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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N.Y. PSC’s Diane Burman Objects to Special Session Voting Charter/Spectrum Out of New York

Phillip Dampier September 12, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video No Comments

Burman

New York State Public Service Commissioner Diane Burman today voted against motions to give Charter Communications more time to develop its six month exit plan to leave New York and a motion to get more time to file a rehearing request about Charter’s alleged violations of merger conditions governing its behavior in the state.

Burman’s opposition was rooted in her irritation over PSC Chairman John Rhodes’ decision to hold an unscheduled special session of the Commission on July 27 (which Burman did not attend because of a scheduled family vacation) where the three remaining commissioners all voted to cancel approval of the Merger Order allowing Charter Communications to acquire Time Warner Cable in New York State.

“I believe it was wrong to have that special session and I don’t believe that the rationale for it is the right one,” Burman told her fellow commissioners this morning at a regularly scheduled Commission Session. “I think it is a slippery slope that there was a special session without me present and that is concerning.”

Burman argued the Commission’s recent approval of time extensions in the Charter case could set a precedent that could take the regulatory agency down a road where companies like Charter and other utilities could delay proceedings by having informal private talks with Commission staff. As a result, Charter has effectively stopped the Commission’s clock on pre-determined deadlines like a 30-day limit to file a petition asking the Commission for a rehearing.

“The message that I fear we are sending is if there is an order that someone disagrees with and they are going to file a petition for rehearing […] if they are engaged in ‘productive’ dialogue, whatever that term may be, between the staff, we can wait for the petition for rehearing to be filed past the 30 days,” Burman argued. “For me, the impactful piece of it is that by saying ‘don’t file now’ we are blocking the [regulatory and public notice] process and the opportunity to start that clock so that people have the opportunity to comment on what we may be doing, which may be helpful.”

Because the Commission has approved delays allowing Charter company officials and the Commission to continue privately discussing matters, none of those conversations are on the public record and no groups, including Stop the Cap!, can scrutinize the discussions and file comments about those conversations, Commission decisions that may result from those talks, or suggest alternative corrective measures to consider.

The PSC’s counsel this morning admitted the Commission and Charter were engaged in active settlement discussions, but it isn’t known if those talks relate to overturning the Commission’s decision to banish Charter from the state or are about more procedural matters such as how Charter plans to hand over cable service to another entity.

“I think there are lessons to be learned from having the special session without me there and I do think that going forward, we need to be more cognizant of taking into consideration what the perception is by not having the full Commission body, minus one because there is a vacancy, [vote together on matters of great consequence like this] regardless of whether counsel believes there is an appropriate quorum or not,” Burman added.

The final vote on both measures extending deadlines in Charter’s favor was 3-1. Both measures passed.

N.Y. PSC Commissioner Diane Burman opposed the extension of the deadline for Charter Communications to file its plans to leave New York State and to request a rehearing of a July decision revoking their merger with Time Warner Cable in New York. (29:26)

Verizon Starts Taking Orders Thursday for 5G Home Internet in Houston, Indianapolis, LA and Sacramento

Verizon 5G Home will begin accepting new customer orders for its in-home wireless broadband replacement as of this Thursday, Sept. 13, with a scheduled service launch date of Oct. 1.

The new high-speed wireless service will be available in select parts of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg is calling the service part of Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network. Initial reports indicate speed will range between 300-1,000 Mbps and existing Verizon Wireless customers will get a $20 price break on service — $50 a month instead of $70 for non-Verizon Wireless customers. We are still waiting word on any data caps or speed throttle information. Verizon informs Stop the Cap! there are no data caps or speed throttles. Service is effectively unlimited, unless hidden terms and conditions introduce unpublished limits.

Interested customers can determine their eligibility starting at 8 a.m. ET on Thursday from the Firston5G website. If you are not eligible initially, you can add your email address to be notified when service is available in your area.

Early adopters will be awarded with a series of goodies:

  • Free installation (a big deal, since it could cost as much as $200 later. An external antenna is required, as well as in-home wiring and equipment.)
  • 90 days of free service (a good idea, considering there may be bugs to work out)
  • 90 days of free YouTube TV (a welcome gift for cord-cutters)
  • Free Chromecast or Apple TV 4K (a common sign up enticement with streaming cable-TV replacements)
  • Priority access to buy forthcoming line of 5G-capable mobile devices

Customers in the first four launch cities will be using equipment built around a draft standard of 5G, as the final release version is still forthcoming. Verizon is holding off on additional expansion of 5G services until the final 5G standard is released, and promises early adopters will receive upgraded technology when that happens.

