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Phillip Dampier

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CRTC Orders Phone and Cable Companies to Open Their Fiber Networks to Competitors

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais

Independent Internet Service Providers are hailing a decision by telecommunications regulators that will force big phone and cable companies to open their fiber optic networks to competitors, suggesting Canadian consumers will benefit from lower prices, fewer usage caps, and higher-speed Internet.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Wednesday ordered companies like Bell/BCE, Telus, Rogers, Shaw, and others to sell wholesale access to their growing fiber optic networks, despite industry protests giving that access would harm future investment in fiber technology just as it is on the cusp of spreading across the country.

“We’re an evidence-based body, so we heard all of the positions of the various parties and we balanced those off through what we heard in our deliberations afterwards,” said CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais. “In this particular case, we are concerned about the future of broadband in the country so we have to make sure we have a sustainable and competitive marketplace. It’s a wholesale decision that says Canadians can expect a better competitive marketplace because we are going to require incumbent cable and telephone companies to make their high-speed facilities available to competitors.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Breaking News CRTC Decision Fiber 7-22-15.flv

BNN broke into regular programming with this Special Report on the CRTC decision that will grant independent ISPs access to large telecom companies’ fiber optic networks. (3:13)

Large phone companies, including Bell, warned regulators in a hearing last fall that forcing them to open their networks to third parties would deter investment in fiber expansion. Canadian telecom companies now provide about three million homes with either fiber to the home or fiber to the neighborhood service. Blais, along with representatives of independent ISPs have rejected Bell’s arguments, arguing competition from cable operators was forcing telephone companies to upgrade their networks regardless of the wholesale access debate.

crtc“Our view is the incumbent telcos have a market reason to invest in improving their plant through the investment in fiber,” Blais said. “That’s what Canadians expect and because of market conditions they have to do that investment. So we’re quite confident that’s going to happen.”

Canadian telecommunications companies have done well selling Internet and television services in a highly concentrated telecommunications and media marketplace. For example, BCE, the parent company of Bell Canada, Bell Media, and Bell TV owns a wireless carrier, a satellite TV provider, the CTV television network and many of its local affiliates, dozens of radio stations, more than two dozen cable networks, a landline telephone company, an Internet Service Provider, and ownership interests in sports teams like the Montreal Canadiens as well as a part interest in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s unofficial newspaper of record.

Companies like Rogers, Shaw, Vidéotron, Telus, and Bell have dominated the market for Internet access. But regulators began requiring these companies to sell access to their networks on a wholesale basis to smaller competitors to foster additional retail competition. Today, there are over 500 independent ISPs selling service in Canada, including well-known companies like TekSavvy, Primus, and Distributel. In the past few years, Internet enthusiasts have flocked to these alternative providers to escape a regime of usage caps and usage-based billing of Internet service common among most incumbent cable and phone companies. Competition from the independents, which offer more generous usage allowances or sell unlimited access, has forced some phone and cable companies to offer cap-free Internet service as well.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN CRTC Decision Interview with Jean Pierre Blais 7-22-15.flv

BNN interviewed CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais about the commission’s decision to open up wholesale access to Canada’s fiber optic networks. (5:26)

bellDespite the competition, the majority of Canadians still do business with BCE, Rogers Communications, Quebecor (Vidéotron), Shaw Communications, or Telus, that collectively captured 75 percent of telecom revenue in 2013.

Although competitors have been able to purchase wholesale access to cable broadband and DSL service, nothing in the CRTC rules required big cable and phone companies to sell access to next generation fiber networks. That gap threatened the viability of independent ISPs, left with offering customers access to older cable/copper technology only. This week’s CRTC decision is the first step to grant access to fiber networks as well, although some ISPs are cautious about the impact of the decision until the CRTC provides pricing guidance.

“The commission took a great step today in favor of competition,” Matt Stein, CEO of Distributel Communications Ltd., told The Globe and Mail. “In giving us access to fiber to the premise, they have ensured that as speeds and demands increase, we’re going to continue to be able to provide service that customers want. It’s definitely going to be some time before these products make it to market. There’s going to be the costing and the implementation, and reasonably it could be a year or even longer before the products are actually out the door. But the heavy lifting? Today that was done.”

Bram Abramson, chief legal and regulatory officer for TekSavvy Solutions Inc., added some caution.

Distributel, an independent ISP, made a name for itself offering usage-cap free Internet access to Canadians.

Distributel, an independent ISP, made a name for itself offering usage-cap free Internet access to Canadians.

