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Bloomberg Editorial Calls Broadband a Necessity of Modern Life; A Public Utility

A business news service that has traditionally supported private, free-market business interests has called on the government to declare broadband essential for navigating daily life and to get more involved in assuring every American has access to it.

The editorial board of Bloomberg News published an extraordinary opinion piece this morning urging government involvement and oversight to resolve the rural broadband gap once and for all.

It is often said that internet service, like electricity or water, should be treated (and regulated) more like a public utility. Without wading into the contentious and long-running debate about that, it’s easy enough to point out that the government can do more, at the margins, to help bring better internet service to places where the market hasn’t. Fast internet service is to the 21st century what a telephone line was to the 20th: essential to navigating daily life.

The editors point out that 39% of rural America — 23 million people — still lack suitable internet access despite years of speeches from politicians, targeted or restricted-use public funding, government grants, and public-private “partnerships.”

Bloomberg rightly calls out the biggest impediment to rural broadband expansion — funding for last-mile infrastructure projects that actually deliver broadband service to unserved homes and businesses, not just public institutions or exclusive office parks. Because private phone companies (and to a lesser degree cable operators) either do not want the funding to come with strings attached or seek taxpayer funds to transfer the cost of rural investment away from shareholders and on to the government, the results have been patchy service and scandals.

Some companies, like Verizon, have shown almost no interest in government subsidies to further expand DSL service into its most rural territories. Others, like Frontier Communications, are aggressively seeking funding to defray the cost of wiring rural areas and, alleges one government oversight report, discovered a ‘revenue opportunity’ for itself along the way.

A report by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General alleged Frontier has become an expert on gaming the system with padded invoices that overcharged a federal grant program $4.7 million dollars. Company employees reportedly even boasted about their ability to creatively ripoff taxpayers:

The scathing, 31-page report declared the payments “unreasonable” and “unallowable.” Meanwhile, Frontier saw the tacked-on charges as a “revenue opportunity,” according to an internal company email cited in the report. Frontier employees referred to the extra fees as “markups” and “profit.”

Bloomberg’s editors think the FCC should keep rural broadband expansion funding simple and avoid favoring one technology over another. Various grant programs have failed in the past because they are exceptionally specific about the kinds of technologies that qualify for funding, set unreasonable deadlines, improperly vet the financial capabilities of applicants, and attract some applicants that tailor-write applications to fit funding opportunities instead of creating sustainable and meaningful projects that can remain solvent and operating after the grant funding ends.

The different approach advocated by Bloomberg calls on the government to set goals and benchmarks and avoid micromanaging how applicants achieve them. For example, Bloomberg supports the FCC’s 25Mbps minimum definition of broadband, but could care less how providers deliver that speed to rural consumers — via satellite, cable, or something else. It also thinks the current grant system favors incumbent rural phone companies and that has not benefited consumers. Bloomberg’s editors believe startups can bring innovative solutions to rural broadband problems that rural phone companies may not have the ability or flexibility to deliver themselves.

Some comments on the piece believe Bloomberg can find its “win-win” solution to the problem by targeting funding on rural, member-owned energy and telephone co-ops, instead of investor-owned utilities like Frontier, CenturyLink, and Windstream.

“The same entities that were responsible for bringing power to rural areas would be the perfect vehicle for stringing internet cable to those same customers,” wrote one commenter. “Namely, the rural electric co-ops who continue to serve this vital need.”

Charter: Time Warner Cable’s Too-Low Pricing Meant It Couldn’t Afford Upgrades

Charter Communications has a new argument for raising your cable bill: Time Warner Cable’s promotions were so low-priced, the company couldn’t afford upgrades. By ending promotional pricing and raising prices, Charter can finally afford to manage the upgrades Time Warner Cable never made.

That novel argument comes courtesy of Charter Communications’ director of government affairs Anna Lucey, who made it in response to complaints from customers in western Massachusetts about substandard service and bill shock from Charter’s Spectrum. She was invited to answer questions and complaints raised during last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting in Adams, Mass.

Cheshire resident Peter Gentile, who was serving as cameraman to televise the public meeting with the cable company for Northern Berkshire Community Television, complained that when his Time Warner Cable promotion ended, Charter promptly raised his bill from $103 to $182 a month — nearly an $80 a month rate hike.

“It is absurd … I was told I could save some money by downgrading my internet so it would be slower and I would lose approximately 30 channels and my bill would only go down $7.75,” he said. “This is an impoverished community, this is an elderly community that is getting older and poorer and … I wish that you would go back to your team and explain.”

Lucey explained Charter is adopting one-size-fits-all nationwide pricing for its customers and is ending promotional pricing, explaining that Time Warner’s policy of “subsidizing” cable bills to give customers a lower rate did not allow Time Warner Cable to invest in its infrastructure.

