Competition

Dish + T-Mobile = A Draw

mergerIn a less likely deal Sprint is still trying to pursue T-Mobile USA for a potential merger and if regulators reject that idea, Charles Ergen’s Dish Network is said to be interested.

To prepare Washington for another telecommunications deal, SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son’s lobbying firm, Carmen Group, has again been meeting with elected officials and regulators to argue the merits of a merger with T-Mobile, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Dish, which failed to buy Sprint last year, would be interested in acquiring T-Mobile if regulators block Sprint’s efforts, Ergen said. That hinges on whether SoftBank Corp. fails to win regulatory approval for its plan to buy T-Mobile, which is controlled by Deutsche Telekom AG, Ergen said last week. The Japanese wireless company owns 80 percent of Sprint.

All three deals carry a combined value of $170 billion in equity and debt and would impact 80 million Americans.

Suitors hope regulators will be in the mood to approve merger deals as they contemplate enlarging Comcast through its purchase of Time Warner Cable.

Even if all the deals don’t pass muster, Wall Street banks will still rake in millions in fees advising players on how to structure the deals. Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan would join executives winning considerable sums for reducing the number of competitors providing telecommunications services in the U.S.

Whether customers would benefit is a question open to much debate.

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Public Service Commission to N.Y. Towns: You Have No Negotiating Leverage Over Time Warner Cable

rensselaer countyRensselaer County is just a short drive to the east of New York’s capital city Albany, but for residents in the southern half of the county, it might as be in the middle of nowhere.

Welcome to the world of broadband have’s and have-nots. If you live in the county seat — Troy, Internet access is widely available. But if you live in a community like Nassau, in the southern part of the county, getting Internet access is strictly a hit or miss affair, and in practical terms, the only entity that will decide if you have reasonable access to broadband is Time Warner Cable.

Verizon has decided that the days of expanding DSL in rural areas are over. There is no possibility those without access to DSL now will ever see Verizon’s fiber network FiOS coming their way either. That has left many residents with an unfortunate choice between heavily usage-capped and slow satellite Internet access or heavily usage-capped and expensive wireless Internet from a cell phone company.

Nassau does have a franchise agreement with Time Warner Cable, the only cable operator willing to offer service in this part of upstate New York. The contract specifies Time Warner will bring service to any neighborhood where there are at least 20 residences within a one-mile radius.

The Record News covered negotiations for a franchise renewal for the cable company last year, and found Time Warner Cable held all the cards and the town had almost no leverage in the negotiations:

A rare sight in southern Renssalear County.

A rare sight in southern Rensselaer County.

“We really have no negotiating leverage or power and the Public Service Commission (PSC) was helpful in looking at the contract, but told us we were basically out of luck with any efforts to require anything,” said town Supervisor David Fleming, who said he was told by Time Warner Cable that specific areas in Nassau are “not currently serviceable.”

The town had marked out all the areas that were not served and met with Time Warner to try to gain extensions of service.

“This only succeeded in a couple of areas,” he said. “This is because PSC told us we have no bargaining power. The only big concession we were able to get was to reduce the number of houses per mile needed for service, but this was a pretty standard fall back for Time Warner.”

The town succeeded in negotiating standards down to 20 dwellings per cable mile from 30. “We continue to explore this matter, but frankly, there has been a great deal of unwillingness to expand service in our community,” Fleming said. “The state has been of no help in expanding services.”

As a result, Time Warner has been generally adamant about not expanding service to residents like Alan Austin, who lives on a street where 11 houses are built within a half-mile, technically the same ratio required by Time Warner Cable.

Rensselaer sign“We’ve asked them to bring the service and they won’t,” Austin told the newspaper.

Actually, Time Warner is willing to expand into Austin’s neighborhood — for the right price.

Time Warner agreed it would install cable service if the 11 homes collectively paid a $12,000 installation fee.

“We’re out of luck because we’re never going to get another nine houses in this mile,” Austin said. “We can’t get anybody to bring service here, unless we’re willing to pay an exorbitant amount.”

As for alternatives, don’t call Verizon, they’ll call you. The phone company has suggested rural residents consider their wireless broadband and phone service, assuming a cell tower can reach them with a reasonable signal. But the cost is very high — at least $50 for only 4GB of usage per month and another $20 for telephone service.

