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CenturyLink Criticized for Installing Phone Lines Atop Roadways, Inside Pavement Cracks

Phillip Dampier March 14, 2012 CenturyLink, Consumer News, HissyFitWatch, Public Policy & Gov't, Qwest Comments Off on CenturyLink Criticized for Installing Phone Lines Atop Roadways, Inside Pavement Cracks

Phoenix-area officials are discovering CenturyLink, the area’s largest phone company, has gotten a little too creative with landline repairs, installing replacement lines across public streets, on fences, and in one case even wedged between a pavement crack.

CenturyLink calls them “temporary telephone lines,” run as quick fixes to get service up and running again. Local officials call them a nuisance, and question what CenturyLink’s definition of “temporary” means.

The Arizona Republic found CenturyLink phone lines strung across the asphalt on Knox Road in Gilbert, where they remained in place for about a year, with vehicle traffic driving right over the cables.  When the newspaper sent photos to the phone company asking why, they were gone within 24 hours.

CenturyLink’s Alex Juarez explains:

“CenturyLink is not required to bury or hang wires in any specific amount of time, but we make every effort to remove temporary lines as quickly as possible. … Repairing a damaged or malfunctioning underground or suspended cable takes time. CenturyLink uses temporary wires to restore service while we work to repair the permanent cable. Restoration of service is a priority. We place lines where they will be safely out of the way.”

A "temporary" phone cable installed along the top of a wire fence.

Gilbert local officials dispute that, having previously notified CenturyLink the phone company was in violation of town regulations.  Gilbert prohibits any utility wiring on its streets, and had received public complaints about temporary phone lines a year ago.  Town spokeswoman Beth Lucas told the newspaper she was surprised the company was back at it again.

“We do not allow those kind of lines, and they can interfere with a variety of work,” including street sweepers, she said. “For a utility to be in a right of way, whether on a permanent or temporary basis, the company would need a permit, which means approval during the planning review process with staff.”

The problem with temporary wiring is that CenturyLink is not obligated to report where the lines have been installed, which can create a public nuisance, possible danger to public safety, and frustration for construction crews that often cut the cables without realizing they were there.

Chandler’s streets Superintendent Rex Hartmann noted city paving contractors cut off phone service for an undetermined number of customers when they discovered CenturyLink had force-wedged a communications cable into a pavement crack, covered up with sealant.  When the roads were repaved, the cable was severed.

Hartmann also doesn’t buy CenturyLink’s claim the lines were “temporary.”  He’s found several that were left so long, the “temporary” cable itself was cracked and brittle.
Phoenix city officials think prohibiting temporary lines from being scattered across the ground or pavement makes common sense.
Spokeswoman Sina Matthes says those kind of installations represent tripping hazards for pedestrians and residents, and the city requires temporary repairs to be replaced by permanent ones within two weeks.

Telco’s Ethernet Over Copper Can Deliver Faster Speeds, If You Can Afford It

Ethernet over Copper is becoming an increasingly popular choice for business customers stuck in areas where companies won't deploy fiber broadband (Graphic: OSP Magazine)

With Verizon and AT&T effectively stalling expansion of their respective “next generation” fiber and hybrid fiber/coax networks, and independent phone companies fearing too much capital spent improving their networks will drive their stock prices down, telephone companies are desperately seeking better options to deliver the faster broadband service customers demand.

The options over a copper-based landline network are not the best:

  • ADSL has been around for more than a decade and is highly distant dependent. Get beyond 10,000 feet from the nearest switching office and your speeds may not even qualify as “broadband;”
  • DSL variants represent the second generation for copper-broadband and can deliver faster speeds, but usually require investment to reduce the amount of copper between the customer and the switching office;
  • Fiber networks are more expensive to build, and some companies are using it to reduce, but not eliminate copper wire in their networks. But companies traditionally avoid this solution in rural/suburban areas because the cost/benefit analysis doesn’t work for shareholders;
  • Ethernet Over Copper (EoC) is increasingly the solution of choice for independent phone companies because it is less expensive to deploy than fiber and can quickly deliver service at speeds of up to 50Mbps.

