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Verizon Accuses AT&T of “Rigging the Game to Stifle True Competition”

It is rare for AT&T and Verizon to feud in public, even rarer for one company to accuse the other of being anti-competitive, but that is precisely what happened last week in California as the two companies sparred over building a next generation wireless network for first responders.

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is a government program to provide emergency responders with priority access to the first nationwide, high-speed wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety. AT&T won an extremely lucrative contract to build, operate and maintain the network in states that “opt in” to AT&T/FirstNet’s proposal. But AT&T is not building a separate wireless network apart from its existing wireless infrastructure. It is using $6.5 billion in public taxpayer dollars and free access to an extremely valuable segment of nationwide 700MHz spectrum, known as Band 14, to improve its existing wireless network for individual customers and the first responders that will get priority access in the event of an emergency.

For AT&T to benefit the most financially, it has to convince each of 56 states and territories to “opt in” to its FirstNet deployment plan or do nothing at all, which will result in that state or territory automatically being enrolled in AT&T’s plan. If a state elects to opt out of AT&T’s plan, the wireless company cannot get free access to Band 14 or collect the taxpayer dollars designated for that area.

FirstNet is one of AT&T’s most lucrative contracts in years, and the phone company is doing everything possible to win over state officials in hopes they will embrace the FirstNet plan. It has been a successful effort with more than 30 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands purposely opting in, and more than a dozen still studying AT&T’s offer. To date, no state has opted out.

Verizon, which did not bid on the original FirstNet contract, has not walked away from providing public safety communications and has spent a considerable amount of its advertising budget to promote Verizon’s own services to first responders, designed to assure they get first priority to clogged cellular networks in the event of an emergency. In August, Verizon announced it will privately finance its own “private network core” to directly serve police, fire, ambulance, and related agencies. Verizon’s first responder network will be separate from Verizon’s public network, but the company has also promised full priority access to its public LTE 4G network across the country.

Verizon’s counteroffer comes without taxpayer financing, yet will offer many of the same services as AT&T FirstNet, without costing the country more than $6 billion. Among the services Verizon will give away for free: priority/preemption access, which means in an emergency, first priority will go to emergency officials even if it means dropping your cell phone call or data session. Verizon is also bolstering its Push-to-Talk Plus service, which works with existing land mobile radio networks. This will allow first responders to use the “walkie talkie”-type features already a familiar part of their radio equipment.

Verizon’s offer would seem to be a good deal for consumers and governments in states like New York and California that have yet to opt in to AT&T FirstNet, and in California, Verizon was invited to bid to create an alternative network in a potential “opt out” scenario. Verizon’s director of public-safety solutions group – David Wiederecht, promised the state Verizon would submit its bid by the state deadline, which was last Wednesday. By Friday, California officials leaked word Verizon had reneged on that commitment and did not participate, a fact Verizon later confirmed.

Verizon accused AT&T and FirstNet of colluding to rig the “Request for Proposals” process in California with requirements that were impossible for anyone except AT&T to meet.

“Vigorous competition that allows the industry and the marketplace to continue to grow and innovate is in the best interest of public safety and should be everyone’s shared goal,” Verizon said in a written statement. “Instead, we believe FirstNet and its corporate partner are rigging the game in order to stifle true competition.”

Urgent Communications reported that the among the most onerous requirements imposed by AT&T and FirstNet is that all emergency communications in an “opt out” state must be sent to the FirstNet LTE core network operated by AT&T. That would mean that regardless of who builds and operates the network, AT&T still remains at the core of FirstNet.

“We’re not prepared to have our public safety customers run on a network where we can’t control their ability to connect or their customer experience,” according to the Verizon spokesperson.

Verizon suggests the reason for 36 states to have opted-in to AT&T’s proposal may not be the result of love for AT&T, but rather the punishments the states and territories risk if they don’t sign on with AT&T.

Don Brittingham, Verizon’s vice president of public safety, testified at a Pennsylvania hearing regarding FirstNet and warned states could be effectively stuck with AT&T indefinitely.

“States should not be required to use the network core deployed by (AT&T) FirstNet, as such a requirement would put the state in the untenable position of being driven by the interests and decisions of FirstNet’s commercial partner—a condition that would be unattractive to any prospective state commercial partner,” Brittingham said.

AT&T has also borrowed from its customer preservation policies on the retail side with terms and conditions that could be financially devastating to states that decide to look elsewhere.