“The devil really is in the details on this,” Abramson told the newspaper. “That’s why I say we like the direction, because there are a million ways in which this could become unworkable if implemented wrong. For example, what rates are we going to pay? We won’t know until those tariffs are done and settled.”

Other so-called “wireline incumbents” like Manitoba Telecom and SaskTel will also be required to make their fiber optic networks available to competitors.

Last fall, Bell warned the CRTC of the consequences of letting TekSavvy, Distributel, and others resell access to their fiber networks.

“We are not suggesting that mandated access will immediately grind investment to a halt in every location in Canada, but it is a question of balance and it will have an impact,” Mirko Bibic, chief legal and regulatory officer for BCE/Bell told CRTC commissioners at a hearing.

Bibic cautioned if the CRTC granted competitive access it could affect how the company allocated its capital investments and could lead it to shift spending to other areas instead.

“What we’re saying is a mandated access rule will affect the pace of deployment and the breadth of deployment,” Bibic said.

Bibic

Bibic

Specifically, Bibic claimed Bell may call it quits on fiber expansion beyond the fiber-to-the-neighborhood service Bell sells under the Fibe brand in 80% of its service area in Ontario and Quebec. Bell had envisioned upgrading the network to straight fiber-to-the-home service, eliminating the rest of the legacy copper still in its network. But perhaps not anymore.

“If the commission forces the incumbent telephone operators to open access to fiber-to-the-home, BCE might not prioritize building that final leg in some communities,” Bibic warned. “The point is, with 80% of our territory covered […] we can hold and do really well with fiber-to-the-node for longer than we otherwise might.”

Nonsense, independent ISPs told the CRTC, pointing to the cable industry’s preparations to introduce DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband and vastly increase broadband speeds well in excess of what a fiber-to-the-neighborhood network can offer.

“First of all, [telephone companies] have a natural incentive to build wherever there is a cable carrier, because otherwise the cable carrier will eat their lunch,” said Chris Tacit, counsel to the Canadian Network Operators Consortium, which represents the interests of independent ISPs. “There’s a reason that they’re sinking all that money into [fiber-to-the-home], it’s because they have to keep up. Now, I don’t believe for a minute that they are going to stop investing if they have to grant access.”

Regulators in the United States have traditionally sided with large telecommunications companies and have largely allowed phone and cable companies to keep access to their advanced broadband networks to themselves. Republicans have largely defended the industry position that regulation and forced open access would deter private investment and competitors should construct networks of their own. In some cases, they have. Google Fiber is now the most prominent overbuilder, but several dozen independent providers are also slowly wiring fiber optics in communities already served by cable and telephone company-provided broadband. Whether it is better to inspire new entrants to build their own networks or grant them access to existing ones is an ongoing political debate.

But the CRTC has not given independent ISPs a free ride. The commission announced it will begin moving towards “disaggregated” network availability for smaller ISPs, which will require them to invest in network equipment to connect with incumbent networks on a more local level, starting in Ontario and Quebec.

The CRTC under Blais’ leadership is gaining a reputation of being pro-consumer, a departure from the CRTC’s often-industry-friendly past. Blais has presided over rulings to regulate wholesale wireless roaming fees to lower consumer costs and forced pay television providers to unbundle their huge TV channel packages so consumers can get rid of scores of channels they don’t watch.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/The Globe and Mail Internet competitors welcome CRTC decision on broadband access 7-23-15.flv

Canadian Press spoke with independent ISPs about their reaction to the wholesale access decision. (1:18)

Getting Lousy DSL Service from Windstream? Here’s How to Get a $10 Monthly Discount

windstreamlogoAre you paying Windstream for 6Mbps DSL service and getting half that speed or less? Stop the Cap! doesn’t think it is fair to charge full price for half or less the speed you paid good money to receive. If Windstream shrugs its shoulders when you complain and tells you there is nothing they can do to improve your speed, it’s time to take 10 minutes to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. That 10 minute investment may get you $120 in relief.

Complaints sent to the FCC are forwarded to Windstream’s executive relations team of customer service representatives, who have tried to placate customers with a monthly $10 discount off poor-performing DSL. Although your complaint will not get Windstream to pry open its safe and make immediate investments to correct your situation, it will keep the phone company’s fingers out of your wallet, collecting money it doesn’t deserve for a level of service it refuses to provide.

