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Frontier Confirms Stop the Cap! Report That Company Is Considering AT&T U-verse Deployment

Frontier Communications has confirmed a Stop the Cap! exclusive report that the company has shown an interest in a licensing arrangement with AT&T to deliver U-verse to Frontier customers in larger markets.

Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of Frontier Communications today told investors on a morning conference call that the company likes the U-verse product and is considering deploying it.

“We’ve been evaluating a lot of other alternatives of which U-verse is one of the alternatives,” Wilderotter said. “We think it’s a product that can work, not just on fiber, but it also works on copper as well. So it’s a lot more forgiving in the market.”

Wilderotter claimed the company has no immediate plans to introduce the technology, but Stop the Cap! has obtained documentation that shows the company now refers specifically to “U-verse” in internal communications, is hiring new leadership to oversee the company’s IPTV plans, and has plans to dramatically expand VDSL technology, a prerequisite for deploying AT&T’s fiber to the neighborhood platform.


Frontier Communications has had a difficult time supporting its Verizon-inherited FiOS fiber-to-the-home networks in the Pacific Northwest and Indiana.  The company has found itself unable to compete effectively in the video business because it negotiates programming contracts independently, which locks Frontier out of the volume discounts that other independent providers routinely receive from participating in programming purchasing co-ops.  Frontier lost 4,800 FiOS video customers in the last quarter alone.

Wilderotter said as a result of programming costs, Frontier has no plans to pursue any additional fiber expansion to deliver video programming.

However, a licensing arrangement with AT&T U-verse could open the door to Frontier receiving the same volume discount prices for programming that AT&T already receives as part of its own operations. Because Frontier would have to significantly upgrade its existing, primarily middle-mile fiber network to reduce the amount of copper wiring in its network, the company faces significant capital investment costs wherever it chooses to deploy the more advanced broadband network.

Wilderotter hinted Frontier’s plans for the enhanced technology would be limited to a handful of cities.

“It doesn’t make sense in all of our markets,” she said. “It’s only a handful of markets other than where we have FiOS today. So there’s more to come on that over time. Video is very important. We think over the top video is probably more important than anything else.”

The most likely target for any IPTV expansion would be Frontier’s western New York operation in and around Rochester, where the company currently competes against Time Warner Cable with a mediocre DSL product that can no longer compete with the cable operator’s superior speeds and pricing promotions.  Frontier is steadily losing market share in most of its more-populated service areas.

Other likely targets for expanded broadband include larger cities in Pennsylvania, Illinois, West Virginia, and California.

Frontier's Broadband Customers (as of 12/31/11)

Chief Operating Officer Daniel McCarthy added Frontier also has plans to improve broadband speeds in most of its service areas.

“We’ve been working pretty steadily to improve the core network around the country,” McCarthy said. “You’ll see us aggressively move forward with sort of VDSL and bonded ADSL2 copper.”

Currently, Frontier only informally offers bonded service to residential customers in very limited areas, notably in parts of the Genesee Valley in western New York.  The company has been marketing an extra line of traditional ADSL service to customers elsewhere who want more broadband capacity, but that requires a second broadband modem and delivers no speed improvements.

Frontier’s time frame to deploy enhanced speeds in within 12-24 months, according the company officials.

In other developments, Frontier Communications customers formerly served by Verizon will likely find themselves choosing new service plans as Frontier prepares to migrate customers away from legacy Verizon service packages.

Wilderotter telegraphed that affected Frontier customers will see some rate increases when the new plans become effective.

“We do think that there is a pretty substantial revenue upside,” Wilderotter said. “We think the net-net is we’ll get customers on the right portfolio of products that will also be revenue enhancing for the company and we’re going to surround the products with the right kind of service experience, both online and off-line. We’re redesigning all of our online product sets for a better customer experience so they can manage their own broadband usage and actually upgrading or changing what they do with broadband themselves, if in fact, they want to do that.”

Major Time Warner Cable Outage Interrupts Service for Rochester-Area Customers

Phillip Dampier April 30, 2012 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable, Video 1 Comment

Time Warner Cable's office on Mt. Hope Avenue in Rochester, N.Y.

A major service outage Sunday disrupted cable-TV, phone, and broadband service for a large number of Time Warner Cable customers in the Rochester, N.Y. area.