Because any competing provider is required to use AT&T’s network core to be a part of FirstNet, AT&T can set whatever price it chooses for third party access. But most onerous of all is the penalty imposed if a state opts out of AT&T FirstNet and chooses a vendor that does not meet every FirstNet guideline. In that case, a state would be required to come hat in hand back to AT&T/FirstNet for service that does meet the guidelines AT&T/FirstNet wrote. In California, that penalty fee would amount to as much as $15 billion, more than twice the amount taxpayers are paying AT&T to build out FirstNet in at least 36 states and territories.

Taken from a FirstNet fact sheet.

AT&T defended the amount of the penalty fee, claiming it has to build or enhance its network to provide public safety communications for at least 25 years, but critics contend the penalty is so risky, most states will opt for the path of least resistance and legal exposure and sign on with AT&T/FirstNet.

Verizon’s complaints about the bidding process received a strong rebuke from AT&T.

“Building a state-of-the art network that meets the needs of first responders is hard. Clearly, AT&T is up for the task,” Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president for FirstNet, said in a statement provided to Urgent Communications. “We’re noticing a pattern: Verizon says they have public safety’s back, but when it comes to the heavy lifting, they are nowhere to be found.”

But then, neither are any competing providers.

Net Neutrality Protests Coming to More Than 600 Verizon Stores on Thursday

Phillip Dampier December 6, 2017 Consumer News, Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Thousands of pro-Net Neutrality supporters are expected to protest the imminent repeal of rules protecting a free and open internet at more than 600 Verizon retail stores nationwide on Thursday, Dec. 6.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is likely to preside over a 3-2 Republican majority Dec. 14 vote rolling back rules that prevent internet service providers from blocking or slowing access to websites and creating paid “fast lanes.”

“The protests are meant to pierce the protective bubble of industry lobbyists and ‘yes men’ who’ve surrounded Chairman Pai,” said Free Press Action Fund senior director of strategy Timothy Karr,  who helped coordinate the day of action. “The outcry from across the political spectrum has been deafening. Pai’s effort to ignore the overwhelming public support for Net Neutrality only isolates him further from the people he’s really supposed to serve.”

The largest protest is expected to take place at Verizon’s Manhattan store on 42nd Street near Bryant Park. Other New York-area protests will occur at Verizon stores and offices in Lower Manhattan, Williamsburg (Brooklyn) and Fordham University (the Bronx).

Verizon Protests, a website run by several internet activist groups, is coordinating the public pushback against Pai and features an online map showing scheduled protest locations, asking those planning to attend to RSVP and find out the time of the protest at each location.

The group chose Verizon’s retail stores for its protests because Verizon is funding anti-Net Neutrality campaigns and lawsuits.

“The new chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is a former top lawyer for Verizon, and the company has been spending millions on lobbying and lawsuits to kill Net Neutrality so they can gouge us all for more money,” the website says. “By protesting at Verizon stores, we’re shining light on the corruption and demanding that our lawmakers do something about it. Only Congress has the power to stop Verizon’s puppet FCC, so at the protests we’ll be calling and tweeting at legislators, and in some cities we’ll be protesting right in front of their offices.”

The group is encouraging everyone to also take their protest to their members of Congress.

“Everybody can call (202) 759-7766.  Please introduce yourself, be polite, and say and say something like: “I support “Title Two” Net Neutrality rules and I would like you to publicly oppose the FCC’s plan to repeal them,” the group advises in a three-page protest guide. “Please contact the FCC Chairman and demand that he abandon his current plan. We don’t need legislation, we need you to stop the FCC from gutting the existing rules.”

Hissyfit Between Google, Amazon Exploited by Anti-Net Neutrality Forces

News that Google is dropping support for YouTube on Amazon-branded set-top boxes, personal assistants, and set-top boxes is being used by anti-Net Neutrality forces to claim those two companies are a much bigger problems for Net Neutrality than cable and phone companies.

Google will make YouTube unavailable to Amazon device owners on Jan. 1, 2018, with the suggestion the company might change its mind if Amazon agrees to carry Chromecast and Google Home devices on its website and support casting Prime Video.

The last straw may have been Amazon’s decision to drop some of Nest’s newest products last month. Nest is owned by Google.

“Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and FireTV,” said a Google spokesperson to Multichannel News. “We hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon.”

“Echo Show and Fire TV now display a standard web view of YouTube.com and point customers directly to YouTube’s existing website,” Amazon responded in a statement. “Google is setting a disappointing precedent by selectively blocking customer access to an open website. We hope to resolve this with Google as soon as possible.”

The dispute was welcomed by anti Net Neutrality forces, who proclaimed consumers were the victims of Amazon.com and Google, not AT&T, Comcast, and other large telecom companies.

