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Math Problem: The Telecom Industry’s Bias Against Fiber-to-the-Home Service

Phillip "Spending $6k per cable customer is obviously a much better deal than paying half that to build a fiber to the home network" Dampier

Phillip “Spending $6k per cable customer is obviously a much better deal than paying half that to build a fiber to the home network” Dampier

Math was never my strong subject, but even I can calculate the groupthink of American cable and telephone companies and their friends on Wall Street just doesn’t add up.

This week, we learned that cable companies like Bright House Networks, Suddenlink, and Charter Communications are already lining up for a chance to acquire three million cable customers Comcast intends to sell if it wins approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable. Wall Street has already predicted Comcast will fetch as much as $18 billion for those customers and pegged the value of each at approximately $6,000.

But for less than half that price any company could build a brand new fiber to the home system capable of delivering 1,000Mbps broadband and state-of-the-art phone and television service and start banking profits long before paying off the debt from buying an inferior coaxial cable system. Yet we are told time and time again that the economics of fiber to the home service simply don’t make any sense and deploying the technology is a waste of money.

Let’s review:

Google Fiber was called a boondoggle by many of its competitors. The folks at Bernstein Research, routinely friendly to the cable business model, seemed appalled at the economics of Google’s fiber project in Kansas City. Bernstein’s Carlos Kirjner and Ram Parameswaran said Google would throw $84 million into the first phase of its fiber network, connecting 149,000 homes at a cost between $500-674 per home. The Wall Street analyst firm warned investors of the costs Google would incur reaching 20 million customers nationwide — $11 billion.

“We remain skeptical that Google will find a scalable and economically feasible model to extend its build out to a large portion of the U.S., as costs would be substantial, regulatory and competitive barriers material, and in the end the effort would have limited impact on the global trajectory of the business,” Bernstein wrote to its investor clients.

dealSo Google spending $11 billion to reach 20 million new homes is business malpractice while spending $18 billion for three million Time Warner Cable customers is confirmation of the cable industry’s robust health and valuation?

Bernstein’s firm never thought highly of Verizon FiOS either.

“If I were an auto dealer and I wanted to give people a Maserati for the price of a Volkswagen, I’d have some seriously happy customers,” Craig Moffett from Bernstein said back in 2008. “My problem would be whether I could earn a decent return doing it.”

Back then, Moffett estimated the average cost to Verizon per FiOS home passed was $3,897, a figure based on wiring up every neighborhood, but not getting every homeowner to buy the service. Costs for fiber have dropped dramatically since 2008. Dave Burstein from DSL Prime reported by the summer of 2012 Verizon told shareholders costs fell below $700/home passed and headed to $600. The total cost of running fiber, installing it in a customer’s home and providing equipment meant Verizon had to spend about $1,500 per customer when all was said and done.

Moffett concluded Verizon was throwing money away spending that much on improving service. He wasn’t impressed by AT&T U-verse either, which only ran fiber into the neighborhood, not to each home. Moffett predicted AT&T was spending $2,200 per home on U-verse back in 2008, although those costs have dropped dramatically as well.

Moffett

Moffett

Moffett’s solution for both Verizon and AT&T? Do nothing to upgrade, because the price wasn’t worth the amount of revenue returns either company could expect in the short-term.

It was a much different story if Comcast wanted to spend $45 billion to acquire Time Warner Cable however, a deal Moffett called “transformational.”

“What we’re talking about is an industry that is becoming more capital intensive,” Todd Mitchell, an analyst at Brean Capital LLC in New York told Bloomberg News. “What happens to mature, capital-intensive companies — they consolidate. So, yes, I think the cable industry is ripe for consolidation.”

Other investors agreed.

“This is definitely a bet on a positive future for high-speed access, cable and other services in an economic recovery,” said Bill Smead, chief investment officer at Smead Capital Management, whose fund owns Comcast shares.

ftth councilBut Forbes’ Peter Cohan called Google’s much less investment into fiber broadband a colossal waste of money.

“Larry Page should nip this bad idea in the bud,” Cohan wrote.

Cohan warned investors should throw water on the enthusiasm for fiber before serious money got spent.

“FTTH authority, Neal Lachman, wrote in SeekingAlpha, that it would cost as much as $500 billion and could take a decade to connect all the houses and commercial buildings in the U.S. to fiber,” Cohan added.

Cohan was concerned Google’s initial investment would take much too long to be recovered, which apparently is not an issue for buyers willing to spend $18 billion for three million disaffected Time Warner Cable customers desperately seeking alternatives.

An investment for the future, not for short term profits.

An investment for the future, not short term profits.

Municipal broadband providers have often chosen to deploy fiber to the home service because the technology offers plenty of capacity, ongoing maintenance costs are low and the networks can be upgraded at little cost indefinitely. But such broadband efforts, especially when they are owned by local government, represent a threat for cable and phone companies relying on a business model that sells less for more.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), funded by Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, Verizon, and other large telecom companies is at the forefront of helping friendly state legislators ban community fiber networks. Their excuse is that the fiber networks cost too much and, inexplicably, can reduce competition.

