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Google Fiber Prices Announced in Austin: No Surprises – 5/1Mbps Free, 1Gbps $70/Month

Phillip Dampier November 25, 2014 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Google Fiber 6 Comments

google fiberAustin residents will receive Google Fiber service under three rate plans: $70 for 1,000/1,000Mbps or 5/1Mbps at no charge after paying a $300 construction fee. A package including television costs $130 a month.

Google Fiber announced its prices this week in anticipation of a December launch in the capital city of Texas. But Google Fiber will arrive with at least two competitors beating them to the gigabit space: Grande Communications and AT&T.

Austin is the first city in the country to have three concurrent gigabit providers. Only Time Warner Cable has elected to sit out the city’s gigabit broadband fight. Google Fiber is expected to face stiffer competition in Austin than in Kansas City and Provo, where it also operates gigabit fiber networks. AT&T U-verse with GigaPower matches Google’s $70 price and San Marcos-based Grande Communications beats it, charging $64.99 for its 1,000Mbps service.

Google is sweetening the deal by converting the former home of a children’s museum into a “Fiber Space,” a community center at 201 Colorado Street – hosting concerts, community meetings, and clubs, in addition to showcasing Google’s fiber network.

As with AT&T’s gigabit U-verse upgrade, only a limited number of residents in Austin will initially be able to get the new fiber service. Google is initially lighting up areas in south and southeastern Austin. For some, the wait to eventually sign up could take up to several years as Google slowly builds out its network in the city of 885,000 people.

FCC to AT&T: Put Up or Shut Up; Agency Seeks Details About AT&T’s Fiber Pause Over Net Neutrality

Stephenson: No fiber for you

Stephenson: No fiber for you

AT&T’s decision to suspend fiber broadband upgrades over the Obama Administration’s strong support for Net Neutrality may backfire on the telecom giant’s multi-billion dollar bid to acquire DirecTV.

The Federal Communications Commission has dispatched a letter to Robert W. Quinn, Jr., AT&T’s senior vice President and federal regulatory & chief privacy officer, inquiring whether AT&T really meant what it said about plans to suspend fiber expansion and that might impact at least two million additional homes that are part of a broadband expansion commitment included in AT&T’s offer to acquire DirecTV.

The FCC’s Jamillia Ferris wants AT&T to clarify CEO Randall Stephenson’s comments at a recent investor event, requesting information that may reveal whether AT&T was using the suspension of its fiber buildout as a political weapon against Net Neutrality.

“We made some comments in the DirecTV announcement that we would build fiber to two million additional homes,” Stephenson said at a Wells Fargo technology conference last week. “We will obviously commit to that once the DirecTV deal is done, we will keep going. But what we have also announced on top of that is that we are going to deploy fiber to 100 cities. And look, we can’t go out and just invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities other than these two million not knowing under what rules that investment will be governed. And so we have to pause and we have to just put a stop on those kinds of investments that we are doing today.”

The FCC’s request suggests the company’s answers may impact how the FCC treats AT&T’s request for approval of its merger with DirecTV.

Requested from AT&T no later than Nov. 21:

(a) Data regarding the Company’s current plans for fiber deployment, specifically:

(1) the current number of households to which fiber is deployed and the breakdown by technology (i.e., FTTP or FTTN) and geographic area of deployment;

(2) the total number of households to which the Company planned to deploy fiber prior to the Company’s decision to limit deployment to the 2 million households and the breakdown by technology and geographic area of deployment; and

(3) the total number of households to which the Company currently plans to deploy fiber, including the 2 million households, and the breakdown by technology and geographic area of deployment;

(b) A description of

(1) whether the AT&T FTTP Investment Model demonstrates that fiber deployment is now unprofitable; and

(2) whether the fiber to the 2 million homes following acquisition of DirecTV would be unprofitable; and

(c) All documents relating to the Company’s decision to limit AT&T’s deployment of fiber to 2 million homes following the acquisition of DirecTV.

