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Verizon Thumbs Its Nose at FCC: Will Lock Smartphones Despite Agreement Prohibiting It

Verizon Wireless, ignoring its agreement with the Federal Communications Commission not to lock handsets, will soon stop selling unlocked phones, at least temporarily preventing customers from taking their phones to another carrier or overseas without Verizon’s consent.

Verizon’s ‘SIM Lockdown’ is expected to begin later this year in a move Verizon is calling a “theft control measure.”

Verizon Wireless is the only major carrier that does not lock its smartphones, but that policy was agreed to as a condition of its acquisition of 700 MHz spectrum licenses in 2008, which included a prohibition on phone locking. But Verizon seems to think its new locking policy doesn’t break any rules or that nobody will care.

“We’re taking steps to combat this theft and reduce fraud. These steps will make our phones exponentially less desirable to criminals,” Tami Erwin, executive vice president of wireless operations for Verizon, said in a statement to CNET.

After the change takes effect, Verizon Wireless customers will find their new handsets locked and unable to be used with other carriers until activated on a new or existing Verizon Wireless account. After that, Verizon says it will still keep the phone locked for an unspecified waiting period to prevent cell phone thieves from stealing a phone, activating it with a stolen identity, and then selling it for profit. Verizon won’t say exactly when customers will be able to get their devices unlocked.

With an industry friendly Republican majority on the Federal Communications Commission, Verizon may be attempting to test the waters to see if it can successfully walk away from its agreement with the FCC without penalty or even win itself a waiver. But FCC rules don’t appear to give Verizon the leeway it needs to unilaterally act:

§ 27.16 Network access requirements for Block C in the 746-757 and 776-787 MHz bands.

(a)Applicability. This section shall apply only to the authorizations for Block C in the 746-757 and 776-787 MHz bands assigned and only if the results of the first auction in which licenses for such authorizations are offered satisfied the applicable reserve price.

(b)Use of devices and applications. Licensees offering service on spectrum subject to this section shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice on the licensee’s C Block network, except:

(1) Insofar as such use would not be compliant with published technical standards reasonably necessary for the management or protection of the licensee’s network, or

(2) As required to comply with statute or applicable government regulation.

(c)Technical standards. For purposes of paragraph (b)(1) of this section:

(1) Standards shall include technical requirements reasonably necessary for third parties to access a licensee’s network via devices or applications without causing objectionable interference to other spectrum users or jeopardizing network security. The potential for excessive bandwidth demand alone shall not constitute grounds for denying, limiting or restricting access to the network.

(2) To the extent a licensee relies on standards established by an independent standards-setting body which is open to participation by representatives of service providers, equipment manufacturers, application developers, consumer organizations, and other interested parties, the standards will carry a presumption of reasonableness.

(3) A licensee shall publish its technical standards, which shall be non-proprietary, no later than the time at which it makes such standards available to any preferred vendors, so that the standards are readily available to customers, equipment manufacturers, application developers, and other parties interested in using or developing products for use on a licensee’s networks.

(d)Access requests.

(1) Licensees shall establish and publish clear and reasonable procedures for parties to seek approval to use devices or applications on the licensees’ networks. A licensee must also provide to potential customers notice of the customers’ rights to request the attachment of a device or application to the licensee’s network, and notice of the licensee’s process for customers to make such requests, including the relevant network criteria.

(2) If a licensee determines that a request for access would violate its technical standards or regulatory requirements, the licensee shall expeditiously provide a written response to the requester specifying the basis for denying access and providing an opportunity for the requester to modify its request to satisfy the licensee’s concerns.

(e)Handset locking prohibited. No licensee may disable features on handsets it provides to customers, to the extent such features are compliant with the licensee’s standards pursuant to paragraph (b)of this section, nor configure handsets it provides to prohibit use of such handsets on other providers’ networks.