Austin is lucky enough to receive some reception from Sprint, which is slightly more reasonably priced. But to get a reliable signal, he has to place his mobile Wi-Fi hotspot in his non-climate-controlled attic. When temperatures fall or soar, the hotspot stops working. Austin has rigged a remote-powered fan in the attic to blow cool air on the hotspot this summer to keep it up and running.

“It’s ridiculous,” he admitted. “People don’t believe me when I tell them these things, but that’s what we deal with.”

The newspaper also pondered the impact of being an Internet have-not with respect to education. In more than a few communities in the county, teachers avoid giving assignments that require students to do research over the Internet, putting them at a potentially serious disadvantage when they attend college.

Businesses also avoid areas where broadband poses a significant challenge, which affects jobs. Selling a home in a broadband blackout zone can also be difficult as savvy buyers increasingly now insist on Internet accessibility.

Without the benefit of bundling discounts, rural Americans pay substantially higher prices for telecommunications services. A promotional bundle from Time Warner Cable can provide phone, Internet, and television service for less than $100 a month. Austin says his package costs more than twice that — more than $220 monthly between paying bills for Verizon phone service, DirectTV television and Sprint for broadband Internet.

These kinds of challenges are ready-made to be addressed on the local government level, but cable and phone companies lobbied successfully for near-total deregulation, making it impossible for town officials to provoke change. In fact, had the community successfully revoked Time Warner Cable’s franchise, no other commercial provider would be willing to step in. That remains common in every community considering its future relationship with the area’s cable company. An informal understanding between cable operators keep them from competing outside of their defined territories.

That leaves Nassau officials with no options, except whether to renew Time Warner’s franchise on the company’s terms for five or ten years. Time Warner wouldn’t hear of a five-year contract so the town capitulated and agreed to a 10-year franchise renewal that will continue to leave residents like Austin without much hope for cable broadband service indefinitely.

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Sprint Applying Speed Breaks to Top 5% of Wireless Data Users Accessing Congested Cell Sites

throttleEffective June 1st, all Sprint contract and prepaid customers, as well as those using Virgin Mobile USA and Boost will find their wireless data speeds throttled if Sprint finds they are among the top 5% of users on a congested cell site.

Text messages are being sent to all customers about Sprint’s new “fairness algorithm” that it will use as part of its data “prioritization management.”

“Beginning 6/1/14, to provide more customers with a high quality data experience during heavy usage times, Sprint/Virgin Mobile USA/Boost may manage prioritization of access to network resources in congested areas for customers within the top 5 percent of data users.”

Such text messages are unlikely to be understood by average customers who have no idea how much data they use, don’t understand what “prioritization of access” means, or what would make them a “top 5 percent” data user. What many do understand is that they were sold “unlimited use” plans that will be much harder to use if they are identified as a 5%‘r.

Fierce Wireless found answers to several unanswered questions:

  • Boost and Virgin customers exceeding 2.5GB of data use a month used to find their data speeds cut to 256kbps until the beginning of their next billing cycle. In March, Sprint announced it was further cutting speeds in the punishment zone to 128kbps for affected prepaid customers;
  • Sprint’s postpaid/prepaid customers are likely to find themselves throttled once they exceed 5GB of usage per month.

speedbumpSprint says the throttle will only be activated on “congested cell sites” and will impact WiMAX, 3G and LTE 4G networks owned by the company. Anyone who has used Sprint’s 3G network will discover most urban and suburban Sprint cell towers are frequently congested, judging by the low speeds many customers endure. Rural customers or those served on the edge of a suburban area may never find themselves throttled and Sprint promises once traffic clears, the throttle is shut off.

At the same time, once Sprint labels you a “heavy user,” they can leave you in the penalty box for up to 60 days because the network prioritization will also apply during the following month of service.

“Customers that continue to fall within the top 5 percent of data users will continue to be subject to prioritization,” Sprint said.

The approach “will enable us to provide more customers with a high quality data experience during heavy usage times,” Sprint said in a statement sent to FierceWirelessTech.

