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Telecom Companies Prepare for Hurricane Irma

AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile are sending technicians to hundreds of cell sites across Florida to top off fuel generators, test back up batteries, and protect facilities from Hurricane Irma’s anticipated storm surge and associated flooding.

“Customers rely on us, especially during major storms,” said Joe York, AT&T Florida president. “That’s why we practice readiness drills and simulations throughout the year. We do all we can to have our networks prepared when severe weather strikes. We’ve worked for the past few days to position equipment and crews to respond to the storm. We’re closely linked with Florida public officials in their storm response efforts. With a storm of this size, we may have some outages. But if service goes down, we’ll do all we can to get it back up as fast as possible.”

With landfall possible along the Florida coast or inland, Verizon pointed out that in Florida, since last hurricane season, it has densified its network with 4G, fortified coverage along evacuation routes, put cell sites equipment on stilts and installed new systems in hospitals, government and emergency facilities, and high-traffic public areas.

“The country is only beginning to wrestle with recovery efforts from Harvey, and already, residents of Florida and the Caribbean are bracing for another potentially devastating storm in Hurricane Irma,” said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. “During times like these, the cost of staying connected to friends and loved ones should be the last thing on anyone’s mind, and we want to do what we can to support our customers across impacted areas.”

Hurricane Irma’s impact on Puerto Rico.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless are positioning portable cell tower trailers just outside of areas anticipated to take the brunt of the hurricane. AT&T in particular has a lot to prove as its network now includes FirstNet — a public private wireless broadband network for emergency responders that also depends on AT&T’s wireless networks. States are still in the process of opting in to AT&T’s FirstNet. The company has more than 700 pieces of emergency cellular equipment, including Cell on Wheels, Cell on Light Trucks, portable trailers and generators, and even the possibility of deploying Cells on Wings — airborne cell towers that can restore cell service in areas where roads are inaccessible because of floods.

Wireline companies are also positioning repair crews in the region to bring service back online. Other technicians are checking on emergency generator and battery backup power, particularly for maintaining landline service.

“Our team is working to prepare for extreme weather and will be there for our business and residential customers to quickly and safely restore any affected network services,” reports Frontier Communications, which provides service in former Verizon landline service areas.

The phone company is reminding landline customers that not all phones will operate during a power outage, but that does not mean Frontier’s landline network is down.

“Customers who rely on cordless phones should consider plugging a traditional corded phone directly into the wall. In the event of a commercial power outage, corded phones on the copper network will still operate; cordless ones will not,” the company says. “If commercial power is unavailable, generators and batteries in Frontier’s central offices serve as a backup. Phone lines generally will have enough power in them to use a corded phone. For customers using FiOS phone services, the battery backup will supply voice service for up to eight hours.”

The company also warns customers to watch out for damaged utility lines after the storm is over.

“Stay far away from any downed cables or power lines. Contact Frontier at 800-921-8102 (business) or 800-921-8101 (residential) to report any fallen telephone poles or cables.”

Some companies are offering customers a break on their bills:

  • Verizon: Landline customers will not pay any long distance charges for calls to Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the Turks and Caicos Islands from Sept. 6-9. Taxes and any government surcharges applicable will still apply. Verizon Wireless customers inside the U.S. will not be charged for texts or calls originating in the U.S. to those same countries and territories for the same period.
  • T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers in affected areas of Puerto Rico:  Will get calls, texts, and unlimited data free from Sept. 6th through Sept. 8th. This free service will be available to customers in the 787 and 939 area codes.
  • Sprint: Effective today through Sept. 9, 2017, Sprint will waive call, text and data overage fees for its Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers in the U.S., the company will also waive all international call and text overage fees to the following: Anguilla, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turks and Caicos, and British Virgin Islands. For the same period, Sprint will also waive roaming voice and text overage fees for its customers in those locations. Fees will be waived during the time specified.
  • Comcast: Opening more than 137,000 XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots throughout Florida to anyone who needs them, including non-XFINITY customers, for free. For a map of XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots, which are located both indoors and outdoors in places such as shopping districts, parks and businesses, visit Xfinity.com/wifi. Once in range of a hotspot, select the “xfinitywifi” network name in the list of available hotspots and then launch a browser. Comcast internet customers can sign in with their usernames and passwords and they will be automatically connected to XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots in the future. Non-Comcast internet subscribers should visit the “Not an Xfinity Internet Customer” section on the sign-in page to get started. Non-customers will be able to renew their complimentary sessions every 2 hours through Sept. 15, 2017.