Unfortunately for consumers, EoC is typically way above the price range for home broadband.  Most providers sell the faster service to commercial and institutional customers, either for businesses that have outgrown T1 lines or where deploying fiber does not make economic sense.  Some companies have tried to improve on DSL by bonding multiple connections together to achieve faster speeds, but Ethernet is quickly becoming a more important tool in the broadband marketing arsenal.

With phone companies pricing EoC service from several hundred to several thousand dollars a month, depending on the speed of the connection, they hope to remain competitive players against a push by the cable industry to more aggressively target business customers.  In more rural areas, phone companies lack cable competition, so they stand a better chance of success.

Fierce Telecom‘s Sean Buckley published an excellent series of articles outlining the current state of EoC technology and what phone companies are doing with it:

  • AT&T: Inherited EoC from its acquisition of BellSouth, and barely markets it. Instead, AT&T uses it as a quiet solution for challenging customers who cannot affordably be reached by fiber.  AT&T will either deliver the service over copper, copper/fiber, or an all-fiber path depending on the client’s needs.
  • CenturyLink: No phone company is as aggressive about EoC as CenturyLink. When CenturyLink acquired Qwest, interest in the technology only intensified. EoC is a CenturyLink favorite for small businesses that simply cannot get the speeds they need from traditional DSL.  Most EoC service runs up to 20Mbps.
  • Verizon: Verizon’s network is the most fiber-intense among large commercial providers, so EoC is not the first choice for the company. However, it does use it to reach multi-site businesses who have buildings and offices outside of the footprint of Verizon’s fiber network/service area.
  • Frontier: In the regions where Frontier acquired Verizon landlines, EoC has become an important component for Frontier’s backhaul traffic. EoC has been deployed to reach cell tower sites and handles broadband traffic between central office exchanges and remote D-SLAMs, used to let the company sell DSL to a more rural customer base.  Frontier looks to EoC before considering spending money on fiber service, even for commercial and institutional users.
  • Windstream: EoC is the way this phone company gets better broadband speeds to business customers without spending a lot of money on fiber. Small and medium-sized customers are often buyers of EoC service, especially when DSL can’t handle the job or the company requires faster upstream speeds.  Windstream markets upgradable EoC capable of delivering the same downstream and upstream speeds and can deliver it more quickly than a fiber project.
  • FairPoint: Much of this phone company’s EoC efforts are in territories in northern New England acquired from Verizon.  FairPoint targets small and medium sized companies for the service, especially those who have remote offices or clinics that need to be interconnected. FairPoint has also gotten more aggressive than many other companies working with ADSL2+ or VDSL2 to deliver faster broadband to office buildings and complexes more economically than fiber.
  • SureWest: This company is strong believer in fiber to the premises service, so its interest in EoC has been limited to areas where deploying fiber makes little economic sense. In more out-of-the-way places, EoC is becoming a more common choice to pitch businesses who need more than traditional broadband.
  • Hawaiian Telcom: HawTel uses copper-based EoC to provide connectivity across the diverse Hawaiian Islands.  Speeds are generally lower than in mainland areas, partly because HawTel still relies heavily on traditional copper-based service. But fiber-based EoC is increasingly available in more densely populated areas.

Customers “Probably Don’t Need Higher (<1Mbps) Speed," Editorializes N.M. Newspaper

Phillip Dampier December 5, 2011 Broadband Speed, CenturyLink, Community Networks, Competition, Editorial & Site News, Kit Carson Telecom, Public Policy & Gov't, Qwest, Rural Broadband, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Customers “Probably Don’t Need Higher (<1Mbps) Speed," Editorializes N.M. Newspaper

Sometimes you can’t please some people no matter what you do.