Starting at around 8am, cable channels started to pixelate and freeze, broadband service began to fail, and calls to and from Time Warner Cable phone customers were, in some cases, disrupted.

Time Warner’s local service number was quickly jammed with calls, and the company placed a recording on that line indicating they were aware of the problem, which later was described as a “router problem.”

Service was finally restored in the mid-afternoon.

Time Warner Cable customers can receive credit for the service outage, but only if customers request it.

Customers can call, chat, or e-mail the cable operator and let them know credit is requested for yesterday’s outage.  A customer service representative will usually respond to e-mail requests within hours, with service credits appearing on the next bill.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WHAM Rochester Time Warner Cable Service Restored In Rochester Area 4-29-12.mp4

WHAM-TV led Sunday’s evening news with a report about the service outage’s impact on Rochester residents and businesses.  (2 minutes)


Frontier Leaves Dozens of Rochester, N.Y. Phone Customers Without Service for More Than a Week

Phillip Dampier March 13, 2012 Consumer News, Frontier, Video Comments Off on Frontier Leaves Dozens of Rochester, N.Y. Phone Customers Without Service for More Than a Week

Frontier Communications left dozens of businesses in the city of Rochester without phone service for well over a week because of a flooded cable the company struggled to repair.

Frontier says a flooded manhole along Interstate 490 was responsible for the outage, which primarily affected customers in the Park/Meigs Avenue District in southeastern Rochester.

But businesses are wondering why it took more than a week to bypass the damage and get phone service restored.

“We haven’t been able to get calls at all,” Stacy Ercan, owner of Stacy K Floral told WHAM News. “They have to forward our calls to the cell phone. But the cell phone can only answer one call at a time, so we’re definitely missing calls.”

“I’ve called 27 times in the last week [about the outage] and every time I get a different answer,” reported another business owner.

Some businesses say the Frontier service outage cost them more than inconvenience.  One owner reported up to an 80% drop in her business while others complained they were unable to process credit card transactions.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WHAM Rochester Park Avenue Shops Still Waiting for Phone Service 2-28-12.mp4

WHAM in Rochester covers Frontier’s extended service outage that afflicted customers in southeast Rochester for over a week.  (2 minutes)


City of Rochester Goes to War With Windstream Over PAETEC Deal

Phillip Dampier October 11, 2011 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video, Windstream Comments Off on City of Rochester Goes to War With Windstream Over PAETEC Deal

Irony: Chesonis' 2007 book has this description on Amazon.com -- "When you put people first, you win. When you operate by the highest principles, you'll see the results in the bottom line. When you put a caring heart into how you operate, in your organization and your community, you build the only true foundation of long-term success."

Eight acres of rubble and a big hole in the ground.

That’s what residents of Rochester, N.Y., are calling the former site of Midtown Plaza, America’s first indoor shopping mall, torn down to make room for the new headquarters of PAETEC Corporation — headquarters that may never be built.

Now the city of Rochester has declared war on the proposed acquisition of PAETEC by Little Rock, Ark.,-based Windstream, suggesting the combined company may renege on its commitment to construct new headquarters in downtown Rochester after New York State and Rochester city taxpayers spent $60 million on an economic development package for the company.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, the mayor’s office declared its official opposition to the merger proposal, citing the economic impact of wasted tax dollars and the deal’s impact on local jobs:

The Commission will note from the body of this correspondence that the City may be negatively affected if the transfer of PAETEC to Windstream takes place. The federal, state and local governments have worked to develop the site for the purpose of establishing a PAETEC headquarters in Downtown Rochester; tailoring a development package and investing millions to make this location shovel ready for development. New York State provided the Project’s most significant monetary investment, proceeding with the understanding that the Project would retain and grow employment in the Rochester region. It is in the public interest to examine, not just the financial and planning impact that this will have on the City, but to also study the effect this will have on employment, the communities surrounding the City and the lives of the individuals who may be affected.

[…] In anticipation of the PAETEC Project, New York State and the City invested $60 million to demolish the former improvements on the Midtown Site and create a shovel ready building site. To insure the success of the PAETEC Project, the City produced a development package (“Development Package”) which expedited and customized the demolition of the existing buildings at the Midtown Site to accommodate PAETEC’s construction schedule and provide a foundation for PAETEC’s corporate headquarters.