Time Warner Cable Finishes Maxx Upgrades in NY, LA; Will Upgrade Only 7 Additional Areas in 2015

Phillip Dampier November 13, 2014 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 4 Comments

twcGreenTime Warner Cable has finished the rollout of TWC Maxx upgrades in New York and Los Angeles and will likely finish in Austin by the end of this year, delivering free broadband speed upgrades up to 300Mbps and a better television experience.

“Today marks an important milestone in Time Warner Cable’s commitment to provide our customers with best-in-class products and service,” said Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO Robert Marcus, in a release. “Every customer in our two largest markets now has access to the superfast Internet and new TV experience promised by TWC Maxx.  Faster speeds are also available to every customer in the Austin, Texas, market, and we’ve committed to reinvent the service experience in seven additional markets in 2015.”

Unless you live in Kansas City, Dallas, San Antonio, San Diego, Hawaii, Charlotte or Raleigh, there will likely be no reinvention of broadband service for you, with top speeds still “maxing” out at just 50/5Mbps at the beginning of 2016.

maxed outWhile Time Warner Cable customers have seen the company’s top premium speed stagnate at 50/5Mbps in many parts of upstate New York, South Carolina, western Ohio, and Maine for several years, TWC Maxx communities will see Standard Service speeds start at 50Mbps and rapidly increase from there. The differences in speed and price paid for broadband in Maxx markets vs. non-Maxx markets is staggering.

The average Time Warner Cable customer in Los Angeles will pay a promotional price of $35 a month for 50/5Mbps service. In upstate New York and other un-Maxxed areas, the price for that speed is $70 a month — twice as much.

Some customers in Los Angeles are being provided rent-free cable modems while subscribers in other cities continue to pay $6 a month.

There is speculation Time Warner Cable has set a conservative upgrade schedule for Maxx upgrades with the understanding the company will probably no longer exist long before the end of 2015, becoming a part of Comcast sometime early next year. Whether Comcast will continue the Maxx upgrade program is unknown, but it is doubtful — Time Warner’s maximum cable broadband speeds in Maxx markets are considerably faster than what Comcast offers most of its own customers.

 

Time Warner Cable Boosting Basic Broadband Speed from 3 to 6Mbps

Time Warner Cable is in the process of upgrading “Basic” broadband tier ($30-40 a month) customers from 3 to 6/1Mbps at no extra charge. You may have the upgraded speeds even if you haven’t received e-mail from Time Warner Cable yet. Follow the instructions below and check your speed:

basic speed

(Image courtesy: Rachel Barnhart)

A merger with Comcast will see Time Warner Cable customers forced to downgrade back to 3Mbps for Comcast’s basic “Economy Plus” service ($39.95/mo) or pay a higher Internet bill for Comcast’s 6Mbps Performance Starter plan ($49.95/mo). An $8 a month modem rental fee also applies, likely to rise to $10 by early 2015.

Comcast Boosting Speeds in Pacific Northwest to Fend Off CenturyLink, Frontier, and Google

Phillip Dampier November 5, 2014 Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Competition No Comments

Comcast-LogoAfter raising prices for Internet service and imposing the nation’s highest modem rental fee, Comcast customers in Oregon and southwest Washington are finally getting some good news: speed boosts.

Comcast will double Internet speeds for “the vast majority” in the Pacific Northwest between now and the end of the year, bringing 100Mbps service to Comcast’s “Blast” Internet plan and 50Mbps to “Performance” tier customers. Comcast says it is the 13th speed increase in the last dozen years in the region, but that isn’t all that has increased.

Comcast raised prices for its broadband plans last month: $66.95 for standalone Performance service ($53.95 if you bundle), $78.95 for Blast ($65.95 for those also taking cable TV or phone service). The modem rental fee remains a steep $10 a month.

Customers will receive e-mail when the faster speeds become available in their area, and a modem reset (unplug it briefly) will be required to get the new speeds.