Kit Carson Electric Cooperative’s $64 million fiber-to-the-home expansion project will finally bring 21st century broadband speeds to northern New Mexico. The electric co-op intends to deliver broadband speeds up to 100Mbps to 20,000 largely rural residents and businesses in Taos, Colfax, and Rio Arriba counties who have had limited access to cable broadband or live with speeds often less than 1Mbps from CenturyLink-delivered DSL.

“It’s a whole new ballgame for rural New Mexico,” shares Stop the Cap! reader Raul. “But the pinheads at the local weekly newspaper are ringing their hands over the project, suggesting only businesses deserve 100Mbps while the rest of us should be satisfied with speeds under a megabit per second.”

Indeed, editors at the Sangre de Christo Chronicle are wringing their hands over the project:

But many of us in the Kit Carson service area already have Internet service — and we’re completely happy with it. Kit Carson CEO Luis Reyes, Jr. said a large portion of the organization’s electric customers are currently under-served by other providers with Internet speeds of less than one megabit (1,000 kilobits) per second.

We have no reason to doubt that, but many of these customers probably don’t need the higher speeds. For the Internet customers who use the Internet for email, Facebook, news and other basic functions, Kit Carson’s prices will be most important. Most of us will not pay more for faster Internet speed we don’t need, but we will consider switching to a local provider if it offers identical or better service and prices.

“CenturyLink barely delivers DSL today, and has shown no interest in investing substantially in northern New Mexico, and outside of concentrated built-up areas there is no cable competition,” Raul says. “Kit Carson is the only local concern that has shown any real interest in making our community better, and the local newspaper is complaining about it.”

Proposed service area for Kit Carson Electric's new fiber to the home network serving northern New Mexico.

Kit Carson Electric’s project will provide a true fiber-to-the-home service bundling television, telephone, and broadband service — a substantial upgrade over what the telephone company has on offer.  With speeds far beyond what cable and phone providers in New Mexico are accustomed to providing, the region stands to benefit from entrepreneurs building digital economy businesses over a broadband network that can actually help, not hinder online development.

Currently, area residents pay CenturyLink up to $55 a month for 1.5/1Mbps DSL service.  Residents are so excited by the prospects of much faster speeds at significantly lower prices, Kit Carson Electric has developed an innovative stop-gap service for residents still waiting for direct fiber connections — fiber-to-wireless service.  New and existing customers can sign up for the service for a $100 installation fee and choose from three service tiers:

  • 3Mbps — $29.95/month
  • 7Mbps — $39.95/month
  • 10Mbps — $49.95/month

A three year contract is required (early termination fee is $200).  But customers who eventually obtain Kit Carson Electric’s fiber service will automatically satisfy their contract requirement.

“Kit Carson’s wireless project already blows away CenturyLink’s speeds and pricing, and that is for inferior wireless,” Raul argues. “The Chronicle doesn’t have a clue.”

We can’t understand the newspaper’s concerns either.  Kit Carson Electric has already demonstrated their prices (and interest) in northern New Mexico is superior to that of CenturyLink, owner of former Baby Bell Qwest, which serves New Mexico.

Republican Sen. Jeff Bingaman is thrilled with Kit Carson’s broadband initiative.

“This major investment in broadband technology is exactly the kind of project I had envisioned when I voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman said. “This grant is not only creating jobs now in northern New Mexico, it is laying the groundwork to attract new businesses, improve healthcare services and create new education opportunities in the future.”

The electric co-op has been successful operating non-profit businesses selling propane, telecommunications, and economic development space.  The fiber project will also allow the electric utility to deploy “smart grid” technology to increase the efficiency of their electric service.

A groundbreaking ceremony at the broadband project’s command center held this past summer also coincided with a public emergency communications network upgrade which will increase the efficiency and reliability of first responders and other emergency and public safety agencies.

CenturyLink Sales Reps in Oregon Harrass Residents With Suspicious Questions, They Call Police

Phillip Dampier November 9, 2011 CenturyLink, Competition, Consumer News, Qwest, Video 1 Comment

The pushy door-to-door salesman is back, and he’s working for CenturyLink.