[…] The Development Package was intended to benefit a New York State employer and help that employer retain its current employees and hire additional employees to grow its business. Despite all the efforts of the City to facilitate and provide the positive economic environment for the PAETEC Project, Windstream has indicated that it intends to reduce PAETEC’s current 850-employee Monroe County workforce.

The two companies filed a joint response with the Commission essentially telling the city to stay out of the merger deal, and their concerns about PAETEC’s headquarters and how many jobs will ultimately be lost are not within the Commission’s power to review anyway.

PAETEC CEO Arunas Chesonis, who earlier put the highest praise for his company’s success on the employees who helped build it into what it is today, told a group of fellow business leaders a different story than he told readers of his 2007 book.

“For people who feel let down, we in Rochester should want to be let down like this 50 times a year,” Chesonis said. “Rochester will be a major operating center for the company. So along those lines, we have to figure out how many jobs will be in Rochester. We should be talking about the people that are going to lose their jobs. What are those people going to do next?”

Presumably collect unemployment, critics charge.  Among them is former Mayor William Johnson, who has criticized the city for bending over backwards for the ever-evolving plans for new PAETEC headquarters, which have been downsized repeatedly since they were originally announced.  Johnson thinks Windstream may have effectively put a knife in the back of taxpayers and the mayor’s office, and could ultimately exit the city of Rochester leaving countless local employees out of work.

Windstream seems resolute in its plans to cut what it calls “duplicative staffing positions.”  It reminded the FCC the agency “has routinely approved transactions in which—as will be the case in this transaction—increased efficiencies and economies of scale and scope are expected.”

That is code language for PAETEC employees: Update your resume.  You may need it.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WHEC WHAM Rochester PAETEC Windstream 10-11.flv

Finger-pointing over a messy, uncompleted downtown construction project. PAETEC may be planning to renege on a $60 million taxpayer-financed economic development package after it announced plans to merge with Windstream.  Reports from WHEC and WHAM-TV.  (6 minutes)

Frontier’s Everyday High Prices for Slow DSL Just Don’t Make Any Sense

Phillip Dampier September 20, 2011 Broadband Speed, Buckeye, Charter, Competition, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, Frontier, Internet Overcharging, Rural Broadband Comments Off on Frontier’s Everyday High Prices for Slow DSL Just Don’t Make Any Sense

Phillip "Frontier DSL is Too Slow and Expensive" Dampier

Frontier Communications occasionally sends me mailers promoting their latest offer for DSL and/or satellite service.  The price on the front of the letter looks good — usually around $20 a month — despite the fact the best Frontier can deliver my area less than one mile from the Rochester, N.Y. city line is 3.1Mbps.  But Frontier’s fine print is infamous for bill padding extra fees, charges, and service commitments that makes the out-the-door price literally higher than Time Warner Cable’s Road Runner service, which actually delivers substantially faster speed at a lower price.

I’m not alone.

Customers in several Frontier service areas are openly wondering why they should do business with the phone company when they are charging more for less service.

In Ohio, Frontier Communications competes in some areas with Buckeye Cablevision.  Frontier sells DSL Internet in northwest Ohio for $29.99 a month.  For that, customers like Inquiry receive 6.2Mbps even though they bought 7.1Mbps service.

“Their [Internet prices] are significantly higher when comparing the other providers in northwest Ohio,” Inquiry writes. “Buckeye Cablevison has 10Mbps service for $24.95/month. And they actually give the customer 10.8Mbps.”

In areas where Frontier often finds itself the only game in town, that price is downright cheap.

Frontier's "High Speed" Fantasies

Nialis in Aliso Viejo, Calif. doesn’t know what Inquiry is complaining about.  He pays $30 a month for 1.5Mbps DSL service from Frontier.

Eric McDaniel from McDavid, Fla. found small relief when he complained about the 2.2Mbps DSL service he was paying $39.99 a month to receive.

“I now pay $29.99, and that is only because I threatened to cancel my service,” McDaniel says. “Now they give me a $10 recurring credit.”

“What are you going to do when they’re the only show in town?”

Even Charter Communications, one of America’s lowest rated cable companies, has prices and service that beats Frontier hands-down.