Comcast is facing competition from CenturyLink, which is installing fiber optics in the area and Frontier, which inherited Verizon’s FiOS network when it acquired landlines in the region. Google Fiber is also expected to eventually make an appearance in the Portland area. Comcast prices are on the high side in comparison to the competition. CenturyLink’s introductory rate is as low as $50 a month for fiber service and Frontier charges $35 a month for 30Mbps service on its FiOS network.

For now, Comcast broadband service remains uncapped in the region, but Comcast is continuing market trials elsewhere that include a 300GB usage cap and an overlimit fee for those exceeding it.

Wall Street Investors Suckered By Broadband, Wireless Myths on Usage Pricing, Network Investment

verizon-protestBig Telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T use phony numbers and perpetuate myths about broadband traffic and network investments that have conned investors out of at least $1 trillion in unnecessary investments and consolidation.

Alexander Goldman, former chief analyst for CTI’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants, is warning Wall Street and investors they are at risk of losing millions more because some of the largest telecom companies in the country are engaged in disseminating bad math and conventional wisdom that relies more on repetition of their talking points than actual facts.

Goldman’s editorial, published by Broadband Breakfast, believes the campaign of misinformation is perpetuated by a media that accepts industry claims without examining the underlying facts and a pervasive echo chamber that delivers credibility only by the number of voices saying then same thing.

Goldman takes Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam to task for an editorial published in 2013 in Verizon’s effort to beat back calls on regulators to oversee the broadband industry and correct some of its anti-competitive behavior.

McAdam claimed the U.S. built a global lead in broadband on investments of $1.2 trillion over 17 years to deploy “next generation broadband networks” because networks were deregulated.

Setting aside the fact the United States is not a broadband leader and continues to be outpaced by Europe and Asia, Goldman called McAdam’s impressive-sounding dollar figures meaningless, considering over the span of that 17 years, the United States progressed from dial-up to fiber broadband. Wired networks have been through a generational change that required infrastructure to be replaced and wireless networks have been through at least two significant generations of change over that time — mandatory investments that would have occurred with or without deregulation.

Over the past 17 years, the industry has gotten more of its numbers wrong than right. An explosion of fiber construction in the late 1990s based on predictions of data tsunamis turned out to be catastrophically wrong. University of Minnesota professor Andrew Odlyzko, the worst enemy of the telecom industry talking point, has been debunking claims of broadband traffic jams and the need to implement usage-based pricing and speed throttling for years. In 1998, when Wall Street was listening intently to forecasts produced by self-interested telecom companies like Worldcom that declared broadband traffic was going to double every 100 days, Odlyzko was telling his then-employer AT&T is was all a lot of nonsense. The broadband traffic emperor had no clothes, and statistics from rival telecom companies suggested Worldcom was telling tall tales. But AT&T executives didn’t listen.

fat cat att“We just have to try harder to match those growth rates and catch up with WorldCom,” AT&T executives told Odlyzko and his colleagues, believing the problem was simply ineffective sales, not real broadband demand. When sales couldn’t generate those traffic numbers and Wall Street analysts began asking why, companies like Global Crossing and Qwest resorted to “hollow swaps” and other dubious tricks to fool analysts, prop up the stock price and executive bonuses, and invent sales.

Nobody bothered to ask for an independent analysis of the traffic boom that wasn’t. Wall Street and investors saw dollars waiting to be made, if only providers had the networks to handle the traffic. This began the fiber boom of the late 1990s, “an orgy of construction” as The Economist called it, all to prepare for a tidal wave of Internet traffic that never arrived.

After companies like Global Crossing and Worldcom failed in the biggest bankruptcies the country had ever seen at the time, Odlyzko believes important lessons were never learned. He blames Worldcom executives for inflating the Internet bubble more than anyone.