(f)Burden of proof. Once a complainant sets forth a prima facie case that the C Block licensee has refused to attach a device or application in violation of the requirements adopted in this section, the licensee shall have the burden of proof to demonstrate that it has adopted reasonable network standards and reasonably applied those standards in the complainant’s case. Where the licensee bases its network restrictions on industry-wide consensus standards, such restrictions would be presumed reasonable.

Verizon’s old unlocking policy.

Verizon does not need to lock phones to control stolen device trafficking. An earlier initiative by the wireless industry tracks stolen phone IMEI and other identification numbers that are needed to activate service. If a carrier gets a request to activate service on a phone or device with a suspect IMEI number, the carrier can refuse service, rendering the phone useless on the stolen goods market. But Verizon may have other motives in mind.

“This is going to make it harder for rivals to poach subscribers from Verizon,” Avi Greengart, an analyst at Global Data, told CNET, because customers bringing their Verizon smartphones to other carriers may find they cannot use them on the competitor’s network. The phones also won’t work if a customer travels abroad and uses a SIM card purchased in the destination country, which could offer substantially lower rates than Verizon’s international calling and data plans or roaming.

Few consumers would be willing to buy new phones for $600+ just to switch carriers, a fact Verizon is likely well aware will keep customers loyal to them.

Charter Seeks Favorable Licensing Terms for New Mobile/Rural Wireless Broadband Service

There are three tiers of Citizens Broadband Radio Service users – incumbent users (usually military) that get top priority access and protection from interference, a mid-class Priority Access License group of users that win limits on potential interference from other users, and unlicensed users that have to share the spectrum, and interference, if any.

Charter Communications wants to license a portion of the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band to launch a new wireless broadband service for its future mobile customers and potentially also offer its own rural broadband solution.

The CBRS band has sat largely unused except by the U.S. military since it was created, but now the Federal Communications Commission is exploring opening up the very high frequencies to attract wireless broadband services with Priority Access Licenses that will assure minimal interference.

One of the most enthusiastic supporters of CBRS is Charter/Spectrum, which has been testing a 3.5 GHz wireless broadband service using CBRS spectrum in Centennial and Englewood, Col., Bakersfield, Calif., Coldwater, Mich., and Charlotte, N.C. Those tests, according to Charter, reveal the cable company “can provide speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps at significant distances,” which it believes could become a rural broadband solution for customers outside of the reach of its wired cable network.

But Charter’s interest in CBRS extends well beyond its potential use to reach rural areas. Charter’s primary goal is to offer wireless connectivity in neighborhoods for its forthcoming mobile phone service. Charter plans to enter the wireless business this year, selling smartphones and other wireless devices that will depend on in-home Wi-Fi, CBRS, and a contract with Verizon Wireless to provide coverage everywhere else.

Charter wants to keep as much data usage on its own networks as possible to reduce costs. It has no interest in building a costly, competing LTE 4G or 5G wireless network to compete with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile. But it is interested in the prospect of using LTE technology on CBRS frequencies, which are likely to be licensed at much lower costs than traditional mobile spectrum.

Primary Economic Areas

There are several proposals on the table on how to license this spectrum. Large wireless companies want Priority Access Licenses (PALs) based on Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) — 416 wireless service areas the FCC established as part of its spectrum auctions. PEAs are roughly equivalent to metropolitan areas and typically cover multiple counties surrounding a major city. Major wireless carriers are already familiar with PEAs and their networks cover large portions of them.

Charter is proposing to license PALs based on county lines, not PEAs, which will likely reduce the costs of licensing and, in Charter’s view, will “attract interest and investment from new entrants to small and large providers.” If Charter’s proposal is adopted, its costs deploying small cell technology used with CBRS will be much lower, because it will not have to serve larger geographic areas.

The FCC envisioned licensing PALs based on census tract boundaries, which would result in licenses for areas as small as portions of neighborhoods. That proposal has not won favor with like wireless companies or cable operators. The wireless giants would prefer licenses based on PEAs, but companies like AT&T seem also amenable to the cable industry proposal.