“A growing number of municipalities are [...] building their own networks and offering broadband services to their citizens,” ALEC writes on its website. “ALEC disagrees with their answer due to the negative impacts it has on free markets and limited government.  In addition, such projects could erode consumer choice by making markets less attractive to competition because of the government’s expanded role as a service provider.”

The Fiber-to-the-Home Council obviously disagrees.

“Believe it or not, there are already more than a thousand telecom network operators and service providers across North America that have upgraded to fiber to the home,” says the Council. “The vast majority of these are local incumbent telephone companies that are looking to transform themselves from voice and DSL providers into 21st century broadband companies that can deliver ultra high-speed Internet and robust video services, as well as be able to deliver other high-bandwidth digital applications and services to homes and businesses in the years ahead.”

Stephenson

Stephenson

In fact, a good many of those efforts are undertaken by member-owned co-ops and municipally owned providers that answer to local residents, not to shareholders looking for quick returns.

The only time large companies like AT&T move towards fiber to the home service is when a competitor threatens to do it themselves. That is precisely what happened in Austin. The day Google announced it was launching fiber service in Austin, AT&T suddenly announced its intention to do the same.

“In Austin we’re deploying fiber very aggressively,” said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. “The cost dynamics of deploying fiber have dramatically changed. The interfaces at the homes, the wiring requirements, how you get a wiring drop to a pole, and the way you splice it has totally changed the cost dynamics of deploying fiber.”

Prior to that announcement, AT&T justified its decision not to deploy fiber all the way to the home by saying it was unnecessary and too costly. With Google headed to town, that talking point is no longer operative.

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As Usual, Big Telecom in the Running for Worst Company in America 2014

2014wciabracketdayfive

Our friends at The Consumerist invite you to participate in the 2014 Worst Company in America contest. Readers are invited to cast a series of votes — one each day — to help narrow the field to the truly abysmal, the god-awful, and the despised. The ultimate winner receives the Golden Poo award.

Not surprisingly, the nation’s biggest telecom companies are among the regular finalists. The big ones are all there — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and AT&T.

Hated cable companies frequently beat down big banks like the vipers at Chase, where settlements in the hundreds of millions with the government for wrongdoing are almost a monthly occurrence. Voters would rather fly the Unfriendly Skies with Divided Airlines, Last Frontier Air — even US Scare — than deal with Comcast’s offshore customer service. The bad boys at Electronic Arts and Koch Industries bring knives to AT&T’s gunfight on good customer relations.

Over the last eight years, Comcast turned up as the big winner of the Golden Poo award in 2010 and either runner-up or third place in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013. AT&T achieved third place in 2012. Time Warner Cable and Verizon are usually eliminated in the finals, but their regular appearance on the nominations list is not something they can be proud of. Time Warner Cable has already managed to beat back EA, big winner in 2012 and 2013. So this year they might go all the way to the top… or is it bottom?

Year Winner Runner-up Third place
2006 Halliburton Choicepoint Wal-Mart and US Government
2007 RIAA Halliburton Wal-Mart and Exxon
2008 Countrywide Financial Comcast Diebold and Wal-Mart
2009 AIG Comcast Bank of America and Ticketmaster
2010 Comcast Cash4Gold Bank of America and Ticketmaster
2011 BP Bank of America Comcast and Ticketmaster
2012 Electronic Arts Bank of America AT&T and Wal-Mart
2013 Electronic Arts Bank of America Comcast
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Usage Billing Money Maker: Wireless Carriers Will Earn More Than $100 Billion On Data Plans This Year

U.S. wireless carriers are on track to earn more than $100 billion this year from usage-based billing plans for mobile data, the first country in the world to break the symbolic $100 billion mark in data revenue.

Analyst Chetan Sharma reports Verizon Wireless and AT&T are statistically the largest recipients of revenue earned from metering data usage. For the first time in 2013, mobile data revenue surpassed voice revenue in the U.S., making data usage the most lucrative product available from wireless carriers.

A graph from the Economist published last year explains the runaway revenue growth at U.S. wireless carriers. The lack of significant competition has allowed U.S. companies to charge an average of $85 a month for data plans, which are nearly always bundled into compulsory packages of unlimited voice calling and texting. In contrast, customers in China pay just $24 for data plans. In the United Kingdom, the average charge is $9 a month.

mobile-data-prices-chart-2Sharma said the only disruption to this revenue growth in the United States comes from T-Mobile USA, which has recently cut prices on its service plans, forcing AT&T and Verizon Wireless to react with moderate price cutting. But with the significant disparity in market share between AT&T and Verizon vs. T-Mobile, neither larger carrier is expected to take a significant hit to their bottom lines without a mass exodus to the country’s fourth largest provider.

Softbank, the Japanese company that now controls Sprint, has launched a lobbying effort to secure permission to acquire T-Mobile and merge it into the Sprint network. But with reports showing T-Mobile’s willingness to disrupt the wireless market, regulators are likely to be reluctant to remove that competition from the playing field.

