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Wyoming’s Rural Broadband Bill Rewritten by Telecom Lobbyists to Block Public Broadband

Cheyenne Mayor Marion Orr

An effort to pass legislation that would award state grants to help rural Wyoming communities get high-speed internet was dead on arrival as far as telecom industry lobbyists were concerned.

So they “fixed it” with a secret substitute bill quietly written by the state’s telecom companies.

The replacement legislation effectively turns the state grant program into a fund for the state’s dominant telecom companies — CenturyLink and Charter Communications.

Stop the Cap! has learned the replacement bill gives high priority to eliminating potential competition by blocking funding for communities to establish their own public broadband alternatives to the phone and cable company if those companies already offer service anywhere inside the community.

The bill also seeks to define the Wyoming government’s involvement in broadband as a non-adversarial partnership with the telecom industry, according to Wyoming Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss (D-District 9).

Under the substitute bill, Rothfuss said the telecom industry will now have a say over how the state awards grant funds. The industry is concerned tax dollars could be given to their competitors to offer service in communities where CenturyLink and Charter already provide modest service. But nothing in the bill would keep either company from collecting state funds for themselves, to expand broadband into unserved areas.

The attempt to switch the bills during a state senate committee meeting was met with surprise and outrage by Cheyenne Mayor Marion Orr.

“I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn industry completely re-wrote proposed broadband legislation to their favor as a ‘substitute bill’ in legislative committee today,” Orr wrote on her Facebook page on Feb. 19. “The substitute bill is substantially different than the original bill. And it wasn’t posted online or anywhere for anyone except insiders to have access to. CenturyLink and Spectrum are bullies. It’s wrong, and they are hurting Cheyenne and other Wyoming communities from gaining affordable access.”

The committee working on the bill may have hoped to switch the bills without notice, but Orr was having none of that.

“As soon as I realized the committee was working a different version that none of us had access to – I spoke up,” she said. “The committee set it aside and will hear it again tomorrow night. This is NOT good governance and the committee realized it. I will stay on this. Guaranteed.”

The substitute bill appears to have subsequently passed and is still facing review by the state legislature.

Orr remains furious Wyoming’s telecom companies that have not delivered on ubiquitous, affordable broadband will now have more power than ever to determine who gets service, who pays to extend service, and what companies can provide it.

“It’s as important as turning on electricity, it’s as important as turning on a tap and having water, it’s an absolute must if we’re going to grow,” Orr said.

Another Phone Company Flop: Disconnecting CenturyLink Stream After Less Than One Year

Phillip Dampier February 21, 2018 CenturyLink, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 2 Comments

CenturyLink Stream, the phone company’s planned nationwide alternative to cable television, will shut down its streamed package of nearly 50 channels on March 31.

The phone company had contemplated using CenturyLink Stream to compliment its package of phone and broadband service to budget-conscious customers. But Multichannel News reports subscribers were notified this week CenturyLink was pulling the plug on the service and its companion $89.99 Android TV set-top box that interfaced between a customer’s broadband connection and their television.

“Thank you to all who have streamed with us and provided feedback,” the company noted on its website. As compensation, customers are getting free on-demand rentals of movies on the service until it shuts down.

CenturyLink Stream’s “Ultimate” package sold for $45 per month, with a $5 discount if a CenturyLink customer bundled the company’s broadband service. It included a 50-hour cloud DVR service and access in some markets to local stations and regional sports channels.

CenturyLink’s Prism TV continues.

The company has stayed silent on exactly why it is pulling the plug on the service, which had been beta testing over the past year. Independent telephone companies beyond AT&T and Verizon have struggled to deliver credible triple play packages of fast broadband, phone service, and a lineup of cable television programming. Frontier Communications has avoided expanding its FiOS TV package outside of service areas acquired from AT&T and Verizon. Windstream recently announced a deal with AT&T to resell its DirecTV and DirecTV Now video packages, which could spell trouble for Windstream’s Kinetic TV platform, which has only slowly expanded since being announced in 2015.