In some Charter areas like Wausau, Wisc., Frontier DSL comes with a two year service commitment, a $14.99 monthly Wireless Router Fee, and comparatively slow service:

Frontier Communications Pricing - Wisconsin

Customers can pay $29.99 a month (before fees) for “up to 3Mbps” DSL service from Frontier or spend $29.99 and get 12Mbps from Charter:

Charter Communications Pricing - Wisconsin

So how does Frontier Communications keep offering service at uncompetitive prices?  They have much greater success in the rural markets they favor, where cable competition rarely exists.  Plus, many consumers may not understand the impact of the speed differences they receive from different providers, tending to blame “the Internet” for slowdowns more than the provider delivering the service.  Some customers may also be attracted to valuable customer promotions that include free netbooks or television sets, and forget about the fine print service commitments that come with the deal.

As dwink9909 from Clintonville, Wisc. shared on the Frontier Broadband Reports forum: “Frontier Communications Inc. is free to charge the maximum the market will bear primarily because they are the only provider in most of the areas they serve. That’s certainly true here in Wisconsin. Six miles south of me you can get dial-up service from two dozen ISPs and broadband via wireless, cable or DSL, but here there is only a single provider for telephone and broadband. We are among the “under-served” millions who are just glad to have high speed Internet at any cost.”

Frontier is only too happy to oblige.

Hurricane Irene Did Its Worst in North Carolina, Upstate NY, and New England

Hurricane Irene did its worst damage in inland areas of New England and Upstate New York

While hardly the “storm of the century,” damages from Hurricane Irene’s whirlwind tour up the east coast cannot yet be estimated because flood waters in the northeast are still rising this afternoon.

But while millions remain without electricity, some for up to several weeks, telecommunications infrastructure has fared better than expected in a number of areas hardest hit by the Category 1 hurricane.

A review of media reports finds the most substantial damage to cable TV and landline telephone service, mostly due to downed trees and flooding which brought down utility poles in a number of states.  The Federal Communications Commission also reported 1,400 cell sites along the coast were down, and several hundred were running on backup power.

North Carolina & Virginia

The most substantial wind-related damage impacted the states of North Carolina and Virginia where hundreds of thousands are still without electricity, cable, and landline telephone service.  Time Warner Cable, which dominates North Carolina, had 160,000 customers without service Saturday evening, primarily due to power outages and line damage.  As of this morning, 38,000 were still without service with the most damage in Wilmington, Newport, Morehead City, Jacksonville, Havelock, Elizabeth City, Murfreesboro and Ahoskie.  Outage information is available from 1-866-4TWCNOW (1-866-489-2669) for residential customers and 1-877-892-2220 for business customers.

Landline service outages are impacting more than 100,000 customers, and the wind damage has made the outages most severe in these two states.  CenturyLink, AT&T, and Verizon all report substantial damages to their respective networks in several areas.

At least 500 cell towers in North Carolina and Virginia are now operating on battery backup power, which guarantees cell phone outages will only grow worse as the hours progress.  Once battery power is exhausted, cell phone carriers either have to go without service or provision generators to deliver emergency power until normal electrical service can be restored, which is expected to take several days.  Physical damage to cell sites was reported to be minimal, however.  The biggest impact is loss of electricity.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT Crews Roll Out from Atlanta Ahead of Hurricane Irene 8-26-11.flv

AT&T released this video to the news media showing the company’s preparations for Hurricane Irene, including putting trucks containing temporary cell sites on the road from Atlanta heading into North Carolina to restore wireless service knocked out by the storm.  (3 minutes)

Downed poles in neighborhoods are responsible for most of the outages impacting cable and phone companies. (Courtesy: WNYC)

Maryland, Washington, DC, Delaware, Southern New Jersey

A mix of wind and water damage has left sections of this region without electrical service, but damages are reportedly less severe than in North Carolina and Virginia.  The biggest impact is loss of electrical service which has left cell phone towers on battery backup and cable systems offline.  The more urban areas have less infrastructure damage due to underground wiring, but flood waters have created outages on their own.  In southern New Jersey, water damage is still occurring because of slowly rising rivers continuing to flood their banks.