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Your Online Privacy — Invaded; AT&T and Verizon Among List of Offenders

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBS The Data Brokers -- Selling your personal information 3-9-14.flv

This weekend, 60 Minutes profiled how marketing companies invade your privacy, track your personal life and locations, and sell the lucrative information with little notice to you to third parties. Among the offenders are AT&T and Verizon, which both have special divisions devoted to pitching your personal details to advertisers of all kinds. Although they claim the information they sell does not include your real identity, third-party marketers make a living putting this kind of “aggregate” information together with other data to discover your name and address. At least with AT&T and Verizon, there are easy ways to opt out. (13:56)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBS How to defend your privacy online 3-9-14.flv

Looking to protect your privacy? 60 Minutes Overtime provides some advice and some examples of the lengths you’d have to go to be completely “off the grid.” (5:52)

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Fiber to the Home is Now Cheap Enough for AT&T to Expand It to Dallas, Other Cities

Phillip Dampier March 10, 2014 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News No Comments

att gigapowerAT&T says it plans to adopt fiber to the home service in cities around the United States as part of an expansion of its U-verse GigaPower service.

CEO Randall Stephenson told investors at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Telecom, and Media Conference the “cost dynamics” of fiber optics have become “really encouraging” in its targeted fiber deployment in Austin, Tex.

“In fact I would tell you we are so encouraged that we want to begin taking this to other communities [where] we can get the terms and conditions like we have in Austin,” Stephenson said, referring to Austin’s red-tape cutting and clearing the way for fiber upgrades with eased permit requirements and pole attachment policies. “We are redirecting investment to fiber to the home deployment, and in fact we are going to launch the service in Dallas this summer.”

Stephenson added that where U-verse faces significant competition from a “new competitor,” AT&T will be “a little more aggressive and assertive in deploying that technology around the country.”

That most likely means AT&T will choose fiber to the home service in areas facing imminent competition from Google Fiber or another similar provider.

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AT&T “Insurance” Won’t Cover Lost/Stolen Phones Unless Policy is Activated on AT&T’s Wireless Network

Phillip Dampier March 4, 2014 AT&T, Consumer News, Video, Wireless Broadband No Comments

att insuranceIf you thought AT&T Mobile Insurance would bring you peace of mind if your expensive smartphone is ever lost, stolen, or damaged, think again.

The wireless carrier and its partner Asurion have nine pages of sneaky terms and conditions that give the two companies a myriad of reasons to deny insurance claims and leave you with nothing after paying your $6.99 monthly insurance premium.

The Los Angeles Times reports one customer – Marianna Yarovskaya – learned this the hard way when she purchased AT&T’s insurance to cover her new iPhone 5S she bought before taking a trip to Indonesia. Sure enough, her new phone was swiped right out of her hotel room. Yarovskaya’s disappointment only got worse when her insurance claim was denied not once, or twice, but three times.

An Asurion representative explained to Yarovskaya her insurance claim was rejected because she was outside of AT&T’s network when she completed the last steps of her online registration for AT&T’s insurance. It turned out AT&T Insurance is worthless if customers enroll while using a Wi-Fi connection or any other service provider other than AT&T’s wireless data network.

“This is crazy,” Yarovskaya said. “They are saying that if you travel, the insurance becomes worthless.”

A careful review of the nine pages of barely penetrable terms and conditions unearthed the “tricks and traps” Asurion used to walk away from Yarovskaya’s claim.

On page six, AT&T and Asurion insist that “covered property must be actively registered on the service provider’s network on the date of loss and have logged airtime prior to the date of loss.”

terms and cond

To ordinary people, that would suggest that Yarovskaya would be covered as soon as she purchased and activated her new AT&T iPhone and service while in a Los Angeles AT&T store. That act left her “actively registered” as an AT&T customer. Asurion also specifies their insurance coverage territory is “worldwide,” which would indicate insured phones are covered wherever they are lost, stolen, or damaged.

But then there is pesky page eight — the “definitions” page, where Asurion gets to define the meaning of various English words and phrases as it sees fit.

Asurion’s definition of “covered property” is a device “actively registered on the service provider’s network and for which airtime has been logged after enrollment.”

clear

When the Times asked Bettie Colombo, an Asurian spokeswoman, what that meant, she explained phones are not insured until the customer performs some wireless activity on AT&T’s network after signing up for coverage.

asurionTranslation: You have to do something on your carrier’s wireless network after coverage begins for coverage to begin.

If you are roaming, traveling overseas, or you use your phone with Wi-Fi and AT&T doesn’t see the device on its network after signing up for insurance, you are not covered. The language is so broad, it could also be interpreted to mean you have to be actively registered on an AT&T cell tower at the time of loss or damage or Asurion could walk away for that reason as well.

An insurance underwriter tells Stop the Cap! the real intent of this clause is to protect Asurion from customers signing up for insurance -after- losing or damaging their phone and then immediately filing an insurance claim. As a protection measure, the insurer wants to confirm it is insuring a working phone actually possessed by the owner before activating coverage. If customers registered for insurance on other devices or networks, AT&T wouldn’t have direct, absolute confirmation the customer is insuring a working phone. But most customers are unaware of this requirement, and if a claim arrives shortly after a customer signs up for coverage, insurance adjusters tend to be extra suspicious.