Windstream blames the Internet slowdowns on Internet traffic growth that other providers quietly manage with periodic upgrades. Windstream would not experience these congestion problems if it elected to spend some of the money it collects from customers on upgrades. As Stop the Cap! has reported before, in states like Georgia, PennsylvaniaSouth Carolina, New MexicoKentuckyAlabama, and beyond that does not seem to be happening as often as it should. Windstream appears to be waiting for a ratepayer bailout from Connect America Funds to pay for service upgrades it should be doing with its own money. Until they do, you are owed a discount and here is how to apply for one:

Filing a Complaint with the FCC Regarding Your Windstream DSL Service

windstream dsl

  1. Visit Windstream’s Speed Test website, select the server nearest you, and perform several speed tests, preferably over the course of a few days. Windows users can hit the F10 key on their keyboard to capture a screen image, use the paste command in any picture editor, and then crop and save the result as an image file. Paint.net is a good freeware program to use for this purpose. Mac users can follow these instructions. If this is too complicated, you can print a copy of the web page within your web browser.
  2. Visit the FCC’s Consumer Help Center – Internet Complaint Form and complete the form online. You can upload and attach file(s) showing your speed test results at the bottom of the complaint form. Choose “speed” as your complaint category and let the FCC know you are paying x dollars for x Mbps DSL service from Windstream you are not getting. If you have previously complained about the speed and performance of your connection to Windstream directly, let the FCC know that as well, in addition to any response you received. The more details about your bad experience(s), the better. You can also suggest that as long as the problem continues, you want a discount for the poor performance of your Internet connection.
  3. If you wish to mail or fax your complaint, download this complaint form and attach any printouts showing speed test results.

It will likely take at least 4-6 weeks for a response to reach you from the FCC, usually also containing a written response from Windstream. Some customers scheduled for significant upgrades this year may not get the same credit others not scheduled may receive. There are no guarantees Windstream will offer you any specific discount or credit for your service, especially if the problem can be corrected right away. But you won’t get a thing if you don’t ask.

Wall Street Analyst Tells Congress Broadband Needs to Be More Than Just “Profitable” to Spur Investment

greedUnless a broadband provider can deliver the same kind of profitability earned by U.S. cable operators, don’t expect significant private investment in broadband expansion even if the company can easily turn a profit.

That was the argument brought to a House hearing on funding broadband infrastructure expansion by Craig Moffett, a Wall Street analyst at Moffett Nathanson.

“Infrastructure deployment requires the expectation of a healthy return on capital,” Moffett told the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee in a hearing this afternoon. “That should be taken as a given, but all too often, in my experience, the issue of return on capital is either ignored or misunderstood in policy forums. It is not a matter of whether a business is or isn’t profitable, it is instead a matter of whether it is sufficiently profitable to warrant the high levels of capital investment required for the deployment of infrastructure.”

Moffett pointed to the massive profits earned by cable operators Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter and Cablevision, all of which earned returns well in excess of their cost of capital, ranging from 13-33 percent. Moffett argued Wall Street has come to expect those kinds of returns, and investors will take a hard look at companies deploying new expensive networks against those that have largely paid back much of the capital costs incurred when their networks were built decades ago.

Moffett continued to criticize the broadband expansion being undertaken by large incumbent telephone companies that he claims does not earn attractive returns for their wireline businesses, even as they have introduced new services like faster broadband and television.

“For example, a decade after first undertaking their FiOS fiber-to-the-home buildout to 18 million homes, Verizon has not yet come close to earning a return in excess of their cost of capital,” said Moffett. “In 2014 their aggregate wired telecommunications business earned a paltry 1.2% return, against a cost of capital of roughly 5%. For the non-financial types in the room, that’s the equivalent of borrowing money at 5% interest in order to earn interest of 1%. That’s a good way to go bankrupt.”

analysisMoffett was also critical of AT&T’s planned expansion of gigabit fiber broadband.

“AT&T has committed to the FCC to make fiber available to a total of 11.7 million locations in their footprint in order to make their acquisition of DirecTV more palatable to policy-makers, but it is hard to be optimistic that they will do much better this time around,” Moffett argued.

Moffett believes competition is bad for the profitable broadband business.

Moffett

Moffett

“The broader take-away here is that the returns to be had from overbuilding – that is, being the second or third broadband provider in a given market – are generally poor,” Moffett said. “Let that sink in for a moment. Stated simply, it means that market forces are unlikely to yield a competitive broadband market. Neither, by the way, does wireless appear to offer the promise of imminent competition for incumbent broadband providers. Wireless networks simply aren’t engineered for the kind of sustained throughput required for a wired-broadband-replacement service.”

As a result, investors prefer that the broadband marketplace remain a monopoly or duopoly to guarantee the kinds of healthy returns they have earned for years, especially from the cable stocks Moffett has always favored in reports to his clients. Additional competition drives prices down, reducing profits, which in turn discourages investors who have high expectations their money will make them a lot more money.