Pennsylania, Northern New Jersey, New York City & Long Island

Substantial damage from excessive rain and downed trees, especially on Long Island, will leave some customers on lengthy waiting lists for service restoration.  Verizon on Long Island is telling some customers it will be at least two weeks before service calls can be completed to restore phone or FiOS service. Substantial neighborhood outages are impacting Cablevision customers on Long Island as well, mostly from downed trees.  At least 700 trees fell in Oyster Bay alone.  In Pennsylvania, the worst damage was actually further inland.  Suburbs of Philadelphia were particularly hard hit.  Electric service repair has been given top priority.  Cable service restoration will probably take longer, especially where utility poles have been damaged.

Upstate New York & New England

The worst damage of all is expected to be in upstate New York and New England, particularly in western Massachusetts and Vermont, unequipped to deal with the floodwaters which have set records in several areas.  A resident of Prattsville, New York escaped with his life and managed to finally reach emergency responders to report the entire community had been washed away in unprecedented flooding.  A great deal of utility infrastructure has gone with it, and the damage for New England’s FairPoint Communications, particularly in Vermont, is still being assessed.  Some communities in the region have been told it may take up to a month restore electrical service, longer for telephone and cable service.  Because large sections of the region are rural, there are fewer cell towers to cope with power outages, but the impact is much more readily apparent.  In some areas, there is only one provider delivering any significant service, and when battery backups fail, no cell service will function.

Verizon and Time Warner Cable all report service problems in the region.

Communities or infrastructure positioned near rivers are most at risk, and flood waters are still rising in many locations.  The damage, according to emergency officials, is likely to become worse before it gets better.

Although winds only achieved tropical storm-force in the region, they came in unusual wind patterns.  The National Weather Service issued high wind warnings as far west as Rochester in western New York in part because trees are unaccustomed to strong northerly winds and were much more likely to be damaged or uprooted from them.  Nearly one million New Yorkers, mostly east of Syracuse, remain without electricity this afternoon.  Some will wait 1-2 weeks before service can be restored in the most difficult-to-reach areas.

Service Credits Are Yours, But Only If You Ask

Telecommunications providers are notorious for providing service credits only when customers ask for them.  If your service was interrupted by the storm, make a note of when the outage occurred and remember to contact your provider for a service credit after service is restored.  In virtually all cases, providers will not automatically reimburse you for lost service and you will lose the chance to request it 30 days after service is back up and running.

If you’ve been affected by a serious storm, consider tree removal Raleigh NC to clean up the debris.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Verizon Wireless Emergency Plan.flv

Verizon Wireless encourages its customers to create a natural disaster response plan that includes the use of cell phones to stay in touch with loved ones and employers.  (4 minutes)

Windstream Acquires PAETEC; Big Implications for Rochester’s Downtown & Employees

Phillip Dampier August 1, 2011 Video, Windstream Comments Off on Windstream Acquires PAETEC; Big Implications for Rochester’s Downtown & Employees

Independent phone company Windstream this morning announced its intention to acquire business telecommunications provider PAETEC Holding Corp., in a transaction valued at nearly $2.3 billion.

“This transaction significantly advances our strategy to drive top-line revenue growth by expanding our focus on business and broadband services,” said Jeff Gardner, president and CEO of Windstream. “The combined company will have a nationwide network with a deep fiber footprint to offer enhanced capabilities in strategic growth areas, including IP-based services, data centers, cloud computing and managed services. Financially, we improve our growth profile and lower the payout ratio on our strong dividend, offering investors a unique combination of growth and yield.”

PAETEC, based in suburban Rochester, N.Y., has been a business telecommunications provider since 1998, and many of its founding employees joined the company from locally-based Rochester Telephone Corporation, its long distance subsidiary RCI, and a competing long distance competitor ACC — today all long-gone.

For residents of Rochester, the implications of the merger could literally leave a hole in the center of downtown, where construction of PAETEC’s pre-merger headquarters was just getting underway.  With the recent demolition of Midtown Plaza, what local residents today call “the big hole in the ground” could be there a long, long time if Windstream abandons construction plans.

In December, then-mayor Robert Duffy (now New York’s Lieutenant Governor) took PAETEC founder and CEO Arunas Chesonis at his word that the company’s new headquarters would be built in downtown Rochester — a project that would never have been started without substantial tax credits, loans and grants backed by New York taxpayers.

“More than three years ago, Arunas Chesonis called me on the phone and said if the City and State would demolish Midtown Plaza, he would build the corporate headquarters of PAETEC on that site,” said Mayor Duffy late last year. “Despite the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and having endless options to locate his company, Arunas Chesonis stayed true to his word. The rebirth of downtown Rochester now has a key cornerstone to build on.”