AT&T is staying out of the insurance dispute and declined to comment, leaving Yarovskaya with a $6.99 premium payment and $650 in replacement costs to buy a new phone.

The Times‘ opinion about the merits of AT&T’s insurance? “Buy it at your own peril.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT Mobile Insurance phone service 3-4-14.flv

AT&T makes it look easy to sign up for device insurance, but navigating through the claims process and nine pages of terms and conditions leave a lot of room to deny your claim. (2:02)

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AT&T Proposes Pulling the Plug on Landline Service in Alabama and Florida

carbon hill

Carbon Hill, Ala.

AT&T is seeking permission to disconnect traditional landline service in Alabama and Florida as it plans to abandon its copper wire network and move towards Voice Over IP in urban areas and force customers to use wireless in suburbs and rural communities.

AT&T’s BellSouth holding company has asked the Federal Communications Commission to approve what it calls “an experiment,” beginning in the communities of West Delray Beach, Fla., and Carbon Hill, Ala.

The first phase of the plan would start by asking residents to voluntarily disconnect existing landline service in favor of either U-verse VoIP service or a wireless landline replacement that works with AT&T’s cellular network. In the next phase of the experiment, traditional copper-based landline service would be dropped altogether as AT&T and the FCC study the impact.

“We have proposed conducting the trials in Carbon Hill, Ala., and in West Delray Beach, Fla.,” AT&T writes on the company’s blog. “We chose these locations in an effort to gain insights into some of the more difficult issues that likely will be presented as we transition from legacy networks. For example, the rural and sparsely populated wire center of Carbon Hill poses particularly challenging economic and geographic characteristics.  While Kings Point’s suburban location and large population of older Americans poses different but significant challenges as well.  The lessons we learn from these trials will play a critical role as we begin this transition in our approximately 4700 wire centers across the country to meet our goal of completing the IP transition by the end of 2020.”

Delray-Beach-CrossFit1The transition may prove more controversial than AT&T is willing to admit. A similar effort to move landline customers to wireless service was met with strong resistance when Verizon announced it would not repair wired infrastructure on Fire Island, N.Y., damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Hundreds of complaints were registered with the New York Public Service Commission over the poor quality of service residents received with Verizon’s wireless landline replacement. The company eventually abandoned the wireless-only transition and announced it would also offer FiOS fiber optic service to customers seeking a better alternative.

“Be ready, beware,” Jim Rosenthal, a seasonal Fire Island resident, told Bloomberg News when asked what communities need to know about the changes. “Get your ducks in order. Make the alliances. Speak loudly, make sure you’re not roadkill.”

Customers that have already dropped landline service in favor of wireless and do not depend on AT&T for broadband will not notice any changes. Neither will customers  subscribed to U-verse phone and broadband service. But those who rely on AT&T DSL are likely to lose their wired broadband service and asked to switch to a very expensive wireless broadband alternative sold by AT&T. That alternative may be their only broadband option if the neighborhood is not serviced by a cable competitor.

The biggest impact will be in rural Carbon Hill, where 55% of AT&T customers will only be able to get wireless phone and broadband service, according to AT&T documents. At least 4% of local residents will get no service at all from AT&T, because they are outside of AT&T’s wireless coverage area. The phone company has no plans to expand its U-verse deployment in the rural community northwest of Birmingham. In contrast, every customer in West Delray Beach will be offered U-verse service. That means AT&T’s DSL customers will eventually be forced to switch to either U-verse for broadband or a wireless broadband plan that costs $50 a month, limited to 5GB of usage.

AT&T promises the transition will be an upgrade for customers, but that isn't always the case.

AT&T promises the transition will be an upgrade for customers, but that isn’t always true.

AT&T’s wireless home phone replacement is not compatible with fax machines, home or medical monitoring services, credit card machines, IP/PBX phone systems, dial-up Internet, and other data services. AT&T also disclaims any responsibility for mishandled 911 emergency calls that lack accurate location information about a customer in distress. The company also does not guarantee uninterrupted service or coverage.

AT&T chose Carbon Hill, which was originally a coal mining town, because it represents the classic poor, rural community common across AT&T’s service area. At least 21 percent of customers live below the poverty line. Many cannot afford cable service (if available). AT&T selected Alabama and Florida because both states have been friendly to its political agenda, adopting AT&T-sponsored deregulation measures statewide. AT&T was not required to seek permission from either state to begin its transition, and it is unlikely there will be any strong oversight on the state level.

“We looked for places where state law wasn’t going to be an issue, where the regulatory and legal environment in the state was conducive to the transition,” admitted Christopher Heimann, an AT&T attorney, at a briefing announcing the experiment.

Verizon faced a very different regulatory environment in New York, where unhappy Fire Island customers dissatisfied with Verizon’s wireless landline replacement Voice Link found sympathy from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who appealed to the state PSC to block the service. Sources told Stop the Cap! the oversight agency was planning to declare the service inadequate, just as Verizon announced it would offer its fiber optic service FiOS as an alternative option on the island.

