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AT&T Shuts Down Its 2G Wireless Network Creating Problems for San Francisco’s NextBus System

Phillip Dampier January 18, 2017 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Wireless Broadband No Comments

Connecting… but never connected at this San Francisco bus stop, because AT&T pulled the plug on the 2G service San Francisco’s public transit system relies on. (Photo Courtesy: Rick/Flickr)

AT&T quietly closed down its 2G wireless network nationwide on Jan. 1, 2017, stranding some very old phones left with Wi-Fi only service and causing irritation for San Francisco’s public transit system.

“To help support the massive growth of mobile internet usage and free up spectrum for newer technologies, we discontinued service on our 2G wireless networks Jan. 1, 2017,” AT&T said in a statement released Tuesday. “Since launching our 2G networks, technologies like smart phones, social media and wirelessly connected devices have changed the network landscape. In fact, since 2007, data usage on our network has grown by 250,000% with video being a significant contributor to this growth.”

You were warned: AT&T sent letters to affected customers several months before the shutdown.

2G has been around since the early 1990s and supported data speeds up to 64kbps, just a bit faster than dial-up. 2G was incorporated into slimmed down handsets that replaced early behemoth “brick”-sets, some models with improved video screens to display pictures and text messages. It would take the advent of 3G networks, introduced in 1998, to launch a full scale smartphone revolution.

The most notable phone that no longer has access to AT&T’s network is the original Apple iPhone, first released ten years ago. It will still work on Wi-Fi, but mobile data over AT&T’s network no longer functions.

Perhaps the biggest impact from AT&T’s network closedown came in San Francisco, where local public transit officials in the midst of a multi-year technology upgrade were caught by surprise by the 2G shutdown, leaving the NextMuni bus timing information system disabled. AT&T’s 2G wireless network provided data to and from 70% of the city’s Muni vehicles, including timing and arrival information for riders. When the system shut down, buses stopped reporting accurate arrival and departure information. City officials have temporarily suspended the NextMuni program until it can upgrade its fleet. A San Francisco transit officials told SFBay that could take weeks.

Verizon plans to shut down its 2G CDMA 1X network by 31 December 2019 while T-Mobile US has postponed shutdown of their 2G network until 2020.

Big Red Verizon Really Wants to Own a Cable Company – Charter or Comcast Will Do Nicely

Shhh… Don’t tell anyone except the newspapers, trade journals, everyone else….

Well-placed sources inside Verizon are leaking like a sieve to the media about the phone giant’s ambition to own and operate a large cable company.

In what may be a trial balloon to test the waters with the incoming Trump Administration, at least two “well-placed sources” have told the New York Post Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam is seriously contemplating countering AT&T’s buy of DirecTV and its attempted acquisition of content company Time Warner, Inc., with the buyout of a major national cable operator.

Verizon’s primary interest, according to multiple sources, is expanding available content to fill its current and future wireless platforms, especially 5G. Acquiring a cable operator would make content deals easier and more affordable because of volume discounting. It would also allow Verizon to directly sell cable products and services without investing in further FiOS expansion.

The CEO told friends at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas that he “wants to buy into cable.”

The most likely targets would have to be large cable operators with a national footprint, and a source told the tabloid two companies qualified: Charter or Comcast.

“Altice is too small,” the source speculated. That would also count out other medium-sized companies like Cox and Mediacom, because they have too limited a service area to be of much use to Verizon.

No final decision has been made, the newspaper notes, adding no talks are underway between Verizon and any cable company at present. Should Mr. Trump repeat the earlier objections to the AT&T-Time Warner, Inc., merger he made last October, any marriage of Verizon with a cable operator would be unlikely. Trump cited unchecked media consolidation as his primary reason for opposing AT&T’s latest acquisition deal, but he has not repeated those objections recently. Last week Trump met with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson in New York.

McAdam originally planned to use Verizon’s acquisition of Yahoo! as a way to broaden the phone company’s content library, but that yet-to-be-finished deal has been in turbulence since media reports exposed major security breaches of Yahoo’s e-mail and portal sites.

A deal with Charter is more likely than a buyout of Comcast because Charter’s most significant shareholder – John Malone, has no allegiance to keeping Charter Communications independent. Charter also lacks the kind of complications that an acquisition of Comcast could bring – notably Comcast’s ownership of NBC and its dozen owned-and-operated TV stations.

Malone has a long history of dispassionately buying and selling large telecom assets, including the cable company Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) he helped build from a handful of cable systems into what used to be the nation’s largest cable operator. In 1999, TCI was sold and rebranded as AT&T Broadband and Internet Services. Three years later, most of those cable systems were again sold to their present owner Comcast.