Charter’s proposed CBRS network would likely allow the cable company to offload a lot of its mobile data traffic away from Verizon Wireless, reducing the company’s data costs. Charter’s deployment costs are relatively low as well, because the backhaul fiber network used to power small cells is already present throughout Charter’s service areas.

Just how far into rural unserved areas Charter’s CBRS network can reach isn’t publicly known, but it would likely not extend into the most difficult-to-serve areas far away from Charter’s current infrastructure. But if the FCC establishes county boundaries and a requirement that those companies obtaining priority licenses actually serve those areas, it could help resolve some rural broadband problems.

N.Y. Governor Reneges on 100% Broadband Promise, Offers Satellite to 72k New Yorkers Instead

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing rural broadband initiatives in New York.

It was called “Broadband for All” — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to bring high-speed internet service to every New York State resident. But it now appears the governor will break that promise and leave more than 72,000 rural New York residents with satellite-delivered internet that does not come close to meeting the broadband speed standard and is infamous for customer frustration, slow speeds, and low data caps.

Ensuring High-Speed Internet Access for Every New Yorker

In today’s world, internet connectivity is no longer a luxury—it is a necessity. Broadband is as vital a resource as running water and electricity to New York’s communities and is absolutely critical to the future of our economy, education, and safety.

In 2015, Governor Cuomo made the largest and most ambitious state broadband investment in the nation, $500 million, to achieve statewide broadband access by 2018. 

The New NY Broadband Program sets as its goal access to speeds of 100 Mbps for all New Yorkers, with 25 Mbps acceptable in the most remote and rural areas. The cost must not exceed $60 and there is a general prohibition of data caps. This goal exceeds requirements of the FCC’s Connect America Fund program and requires that projects be completed on a more accelerated timeline.

Today, the governor announced the state grant winners to split $209.7 million in the third and final round of awards to offer 122,285 additional homes, businesses, and institutions broadband internet service.

“These latest awards through Round III of the New NY Broadband Program will close the final gap and bring high-speed broadband to all New Yorkers in every corner of the state,” the governor’s office claimed.

Except it won’t.

Tucked in among the grant award winners is a $14,889,249 grant to Hughes Network Systems, LLC, targeting 72,163 rural New Yorkers, more than half of the total number of customers to be reached in the third round. Hughes operates the HughesNet satellite internet service, a technology derisively known as “satellite fraudband” for routinely failing to meet its advertised speed claims. It’s also known as “last resort internet” because it is slow, expensive, and heavily data capped.

Complaints about HughesNet are common on websites like Consumer Affairs:

“Extreme false advertising. Over the first 30 days with HughesNet Gen5, I averaged 3 Mbps download when advertised 25 Mbps. I canceled when they couldn’t answer why I used 20 GB of data in less than 24 hours. I am a 55 year old average internet user. No streaming. No music. No videos (YouTube). DO NOT GET THIS SERVICE EVEN IF NO OTHERS ARE AVAILABLE.” — Dennis, Tazewell, Tenn. (1/25/2018)

HughesNet claims high speed internet in our region. Clearly not available here, 3 service calls, with exchange of equipment, 50 calls – recorded leaves us no choice, we demand that this contract be null/void without stealing $399 cancellation. A despicable Company, uninformed customer service, average speeds with a video; upload speed 0.62 Mbps, the download speed is 1.28 Mbps. Help!!!” — Jeffrey, Kerhonkson, NY (1/21/2018)

“Promised speeds of no less than 25 Mbps. Actual speed received was 5-9 Mbps. Unable to stream anything. Computer programs did not operate and did not update as required. We have cancelled HughesNet at great cost to us. Worst internet service ever.” — Jennifer, Hartsville, SC (1/12/2018)

Pat (last name withheld) lives 1.3 miles from the nearest Charter Communications customer in Niagara County, near Niagara Falls and is very disappointed with recent developments. Charter has quoted an installation fee of $50,000 to extend their cable service and Verizon has refused to provide DSL service, leaving Pat resorting to using an AT&T mobile data plan, which is expensive and gets throttled after using more than ~22 GB a month.