Verizon is clearly providing a greater-than-average number of enticements for early adopters, undoubtedly to placate them if and when service anomalies and disruptions occur. Although Verizon has done limited beta testing of its 5G service, it is very likely the 5G network will get its first real shakeout with paying customers. Unanticipated challenges are likely to range from coverage and speed issues, unexpected interference, network traffic loading, the robustness of Verizon’s small cell network, and how well outside reception equipment will perform in different weather conditions, particularly heavy rain and snow. With a large number of freebies, and no charges for 90 days, customers are likely to be more forgiving of problems, at least initially.

Chromecast

Verizon’s 5G network depends on millimeter wave spectrum, which means it will be capable of providing very high-speed service with greater network capacity than traditional 4G LTE wireless networks. But Verizon will have to bring 5G antennas much closer to subscribers’ homes, because millimeter wave frequencies do not travel very far.

Verizon will combine a fiber backhaul network with small cell antennas placed on top of utility and light poles to reach customers. That explains why Verizon’s initial 5G deployment is unlikely to cover every customer inside city limits. There are substantial deployment costs and installation issues relating to small cells and the optical fiber network required to connect each small cell.

Verizon’s existing FiOS network areas will offer an easier path to introduce service, but where Verizon does not offer its fiber to the home service, it will need to bring fiber optic cables deep into neighborhoods.

AT&T sees a similar challenge to 5G and is openly questioning how useful wireless 5G can be for urban/suburban broadband service, considering it can simply extend fiber optic service to those homes and businesses instead, without a costly 5G small cell deployment.

Verizon introduces 5G wireless in-home broadband in four U.S. cities and starts taking new customer orders on Thursday. (1:00)

Article updated at 6:28pm ET with information about data caps and speed throttles provided by Verizon.

Mass. Taxpayers Give Comcast $4 Million to Expand Monopoly Broadband Service

State and local officials gather to welcome Comcast’s state-funded service expansion in western Massachusetts. (From left to right: MBI chairman Peter Larkin; Carolyn Kirk, deputy secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development; Michael Parker, senior vice president for Comcast’s Western New England region; Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito; Kevin Hart, former chair of the Montague Broadband Committee; and Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington.) (Image: MBI )

Two years after Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker imposed a state-mandated “pause” on WiredWest, a collaborative, multi-community, publicly owned fiber to the home broadband network for western Massachusetts, Comcast is celebrating the introduction of expanded service in the towns of Buckland, Chester, Conway, Hardwick, Huntington, Montague, Northfield, Pelham and Shelburne, made possible with a $4 million taxpayer-funded grant to the nation’s largest cable operator.

While state officials continually questioned the economics of WiredWest, which by that time enrolled more than 7,000 eager would-be customers with $49 deposits, Comcast repeatedly declared it was “uneconomic” to provide broadband service to most rural western Massachusetts communities, at least until state officials paid the cable giant millions of dollars to reach 1,089 previously unserved homes and businesses in the nine towns, effectively giving Comcast a broadband monopoly.

“We were pleased to work with Comcast, who met the two-year timeline we set to deliver critical 21st-century broadband connections to more homes and businesses,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito in a press release this week. She called the project “a great example of a public-private partnership” that would help resolve rural Massachusetts broadband problems.

WiredWest could not have met Polito’s two-year timeline, primarily because the collaborative has been blocked and ambushed repeatedly after Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick left office. State officials in Boston and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), responsible for funding broadband initiatives, began a campaign of fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the project shortly after Gov. Baker took office, culminating in recommendations from then-MBI director Eric Nakajima imploring towns not to sign agreements with WiredWest, and eventually withholding critical funding from the broadband cooperative, questioning its governance and operating model.

It soon became clear Gov. Baker preferred an industry solution to the rural broadband problem, which caused broadband advocate Susan Crawford to slam the decision in early 2017.

“This is the story of a dramatic failure of imagination and vision at the state level: Governor Charlie Baker’s apparent insistence that Massachusetts relegate small towns to second-rate, high-priced, monopoly-controlled (and unregulated) communications capacity,” Crawford wrote. “It’s a slow-rolling tragedy that will blight western Massachusetts for generations.”

A divide and conquer campaign to peel off communities from the WiredWest project has been underway for years. Earlier this year, MBI dangled $3.1 million in grants available exclusively to Charter Communications to build out its network in several towns in the region. When asked if those taxpayer dollars would be available to publicly owned broadband projects like WiredWest, Peter Larkin, MBI’s current board chairman, responded “no.”

Despite the roadblocks, many of the communities staying loyal to the WiredWest concept have hired Westfield Gas & Electric’s ‘Whip City Fiber’ division to help design and construct their own fiber to the home networks, which will be superior to what Charter or Comcast plans for the region.

For exasperated residents and businesses who have waited more than four years for broadband, the politics and constant delays have become secondary issues to getting broadband… from somewhere. That may explain why Kevin Hart, who frequently objected to Comcast’s proposal to build an inferior copper-fiber network while chairing the Montague Broadband Committee, suddenly switched sides and praised the Comcast project this week for its timely introduction of broadband service.