Verizon may argue it has already divested significant amounts of its FiOS service to Frontier Communications in the Pacific Northwest, Indiana, Texas, California, and Florida, limiting antitrust concerns. But state regulators, particularly in New York, are likely to raise serious objections if Verizon, already the dominant telephone company in New York (except Rochester) attempts to acquire Charter, the only significant cable operator in upstate New York and Manhattan. That would leave the vast majority of New York with a classic telecom monopoly, with only one provider for landline and broadband service.

Arris’ First DOCSIS 3.1 Modem is Coming Soon… for $199.99

Phillip Dampier January 17, 2017 Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Cox No Comments

The Arris Surfboard SB8200, in white. Arris usually releases identical versions in black and white colors. (Photo courtesy of: Arris)

Arris, the nation’s number one manufacturer of cable modems, will introduce its first DOCSIS 3.1-compatible cable modem as early as this week.

The Arris SB8200 will reportedly cost consumers a steep $199.99 when it goes on sale at the end of this month.

Multichannel News reports the modem box will include the logos of Comcast and Cox, advertising compatibility with Comcast’s ongoing DOCSIS 3.1 trials and the forthcoming introduction of DOCSIS 3.1 to a significant number of Cox Cable customers.

It is capable of download speeds up to 5Gbps, uses up to 32 downstream and 8 upstream channels, and includes two gigabit Ethernet ports.

Customers can begin using the new DOCSIS 3.1 modem as soon as it is available for sale, because it will be backwards-compatible with existing DOCSIS 3 broadband networks. Prospective buyers should check with their cable operator before purchase, to make sure it is officially supported.

As cable operators upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1, the SB8200 should allow customers to immediately take advantage of speed upgrades, which are expected to be dramatic. Many cable operators are targeting gigabit download speeds for their top-tier, although upload speeds are expected to be considerably lower than 1000Mbps.

At least one cable operator has been wavering about whether to move towards DOCSIS 3.1 or switch to fiber broadband technology.

Altice USA, which currently owns Suddenlink and Cablevision/Optimum, has announced plans to scrap its existing hybrid fiber/coax infrastructure and upgrade Cablevision customers to fiber-to-the-home service, which will not use DOCSIS cable modems. Altice has not ruled out fiber upgrades for its Suddenlink systems, but has upgraded speeds in many markets using the older DOCSIS 3 standard. Altice USA is expected to continue acquiring smaller cable operators this year – most likely bidding for Cable ONE and a handful of other smaller, regional cable operators.

Among cable operators that have made substantial investments in DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades and are least likely to abandon the technology include: RCN, Mediacom, and WideOpenWest (branded: WOW!). Charter Communications is also expected to be a DOCSIS 3.1 provider… eventually. The company is likely to be preoccupied over the next few years upgrading Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks systems it acquired to all-digital platforms before it considers moving to DOCSIS 3.1.

Arris will face competing models including Netgear’s CM1000 ($179.99) and the Linksys CM3132 ($199.99) which should be available by late spring.

Altice End Runs Around Connecticut TV Station’s Blackout By Sending Customers to CBS All Access

“Of course you know this means war.”

Altice USA has found a way to use CBS’ All Access online streaming service against a Connecticut CBS affiliate that blacked out its signal for some Connecticut Cablevision customers.

Meredith-owned CBS affiliate WFSB-TV in Hartford has been off the Optimum television lineup in two dozen Connecticut towns as of 5pm Friday, Jan. 13 after negotiations between Iowa-based Meredith and Altice USA broke down over the price of renewing a retransmission consent contract that Altice claims is 800% more expensive than before.

That means Optimum customers in Litchfield County no longer have access to CBS programming. Or do they? Optimum’s website is redirecting affected customers to WFSB’s network — CBS — and offering a week’s free trial of CBS’ All Access, which allows viewers online access to all CBS programming on demand.

Optimum’s previously negotiated distribution deal with CBS for the All Access platform has been in place since the summer of 2015, which means CBS cannot pull the offer down from Altice’s website. That effectively means CBS is being used to undercut its own affiliate’s most important leverage — taking away popular programming until a provider finally capitulates and signs a renewal contract.

Matt Polka, president of the American Cable Association, which represents small and independent cable companies, loves it.

“Local broadcasters cannibalized by their own network!” Polka tweeted.

Altice USA has promised investors it will hold the line on programming costs even if it means finding alternatives for customers. This seems to be an example at work.