“This was a scam from Jump Street,” Pat said. “Phase 3 has 70,000 out of 120,000 homes getting satellite internet, a technology that was already available. It also gives $70 million to Verizon who declined funds in first place. Five years and $675 million later and still no internet for my kids.”

“This is a huge disappointment for us,” Pat added. “We were counting on this happening. Told numerous times it would. Now we have to debate moving, we can’t continue not having internet. My oldest son just graduated high school never having internet at home.”

“I have written and spoke with New York Broadband Program Office and it was clear to me from the beginning they didn’t understand the problems they faced, namely infrastructure costs,” said Pat. “They didn’t want to hear it. They wrongly assumed that telecoms would bid and everyone would have internet. I knew when announcements were delayed that the bids for last mile didn’t come in. Tragic really. I think they made a mistake accepting that money from the FCC. Satellite was never on the table until that happened.”

Stop the Cap! readers have told us satellite internet is the worst possible option for internet access, and many have reported better results relying on their mobile phone’s data plan. But New York’s solution for more than 70,000 of its rural citizens — many that believed the governor’s commitment of 100% coverage — is to saddle them with satellite internet access starting at $49.99 a month for a paltry 10 GB of usage per month. The top plan on offer costs $99.99 a month and is capped at 50 GB a month before a speed throttle kicks in and reduces speeds to dial-up levels. A 24-month contract is required with a very steep early cancellation penalty.

Another surprising winner is Verizon Communications, a company that originally refused to participate in rural broadband expansion efforts. Verizon will accept more than $70 million to expand its broadband service to 15,515 homes, businesses, and institutions in the Capital Region, central New York, the North Country, and Southern Tier. At press time, it is not known if Verizon will bring FiOS or DSL to these customers.

Because New York State relied on private companies to bid to cover unserved residents, it seems clear HughesNet is the default choice for those New Yorkers stranded without a telecom company bidder. Although that will allow Gov. Cuomo to claim his program reaches 99.99% of New Yorkers, the rural broadband problem remains unresolved for those who were depending the most on New York to help bring broadband to rural farms, homes in the smallest communities, and those simply unlucky enough to live in small neighborhoods deemed unprofitable to serve.

Trump Administration Official Proposes Nationalizing 5G Over Security Concerns

National security officials inside the Trump Administration dropped a controversial proposal on the desks of multiple federal agencies that advocates a federal government takeover of the nation’s forthcoming 5G wireless network.

Axios obtained a copy of an accompanying memo and PowerPoint presentation outlining the proposal that would nationalize 5G service and have taxpayers fund the construction of a single,  nationwide network that would allow federal officials to secure traffic from foreign economic and cybersecurity threats.

Some national security officials worry the Chinese have achieved dominant market positions in network infrastructure and artificial intelligence, and this could have security implications for emerging technologies like self-driving cars and machine to machine communications, which will likely use 5G networks.

“China is the dominant malicious actor in the Information Domain,” the presentation notes, adding that two Chinese manufacturers – ZTE and Huawei are dominant players in 5G infrastructure at a time when American manufacturers of wireless technology are disappearing.

That 5G technology and who makes it is becoming a national security issue, claims the author, advocating reduced risk by authorizing the United States government to build a single, nationwide 5G wireless network, on which America’s wireless carriers could lease secure access. The network concept could even eventually be shared with America’s allies to protect them from “Chinese neo-colonial behavior,” the author writes.

The author of the presentation, perhaps unintentionally, waded into the heart of a fierce debate between municipalities, broadband advocates and private cable and phone companies and their funded special interest groups, over the benefits of public vs. private broadband service.

Calling the taxpayer-funded effort “the 21st century equivalent of the Eisenhower National Highway System,” the author advocated first spending up to $200 billion to construct a national fiber optic backbone that would reach neighborhood 5G small cells. Additional funding would cover small cell placement and equipment.

The author implied the Department of Defense budget could be tapped for some of the money, quoting the Secretary’s interest in expanding secure communications. The author noted little of the military’s current $700 billion budget does any good for the American people in the information domain. Constructing a secured 5G broadband network would presumably change that.