Voice Link sparked complaints over dropped calls, poor sound quality, inadequate reception, and inadequacy for use with data services of all kinds. Customers were also upset Verizon’s service would not work as well in the event of a power interruption and the company disclaimed responsibility for assured access to 911.

carbon hill

Carbon Hill, Ala.

Although millions of Americans have disconnected landline telephone service in favor of wireless alternatives, traditional landlines are still commonly used in businesses and by poor and elderly customers. Many medical and security monitoring services also require landlines.

The loss of AT&T’s wired network could also mean no affordable broadband future for rural residents — wireless broadband is typically much more expensive. AT&T admits it will not guarantee DSL customers they will be able to keep wired broadband after the transition.

AT&T will “do our very best” to provide Internet-based services in trial areas, Bob Quinn, senior vice president for federal regulatory matters, said in a 2012 blog post proposing the trials.

“For those few we cannot reach with a broadband service, whether wireline or wireless, they will still be able to keep voice service,” Quinn said. “We are very cognizant that no one should be left behind in this transition.”

AT&T is likely to be the biggest winner if it successfully scraps its copper network. The company wants to drop landline service completely by 2020, saving the company millions while ending government oversight and eliminating service obligations.

“It’s a big darn deal,” said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. “The amount of cost that it removes from our legacy businesses is dramatic and it’s significant.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT The Next Generation IP Network 2-21-14.mp4

An AT&T-produced video showing a sunny future with IP-based phone service. But the future may not be so great for AT&T’s rural DSL customers. (1:31)

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Read Between AT&T’s Landlines: What They Don’t Say Will Cost Kentucky, Other States

Phillip "Another year, another AT&T deregulation measure" Dampier

Phillip “Another year, another AT&T deregulation measure” Dampier

It’s back.

It seems that nearly every year, AT&T and its well-compensated fan base of state legislators trot out the same old deregulation proposals that would end oversight of basic telephone service and allow AT&T (and other phone companies in Kentucky) to pull the plug on landline service wherever they feel it is no longer profitable to deliver.

This year, it’s Senate Bill 99, introduced once again by Sen. Paul “AT&T Knows Best” Hornback (R-Shelbyville). Back in 2012, Hornback disclosed AT&T largely authors these deregulation measures and he introduces them on AT&T’s behalf. In fact, he’s proud to admit it, telling the press nobody knows better than AT&T what the company needs the legislature to do for it.

“You work with the authorities in any industry to figure out what they need to move that industry forward,” Hornback said. “It’s no conflict.”

While Hornback moves AT&T forward, “his” bill will move rural Kentucky’s best chances for broadband backwards.

AT&T always pulls out all the stops when lobbying for its deregulation bills. In Kentucky, AT&T has more than 30 legislative lobbyists, including a former PSC vice chairwoman and past chairs of the state Democratic and Republican parties working on their behalf. It has spent over $100,000 in state political donations since 2007.

The chief provisions of the bill would:

  • End almost all oversight of telephone service by the Public Service Commission anywhere there are more than 15,000 people living within a telephone exchange’s service area;
  • Give Kentucky phone companies the right to disconnect urban/suburban basic landline phone service and replace it with either wireless or Voice over IP service;
  • Allow rural customers to keep landline service for now, but also permits AT&T and other companies to effectively stop investing in their rural wired networks.

yay attThis year, AT&T apparently conceded it was just too tough to convince the legislature to let them disconnect hundreds of thousands of rural Kentucky phone customers at the company’s pleasure, so this time they have permitted rural wired service to continue, with some exceptions that make life easier for AT&T.

First, the end of oversight of telephone service means customers in larger communities in Kentucky will have no recourse if their phone service doesn’t work, is billed incorrectly, is disconnected during a billing dispute, or never installed at all. The PSC has traditionally served as a last resort for customers who do not get satisfaction dealing with the local phone company directly. PSC intervention is taken very seriously by most phone companies, but the state agency will be rendered almost toothless under this bill.

Second, although existing rural phone customers would be able to keep their basic landline service (for now) under this measure, nothing prevents AT&T from marketing alternative wireless phone service to customers experiencing problems with their existing service. Verizon has attempted that in portions of upstate New York, where telephone network deterioration has led to increased complaints. In some cases, Verizon has suggested customers switch to wireless service instead of waiting for phone line repairs which may or may not solve the problem. New rural customers face the possibility of only being offered wireless or alternative phone services.

Third, provisions in the bill give AT&T and other companies wide latitude to offer wireless or Voice over IP alternatives to landline service with little recourse for customers who only later discover these alternatives don’t support faxes, medical or security alarm monitoring, dial-up Internet, credit card processing, etc.

Fourth, the bill eliminates any requirement imposed upon broadband service in existence as of July 15, 2004. In fact, the measure specifically defines both phone and broadband service as “market-based and not subject to state administrative regulation.” That basically means service will be unregulated.