A bubble of another kind is forming today in America’s wireless industry, fueled by pernicious predictions of a growing spectrum crisis to anyone in DC willing to listen and hurry up spectrum auctions. Both AT&T and Verizon try to stun investors and politicians with enormous dollar numbers they claim are being spent to hurry upgraded wireless networks ready to handle an onslaught of high bandwidth wireless video. Both Verizon’s McAdam and AT&T’s Randall Stephenson intimidate Washington politicians with subtle threats that any enactment of industry reforms by the FCC or Congress will threaten the next $1.2 trillion in network investments, jobs, and America’s vital telecom infrastructure.

Odlyzko has seen this parade before, and he is not impressed. Streaming video on wireless networks is effectively constrained by miserly usage caps, not network capacity, and to Odlyzko, the more interesting story is Americans are abandoning voice calling for instant messages and texting.

8-4WorldcomCartoonThat isn’t a problem for wireless carriers because texting is where the real money is made. Odlyzko notes that wireless carriers profit an average of $1,000 per megabyte for text messages, usually charged per-message or through subscription plan add ons or as part of a bundle. Cellular voice calling is much less profitable, earning about $1 per megabyte of digitized traffic.

Wireless carriers in the United States, particularly Verizon and AT&T, are immensely profitable and the industry as a whole haven’t invested more than 27% of their yearly revenue on network upgrades in over a decade. In fact, in 2011 carriers invested just 14.9% of their revenue, rising slightly to 16.3 percent in 2012 when companies collectively invested $30 billion on network improvements, but earned $185 billion along the way.

While Verizon preached “spectrum crisis” to the FCC and Congress and claimed it was urgently prioritizing network upgrades, company executives won approval of a plan to pay Vodafone, then a part owner of Verizon Wireless, $130 billion to buy them out. That represents the collective investment of every wireless provider in the country in network upgrades from 2005-2012. Verizon Wireless cannot find the money to upgrade their wireless networks to deliver customers a more generous data allowance (or an unlimited plan), but it had no trouble approving $130 billion to buy out its partner so it could keep future profits to itself.

Odlyzko concludes the obvious: “modern telecom is less about high capital investments and far more a game of territorial control, strategic alliances, services, and marketing, than of building a fixed infrastructure.”

That is why there is no money for Verizon FiOS expansion but there was plenty to pay Vodafone, and its executives who walked away with executive bonuses totaling $89.6 million.

As long as American wireless service remains largely in the hands of AT&T and Verizon Wireless, competition isn’t likely to seriously dent prices or profits. At least investors who are buying Verizon’s debt hope so.

Goldman again called attention to Odlyzko’s latest warning that the industry has its numbers (and priorities) wrong, and the last time Odlyzko had the numbers right and the telecommunications industry got its numbers wrong, telecommunications investors lost $1 trillion in the telecommunications dot.com bust.

As the drumbeat continues for further wireless consolidation and spectrum acquisition, investors have been told high network costs necessitate combining operations to improve efficiency and control expenses. Except the biggest costs faced by wireless carriers like Verizon are to implement strategic consolidation opportunities like the Vodafone deal, not maintain and grow their wireless network. AT&T is putting much of its spending in a proposed acquisition of DirecTV this year as well — at a cost of $48.5 billion. That could buy a lot of new cell towers and a much more consumer-friendly data plan.

Voice to text substitution (US)

year voice minutes billions texts billions
2005 1,495 81
2006 1,798 159
2007 2,119 363
2008 2,203 1,005
2009 2,275 1,563
2010 2,241 2,052
2011 2,296 2,304
2012 2,300 2,190

Cell phone network companies (if you can believe their SEC filings) are incredibly profitable, and are spending relatively little on infrastructure:

year revenues in $ billions capex in $ billions capex/revenues
2004 102.1 27.9 27.3%
2005 113.5 25.2 22.2
2006 125.5 24.4 19.4
2007 138.9 21.1 15.2
2008 148.1 20.2 13.6
2009 152.6 20.4 13.3
2010 159.9 24.9 15.6
2011 169.8 25.3 14.9
2012 185.0 30.1 16.3

Time Warner Cable Maxx Customers in LA Are Being Offered Free Cable Modems

Phillip Dampier November 4, 2014 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 1 Comment

twcmaxTime Warner Cable broadband customers in Los Angeles still using older cable modems are being offered replacement modems from the cable company for free, avoiding Time Warner Cable’s $6 monthly modem rental fee.