The proposal suggests a national 5G network could be up and running within three years, if it became a government priority. ISPs and other users would then be able to obtain access on the network to service their respective customers.

If adopted, the Trump Administration would oversee the country’s largest public broadband project in American history, paid for by U.S. taxpayers, a concept that has traditionally been anathema to most Republicans and the broadband industry. Both have traditionally opposed public broadband projects if or when they compete with the private sector.

“This is coming from a Trump’s National Security Council,” tweeted Hal Singer, a principal at Economists, Inc. “If the same thoughts came from Bernie Sander’s NSC (or Elizabeth Warren’s), Republicans would be up in arms and Fox News would sound the socialism alarm.”

Commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission also roundly criticized the proposal.

“I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network,” wrote FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “The market, not the government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment.”

Pai wants the government to accelerate the allocation of additional wireless spectrum that could be auctioned off to wireless carriers to expand 5G.

The large wireless carriers remained silent about the implications of the proposal, claiming they had not yet seen it.

But by late morning, the Trump Administration was attempting to downplay the presentation, telling Recode the document was dated and had merely been floated by a staff member and was not a reflection of an imminent major policy announcement.

That did not stop four of the five commissioners at the FCC from hurrying out statements criticizing the proposal, and the fifth tweeting negatively about it. They apparently took it very seriously:

San Jose Mayor Quits FCC’s Industry-Stacked Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee


San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has resigned from the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), claiming the panel has been stacked with telecom industry players that will advocate for the interests of the telecom industry, not the public.

“It has become abundantly clear that despite the good intentions of several participants, the industry-heavy makeup of BDAC will simply relegate the body to being a vehicle for advancing the interests of the telecommunications industry over those of the public,” Liccardo wrote in his resignation letter.

The corruption was baked in from the earliest days of the BDAC, originally created by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in January 2017 to help resolve the digital divide between those who have access to internet service and those who don’t. BDAC was charged with providing advice and recommendations on how to accelerate the deployment of high-speed internet access. Pai used the BDAC partly as a front group to advocate for his own long-standing goal of reducing or eliminating what he believes are regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment.

Controversy erupted almost immediately as the BDAC member nomination process began. Pai and his staff packed the 30-member group with telecom industry corporate executives, trade groups, and free market scholars frequently funded or sponsored by telecom companies. According to the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the FCC initially accepted only two of the 64 city and state officials nominated to serve on a committee that was likely to recommend major changes to local and state zoning and permitting laws. Liccado was one of the two.

CPI filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FCC to force the agency to divulge detailed information about applicants and those approved to serve as panel members. They found three out of four members appointed worked for big telecom companies like AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, and TDS Telecom. Crown Castle International Corp., the nation’s largest wireless infrastructure company, and Southern Co., the nation’s second-largest utility firm, also have representatives on the panel. The “broadband experts” chosen as members largely came from conservative think tanks that have industry funding ties or connections with wealthy conservative donors like the Koch Brothers.

Liccardo sensed trouble on the committee as early as last August.

“It’s not lost on us that among the 30-odd members of the BDAC, only two represent local government,” Liccardo said. “We’ll see where things go in the weeks ahead, but it’s fair to say the footprints are in the snow.”

Gary Carter, who works for the city of Santa Monica, Calif., where he oversees City Net, one of the nation’s oldest publicly owned networks, thought he would be the perfect candidate to serve on the BDAC. The FCC didn’t think so.

“When I called [the FCC] to check on the status of the BDAC selection process [earlier this year] and identified myself as an employee from the City of Santa Monica, the gentleman on the phone laughed hysterically,” Carter said. “At first I didn’t get the joke. When I saw the appointees for the municipal working group—only three out of 24 positions were from local government—I got the joke.”

The corruption has not been a surprise to one telecommunications executive serving as a BDAC member. He candidly told CPI the committee was purposely “stacked” to guarantee findings and proposals that echo Pai’s anti-regulatory agenda.