AT&T's wireless home phone replacement

AT&T’s wireless home phone replacement

Here are some real world examples of where S.B. 99 could trip up consumers:

  1. An elderly Louisville couple living the summer months in Louisville discover their phone service has been switched to the U-verse platform over the winter as AT&T seeks to decommission its deteriorating landline network in the neighborhood. S.B. 99 offers customers a 30-day opt out provision upon first notification, allowing a customer dissatisfied with the alternative service the right to switch back to their landline. But this couple was in Florida during the 30-day window, did not receive the notification to opt out in time to act, and are now stuck with U-verse. Unfortunately, the home medical monitoring equipment for his pacemaker does not work with Voice over IP phone service. This couple’s recourse: None.
  2. A customer moves into a new home currently served by AT&T’s wireless home phone replacement service. The customer doesn’t like the sound quality of the service and wants a traditional landline instead. Her recourse: None.
  3. A retired couple uninterested in broadband service or television from AT&T U-verse suddenly discovers AT&T wants to raise prices on landline phone service, but offers savings if the couple agrees to sign up for U-verse. Instead of paying a $25 monthly phone bill, the couple is now being asked, on a fixed income, to pay $100 a month for services they don’t want or need. Their recourse: They can appeal to keep their landline if they meet the aforementioned deadline, but they have no recourse if AT&T raises rates for basic phone service to make its discounted bundled service package seem more attractive.

Hood Harris, president of AT&T Kentucky, follows the same playback AT&T always uses when pushing these bills by framing its argument around landline telephone service regulation, which is an easy sell for cell phone-crazy customers who have not made a landline call in years:

Harris

Harris

Some of Kentucky’s laws that regulate our phones were written before cable television, cell phones, the Internet or email existed.

Because of these outdated laws, providers like AT&T must sink resources into outdated technology that could be invested in the modern broadband and wireless technology consumers want and need.

Every dollar invested in old technology is a dollar not being invested in speeding up the build out of new technology across the commonwealth.

It’s no longer the 19th century coming into your home over the old, voice-only phone network that was put in place under now-outdated laws. It’s the 21st century coming into your home over modern networks. While technology has changed dramatically for the better in just the past few years, our laws have not.

Despite what you may have heard, SB 99 will not remove landlines from rural homes or businesses.

Instead, this legislation puts those customers in charge of deciding which communications services they want and need. If you are a rural customer, for example, you may choose to join the nearly 40 percent of Kentuckians who already have moved on from landline home phones and gone only with a wireless phone, or you may choose a landline phone that’s provided over the Internet (known as Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP), or you may choose both a VoIP and a wireless service.

But you do not have to — you can keep your existing landline phone if you like. Under SB 99, the choice is yours.

It’s seems like a logical argument, until you read between the lines. Harris implies that those old-fashioned laws governing landlines you don’t have anymore are slowing down AT&T from bringing about a Broadband Renaissance for Kentucky. If AT&T only was freed from the responsibility of patching up its copper wire phone network, it could spend all of its time, money, and attention on improving cell phone service and bring broadband to everyone. Harris promises every resident will have a choice to get the service they want — wireless or wired — as long as you remember he is only talking about basic phone service, not broadband.

If your community isn't highlighted on this map, AT&T has a wireless-only future in store for you.

If your community isn’t highlighted on this map, AT&T has a wireless-only future in store for you.

Harris avoids disclosing AT&T’s true agenda. The company has freely admitted to shareholders it wants to scrap its rural wired network, now considered too costly to maintain for a diminishing number of customers. Unlike independent phone companies like Frontier, AT&T has been in no hurry to upgrade these rural customers for broadband service. AT&T has not even bothered to apply for federal broadband funding assistance to defray some of the costs of extending DSL to its rural customer base. With no possibility of buying broadband from AT&T, customers have little incentive to keep wired service if a cell phone will do. But decommissioning landline service in rural Kentucky guarantees these customers will probably never receive adequate broadband.

The "long term cost reduction" AT&T mentions above is for them, not for you.

The “long-term cost reduction” AT&T mentions above is for them, not for you.

AT&T claims it will invest the savings in a wireless broadband network for rural customers, but as any smartphone owner will attest, AT&T’s wireless service is much more expensive than traditional phone service and its data plans are stingy and very expensive. Customers who can buy DSL from AT&T pay as little as $14.99 a month for up to 150GB of usage. A wireless data plan with AT&T for a home computer or notebook starts at $50 a month and only provides 5GB of usage before customers face a $10 per gigabyte overlimit fee. Which would you prefer: paying $14.99 for 150GB of usage with AT&T DSL or $1,500 for the same amount of usage on AT&T’s wireless network?

AT&T’s claims it will expand broadband as a result of not having to spend money on its landline network are specious. In fact, regardless of whether Kentucky passes S.B. 99 or not, AT&T has already embarked on its last known U-verse expansion. Project Velocity IP (VIP) devotes $6 billion to expanding U-verse to 57 million homes, reaching 75% of customer locations by the end of 2015. For the remaining 25% of customers, mostly in rural areas, AT&T’s plan isn’t to spend more money on improved wired service. Instead, it will build out its wireless network to serve the remaining customers with its LTE wireless broadband service — the same one that costs you $1,500 a month if you use 150GB.