Other wireless carriers also have employed speed throttling to control their grandfathered “unlimited data” customers, Fierce Wireless notes:

During September 2011, Verizon Wireless implemented what it  termed a “network optimization” plan to limit the bandwidth for the operator’s top 5 percent of 3G smartphone users who are on a grandfathered unlimited data plan. (Ed. Note: However, because of FCC requirements, Verizon cannot throttle its 4G LTE customers.)

One month later, AT&T Mobility  instituted a similar plan, targeting the top 5 percent of users on unlimited plans in specific high-traffic locations. However, AT&T was forced to alter its approach in early 2012 after an outcry from users who were unprepared to have their speeds reduced, particularly in cases where some of them had only consumed 2 GB of data. AT&T’s revised policy slowed speeds of unlimited data users who exceeded specific data thresholds.

T-Mobile US also uses a form of prioritization, noting “certain T-Mobile plans may be prioritized” over service plans under its GoSmart Mobile prepaid brand.

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Comcast Promises Wonderland of Broadband Ecstacy if Time Warner Cable Deal Goes Through

Neil Smit, CEO Comcast Cable (left), Ryan Lawler, TechCrunch (right)

Neil Smit, CEO, Comcast Cable (left), Ryan Lawler, TechCrunch (right)

Of all the tech companies to turn up at TechCrunch’s Disrupt New York 2014 event, Comcast Cable seemed the least likely to qualify as the kind of innovative start-up TechCrunch loves to cover.

But there sat Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit with TechCrunch’s Ryan Lawler, discussing Comcast’s mega-merger with Time Warner Cable, its peering agreement with Netflix, broadcast TV streamer Aereo, and Comcast’s legendary dismal customer service.

Smit’s arrival on stage to a smattering of tentative applause was a clear sign there was no love for the cable giant in the audience, particularly from many New York area Time Warner Cable customers dreading a future with Comcast.

Smit was immediately confronted with the fact Comcast was recently voted the Worst Company in America by Consumerist readers, prompting yet another promise that improving customer service was Comcast’s “top priority,” the same promise Comcast gave in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

“I think if there’s one thing to disrupt in our business, it’s customer service,” Smit added.

Smit defended Comcast’s merger with Time Warner, relying heavily on video subscribers to downplay the concentrated market power Comcast would have after the merger. Smit pointed out Netflix has the largest subscriber count of any pay television channel or platform and denied Lawler’s contention that a merger would give Comcast more than 50% of the American broadband market.

“I think the number is a little less than that — it is closer to 40% but if you include wireless than it would be less than 20%,” Smit responded, referring to the LTE 4G wireless networks from wireless carriers that come with very low usage caps and very high prices.

Comcast-LogoSmit also promised major broadband speed upgrades and other improvements for Time Warner Cable customers, but nobody mentioned Comcast’s gradual reintroduction of usage caps on residential broadband accounts.

Comcast Cable’s CEO also addressed several other hot button issues:

Smit claimed Comcast has a good working relationship with the FCC and is providing advice on whatever changes to Net Neutrality FCC chairman Tom Wheeler will propose later this month.

Despite the fact Comcast could ultimately benefit if Aereo is found to be legal by the U.S. Supreme Court, Smit recognized Comcast also owns NBC and other broadcast programmers and was concerned about the economic impact if cable operators stopped paying for over-the-air programming.

“We pay $9 billion a year for content,” Smit said. “One of the things that I question in the Aereo solution is: are they paying for content? The spend for that content has to come from somewhere.”

Smit also noted Comcast is increasingly targeting younger audiences by signing deals with college campuses to bring Comcast service to students to hook them as future subscribers. Comcast is also creating new packages with fewer channels to appeal to millennials. Smit also acknowledged many younger family members are accessing cable programming using passwords associated with their parent’s cable account.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TechCrunch Interview with Neil Smit 5-6-14.mp4

Here is the complete interview TechCrunch conducted with Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit. (22:20)

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More Evidence the Wireless Data “Traffic Tsunami” is a Scam to Grab More Spectrum

telecoms reg forumWireless operators are playing up fears that without comprehensive reassignment of wireless spectrum to their businesses, a massive data crunch will slow wireless networks to a crawl.