In contrast, Montague Broadband Committee member Robert Steinberg in 2016 called Comcast’s cash infusion from taxpayers “corporate welfare.”

WWLP in Springfield reports several towns are getting expanded cable and broadband service from Comcast. (1:21)

Fixed Wireless Not a Good Solution for Rural Areas; Usage Demand Outstrips Capacity

Morrow

Australia is learning a costly lesson finding ways to extend broadband service to rural areas in the country, choosing fixed wireless and satellite networks that will ultimately cost more than extending fiber optic broadband to rural customers.

Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) is tasked with supplying virtually all of Australia with internet access, using fiber/wired broadband in urban and suburban areas and fixed wireless and satellite internet access in the country’s most remote locations.

But just a few years after debuting satellite broadband and fixed LTE 4G wireless service in many parts of the country, demand has quickly begun to overwhelm capacity, forcing costly upgrades and punitive measures against so-called “heavy superusers.” The NBN has also scrapped plans to introduce higher-speed fixed wireless services, fearing it will only create additional demands on a network that was not envisioned to manage heavy broadband usage from video streaming.

NBN CEO Bill Morrow has elected to place most of the blame on his customers, specifically “superusers” that he characterized as “online gamers” who spend hours during the day and peak usage periods consuming large parts of the fixed wireless network’s available capacity.

“In the fixed wireless, there’s a large portion [of end users] that are using terabytes of data,” Morrow said. “We’re evaluating a form of fair use policy to say, ‘We would groom these extreme users.’ Now the grooming could be that, during the busy period of the day when these heavy users are impacting the majority, that they actually get throttled back to where they’re taking down what everybody else is taking down.”

Under the current NBN fair use policy, monthly downloads per household are capped at 400 GB, with maximum usage during peak usage periods limited to 150 GB a month, which is already significantly less than what most average American households consume each month. With expensive and unexpected early upgrades to more than 3,100 cell towers to manage rapidly growing usage, the cost of service is starting to rise substantially, even as usage limits and speed reductions make these networks less useful for consumers.

In areas where the NBN extends a fiber optic network, the fixed wholesale price for a 50/20 Mbps connection is $32.00 (U.S.) per month. (A 100/40 Mbps connection costs $46.25). For fixed wireless, prices are rising. A 50/20 Mbps fixed wireless connection (with usage cap) will now cost $46.25 a month.

Morrow took heat from members of Parliament over his claim that online gamers were chiefly responsible for slowing down the NBN’s fixed wireless network.

“With great respect to everything you said over the last 15 minutes, you have been saying to us the problem here is gamers,” said MP Stephen Jones (Whitlam).

Morrow clarified that online gamers were not the principal cause of congestion. The main issue is concurrency, which drags down network speeds when multiple family members unexpectedly use an internet connection at the same time. The worst congestion results when several family members launch internet video streams at the same time. Online video not only leads average users’ traffic, it can also quickly outstrip available cell tower capacity. High quality video streaming can quickly impact 4G LTE service during peak usage periods, driving speeds down for all users. The NBN now considers these newly revealed capacity constraints a limit on the feasibility of using wireless technology like LTE to supply internet access.

The current mitigation strategy includes limiting video bandwidth, discouraging video streaming with usage caps or speed throttles, capacity upgrades at cell towers, and public education requesting responsible usage during peak usage times. With capacity issues becoming more serious, Morrow canceled plans to upgrade fixed wireless to 100 Mbps speeds because of costs. The proposed upgrades would have cost “exponentially” more than wired internet access.

Hype vs. Reality: Most Australians reject fixed wireless and satellite internet as woefully inadequate. (Source: BIRRR)

Actual Fixed Wireless speeds

Actual Satellite Internet speeds

The concept of supplying fixed wireless or satellite internet access to rural areas may have made sense a decade ago, but there are growing questions about the suitability of this technology based on growth in consumer usage patterns, which increasingly includes streaming video. The cost to provide a sufficiently robust wireless network could easily rival or even outpace the costs of extending traditional fiber optic wired service to many rural properties currently considered cost prohibitive to serve. In Australia, fixed wireless and satellite has delivered sub-standard access for rural consumers, and requires the imposition of “fair usage” caps and speed throttles that inconvenience customers. For now, Morrow believes that is still the best solution, given that Australia’s national broadband plan relies heavily on wireless access in rural communities.

“[The benefit of a fair usage policy is] big enough to where if we did groom them during the busy time of the day, it would be a substantial [speed] lift for people,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a silver bullet in any of this – this is going to require us to think through a number of different areas.”

Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Rural Australia (a volunteer consumer group) shares horror stories about relying on satellite to solve rural broadband problems. (7:50)

 

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