Wireless is a cash cow for AT&T, so even saddled with its landline network, the company still spends the bulk of its investments on the wireless side of the business. Project VIP could have devoted all its resources to bringing U-verse to a larger customer base, but it won’t. AT&T sees much fatter profits spending $14 billion now to expand its wireless 4G LTE network and collect a lot more money later from its rural Kentucky customers.

Kentucky residents who don’t have U-verse in their area by the end of 2015 are probably never going to get the service, with or without S.B. 99. So why support a measure that delivers all the benefits to AT&T and leaves you sorting through the fine print just to keep the service you have now at a reasonable price. In every other state where AT&T has won deregulation, it raises the rates with no corresponding improvement in service.

Just how bad can AT&T’s wireless home phone replacement be? Just look at their disclaimers:

AT&T Wireless Home Phone is not compatible with home security systems, fax machines, medical alert and monitoring services, credit card machines, IP/PBX Phone systems, or dial-up Internet service. AT&T’s fine print on its website.

“AT&T’s wireless services are not equivalent to wireline Internet.” Wireless Customer Agreement, Section 4.1.

“WE DO NOT GUARANTEE YOU UNINTERRUPTED SERVICE OR COVERAGE. WE CANNOT ASSURE YOU THAT IF YOU PLACE A 911 CALL YOU WILL BE FOUND.” (All caps in original). Section 4.1.

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Peer Wars: Netflix SuperHD Streaming May Explain Video Traffic Slowdowns for Some Customers

The largest drops in streaming speeds are coming from ISPs that may be stalling necessary upgrades at the expense of their customers' online experience.

The largest drops in Netflix streaming speeds are coming from ISPs that may be stalling necessary upgrades at the cost of their paying customers’ online experience.

Netflix performance for Verizon customers is deteriorating because Verizon may be delaying bandwidth upgrades until it receives compensation for handling the growing amount of traffic coming from the online video provider.

Verizon customers have increasingly complained about Netflix slowdowns during prime-time, especially in the northeast, and Netflix’s latest statistics confirm FiOS customers have seen average performance drop by as much as 14% in the last month alone.

Verizon told Stop the Cap! a few weeks ago the company was not interfering with Netflix traffic or degrading its performance, but there is growing evidence that may not be the whole story. The Wall Street Journal reports Netflix and at least one bandwidth provider suspect phone and cable companies are purposely stalling on upgrading connections to handle traffic growth from Netflix until they are compensated for carrying its video traffic.

The dispute involves the plumbing behind parts of the Internet that are invisible to consumers. As more people stream movies and television, that infrastructure is getting strained, intensifying the debate over who should pay for upgrades needed to satisfy America’s online-video habit.

Netflix wants broadband companies to hook up to its new video-distribution network without paying them fees for carrying its traffic. But the biggest U.S. providers—Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T Inc. —have resisted, insisting on compensation.

The bottleneck has made Netflix unwatchable for Jen Zellinger, an information-technology manager from Carney, Md., who signed up for the service last month. She couldn’t play an episode of “Breaking Bad” without it stopping, she said, even after her family upgraded their FiOS Internet service to a faster, more expensive package. “We tried a couple other shows, and it didn’t seem to make any difference,” she said. Mrs. Zellinger said she plans to drop her Netflix service soon if the picture doesn’t improve, though she will likely hold on to her upgraded FiOS subscription.

She and her husband thought about watching “House of Cards,” but she said they probably will skip it. “We’d be interested in getting to that if we could actually pull up the show,” she said.

Netflix relies on third-party traffic distributors to deliver much of its streamed programming to customers around the country. Cogent Communications Group is a Netflix favorite. Cogent maintains two-way connections with many Internet Service Providers. When incoming and outgoing traffic are generally balanced, providers don’t complain. But when Cogent started delivering far more traffic to Verizon customers than what it receives from them, Verizon sought compensation for the disparity.

“When one party’s getting all the benefit and the other’s carrying all the cost, issues will arise,” Craig Silliman, Verizon’s head of public policy and government affairs told the newspaper. The imbalance is primarily coming from the growth of online video, and as higher definition video grows more popular, traffic imbalances can grow dramatically worse.

A spat last summer between Cogent and some ISPs is nearly identical to the current slowdown. Ars Technica reported the traditional warning signs providers used to start upgrades are increasingly being ignored:

“Typically what happened is when the connections reached about 50 percent utilization, the two parties agreed to upgrade them and they would be upgraded in a timely manner,” Cogent CEO Dave Schaeffer told Ars. “Over the past year or so, as we have continued to pick up Netflix traffic, Verizon has continuously slowed down the rate of upgrading those connections, allowing the interconnections to become totally saturated and therefore degrading the quality of throughput.”

Schaeffer said this is true of all the big players to varying degrees, naming Comcast, Time Warner, CenturyLink, and AT&T. Out of those, he said that “AT&T is the best behaved of the bunch.”

Letting ports fill up can be a negotiating tactic. Verizon and Cogent each have to spend about $10,000 for equipment when a port is added, Schaeffer said—pocket change for companies of this size. But instead of the companies sharing equal costs, Verizon wants Cogent to pay because more traffic is flowing from Cogent to Verizon than vice versa.