Policy Tracker covered the Telecoms Regulation Forum in London last week and found two very different stories coming from mobile operators.

Mark Falcon, head of economic regulation at UK mobile operator Three, told the Forum that he did not really believe predictions of exponential growth in demand for mobile data. Few others believe them either, he added.

Blades

Blades

Falcon’s comments were frank and very rare in an industry that typically sings from the same hymn book on spectrum matters. More typical were remarks from Telefonica Europe’s chief regulatory officer Nick Blades who claimed a wireless apocalypse was imminent without major reallocation of spectrum for the use of wireless phone companies. Blades dismissed views that small cell antennas and offloading more traffic to Wi-Fi would make enough of a difference.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has been criticized by consultants for overestimating required future spectrum requirements for wireless operators. A growing consensus outside of the wireless industry suggests the risks for wireless data tsunamis are “overblown.”

While AT&T and Verizon Wireless lobby heavily for spectrum reallocation in the United States, they routinely tell shareholders they have more than enough capacity to handle traffic for the foreseeable future and are looking for new and creative (and profitable) applications they can add to their existing wireless networks.

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Zain Bahrain vs. AT&T/Verizon: See How Much You’re Getting Gouged for 4G LTE Service

zain 4g

This week, mobile customers in Bahrain can now sign up for uncongested, ultra-fast 4G LTE broadband packages that include 120GB of usage and a free LTE router or MiFi device, all priced less than what AT&T and Verizon Wireless charge for just 1GB of mobile broadband and the cost of the device to use it.

att verizonZain Bahrain began offering mobile broadband packages this week that start at under $32 a month. For video lovers and downloaders, the company charges $53 a month for up to 120GB of usage at speeds up to 25Mbps, equipment included at no extra charge. Customers upgrading to 250GB or 1000GB usage allowances also get much faster performance on the company’s LTE network — up to 100Mbps.

Customers that exceed those usage allowances are not billed overlimit fees. Their speeds are temporarily throttled to a still-usable 2-4Mbps, depending on the chosen plan. There is a 4GB daily usage limit.

In the United States, AT&T customers pay $50 a month for a DataConnect plan offering up to 5GB of usage, with a $10/GB overlimit fee. A smartphone customer pays a combined $65 a month for a 1GB plan and device fee.

A Verizon Wireless customer pays $50 as month for a shared data plan offering a 4GB data allowance and includes the monthly device fee. A smartphone customer pays $80 a month ($70 if on Verizon’s Edge plan) for a 1GB plan and device fee.

“We are delighted that we are leveraging the investment in our new network to benefit our customers with new offers,” said Zain Bahrain’s enterprise broadband products and services manager Mohammed Al Alawi. “Today’s broadband customers are bandwidth hungry, with diverse connectivity needs; our new 4G LTE broadband packages are custom-designed to meet these needs and enable a digital lifestyle like never before.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Why should you switch to 4G LTE with Zain 2014.mp4

Zain produced this English language video to introduce its 4G LTE service offering speeds up to 100Mbps in Kuwait. Unlike in the United States, generous usage allowances from Zain make wireless broadband a prospect for Internet users in the home and on the go. (2:20)

 

 

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AT&T/Verizon Wireless’ No-Subsidy Plans Working Great for Them, Not So Much for You

Phillip Dampier April 24, 2014 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon, Wireless Broadband 1 Comment

galaxy s5AT&T and Verizon Wireless are thrilled customers are moving away from subsidized smartphones, because both are raking in extra revenue they are not returning to customers with lower plan prices.

In the past, customers have usually chosen discounted new phones that come with a two-year contract. A smartphone that retails for $650 sells in the store for $199 or less, with the $450 subsidy gradually repaid through artificially high service plan prices over the length of the contract. The subsidy system didn’t hurt long-term revenues because the money was eventually recovered and contracts locked most customers into place for at least two years. But Wall Street has never been thrilled by carriers tying up subsidy money on the books for two years.

For a transition away from the subsidy system to be fair, providers need to lower plan prices enough to drop the subsidy payback. But neither AT&T or Verizon Wireless have done that.