Moffett’s arguments are largely based on broadband being a for-profit private enterprise, not a public infrastructure effort. But it does explain why there is a willingness to compete in large cities where network construction costs are lower and rural communities remain relatively unserved. As with electrification 100 years ago, investor-owned utilities were willing to wire large communities while ignoring rural farms and communities. Only after electricity was deemed a necessary utility did alternative means of funding, including member-owned co-ops and community-owned utilities finish electrifying areas private capital ignored.

Moffett’s guide to better broadband is based entirely on profitability — delivering enough profits and other returns to attract investors that will look elsewhere if costs become too high. Community-owned broadband avoids this dilemma by advocating for break-even or modestly profitable networks that focus on service, not investor-attractive profits.

Several members of Congress commented Moffett’s vision of broadband was discouraging, even depressing, because it seemed to be locked in a for-profit, private sector model that had few answers to offer for communities left behind. Moffett even warned against oversight and regulation of incumbent cable and phone companies, claiming it would further drive away private investment.

But broadband customers, Moffett admitted, will still pay the price for investor expectations.

comcast cartoon“As everyone understands, the cable video business is facing unprecedented pressure,” Moffett testified. “Cord cutting has been talked about for years but is finally starting to show up in a meaningful way in the numbers. And soaring programming costs are eating away at video profit margins. From a cable operator’s perspective, the video business and the broadband business are opposite sides of the same coin. It is, after all, all one infrastructure. Pressure on the video profit pool will therefore naturally trigger a pricing response in broadband, where cable operators will have greater pricing leverage.”

Moffett said the kinds of rate hikes consumers used to pay for cable television now increasingly transferred to broadband customers is nothing nefarious. To keep investors happy, the kind of returns once earned from cable television will now have be delivered on the backs of broadband customers if Congress expects cable companies to continue upgrading and expanding their networks.

“All else being equal, that will mean that even new builds of broadband will become increasingly economically challenged and therefore will become less and less likely,” said Moffett. “Or they will simply have to sharply raise broadband prices.”

Moffett’s comments do come with some baggage, however. His clients pay for his advice and Moffett has been a long-time supporter of cable industry stocks. He has been a strong and natural advocate for a cable industry that faces only token opposition. He has browbeaten executives to start broadband usage caps and usage-based billing to further boost broadband profits, slammed telephone company competition in the cable business as financially reckless and unwarranted, and dismissed Google Fiber as a project designed to help Google’s public policy aims more than earn the search giant profits from the broadband business.

But Moffett has also been wrong in the past, particularly with respect to cord-cutting which he used to downplay as an urban legend and on the ease cable companies would be able to acquire and merge with each other.

Beyond all that, Moffett and his clients have a proverbial dog in the fight. After years of pumping cable stocks, suggestions that more competition for the cable industry is a good thing would simply be bad for business.

Windstream Tells Its DSL Customer in South Carolina to Consider Satellite Internet Instead

windstream

On the outside looking in.

Windstream’s DSL service in parts of Inman, S.C. is so bad, the company has recommended some DSL customers consider signing up for a competitor’s satellite-based Internet service instead.

In a remarkable response to a complaint filed with the Federal Communications Commission by a Windstream customer, Mollie Chewning, an executive customer relations representative for Windstream, suggested no broadband upgrades were likely before 2016 and beyond a $10 monthly discount for a year, customers in Inman will just have to live with DSL speeds that are often less than 1Mbps or consider switching to satellite-delivered Internet from another company.

“Windstream acknowledges some Iman [sic], SC have been experiencing high-speed Internet issues,” Chewning wrote Sharon Bowers, the department division chief of the FCC’s Consumer Information Bureau. “This is a result of the tremendous growth in Internet usage over the past few years as well as the challenging economics of serving rural and remote areas with broadband. Unfortunately, our records indicate Mr. [redacted] service address will likely not benefit from any of our scheduled upgrades in 2015. It is possible some upgrades may be explored in 2016 could assist some customers in Inman via Connect America funding, but Windstream is still finalizing upgrade plans for next year.”

Speed test results

Speed test results

James Corley, the victim of Windstream’s poor-performing DSL, launched a blog to get Windstream moving on upgrades or entice area cable operator Charter Communications to wire his neighborhood for service.

Inman, S.C.

Inman, S.C.