Lake Oswego (Ore.) residents have been the unwelcome recipients of repeated doorbell ringing by a small army of young CenturyLink salespeople.  Described by some residents as “rude,” “pushy,” and intrusive, the salespeople pelted would-be customers with questions about how many televisions and computers were found within their homes, and what kind of telecommunications services they had.

Some residents were so alarmed by the aggressive and suspicious sales tactics, they called police.

“They were persistent, they came to my door four times,” Lake Oswego resident Betty Endress, who lives in a private gated community, told KOIN-TV. “We have a ‘no solicitation’ policy.”

Endress refused to open the door because, in her words, it was CenturyLink — a company nobody had heard of.

In fact, CenturyLink acquired Qwest, the former Baby Bell that predominately serves the mountain west states.

CenturyLink admits the aggressive sales force belongs to them.  They are being sent into neighborhoods where the company recently upgraded its broadband service, trying to lure customers away from the cable competition.  But one South Portland resident was so alarmed when three salespeople showed up on his doorstep all at once, he called 911.

Telecommunications providers have been victimized by some criminals who represent themselves as company employees to force their way into residential homes to commit crimes.  CenturyLink says concerned residents should ask to see CenturyLink branded identification badges, uniforms, and a copy of the license permitting them to pursue door-to-door sales.

Residents in private, gated communities told KOIN-TV in Portland they’d prefer not to be visited by CenturyLink salespeople on their doorsteps, whether the sales force holds a business license or not.  (3 minutes)

 

Broadband Life in Idaho: Bears Rubbing Against Towers Knock Out Internet Service

Phillip Dampier September 15, 2011 Broadband Speed, Cable One, CenturyLink, Competition, Data Caps, Editorial & Site News, Public Policy & Gov't, Qwest, Rural Broadband Comments Off on Broadband Life in Idaho: Bears Rubbing Against Towers Knock Out Internet Service

(Courtesy: Pando Networks)

Bears who fancy a good rub up against wireless Internet transmission towers were blamed for knocking out service for customers in the Potlatch area one day, a problem unique to rural communities who make due with whatever broadband access they can find.

Such is life in rural Idaho, deemed by Pando Networks to be America’s slowest broadband state, with average Internet speeds of just 318kbps.

Stop the Cap! reader Jeff in Pocatello is happy the big city New York Times has noticed Idaho’s online challenges.

“Please take notice of this newspaper article about our online experience here in Idaho,” Jeff writes. “While it underplays the near-total failure of our state legislature to recognize there –is– a broadband problem here, at least the rest of the country will understand just how bad Internet access remains in rural America.”

Jeff should know.  Pando Networks calls Pocatello America’s slowest Internet city.  It’s no surprise why.  Pocatello residents are stuck between a rock — the infamous Internet Overcharging leader Cable ONE (incidentally owned by NY Times‘ rival The Washington Post), and a hard place — Qwest/CenturyLink DSL.

Nobody does Internet Overcharging better than Cable ONE, which baits customers with high speed access and then ruins the deal with an $8 monthly modem rental fee, infamously low usage caps and a two-year contract plan that subscribers call a ripoff.

“Cable ONE never heard of a square deal because they break every consumer rule in the book,” Jeff says. “Although the company pitches speeds up to 50Mbps, they tie it to a two-year contract that only delivers one year at that speed.  After 12 months, they reduce your speed to just 5Mbps for the entire second year, and if you cannot convince the customer service representative to renew and reset your 50Mbps contract for an additional year, there is nothing you can do about it.”

THE Internet Overcharger

Cable ONE has written the book on usage limits.  Customers paying for “blazing fast 50Mbps speed” get to consume a maximum of just 50GB per month (100GB for triple play customers) before overlimit fees of $0.50/GB kick in.  Other Cable ONE plans include daily usage limits of just 3GB, which can make Netflix viewing difficult.