AT&T customers choosing an $650 iPhone on contract under the subsidy system will pay $200 up front, a $36 activation fee, and $80 a month for a two-year plan with 2GB of data. Total cost: $2,156.

If you buy your own iPhone and finance it through AT&T, which most customers are likely to do, the cost is $65 a month for the service plan, no activation fee, and a device installment payment plan of $32.50 a month for 20 months. Total cost: $2,210 or $54 more than the subsidized plan costs.

verizon attVerizon Wireless is a bigger taker.

Sign a two-year contract with Big Red for that same phone and 2GB plan and you will pay $200 up front, an activation fee of $35, and $75 a month for the service. That adds up to $2,035. Buying a no-contract iPhone without a subsidy costs $27 a month for the installment plan, no activation fee, and $65 a month for the service. That totals $2,210, $175 more than a subsidy customer pays.

Big spending-customers can realize some further savings by upgrading to plans with a bigger data allowance, but those plans won’t make sense if you don’t use up your allowance.

Both companies claim the unsubsidized plans save customers money, but they actually don’t for most because neither lowered plan rates enough and are now pocketing the difference. Verizon and AT&T also argue customers don’t have to pay several hundred dollars up front for a phone, which is true, but they will pay more for it over time. It is also true these unsubsidized plans allow for earlier upgrades, but customers are paying for that privilege.

It’s hard to say whether AT&T and Verizon Wireless will pay fair value for old phones as customers choose to upgrade. If they don’t, customers could effectively hand both companies even more money through undervalued trade-ins.

At least 40 percent of AT&T customers are choosing the unsubsidized route through AT&T Next and the company couldn’t be more pleased.

In a conference call with investors this week, AT&T’s chief financial officer told analysts wireless service margins were up to 45.4%, with AT&T Next having a positive impact on that margin.

John Stephens noted that with the retail price of smartphones being in the $600-650 range, more customers are being convinced to sign up for AT&T’s handset insurance plan, which provides AT&T with two benefits. First, the insurance earns AT&T more than it pays out in claims and second, devices returned under the insurance program are refurbished and then sent to other AT&T customers filing claims in the future.

Tim K. Horan from Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. believes AT&T’s total subsidy expenses/internal costs are around $400 for a subsidized phone but only $100 for a phone sold on the Next unsubsidized installment plan.

With competition from T-Mobile starting to have an impact on both companies, AT&T and Verizon Wireless have plenty of room to further lower their rates and still come out ahead.

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N.J. Approves Verizon-Friendly Settlement; Verizon Now Off the Hook for Fiber Upgrades

bpuThe New Jersey Board of Public Utilities today voted unanimously to approve a Verizon-friendly settlement that lets the phone company off the hook for its 1993 commitment to offer broadband service to every resident in the state who wants it.

Critics call the decision a “total capitulation” by state regulators that proved “very amenable to Verizon’s agenda.”

Verizon will now be allowed to substitute its costly, usage-capped, high-speed 4G LTE wireless service in rural areas instead of expanding DSL or its fiber optic network FiOS.

Verizon won deregulation two decades ago in an agreement known as “Opportunity New Jersey” in return for a commitment to expand high speed Internet access to all of New Jersey by 2010 — a deadline long missed. Critics charge Verizon collected as much as $15 billion in unregulated service revenue it would have otherwise never received, yet stopped its fiber optic rollout more than two years ago.

A number of rural New Jersey communities including Hopewell, Alloway and Pilesgrove townships opposed Verizon’s settlement proposal because it would let the company walk away from its earlier commitments and leave parts of southern New Jersey without any broadband service. Now those communities may eventually be served by Verizon Wireless, but at a significant cost starting at $50 a month for up to just 4GB of broadband usage.

Verizon gets to keep its current deregulation framework in place as part of the settlement.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities consists of five commissioners all appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate for six year, staggered terms. Gov. Chris Christie’s appointees now dominate the BPU, and critics charge he uses the regulatory agency as a political patronage dumping ground. Earlier this year, he faced criticism for appointing the wife of a longtime Christie ally to lead the board. Dianne Solomon served on Christie’s transition team and brought a very thin resume to the position — serving as a paralegal and an umpire certified by the United States Tennis Association.

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