AT&T Offers These Customer Tips:

  • Keep your mobile phone battery charged. In case of a power outage, have another way to charge your phone like an extra battery, car charger or device-charging accessory. Applicable sales tax holidays are a great time to stock up on cell phone accessories.
  • Keep your mobile devices dry. The biggest threat to your device during a hurricane is water.  Keep it safe from the elements by storing it in a baggie or some other type of protective covering, like an Otterbox phone cover.
  • Have a family communications plan. Choose someone out of the area as a central contact.   Make sure all family members know who to contact if they get separated. Most importantly, practice your emergency plan in advance.
  • Program all of your emergency contact numbers and e-mail addresses into your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station and hospital, as well as your family members.
  • Forward your home number to your mobile number in the event of an evacuation. Call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office. This means you will get calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is disrupted. If the central office is not operational, services such as voicemail and call forwarding may be useful.
  • Track the storm and access weather information on your mobile device. Many homes lose power during severe weather. You can stay up to speed as a DIRECTV customer, by streaming local weather channels using the DIRECTV application on your smartphone. If you subscribe to mobile DVR, you can also stream every channel directly to your phone.
  • Camera phones provide assistance. If you have a camera phone, take, store and send photos and video clips of damage to your insurance company.
  • Use location-based technology.  Services like AT&T Navigator and AT&T FamilyMap can help you find evacuation routes or avoid traffic from downed trees or power lines. They can also track a family member’s wireless device if you get separated.
  • Limit social media activity. Keep social media activity to a minimum during and after a storm to limit network congestion and allow for emergency communications to go through.

Business Tips:

  • Set up a call-forwarding service to a backup location. Set up a single or multiple hotline number(s) for employees, their families, customers and partners so they all know about the business situation and emergency plan.
  • Back up data to the Cloud. Routinely back up files to an off-site location.
  • Outline detailed plans for evacuation and shelter-in-place. Practice these plans (employee training, etc.). Establish a backup location for your business and meeting place for all employees.
  • Assemble a crisis-management team. Coordinate efforts with neighboring businesses and building management. Disasters that affect your suppliers also affect your business. Outline a plan for supply chain continuity for business needs.

Keeping the lines open for emergencies:

During evacuations, the storm event and its aftermath, network resources will likely be taxed. To help ensure that emergency personnel have open lines, keep these tips in mind:

  • Text messaging. During an emergency situation, text messages may go through more quickly than voice calls because they require fewer network resources. Depending on your text or data plan, additional charges may apply.
  • Be prepared for high call volume. During an emergency, many people are trying to use their phones at the same time. The increased calling volume may create network congestion, leading to “fast busy” signals on your wireless phone or a slow dial tone on your landline phone. If this happens, hang up, wait several seconds and then try the call again. This allows your original call data to clear the network before you try again.
  • Keep non-emergency calls to a minimum, and limit your calls to the most important ones. If there is severe weather, chances are many people will be attempting to place calls to loved ones, friends and business associates.

Additional information and tips for disaster preparedness can be found at www.att.com/vitalconnections.

Verizon Wireless Brings Big Changes to “Unlimited” Data Plans; Throttled Video for All

All Verizon Wireless customers, regardless of their data plan, will begin seeing throttled video on their phones, tablets, and tethered devices starting today, Aug. 23.

The change coincides with the introduction of two new “unlimited” data plans that come with an unprecedented number of tricks and traps in the fine print.

Existing customers can keep their current plan, but will still experience throttled online video speeds to at or below 10Mbps that will make it impossible to view 4K streamed video. On smartphones, the top permitted video resolution will be substantially lower than that.

Verizon claims the new throttled video plans will deliver better service for all of their wireless customers.

“We’re doing this to ensure all customers have a great experience on our network since there is no visible difference in quality on a smartphone or tablet when video is shown at higher resolutions,” a Verizon spokesperson claimed. That refers to video resolution above 720p for phones and 1080p on tablets and laptops.