Cablevision, which participates in Netflix's Open Connect program experiences no significant speed degradation during prime time. The same cannot be said with Time Warner Cable, which refuses to participate.

Cablevision, which participates in Netflix’s Open Connect program, experiences no significant speed degradation during prime time. The same cannot be said of Time Warner Cable, which refuses to take part.

Netflix offered a solution to help Internet Service Providers manage its video traffic. Netflix’s Open Connect offers free peering at common Internet exchanges as well as free storage appliances that ISPs can connect directly to their network to distribute video to customers. Free is always good, and Netflix claims many ISPs around the world have already taken them up on the offer, slashing their transit costs along the way.

A few major North American ISPs have also agreed to take part in Open Connect, including Frontier Communications, Clearwire, Telus, Bell, Cablevision and Google Fiber. Open Connect participating ISPs also got an initial bonus for participating they could offer customers – exclusive access to SuperHD streaming.

But most Americans would not get super high-resolution streaming because the largest ISP’s refused to participate, seeking direct compensation from content providers to carry traffic across their digital pipes instead.

On Sep. 26, 2013 Netflix decided to offer SuperHD streaming to all customers, regardless of their ISP. As a result, one major ISP told the newspaper Netflix traffic from Cogent at least quadrupled. ISPs taking Netflix up on Open Connect saw almost no degradation from the increased traffic, but not so for Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast customers.

Net Neutrality advocates fear the country’s largest phone and cable companies are making an end-run around the concept of an Open Internet. Providers can honestly guarantee not to interfere with certain web traffic, but also refuse to keep up with needed upgrades to accommodate it unless they receive payment. The slowdowns and unsatisfactory performance are the same in the end for those caught in the middle – paying customers.

“Customers are already paying for it,” said industry observer Benoît Felten. “You sell a service to the end-user which is you can access the Internet. You make a huge margin on that. Why should they get extra revenue for something that’s already being paid for?”

Some of the web’s biggest players including Microsoft, Google and Facebook may have already capitulated — agreeing to pay major providers for direct connections that guarantee a smoother browsing experience. Netflix has, thus far, held out against paying ISPs to properly manage the video content their subscribers want to watch but in some cases no longer can.

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President’s Day Price Increase: AT&T U-verse is Raising Your Rates

Phillip Dampier February 18, 2014 AT&T, Consumer News 1 Comment

United_States_one_dollar_bill,_obverseGeorge Washington always knew the value of a dollar, and so does AT&T. It wants more of yours going into their bank account.

The Teaser Before the Sting:

Thank you for choosing AT&T. Throughout the year we’ve worked hard to improve the U-verse experience. For example, you can now enjoy live TV channels on your computer, smartphone or tablet at no extra cost within the U-verse app or at Uverse.com. We’re looking forward to delivering even more value in 2014.

Here it comes:

The monthly price of some U-verse products are increasing and may impact the cost of your services. These changes reflect increased business costs, including costs associated with higher programming fees.

The monthly price for the following U-verse TV service plans will increase $3 beginning with bills received on January 26, 2014: U-family to $62; U200 to $77; U200 Latino to $87; U300 to $92; U300 Latino to $102; U450 to $124; and U450 Latino to $134. (Grandfathered plans also will increase $3: U100 to $64 or $69, depending on when first ordered; and U400 to $119.)

The monthly price of each non-DVR TV receiver will increase from $7 to $8 and the monthly price of the Wi-Fi enabled Residential Gateway will increase from either $2 to $4 or from $6 to $7, depending on when it was first ordered. If you have a package that includes an HD-ready DVR, that will continue to be included with your TV service.

Top secret.

The Broadcast TV Surcharge will be $2.99 per month beginning on February 1, 2014, in all markets except for Flint, MI, Indianapolis, IN, Huntsville, AL, Topeka, KS and Lansing, MI, where it will be $1.99. This charge is to recover a portion of the amount local broadcasters charge AT&T to carry their channels.

For customers with AT&T U-verse High Speed Internet service, the monthly price when not combined with any other qualifying AT&T service (AT&T U-verse IPTV service, AT&T U-verse Voice, combined/unified billed AT&T DIRECTV or AT&T wireless) will increase by $5.00 effective March 1, 2014, as described below. By bundling your internet services with other AT&T U-verse products this price increase will not affect you. AT&T wireless or AT&T DirecTV customers with AT&T U-verse Broadband can avoid this price increase by combining their services onto a single bill. To speak to an AT&T representative, please contact our Complete Customer Care Center at 1-800-288-2020.

The monthly price for Basic will become $33, High Speed Internet Express will become $41, High Speed Internet Pro will become $46, High Speed Internet Elite will become $51, High Speed Internet Max will become $56, High Speed Internet Max Plus will become $61, High Speed Internet Max Turbo will become $71, and High Speed Internet Power will become $81.

If you are on a current U-verse TV, U-verse Voice, and/or U-verse High Speed Internet pricing promotion, the promotional benefit will continue until the applicable promotion ends or expires. For questions regarding any of the U-verse services, visit att.com/uversesupport.

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