“Cable ONE makes you ration your Internet like satellite providers do, and it’s very irritating because they tease you with fast speeds you literally cannot use unless you are willing to pay a lot more,” Jeff says.

The alternative for most Idahoans is DSL, if Qwest/CenturyLink provides it.  In many areas, they don’t.

“You can be a mile out of Pocatello’s city center and be told there is no DSL, and those that do get it often find it working at 1-3Mbps,” he adds.

In a country now rated 25th in terms of Internet speed, Idaho is comparatively a bottom-rated broadband disaster area.  The state secured 11 federal broadband grants to deliver some level of service in communities across the state, at a cost of $25 million.

The Slow Lane

But ask some local officials about the quality of broadband in Idaho and you find a lot of denial there is even a problem.

The Times got a brusque response to their inquiries about broadband service from the executive director for the Bannock Development Corp., a business development group.  Gynii Gilliam told the newspaper things were just fine, at least for large businesses in cities like Pocatello.

“The last thing I need is a report that says we don’t have the capacity and speed, when I know it exists,” Gilliam said. She noted that Allstate Insurance was opening a $22 million call center in Pocatello and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has a service center there. “We have not lost any business because of Internet speeds,” she said.

Which proves the old adage that you can have just about anything, for the right price.  The disparity between residential and business broadband — urban and rural — is particularly acute in mountain west states like Idaho.  Verizon was considering rural Wyoming for a multi-billion dollar high speed Internet data center, until it found it could purchase an alternative already up and running elsewhere.  Meanwhile, much of the rest of Wyoming has no Internet, slow speed wireless or DSL, or limited cable broadband in some larger communities.

Even Gilliam admitted her home broadband account was nothing like the service Allstate Insurance was likely getting.

“It feels like it’s moving in slow motion,” she told the Times. “A lot of times I’ll start downloads and not complete them.” She said she was happy as long as she could get e-mail.

But not everyone is satisfied with an Internet experience limited to occasional web browsing and e-mail.

Qwest (now CenturyLink), is Idaho's largest Internet Service Provider.

“With countries like Latvia getting better broadband than we have, it’s only a matter of time before we start to lose even more jobs in the digital economy over this,” Jeff says. “This is one more nail in the coffin for rural economies in the west, which are being asked to compete with bigger cities and eastern states that have much better infrastructure.”

Pando found the northeast and mid-Atlantic states, excepting Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, have the best broadband speeds in the country.  The mountain west has the worst.

Rural states like Montana, the Dakotas, eastern Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah are the least likely to have widespread access to cable broadband, which can typically offer several times the Internet speed found in smaller communities with DSL service from dominant provider Qwest (now CenturyLink).  CenturyLink claims 92 percent of their customers have some access to broadband, but didn’t say at what speeds or how many customers actually subscribe to the service.

In Idaho, cost remains a factor, so CenturyLink is planning to sell low-income households a discounted DSL package.  Speeds and pricing were not disclosed.

Jeff says the real issue is one of value.

“Some in the Times article blame lack of access, while others claim it’s all about the cost, but it’s really more a question of ‘is it worth paying this much for the service we actually get’,” Jeff says.

“Cable ONE is simply deal-with-it Internet, with usage caps and contract traps that leave customers feeling burned, but their only other choice is Qwest, and they show few signs of caring about delivering fast broadband in this state,” Jeff says.

“I believe CenturyLink Idaho’s vice president and general manager Jim Schmit when he says, ‘We’re in business to make a profit,’ Jeff concludes. “There isn’t a lot of profit in selling Internet service in rural mountain states, so the company simply doesn’t offer it where they won’t make back their investment quickly.”

“The question is, should profit be the only thing driving broadband deployment in the United States?  If you answer ‘yes,’ Idaho is the result.  If you answer ‘no,’ and think it is an essential utility, profit shouldn’t be the only consideration.”

Cable ONE’s ad for 50Mbps leaves out a lot, including the 50GB usage cap and two-year contracts that downgrade service to just 5Mbps for the entire second year.  (1 minute)

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