“I am a resident of a small subdivision […] and for nearly a decade, we have been forced to rely on Windstream Communications’ disgraceful DSL internet and telephone services,” Corley writes. “The company’s representatives have been promising us for years that we would be upgraded to faster speeds but the promised upgrades have repeatedly failed to materialize and even though I cannot say for sure where Windstream’s priorities lie, it certainly isn’t with their customers.”

Corley is not asking for much. He’s subscribed to a basic 3Mbps service plan. Windstream does not come close to delivering even those speeds, however, with speed test results showing performance ranging usually below 1Mbps all the way down to 40kbps — less than dial-up.

“Given existing high-speed Internet issues, Mr. [redacted] will receive a $10 discount, which will appear on his account monthly through July 2016,” Chewning wrote. “If Mr. [redacted] finds this information unacceptable, he may want to explore alternate service options such as Internet via satellite.”

Corley has elected to pursue Charter Communications instead. It can offer considerably faster speeds than Windstream or satellite providers at a much lower cost. But Charter has thus far refused to wire Corley’s neighborhood for free. Charter wants at least $7,000 to extend service to the subdivision, after which it will start construction and deliver service within 45 days. Charter has no problem spending $55 billion to acquire Time Warner Cable but is unwilling to spend $7,000 to attract most, if not all 16 residents on the customer’s street.

Windstream appears to be more interested waiting for telephone ratepayers across the country to subsidize incremental improvements in its slow speed DSL service through the Connect America Fund, which has a poor record subsidizing cable operators to bring far superior broadband service to customers like those in Inman.

Until the Windstream customer and his neighbors manage to scrape together $7,000, or Charter extends service at no charge in the name of good public relations, residents of Inman (and beyond) are stuck with Windstream broadband that does not come close to broadband.windstream-fcc-response-1

Cable’s Fiber Fears: Broadband Market Share Drops to 40% or Less When Fiber Competition Arrives

The magic of fiber

The magic of fiber

Ever wonder why Comcast, one of the strongest defenders of classic coaxial-based cable technology, is suddenly getting on board the fiber-to-the-home bandwagon? New research suggests if they don’t, their market share could fall to 40% or less if a serious fiber competitor arrives.

“There’s some sort of magic associated with fiber,” John Caezza, president of Arris’s Access Technologies division, told Multichannel News. “Everyone thinks it’s better than [cable technology].”

The risks to the cable industry are clear: be prepared to upgrade or face customer losses.

Craig Moffett of Moffett Nathanson has never been a cheerleader for fiber to the home service. In 2008, Moffett vilified Verizon for its investment in a major fiber upgrade we know today as FiOS to replace its aging copper infrastructure, complaining it was too expensive and was overkill for most residential customers. He was more tolerant of AT&T’s less-costly fiber to the neighborhood approach, dubbed U-verse, that still used traditional telephone lines to deliver service into the home. Because U-verse did not need AT&T to replace wiring at each customer location, the cost savings were considerable. But the cost-capability compromise left AT&T with a less robust platform, with broadband speeds initially limited to a maximum of around 24Mbps.

While phone companies like AT&T and Verizon were saddled with the enormous cost of tearing out decades-old obsolete phone wiring to varying degrees, the cable industry seemed well positioned with a mature, yet still recent hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) platform that was upgraded in the 1990s in many cities. While still partly reliant on the same RG-6 and RG-11 coaxial cable used since the first days of cable television, cable companies also invested in fiber optics to bring services from distant headends to each town, removing some of the copper from their networks without the huge expense of bringing fiber all the way to customer homes.

For Moffett, it was the cable industry that had the network with room to grow without spending huge amounts of capital on upgrades. He has touted cable stocks ever since.

Moffett

Moffett

What worries Moffett now isn’t Google, Frontier, CenturyLink, or even Verizon. He’s concerned about AT&T.

As part of its commitment to win approval of its merger with DirecTV, AT&T promised regulators in June it would expand AT&T U-verse with GigaPower — AT&T’s gigabit fiber to the home upgrade — to at least 11.7 million homes, nine million more than it has ever promised before. Comcast has a 32% overlap with AT&T U-verse, compared to Time Warner Cable (26%), Charter Communications (32%), Bright House Networks (25%) and Cox Communications (25%). Comcast had promised faster broadband with the advent of DOCSIS 3.1 beginning as early as next year. But the company isn’t willing to wait around to watch AT&T and others steal its speed-craving customers. This spring, it promised 2Gbps Gigabit Pro fiber to the home service to customers living within 1/3rd of a mile of the nearest Comcast fiber line.