More likely, Verizon engineers observed video traffic spiking as a result of its unlimited data plan reintroduced in February. Independent speed measurement services detected significant speed and performance hits on Verizon’s wireless network as customers got the most they could out of an unlimited plan that started at $80 a line. Even with Verizon’s soft cap of 22GB before customers were subject to throttled performance was not enough to manage traffic loads, so Verizon has decided to specifically target online video.

Verizon’s “Cadillac” network is straining to keep up.

Although many streaming services offer customers an option to reduce video resolution to cut back on data usage, customers often ignore the option, particularly if enrolled in “unlimited” data plans. Starting today, Verizon’s network management speed throttle tells streaming services a customer’s connection is limited and cannot sustain the speeds needed for the highest resolution video. The video player reduces video playback resolution on its own as a result. In turn, this can dramatically lighten the traffic load on Verizon’s network.

Verizon’s new plans seem designed for the “light touch” era the current administration’s FCC advocates for telecom regulation, and the carrier’s new plans will give blatant priority for some customers over others, relegating lower paying users into the slow lane while premium plan customers can race on by.

Verizon’s new unlimited data plans for the Net Neutrality-free future are here, scoff critics.

“‘Unlimited’ = ‘Limited’ and ‘Beyond Unlimited’ = ‘Slightly less limited’,” wrote one customer on Verizon’s customer forum.

Verizon put its best face on its new unlimited plans.

“These plans give you the best unlimited choices, but you also get what only Verizon can give you: the best network, the best rewards program, the best way to manage your plan with the My Verizon app and the best selection of phones and devices,” the company said in a press release.

“If this isn’t a sign that Verizon’s network is crumbling from offering unlimited, I don’t know what is!” countered John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile USA.

Here are the new unlimited plans from Verizon Wireless, effective immediately:

Go Unlimited – $75 (1 line), $65 per line (2 lines), $50 per line (3 lines), $40 per line (4+ lines) – Paperless billing and autopay required (or add $5 per month)

Verizon’s new base unlimited plan automatically throttles your speed when a cell site reports as congested. This plan puts your data usage at a lower priority over other customers and you can experience throttled speeds at any time, regardless of usage. Video streaming is limited to 480p on smartphones and 720p on all other devices. You also get unlimited mobile hotspot, but speeds are permanently locked at a maximum of 600kbps. Unlimited talk and text with no restrictions is included

Beyond Unlimited – $85 (1 line), $80 per line (2 lines), $60 per line (3 lines), $50 per line (4+ lines) – Paperless billing and autopay required (or add $5 per month)

This plan more closely resembles the current unlimited data plan, but costs considerably more. You get unlimited 4G LTE data, but are subject to a speed throttle in congested service areas once exceeding 22GB of usage per month. Video streaming is limited to 720p on smartphones and 1080p on all other devices. No 4K video on any device is allowed. Unlimited mobile hotspot data really means up to 15GB of usage at LTE speed before you are throttled. Unlimited talk/texting included in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

Customers on 2017 Unlimited and Legacy Unlimited Data Plans:

You will be able to keep your current unlimited plans. For those who enrolled in Verizon’s 2017 unlimited plan starting in February, video speed throttles now apply: 720p on smartphones, 1080p on all other devices. You will get a free upgrade to 15GB of mobile hotspot usage, up from 10GB.

For customers on Verizon’s original unlimited plan discontinued several years ago, nothing changes except the introduction of video speed throttles: 720p on smartphones, 1080p on all other devices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verizon’s 18-Day Phone, DSL Outage in Tribeca

Phillip Dampier August 16, 2017 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon 6 Comments

Verizon has left an undetermined number of its landline customers in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City without phone or DSL service since Aug. 4 and has no plans to restore it before Aug. 22.

The phones at The Architect’s Newspaper stopped ringing almost two weeks ago and Verizon blames a cable cut they are in no hurry to deal with. The phone company has informed complaining customers they will have to wait at least 18 days before they will have a dial tone once again.

The outage is affecting Verizon’s legacy copper wire infrastructure which dominates in areas where Verizon FiOS is still not widely available. The newspaper filed a complaint with the N.Y. Public Service Commission in hopes it will prompt Verizon to work faster, but the company has shown no sign of that happening so far.

“If you are affected by this outage and have already reported the same to Verizon, we will see a better response if you also join us in filing a complaint with the Commission,” the newspaper asks its readers.

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