Will CBS All Access weaken Meredith’s position on WFSB to force price concessions? The New Haven Register isn’t sure, reporting there are years of “bad blood” between Cablevision and Meredith over carriage contracts:

During the last retransmission agreement negotiations in 2014, Cablevision Systems called on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate whether Meredith Corp. was meeting public interest obligations that are an important component of all television station licenses. Cablevision also sued Meredith in Connecticut’s court system under the Unfair Trade Practices Act.

The latest dispute has attracted the attention of both of Connecticut’s U.S. senators.

“I typically don’t get involved because it’s not for me to dictate the terms of a dispute between a cable company and a network,” Sen. Chris Murphy said in a statement issued Friday night. “But I haven’t been pleased with Altice’s commitment to Connecticut since it bought Cablevision.”

FierceCable reported the area’s congressional delegation isn’t happy with either company:

Connecticut’s two Democratic U.S. Senators, Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy, sent a letter addressed to both Meredith Corp. CEO Stephen Lacy and Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei.

“While we respect the private negotiations being conducted by Optimum and WFSB and make no representations as to the merits of either side’s position, we believe that the current impasse does a disservice to Connecticut families and we urge you to negotiate in good faith to bring an end to this blackout,” the Senators wrote.

Altice, meanwhile, said in its own statement, “We have been negotiating in good faith for weeks and made multiple offers to Meredith even though their initial request was for more than 800% over what we currently pay.”

Frontier Refuses Refunds When Its TV Package Gets Slimmed Down By Contract Dispute

Phillip Dampier January 16, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, Frontier 2 Comments

Frontier FiOS TV customers in the Seattle area are still paying the same price for a cable television package missing one of its most popular channels and the phone company won’t lower the bill.

Since the New Year began, a retransmission consent dispute between Frontier Communications and Sinclair Broadcast Group — the nation’s largest station group owner, has meant customers can no longer watch KOMO-TV (ABC) in Seattle on their Frontier FiOS lineup.

Daily Herald columnist Julie Muhlstein pondered if that should inspire more Washington residents to retaliate with some cord cutting of their own, especially after Frontier Communications delivered an unsympathetic response to the questions many cable customers ask when channels suddenly vanish from the lineup – why isn’t the bill going down?:

Not only is FiOS my source of TV at home, The Daily Herald has a Frontier hookup. For now, there will be no watching KOMO News or ABC on our newsroom TV.

I don’t watch “The Bachelor,” but that’s not the point. Shouldn’t all local affiliates of major commercial broadcast networks — particularly the traditional big three, ABC, CBS and NBC — be the minimum of what cable providers offer? I think so.

And if Frontier Communications offers less, shouldn’t monthly bills be reduced? I think so.

That’s not the way the business works, said Javier Mendoza, director of communications for Frontier Communications. Mendoza confirmed Tuesday that Frontier’s agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. has expired. Sinclair owns Seattle-based KOMO TV, the local ABC affiliate.

“FiOS occasionally changes its channel offerings. That’s covered in our customer service agreement,” Mendoza said. “Such programming package changes are part of normal business and no discounts are available.”

In other words, tough luck and no refunds. Watch something else.

Phillip Dampier: TV retransmission consent disputes will eventually cost both sides money and customers.

Frontier may be its own worst enemy deleting major network affiliates from the lineup, because for many subscribers, those are the channels that keep them subscribed to a bloated, overpriced cable television package that includes dozens of channels they will never watch. Once off the lineup, customers begin searching for alternatives, and something as simple as a good over-the-air antenna can restore free television channels that now cost many cable subscribers several dollars a month only because they travel across a wire or through a satellite dish.

Sinclair, for its part, isn’t terribly sympathetic to the consumer either, demanding an ever-increasing amount of compensation from cable and satellite providers to carry their local stations on the lineup.

Barry Faber, Sinclair’s executive vice president for distribution and network relations, says their asking price was perfectly reasonable for other providers (even though many promptly pass those fees on to consumers in the form of a ‘Broadcast TV Surcharge’). Faber implied Sinclair offered a ‘take it or leave it’ price and Frontier left it.

“They just decided they don’t want to pay that amount. That’s their decision,” Faber said. “It’s up to subscribers to decide what they want to do. If I were a subscriber, I’d think about leaving them.”

Unfortunately for Sinclair, if subscribers go back to using an antenna for television, they will effectively no longer be filling Sinclair’s bank account either, because watching over the air television is still free, at least until someone tries to charge viewers for that as well.

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