Some in the cable industry complain Google’s huge marketing operation has saddled cable broadband with a bad rap — ‘it’s yesterday’s news, with Google Fiber representing the future.’ The marketing war has been largely won by Google, they say, leaving consumers convinced fiber is the better and more reliable technology, and they need it more than the cable company.

Cable’s defense is to consider some marketing changes of its own — including the idea of dropping the name “cable” from the business altogether, because it implies older technology. But despite any name change, most cable companies will continue to rely on HFC infrastructure for at least several more years, despite claims they are bringing their own middle mile fiber networks closer to customers than ever. Cable operators now serve an average of 400 homes from each cable node. Some cable companies like Comcast plan to cut the number of customers sharing a node to around 100-125 homes, which means fewer customers will share the same broadband connection. But in the end, that will make cable comparable at best to a fiber to the neighborhood network, still hampered to some degree by the presence of legacy coaxial copper cable. The industry believes most consumers will never see the limitations, and for those that do, a limited fiber buildout with a steep installation fee may keep costs (and demand) down to those who need the fastest possible speeds and are willing to pay to get them.

CableLabs_TaglineThat philosophy may still cost cable companies customers if a fiber competitor doesn’t have to compromise speed and performance and can afford to charge less.

The top 10 U.S. cable companies currently account for 60% of the residential broadband market and 86% of all broadband net additions in the first quarter of 2015, says Leichtman Research Group.

Moffett predicts cable broadband will only capture 40% of share in markets where it faces a fiber to the home competitor (Google, EPB, Greenlight, Verizon FiOS), 55% in markets served by a fiber to the neighborhood competitor (U-verse, Prism), and 60% where the competition only sells DSL (most Frontier, Windstream service areas). Nationwide, AT&T’s newest gigabit fiber commitment could cost the cable industry 2.4% of the whole residential broadband market, Moffett said.

Phil McKinney, president and CEO of CableLabs, believes DOCSIS 3.1 — the next standard for cable broadband — can easily stand toe to toe with fiber to the home providers.

McKinney

McKinney

“I think it [HFC] has tremendous life, and we are going to be riding it all day long,” Werner said. DOCSIS 3.1 “is definitely going to be our go-to animal. Due to ubiquity, we can go out and virtually serve all of our [customers] very quickly.”

Cable companies claim their speed increases reach all of their customers in a given area at the same time without playing games with “fiberhoods” or waiting for incremental service upgrades common with Google Fiber or AT&T’s U-verse. Customers, the industry says, also appreciate DOCSIS upgrades bring no service disruption and nobody has to come to the home to install or upgrade service.

“The cable industry has more fiber in the ground than each fiber provider in the world,” McKinney argues. “If you look at total fiber strand miles, there’s more fiber under management and under control of the [cable] operators than anybody else combined.”

That may be true, but Moffett thinks it is only natural shareholders may eventually punish the stocks of cable operators that will face competition from AT&T’s U-verse with GigaPower. There is precedent. Cablevision serves customers in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey and faces fierce competition from Verizon FiOS in most of its service areas. That competition has been brutal, occasionally made worse in periodic price wars. What may be protecting cable stocks so far is the fact AT&T competition will only affect, at most, 32% of the impacted cable operators’ service areas.

AT&T’s gigabit network has also proved itself to be more press release than performance, with very limited availability in the cities where it claims to be available. Verizon FiOS, in contrast, is widely available in most of Cablevision’s service area.

Still, Comcast is hoping it can hang on to premium customers who demand the very fastest speeds and performance with targeted fiber.

“Gigabit Pro is really for those customers who have got extreme needs,” said Tony Werner, Comcast’s executive vice president and chief technology officer.

Wireless Data “Traffic Explosion” is a Fraud; Network Densification Deferred

Analysys Mason logoDespite perennial claims of an unmanageable wireless data traffic tsunami threatening the future of the wireless industry, there is strong evidence wireless data traffic growth has actually flattened, increasing mostly as a result of new customers signing up for service for the first time.

Expensive wireless data plans and usage caps have left consumers more cautious about how they use wireless data, reducing the demand on wireless networks and allowing carriers to defer plans for aggressive network densification they claim is needed to keep up with demand.

Analysys Mason discovered some of the biggest victims of the myth of the traffic tidal wave are the manufacturers and dealers of small cell equipment hoping to make a killing selling solutions to the wireless traffic jam. Vendors attending the ‘Small Cell, Carrier Wi-Fi and Small Cells Backhaul World’ event will have no trouble filling the modest amount of orders they likely received this year. While there is money to made selling small cells to manage data usage in very high traffic locations including shopping and sports venues, AT&T dropped plans to deploy 40,000 small cells on its network by the end of 2015, a goal that had been a key element of its Project Velocity IP (VIP) network initiative, and no other U.S. carrier has shown as much interest in small cell technology as AT&T once did.