Analysts say it is increasingly difficult for smaller companies to profitably sell video programming because of generous volume discounts on wholesale rates offered to the country’s biggest satellite TV, cable, and telco TV providers. AT&T itself acquired DirecTV to get better video pricing for its U-verse TV customers. Smaller phone companies cannot afford similar acquisitions. Instead, some companies have partnered with third-party providers already in the video business.

The National Cable TV Cooperative, which offers group pricing to small and medium-sized independent cable companies and municipal providers, have already announced partnerships with sports-oriented fuboTV and PlayStation Vue, which both sell packages of cable TV programming streamed over the internet.

That is the likely direction CenturyLink will head in, if it continues its interest in selling a television package.

“[W]e are open to looking at other options,” Glen Post, CenturyLink’s CEO, said last August on the company’s Q2 earnings call, noted Multichannel News. “Matter of fact, we continually talk with some of these other providers, look at the best ways we can bring that service and also other ways in working with them to reduce our content cost…It does not have to be our product.”

Outage Hits Comcast, Other Internet Customers; CenturyLink’s Level 3 Takes Responsibility

Phillip Dampier November 6, 2017 CenturyLink, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News No Comments

The culprit?

A major internet outage is affecting internet users nationwide since this morning, particularly those subscribed to Comcast’s internet service.

“Some customers are having issues with their XFINITY Internet service. We apologize & appreciate your patience while we work to fix,” Comcast tweeted to its customers this morning.

The outages are not just affecting Comcast customers, however, with sporadic slowdowns and problems also reported by Charter/Spectrum, AT&T, and Verizon customers.

One factor that may explain the outage affecting customers beyond Comcast is CenturyLink’s Level 3, which provides backbone services for several ISPs.

Outages affecting Level 3 just happen to be in major Comcast service areas.

Level 3 eventually did take responsibility for the outage in a statement to the media:

On Monday, Nov. 6, our network experienced a service disruption affecting some customers with IP-based services. The disruption was caused by a configuration error. We know how important these services are to our customers. Our technicians were able to restore service within approximately 90 minutes.

On Nov. 1, Level 3 officially became part of CenturyLink, as part of a $30 billion acquisition. Hopefully CenturyLink will spend a bit more and build additional redundancy into Level 3’s network.

As of 30 minutes ago, Comcast claims the internet outage has eased.

Despite Net Neutrality, Providers Launch Fiber Spending Spree

Despite claims from some industry-backed researchers and former members of Congress that Net Neutrality has reduced investment in telecommunications, a new research note from Deutsche Bank shows America’s top telephone and cable companies are spending billions on fiber upgrades to power wireless, business, and consumer broadband.

“Telecoms have become much more public signaling their intent to increase fiber investment, with AT&T and Verizon leading the spending ramp,” reports Deutsche Bank Markets Research.

Verizon has been on a fiber spending spree in the northeastern United States, signing contracts with Corning and Prysmian worth $1.3 billion to guarantee a steady supply of 2.5 million miles of fiber optic cable Verizon plans to buy over the next three years. Much of that spending allows Verizon to lay a foundation for its future 5G wireless services, which will require fiber to the neighborhood networks. But in cities like Boston, Verizon is also once again expanding its FiOS fiber to the home service to consumers.

AT&T is committed to connecting 12.5 million homes to gigabit-ready fiber broadband by 2019 — part of a deal it made with the FCC to win approval of its acquisition of DirecTV. AT&T claims it has already connected 5.5 million homes to its gigabit AT&T Fiber network, expected to reach 7 million by the end of this year.

Deutsche Bank thinks providers’ future drive towards 5G service will also simultaneously benefit fiber to the home expansion, because the same fiber network can power both services.

“To support the upcoming innovations such as autonomous driving, IoT, smart cities, the US needs to densify its fiber network,” Deutsche Bank said. “The U.S. fiber penetration rate is 20% vs. 75% for leading OECD countries, which suggests a large gap needs to be closed.”