Lucey

“It did lend a problem to infrastructure reinvestment that Time Warner could do, which is one of the reasons why we don’t have similar promotional packages that constantly deflate the cable bills,” Lucey said. “We want to keep all of our services up to date and continue to reinvest but I understand the sticker shock isn’t pleasant.”

Unfortunately for Lucey’s creative justification for rate increases, the financial facts disprove her assertion. In fact, Time Warner Cable outperformed Charter Communications in the first quarter of 2016, just before Charter closed on its acquisition of Time Warner Cable.

In April 2016, Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO Rob Marcus reported “the best ever customer relationship net additions,” “accelerated revenue growth of 7.5%,” and “robust adjusted OIBDA growth of 8.2%.”

“Our first-quarter results are the clearest indication yet that our efforts over the last 27 months are paying off. We have made our network more reliable, our products more compelling and our customer service far better. We’ve refined our marketing, enhanced our sales channels and strengthened our retention capability. All of that has driven robust customer growth, which in Q1 translated into very strong revenue and OIBDA growth. I couldn’t be prouder of what our talented, committed, passionate team has accomplished,” Marcus said, reflecting on the history of Time Warner Cable’s Maxx upgrade project, which delivered more compelling broadband speeds at a lower cost to Time Warner Cable customers than what Charter Communications offers today.

In fact, financial results for that period showed as Time Warner methodically worked through upgrading its systems, customer and revenue growth went up. The only exception was Free Cash Flow, which the company attributed to merger-related expenses, not promotional pricing:

SELECTED CONSOLIDATED FINANCIAL RESULTS
(in millions, except per share data; unaudited) 1st Quarter
Change
2016 2015 $ %
Revenue $ 6,191 $ 5,777 $ 414 7.2 %
Adjusted OIBDA(a) $ 2,159 $ 1,996 $ 163 8.2 %
Operating Income(b) $ 1,145 $ 1,084 $ 61 5.6 %
Diluted EPS(c) $ 1.72 $ 1.59 $ 0.13 8.2 %
Adjusted Diluted EPS(a) $ 1.81 $ 1.65 $ 0.16 9.7 %
Cash provided by operating activities(b) $ 1,608 $ 1,508 $ 100 6.6 %
Capital expenditures $ 1,318 $ 1,134 $ 184 16.2 %
Free Cash Flow(a)(b) $ 346 $ 407 $ (61 ) (15.0 %)
(a) Refer to Note 4 to the accompanying consolidated financial statements for definitions of Adjusted OIBDA, Adjusted Diluted EPS and Free Cash Flow and below for reconciliations.
(b) Operating Income is reduced by merger-related and restructuring costs of $40 million and $26 million for the first quarters of 2016 and 2015, respectively. Cash provided by operating activities and Free Cash Flow are reduced by merger-related and restructuring payments of $14 million and $26 million for the first quarters of 2016 and 2015, respectively.
(c) Diluted EPS represents net income per diluted common share attributable to TWC common shareholders.

Charter’s later announcement of upgrades for the remaining Time Warner Cable systems not upgraded to Maxx service before the merger deal was completed are occurring more slowly than Time Warner’s own original timetable. As soon as the ink was dry on the merger deal, Charter immediately canceled the Maxx upgrade program for all markets not already in progress with upgrades.

Charter’s own upgrade plan is less compelling than the Maxx menu of options, which gave customers more choices at a lower cost. Charter’s own financial reports admit the company is losing former Time Warner Cable customers as their promotions expire. Charter’s own executives attribute those losses not on deferred upgrades, but on the cost of service going forward after promotional pricing expires.

Verizon Has No Interest in G.fast, Other DSL Improvements

Phillip Dampier August 17, 2017 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon 1 Comment

VDSL2 vectoring and G.fast are only as good as the copper wiring that extends to each customer. Up to 45 percent of North American wire pairs are in some state of disrepair.

Verizon has no interest in using advanced forms of DSL as part of its next generation broadband service.

Speaking at ADTRAN’s Broadband Solutions Summit, Verizon’s director of network planning Vincent O’Byrne made it clear DSL variants and copper wiring were not going to be a part of Verizon’s future network platform.

“We have no strategy for G.fast,” O’Byrne told Telecompetitor in response to a question about whether the company would upgrade or deploy advanced forms of DSL as part of overhauling its broadband networks.

Some telephone companies with large legacy copper networks have promoted DSL advancements including bonding, VDSL, and G.fast in lieu of costly fiber upgrades to shareholders and customers to improve the sluggish 6-10Mbps speeds many customers get from DSL service. But O’Byrne said Verizon has had nothing but headaches trying to make its legacy copper network actually deliver the improved broadband speeds those technologies promise on paper.

O’Byrne admitted Verizon’s copper network has not aged well, calling it “poor” in some areas. Verizon’s previous efforts to deploy VDSL and ethernet over copper to multiple dwelling units (MDUs) like apartment buildings and condos turned out so poorly, O’Byrne does not want to repeat those mistakes in the future.