USTelecom, a group sponsored by the nation’s biggest telephone companies, also pounced on the dispute. CEO Jonathan Spalter:

“Broadband ISPs are committed to providing an open internet for their customers, including protections like no content blocking or throttling,” he said. “Seems like some of the biggest internet companies can’t say the same. Ironic, isn’t it?”

(Headline corrected. Thanks to Morgan Wick.)

The Many Lies of Ajit Pai About Net Neutrality

Pai

I’ve done a LOT of interviews and talk shows on the issue of Net Neutrality over the last two weeks. After listening to the talking point-festooned “experts” and show hosts with a political agenda, your listeners, readers, and I will not be gaslighted by the exceptionally ridiculous condescension campaign now underway by Net Neutrality opponents.

For those who don’t know, “gaslighting” refers to manipulating someone into questioning or second-guessing their beliefs by distorting facts, attempting to delegitimize evidence with falsehoods, confusing the issues, and suggesting one lacks credibility to speak or write on an issue… because they said so.

Fortunately, when these “facts” come from a cable/telco bought-and-paid-for policy institute or lobbyist, it is easy to identify these campaigns and debunk them. It is also entertaining to turn the tables by questioning the source of their talking points and the agendas in play. We always ask these individuals where the money comes from for their “policy institute” and the answers are always not revealing. For the record, Stop the Cap! doesn’t accept corporate donations, period. We accept contributions exclusively from individuals. It takes just a few seconds to explain our funding while the other side takes minutes tap-dancing around the corporate dark money that funds their efforts.

Phillip Dampier: Don’t gaslight me, bro!

Thankfully, there have been a lot of newspaper reporters taking time to understand the issues and have shown professionalism in their reporting. But some radio talk show hosts unfortunately don’t do as well and rely on short-sighted political positioning, “rescue” their cornered allies with convenient commercial breaks, interrupt, or change the subject with baited questions when the facts don’t go their way. Net Neutrality is NOT a conservative or liberal issue, but some attempt to make it one by injecting President Barack Obama’s name into the debate or claim Net Neutrality represents government control of the internet.

Speaking of facts, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s latest arguments for his Christmas gift repeal of Net Neutrality for the telecom industry uses similar gaslighting and false talking points that distract from a fact-based debate on these issues.

As millions of consumers express outrage over Pai’s unbending agenda to allow internet service providers to create an unlevel internet playing field and paid prioritization fast lanes that favor some content over others (as long as they disclose it), Pai and his staff are now resorting to calling Americans who favor the current free and open internet “desperate” or ignorant about how the internet works.

But you know more than you think, reminded each month (when the bill arrives) of the special ability of companies like Comcast to abuse the customer relationship with skyrocketing rates, data caps, and unhelpful customer service. Giving companies like this more ways to charge you more for the same service has never worked to your advantage.

Net Neutrality is one of only a few tools available to the FCC to keep ISPs in check. Banning data caps and zero rating schemes would be another great way to protect consumers from Wall Street’s insatiable demand for companies to extract more revenue from consumers. Investors know full well in a monopoly/duopoly marketplace there is every incentive to gouge and very little risk of losing customers doing so.

Our friends at Free Press did considerable research to debunk some of Mr. Pai’s talking points in a long series of tweets we thought would be illuminating:

Charter Introduces Gigabit Service on Oahu; New Standard Speed is 200Mbps

Charter Communications has announced gigabit broadband is available on the Hawaiian island of Oahu for $104.99/month, thanks to DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades being tested in the state.

Spectrum customers in Hawaii will also find their Standard tier internet speeds have also been doubled to 200Mbps, up from 100Mbps. A year ago, the company was selling 60Mbps broadband for the same $65 price it now charges for speeds more than triple as fast.

Charter has been at the rear of companies upgrading to DOCSIS 3.1 technology, primarily because the company is still upgrading legacy Time Warner Cable systems to free up space for boosting broadband speeds. The last analog television service in legacy Time Warner territory is not expected to disappear until 2019, with around half of former Time Warner Cable customers still waiting for upgrades. Charter executives don’t mind that the company is among the last, claiming that by the time DOCSIS 3.1 is fully deployed across their systems, equipment will be cheaper and more plentiful.

Charter plans to roll out DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades in selected cities — almost all facing substantial competition from Verizon FiOS, AT&T Fiber, or a municipal gigabit fiber provider — starting in 2018. But most markets will have to wait until 2019 or later before gigabit speeds become available from Spectrum.

Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge added Spectrum customers will see base plan speeds increase as the company continues its upgrade strategy.

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