Altice founder Patrick Drahi (second from left) and Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei (center) visit a Cablevision fiber deployment on Long Island, N.Y.

The bank predicts companies will spend around $175 billion over the next 10 years building out their fiber networks, with most of the spending coming from the phone companies, who may see fiber buildouts as their best attempt to level the playing field with cable operators’ hybrid fiber-coaxial cable networks. As cable operators expand their networks to reach more business parks, they have been gradually stealing market share for phone and data services from phone companies. Consumer broadband is also increasingly dominated by cable operators in areas where phone companies still rely on selling DSL services.

FierceCable notes Comcast and Altice have stepped up aggressive spending on fiber networks for their consumer and business customers. Altice is planning to decommission Cablevision’s existing coaxial cable network and move customers to fiber-to-the-home service. Comcast is deploying fiber services while still selling traditional cable broadband upgraded to DOCSIS 3.1, which supports substantially faster broadband speeds. The two networks co-exist side-by-side. Customer need dictates which network Comcast will use to supply service.

Customers benefit differently in each state, depending on what type of service is available. Comcast’s large footprint in Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, is usually served by traditional coaxial cable. Verizon still sells DSL in much of the state. In Massachusetts, Verizon is building out its FiOS network to serve metro Boston while Comcast will depend on DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades to speed up its internet service. In New Jersey, long a battleground for Verizon’s FiOS service the company stopped aggressively expanding several years ago, Comcast has announced DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades for the entire state.

Independent phone companies are also seeing a bleak future without fiber upgrades. Both CenturyLink and Windstream are planning moderately aggressive fiber expansion, particularly in urban service areas and where they face fierce cable competition. Frontier continues its more modest approach to fiber expansion, usually placing fiber in new housing developments and in places where its copper facilities have been severely damaged or have to be relocated because of infrastructure projects.

None of the companies have cited Net Neutrality as a factor in their future broadband expansion plans. In fact, fiber networks have opened the door to new business opportunities to the companies installing them, and the high-capacity networks are likely to further reduce traffic/transit costs, while boosting speeds. That undercuts the business model of selling digital slow and fast lanes.

CenturyLink Drops Hard Usage Cap Trial; “No Longer Aligns With Our Goals”

Phillip Dampier July 3, 2017 CenturyLink, Consumer News, Data Caps 1 Comment

CenturyLink has ended a year-long trial of usage-based billing for its customers, claiming charging for excess usage “no longer aligns with our goal to simplify offers and pricing for our customers.”

The data cap and overlimit program was first market tested in Yakima, Wash. in 2016, but has now been dropped with no plans to extend usage-based billing to any other CenturyLink customers.

“If you incurred overage charges related to this program, those charges will be credited and appear on your July monthly billing statement,” CenturyLink reports. “No action is required on your part, and there are no impacts to your existing CenturyLink service.”

CenturyLink does have a program of “soft caps” — generally unenforced data allowances for its customers:

  • 1.5Mbps plan: 150GB
  • 1.5Mbps-999Mbps: 250GB
  • 1Gbps: No download limit

“CenturyLink will weigh variables such as network health, congestion, availability of customer usage data, and the line speed purchased by the customer as factors when enforcing this policy,” writes the phone company. “Customers who are subject to enforcement receive a web notification and/or written communication from CenturyLink providing notice that they have exceeded their usage limit.”

In practice, very few customers are ever bothered by CenturyLink regarding their usage.

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  • scott: but no fox sports midwest for cards and blurs games. sorry but charter is way late to the party. playstation vue has everybody beat by a long shot . ...
  • EJ: That is not a fair rational at all. Fiber can be run by backbone only companies. It will take time yes, but if the wireless companies are willing to d...
  • L. Nova: Anyone who thinks that this 5G is going to be the savior for wireless doesn’t get it: you still need a lot of fiber to connect these antennas. There’s...
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