“It’s definitely stacked towards private enterprise,” said the executive, who requested anonymity due to fear of retaliation from FCC officials. “It’s nothing new. The [current] FCC serves private enterprise.”

Nick Degani, senior counsel to the FCC and Pai’s wireline legal advisor, told BDAC members at a July meeting that only a few city officials were chosen because they are the ones that need guidance, not telecommunications companies.

City and state officials locked out of Pai’s panel warn that BDAC recommendations could soon lead to new rules that will ignore local residents’ wishes in favor of the interests of cable, phone, and wireless companies. Recommended rule changes could allow telecom companies to gain free or very low-cost access to public buildings on which it can place cell towers or the small cells that will end up on utility poles. Much of the equipment the industry wants to place threatens to clutter neighborhoods with unsafe, overloaded utility poles and some new infrastructure could block scenic views or be placed in sensitive environmental areas.

CPI spoke with many local officials who asked to participate as a member of BDAC, but were turned down:

“There are reasons you have to get a permit if you want to dig up the side of the street,” said David Frasher, city manager of Hot Springs, Arkansas, who also was nominated—but turned down—for a seat on the BDAC.

“The city needs to know if you’re going to block traffic or create a hazard to sidewalk users,” Frasher said. Maybe there’s a way to streamline those regulations, “… but with only 10 percent city government representation, how helpful will the end product be?”

The FCC also didn’t choose David Guttenberg, member of the Alaska state legislature. He said service providers writing local rules for internet deployment makes him fear for Alaskan residents, many of whom have such poor wireless service that they have trouble downloading emails.

“They [telecommunications companies] are only going to look after their own self interests,” Guttenberg said. “Find me the guy that works for telecommunications on this committee that’s going to sign onto a plan telling their business to do something they don’t want to do. Find me that guy.”

What Pai has done by packing the panel with industry representatives is, in the end, “pretty standard in Washington,” said Sarah Treul, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The FCC expects certain outcomes from this advisory committee.”


That point was not lost by San Jose Mayor Liccardo, who finally had enough after witnessing several cases of BDAC’s industry members wielding veto power and unilaterally rewriting collaborative proposals to fit the agenda of large cable and phone companies.

“One working group, which did not have a single municipal representative among its 30+ participants, created a draft model state code that included provisions to eliminate all municipal control over when, how, and whether to accept industry applications for infrastructure deployment,” Liccardo complained. “Another working group had an industry representative dramatically re-write its draft municipal code in the 11th hour, pushing aside the product of months of the working group’s deliberations. The result, in each case, were provisions that plainly prioritized industry interests.”

Also dovetailing with Pai’s narrative, many telecom companies griped about the cost of complying with local rules and regulations. In April, Larry Thompson, CEO of the National Exchange Carrier Association, with 1,300+ local telephone company members, complained one member had to pay $700,000 in costs to comply with environmental laws, historical preservation rules, zoning, and construction-related paperwork.

A representative from Comcast worried that the BDAC’s work has been so polarized towards the telecom industry, excluded state and local officials will have every reason to resist the BDAC’s findings and recommendations and refuse to adopt them.

“If they don’t feel included, not only are they outside throwing [darts] at this process, but then in the end it’s those groups that we want to adopt these model codes,” said David Don, vice president of regulatory affairs at Comcast.

But Liccardo warns Pai and his Republican allies are laying the foundation to “steamroll” over local officials by bulldozing local control of zoning and code rulemaking. For that reason, he quit the committee.

“The apparent goal is to create a set of rules that will provide industry with easy access to publicly funded infrastructure at taxpayer subsidized rates, without any obligation to provide broadband access to underserved residents.”

If Pai does manage to enact new federal rules that are as industry-friendly as Liccardo and other city officials fear, the FCC could overrule local zoning and permitting rules on a scale never seen before.

“It’s obvious that this body is going to deliver to the industry what the industry wants,” Liccardo said.

That appears to be Mr. Pai’s agenda as well.

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