The Los Angeles Times notes some customers are receiving letters offering a free modem upgrade, but the company won’t say exactly how many subscribers have been offered a way out of the company’s modem rental fee.

A survey of Los Angeles residents suggests Time Warner is primarily targeting customers still using older DOCSIS 2 or basic DOCSIS 3 modems that are not capable of getting the full benefit of Time Warner Cable’s Maxx speed upgrades, which provides up to 300Mbps service for the same price the rest of the country pays for 50Mbps.

Customers taking advantage of the offer are expected to swap out their existing modem themselves, using an “Easy Install Kit” mailed by Time Warner. They will need to contact the cable company to activate their replacement modem.

The replacement is a basic, yet fully capable DOCSIS 3 modem without built-in Wi-Fi. Customers who don’t use a router with built-in Wi-Fi can upgrade to Time Warner’s Wi-Fi capable modem, but it will cost around $11 a month for the service. Stop the Cap! recommends customers buy their own router with built-in Wi-Fi, which is almost always a better deal than renting equipment from Time Warner.

There is no word if a similar offer will be made to customers in other Maxx cities, New York and Austin.

Netherlands Telecom Regulator: A Broadband Duopoly Doesn’t Equal Competition

Phillip Dampier November 3, 2014 Broadband Speed, Competition, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

logo-acm-enIn the Netherlands, having access to two broadband competitors isn’t enough to guarantee broadband competition, and Dutch telecom regulators are not about to deregulate Internet service in the country until consumers have more choices for broadband access.

The Dutch telecom regulator on Friday announced it will keep wholesale access regulations in place for an extra three years to guarantee KPN – the former state-owned telephone company – plays fair with competitors.

“If ACM were not to step in, there would be too little choice: Dutch telecom company KPN and cable company UPC/Ziggo would then dominate the market,” says the Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) in a written statement. “In ACM’s opinion, having just two providers in these markets cannot be considered healthy competition.”

“Furthermore, KPN and UPC/Ziggo are challenged by their competitors to continue to invest in their networks and to innovate,” said Henk Don, a board member of ACM. “As a result, faster and better connections become available in the Netherlands.”

kpn

KPN

The Dutch telephone and mobile provider will be required to continue allowing competitors such as Vodafone and Tele2 access to KPN’s landline and fiber to the home networks to offer competitive broadband service. ACM reports that Dutch consumers are saving at least $312 million a year in lower Internet access pricing just by forcing KPN to allow other companies to compete using its network.

KPN isn’t hampered by the forced openness, because ACM has also given the phone company relaxed operating rules to allow it to invest in DSL upgrades including vectoring and the forthcoming G.Fast standard, which could dramatically boost broadband speeds.

Most Dutch consumers, like those in North America, realistically have a choice between one telephone and one cable company — usually Ziggo (currently merging with UPC), for broadband service. But unlike in the United States, Dutch regulators have remained wholly unconvinced an effective duopoly is subject to enough competitive pressure to protect consumers and nascent competition from upstarts. Therefore, ACM has applied regulatory checks and balances to protect the marketplace and consumers from abusive pricing and service practices.

U.S. telecom companies argue that regulations hamper investment and delay network improvements. In the Netherlands, where broadband speed rankings exceed the United States, prices are also lower.

Russia Accelerating Broadband Speed Upgrades In Global Broadband Catch-Up

onlimeRussian Internet Service Providers have been strongly encouraged to upgrade their service and speeds as a matter of national pride as the Kremlin encourages broadband improvements across the vast expanse of the country.