It turns out, Rupert Wood, principal analyst at Analysys Mason writes, most operators admit they are not experiencing much “pain” managing data growth. As a result, rapid public small-cell densification, an important indicator of heavy traffic growth, is continuously deferred.

As customers confront costly, usage-limited data plans, they are deterred from the kind of usage that might actually create widespread traffic issues for wireless carriers. Instead, carriers are primarily relying on a mix of data caps, incremental upgrades, and gradual expansion of their traditional cell tower networks to keep 4G performance stable and expand coverage areas to improve customer satisfaction. AT&T claims most of its traffic concerns were abated with the 2014 acquisition of Leap Wireless’ Cricket network, which added to AT&T’s network capacity. The Cricket network never came close to offering nationwide coverage, however.

Figure_2_webWhen pressed for specifics, many wireless carriers eventually admit they have enough spectrum to handle today’s traffic demand, but will face overburdened and insufficient capacity tomorrow. But that is not what the evidence shows.

Analysys Mason:

Nations where the use of 4G is highest are not experiencing exponential growth in mobile data traffic. In fact, they have not been doing so for some time – even in developed Asia–Pacific. In the US, the CTIA recently recorded 26% traffic growth in 2014. If this figure is correct, the average usage per US mobile data subscriber barely changed at all in 2014: the recorded number of data subscribers grew by 22%, and the expected exponential curve of data traffic has morphed into an s-curve.

In fact, with wireless pricing so high in the United States, traffic growth here is minimal in comparison to Sweden, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan. Most shift their usage to Wi-Fi as often as possible instead of chewing up their monthly data allowance.

Analysys Mason believes the forthcoming introduction of LTE-A — the more efficient next generation of 4G — will allow carriers to expand capacity on existing cell towers as quickly as future demand mounts without the need for massive numbers of new towers or small cells.

The analyst firm labels today’s cellular platform as a low-volume, high-cost network. If providers cut prices or relaxed usage caps, traffic would grow. It recommends operators should focus on increasing the supply of, and stimulating the demand for, data usage, and not simply expecting demand to come at some point in the near future. The analyst believes constructing a network of fiber-connected small cells may open the door to an exponentially higher capacity wireless network that performs better than traditional wireless data services and is robust enough to support high bandwidth applications that demand a strong level of network performance.

It would also benefit fiber to the home providers that could also market wireless backhaul service to wireless companies, helping defray the costs of constructing the fiber network and further monetizing it.

AT&T Money Harvest: Activation/Upgrade Fees Going Up Aug. 1, New $15 BYOD Activation Fee

Phillip Dampier July 21, 2015 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Wireless Broadband 1 Comment

fat cat attAT&T will soon have the highest activation fees in the wireless industry after an August price increase takes effect, boosting activation and upgrade charges for existing customers and adding a new $15 fee to activate a phone you already own and want to use on AT&T’s network.

AT&T confirmed that effective Aug. 1, the activation fee for new one or two-year contract plans will increase by $5 to $45.

The company also plans to add a $15 activation fee for new AT&T Next customers wishing to activate a “bring your own device” (BYOD) and sign up for a new line. For now, Next customers already committed to an installment plan before Aug. 1, 2015 will have the $15 activation fee waived for their next upgrade, but will pay the fee after that. AT&T warns it may drop that waiver at any time.

An AT&T spokesperson would only say, “We are making a few adjustments to our activation and upgrade fee structures,” in an e-mailed statement.

AT&T raised its activation fees from $35 to $40 last year and Verizon Wireless followed in January. It is very likely, based on earlier rate changes, Verizon will eventually match AT&T’s fee increases.

Comcast Says Early 2Gbps Gigabit Pro Customers Will Be Served by Metro Ethernet

comcast2gbps-495x316The first 2Gbps Gigabit Pro deployments from Comcast will rely on Metro Ethernet that now serves Comcast’s midsized business customers, later migrating to passive optical network [PON] technology Comcast intends to begin installing in new housing developments and apartment complexes.

Multichannel News reports Comcast is now offering a limited promotional price of $159/mo for the ultra-fast broadband service, but to receive the discount customers must sign a three-year service contract with early cancellation penalties and agree to pay up to $1,000 in installation and activation fees.

Comcast claims it will offer the service to about 18 million homes by the end of the year — those within 1/3rd of a mile of Comcast’s existing fiber network.