For urban areas and MDUs, O’Byrne stressed he plans to take fiber all the way to each condo unit or apartment and get rid of the copper.

Verizon’s next generation fiber strategy will depend heavily on NG-PON2 technology, which is managed by unpowered splitters and filters — dramatically cutting the hardware costs associated with active fiber networks. Many PON networks are fiber to the premises, but then rely on Wi-Fi or Ethernet wired networks once inside a building. Verizon prefers an all-fiber solution, which is unusual among U.S. carriers. AT&T, CenturyLink and Windstream still use G.fast for relatively short runs of existing copper phone wiring inside MDUs and homes.

Verizon’s O’Byrne believes an all-fiber solution may cost more upfront, but will deliver better longevity, value, and fewer problems over time.

Comcast Brings Gigabit DOCSIS 3.1 to Philadelphia, South Jersey

Comcast customers in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties in Pennsylvania as well as parts of New Jersey and New Castle County, Del. can now subscribe to the company’s DOCSIS 3.1-powered gigabit broadband service.

Jim Samaha, senior vice president of Comcast’s “Freedom Region” surrounding southeastern Pennsylvania says at least two million customers will be able to subscribe to the new, faster broadband speed immediately.

“We have been on a pace of doubling our network capacity every 18 to 24 months, ensuring that we stay well ahead of demand,” said Samaha in a statement.

Comcast is running an introductory promotion that will price the gigabit service at $79.99 a month with a one-year contract or $104.95 a month for month-to-month service. A 1TB usage cap did apply to customers on a gigabit plan who did not agree to a term contract, but there was some debate on that point with Comcast representatives giving conflicting answers. Customers who want a cap-free experience with Comcast may have to pay an additional $50 a month.

Dish Networks Handing Out Free HD Antennas Again

Phillip Dampier August 17, 2017 Consumer News, Dish Network 1 Comment

Dish Network satellite customers in Providence, R.I. are being offered free over-the-air digital antennas in preparation for another retransmission consent dispute with the area’s local ABC station.

Citadel Communications-owned WLNE-TV (6) is warning its contract to allow its signal to be carried over the satellite service expires Friday, Aug. 18 at 7 pm. With negotiations still ongoing, Dish is offering its Providence subscribers free installation of a free antenna to receive local Providence over the air stations if they also agree to cancel Dish’s local station add-on package (just under $10/month).

“We’ve been actively working to negotiate an agreement that keeps ABC6 available on Dish, but Citadel’s unbending attitude and outrageous demands show that this broadcaster has no intention of coming to a deal,” said Dish executive vice president of marketing, programming and media sales Warren Schlichting.

More and more consumers are amenable to switching back to free over the air reception to combat rising subscription costs, and providers are finding new ways to accommodate their customers, even at the risk of losing add-on fees from canceled local station packages.

Providence, R.I.

With local television station retransmission consent fees rising faster than other cable and satellite programming fees, some providers would prefer to drop local stations but cannot without alienating customers. The biggest impediment to getting customers to switch to over-the-air reception is signal quality.

In some markets, local station reception can vary considerably depending on where the customer watches. Digital reception problems cause pixelation and picture freezes, and correcting these can require regular antenna repositioning or an outdoor antenna, especially in fringe reception areas.

In Providence, several thousand Dish customers have switched back to over the air reception after being offered a free antenna, which offers as many as 45 free broadcast TV channels from Rhode Island and adjacent markets.

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  • EJ: Paul you are 100% percent correct, but like I said the reason that fixed wireless is a failure is a lack of investment. You can make fixed wireless wo...
  • mike: I guess they mean like the upgrades Time Warner was in the middle of when the sale went through and Charter then dropped the ax on....
  • Taylor Langdon: I was told on the phone $69.99 was the lowest they'd go. I used online chat after that and got $64.99....
  • Paul Houle: EJ, all too often, "technology agnostic" seems to be a codeword for the same DSL and fixed wireless technologies that have (in the case of DSL...
  • EJ: Kevin S that is not a fair judgement to make. You just have to put requirements on the 25mbps which should be on all providers anyways. Simple require...
  • Kevin S: You (Bloomburg) had me in your corner in 100% support of your views and findings right up until the end...when you stated: "Bloomberg supports the FC...
  • Shaun: The same thing happened when Verizon happened, when Bell took over GTE.. GTE, was more like time warner, and was a decent company.. Bell.. another cha...
  • Shaun: Their own pricing plans proves this to be a lie. You know that the company is not going to give you "any" plan where they are going to "loose" money.....
  • L Nova: I really wish that these companies told wall street to f**k off and do what they feel is right to retain customers. Self-aggrandizing douchenozzles su...
  • Jim Jackson: Yeah when you introduce $65 billion in debt overnight that money has to come from somewhere. There is so little synergies in a cable company merger t...
  • Ronald: How long until those customers realize they get most of the good stuff with just the antenna, and decide they don't need Dish anymore?...
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