Responding to the call, regional ISP Onlime, operated by Russian telecom giant Rostelecom, has introduced new broadband packages to subscribers at prices that would make most North Americans drool:

  • “100 for 500″ is Onlime’s most aggressive promotion, offering unlimited 100Mbps service for 500 Russian rubles, equal to $11.47US a month on promotion. The regular rate after the promotion expires should run around $20 a month;
  • beeline15Mbps budget Internet is regularly priced at $6.88 a month;
  • 30Mbps standard service costs $9.18 a month;
  • 60Mbps turbo service runs $11.47 a month;
  • 80Mbps deluxe service was tariffed before the “100 for 500″ promotion, and its everyday price is $16.06 a month.

Meanwhile, Russian wireless mobile operator Vimpelcom also runs wired broadband service in parts of Russia and is boosting speeds without raising prices. Customers signed up with “Beeline” in the Moscow Oblast, including the communities of Moscow, Domodedovo, Zelenograd, Sergyev-Posad, Serpukhov, Chekhov, and Lyubertsy will now receive up to 30Mbps service. You can’t beat the price. At just 350 Russian rubles, that is just over $8 a month in U.S. dollars.

The speed increases start Nov. 10.

Federal Trade Commission Suing AT&T Over Unfair Speed Throttles for Unlimited Data Customers

throttleThe Federal Trade Commission today filed a lawsuit against AT&T for its practice of subjecting grandfathered unlimited data customers to speed throttles that dramatically cut speeds up to 90 percent after customers use more than 3GB of data on AT&T’s 3G network or 5GB on its 4G network. Thus far, according to the FTC, AT&T has throttled at least 3.5 million unique customers a total of more than 25 million times.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that the company failed to adequately disclose to its customers on unlimited data plans that, if they reach a certain amount of data use in a given billing cycle, AT&T reduces – or “throttles” – their data speeds to the point that many common mobile phone applications – like web browsing, GPS navigation and watching streaming video –  become difficult or nearly impossible to use.

“AT&T promised its customers ‘unlimited’ data, and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “The issue here is simple: ‘unlimited’ means unlimited.”

FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler publicly complained about Verizon’s plans to start a similar throttling program on its wireless network, questioning the fairness of cutting speeds for certain customers while exempting others. Both Verizon and AT&T have claimed speed throttles are part of a fair usage policy that allows all customers to share its wireless resources. Broadband providers have often painted a picture of a “bandwidth hog” taking a disproportionate share of network resources away from other customers, but there is no evidence heavier users are creating conflicts for other users, especially as wireless carriers encourage customers to use more data.

throttle att

From AT&Ts website

The logic of rationing Internet use for unlimited customers while providing unlimited access to those willing to pay usage-based charges escaped the FTC, which is what brought the suit.

According to the FTC’s complaint, AT&T’s marketing materials emphasized the “unlimited” amount of data that would be available to consumers who signed up for its unlimited plans. The complaint alleges that, even as unlimited plan consumers renewed their contracts, the company still failed to inform them of the throttling program. When customers canceled their contracts after being throttled, AT&T charged those customers early termination fees, which typically amount to hundreds of dollars.

The FTC alleges that AT&T, despite its unequivocal promises of unlimited data, began throttling data speeds in 2011 for its unlimited data plan customers after they used as little as 2 gigabytes of data in a billing period. According to the complaint, the throttling program has been severe, often resulting in speed reductions of 80 to 90 percent for affected users.

According to the FTC’s complaint, consumers in AT&T focus groups strongly objected to the idea of a throttling program and felt “unlimited should mean unlimited.” AT&T documents also showed that the company received thousands of complaints about the slow data speeds under the throttling program. Some consumers quoted the definition of the word “unlimited,” while others called AT&T’s throttling program a “bait and switch.” Many consumers also complained about the effect the throttling program had on their ability to use GPS navigation, watch streaming videos, listen to streaming music and browse the web.

The complaint charges that AT&T violated the FTC Act by changing the terms of customers’ unlimited data plans while those customers were still under contract, and by failing to adequately disclose the nature of the throttling program to consumers who renewed their unlimited data plans.

FTC staff worked closely on this matter with the staff of the Federal Communications Commission.

The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division.

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