Tony Werner, Comcast’s executive vice president and chief technology officer would not say which version of PON — GPON or EPON Comcast will use long-term, but a decision had already been made within the company and would eventually be known to customers.

Comcast-LogoZTE, a Chinese provider of telecommunications equipment and network solutions, says EPON is the dominant fiber to the home solution in Japan, Korea, China and other Asia-Pacific countries. In other countries, especially in America, GPON is the preferred choice, as it can coexist with earlier PON systems.

Werner added Comcast will quietly deploy fiber to the home service in certain new housing developments.

“Once the trench is open, the incremental economics are close enough that we will do fiber-to-the-home, unless it’s a very small stub off of existing plant,” Werner said.

But for everyone else, it will be coaxial cable as usual unless customers pay that $1,000 fiber fee and are willing to wait up to eight weeks for installation. Comcast will run fiber and install the necessary equipment, including the Optical Network Terminal, only to customers who sign up for Gigabit Pro.

Midcontinent Communications Prepares for Gigabit Speeds and DOCSIS 3.1

Midcontinent_logoMidcontinent Communications customers will be able to get gigabit broadband speeds… by the end of 2017.

Midco is waiting for DOCSIS 3.1 to support the fastest broadband speeds instead of dedicating more bandwidth to support 1,000Mbps service under the current DOCSIS 3.0 standard.

The company has started to deploy Cisco’s cBR-8, a new Converged Cable Access Platform that will fully support DOCSIS 3.1 – a more efficient cable broadband standard expected to be deployed by larger cable operators like Comcast beginning next year. The new standard will support speeds up to 10/1Gbps, but most cable systems are expected to offer only a fraction of those speeds.

Midco’s 300,000+ customers in Minnesota, North & South Dakota and Wisconsin already receive speeds up to 200Mbps, and the faster the service offered, the more data used.

“Cisco’s cBR-8 aligns with our strategy and vision to deliver Gigabit-speed Internet experiences that will change the quality of life and spur business innovation in the communities we serve,” said Midcontinent vice president of technology Jon Pederson. “With our customers’ bandwidth consumption doubling every 15 months, we need the right technology in place to support our network demands now and in the future. The unique DOCSIS and Remote PHY capabilities of the cBR-8 will help us meet our commitments for the Midcontinent Gigabit Initiative.”

Midcontinent publishes a promotional and retail price list fully disclosing their pricing, a rarity among cable operators. Midco's broadband tiers have no usage caps.

Midcontinent publishes a promotional and retail price list fully disclosing their pricing, a rarity among cable operators. Midco’s broadband tiers have no usage caps.

Comcast’s Collection Calls Hound Woman for 9 Months Over $527 Bill She Already Paid

comcastA Philadelphia woman is suing Comcast after its collections department allegedly placed automated calls to her personal cell number once or twice a day for almost nine months to collect a past due cable bill she says was paid in 2011.

Kim Elder and her attorney Craig Thor Kimmel from Kimmel & Silverman, P.C., are seeking a refund for the per-minute cell charges incurred answering Comcast’s collection calls, damages of $500 per call for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), triple damages of $1,500 per call due to Comcast’s “malicious, intentional, willful, reckless, wanton, disregard” of Elder’s rights, as well as additional injunctive relief if the court finds Comcast’s actions egregious.

James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse - Philadelphia, Pa.

James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse – Philadelphia, Pa.

Elder’s lawsuit states the automated collection calls began in September 2014, always beginning with a pre-recorded announcement stating the call was originating from Comcast. The call would then be transferred to a collection agent seeking payment for a $527 cable television bill. The complaint states Elder paid that bill years ago and repeatedly asked Comcast to stop the calls, but claims they continued daily through at least mid-June of this year.

First enacted in 1991, the TCPA (among other things) regulates telemarketing calls, the use of automated equipment to make calls, use of automated or pre-recorded voices during calls and the means and manner of sending faxes. Ongoing clarifications by the Federal Communications Commission over the years have tightened the rules to close or curtail loopholes and give consumers easier ways to revoke consent for future calls.

A lawsuit decided earlier this month found Time Warner Cable liable to a Texas woman for almost $230,000 in damages for repeatedly calling the wrong number to reach another customer. Because part of the call was automated, and Time Warner did not stop the calls after being asked, a judge used damage provisions in the TCPA to heavily fine the cable company.

Elder’s case was filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia — home to both Elder and Comcast’s corporate headquarters.

Cases of this type are usually required to be designated for arbitration within the court system to guarantee a speedy civil trial if Comcast does not privately settle with Elder and her attorney.

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