Now those plans may be gone with the Windstream.

Midtown Plaza was demolished to make room for PAETEC's new downtown Rochester headquarters, a project which may now be up in the air. (Picture courtesy: YNN)

The all-stock deal is expected to close in six months, and Windstream hopes to capitalize on PAETEC’s extensive fiber network and data centers to bolster service to its own business customers.  The increased capacity would also deliver improved service for the company’s residential DSL customers with a more robust Internet backbone.

Windstream, based in Little Rock, Ark., has been transforming itself away from its roots as a residential landline provider into a business and broadband services company, and today’s deal is an extension of that.

The company expects to win at least $100 million in new synergies from the merger, based on reduced capital expenditures required to build out Windstream’s own network, and from reduced costs from being a larger volume player.

But Windstream is also well-known for other cost-savings, through massive job cuts at the firms it acquires.  Last June, hundreds of workers at Iowa Telecom learned that.  After Windstream’s acquisition of D&E Communications in Pennsylvania, nearly 80% of D&E’s employees were shown the door.

For nearly 5,000 PAETEC employees, almost 900 of which live and work in Rochester, updating resumes may have just become job number one.

That’s ironic for a company whose founder wrote his own book: It Isn’t Just Business, It’s Personal: How PAETEC Thrived When All the Big Telecoms Couldn’t.

The first chapter is called “Putting People First,” and explains how the management of PAETEC recognizes the value its employees bring to the company: “Success in business begins and ends with people: the people you hire, the ones you partner with, and the ones you serve as your customers.”

Employees this morning may be wondering if Windstream shares Chesonis’ philosophy.

On this morning’s conference call, Windstream executives spoke about efforts to identify and preserve talented members of PAETEC’s executive management team as part of the newly-expanded company.  They had nothing to say about rank and file employees.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WHAM Rochester PAETEC Deal 8-1-11.mp4

WHAM-TV spoke with George Conboy of Brighton Securities about this morning’s merger announcement, and the major implications the deal will have on PAETEC’s home base — Rochester, N.Y.  (5 minutes)

Wireless Plan Could Force TV Stations Off the Air in Upstate NY, Detroit, and Seattle for Verizon & AT&T

Over the air television in Detroit if the NAB is correct.

The National Association of Broadcasters is warning a Congressional plan proposed on behalf of the wireless industry could force every broadcast station in Detroit off the air, and drive at least one network affiliate in many northern U.S. cities along the Canadian border to “go dark” if the plan is adopted.

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan contains provisions now on Capitol Hill to recapture spectrum currently used by free over-the-air television stations and provide it to wireless providers to bolster mobile broadband and cell phone networks.  Lawmakers expect the wireless industry will pay up to $33 billion for the lucrative spectrum, to be shared with vacating broadcasters and the U.S. Treasury.

But the NAB says the FCC plan goes too far, forcing stations to vacate UHF channels 31-51 to crowd into the remaining channel space of 11 VHF channels (2-13) and 17 UHF channels (14-31).  According to a study conducted by the broadcasting lobby, there is simply not enough remaining channel space to accommodate 1,735 U.S. stations, forcing at least 210 to sign off, permanently.

Because of agreements with the Canadian government to protect American and Canadian stations from mutual interference, the results could be devastating for northern cities along the U.S.-Canadian border.  The worst impact would be in Detroit, Michigan where the NAB predicts every local station would have to leave the airwaves.

The cities of Buffalo, Seattle, Syracuse, Cleveland, Spokane, Rochester and Watertown, NY and Flint, Mich. would likely lose at least one major network affiliated-full power station each.  At least 73 stations in the top-10 largest television markets would be forced off the air, unable to find appropriate channel space in the remaining available spectrum.  Hundreds of stations would be forced to change channels and potentially reduce power and coverage areas to protect stations sharing the same channel number in adjacent cities.

“If the FCC’s National Broadband Plan to recapture 20 more TV channels is implemented, service disruption, confusion and inconvenience for local television viewers will make the 2009 DTV transition seem like child’s play,” said NAB President Gordon Smith. “NAB endorses truly voluntary spectrum auctions. Our concern is that the FCC plan will morph into involuntary, because it is impossible for the FCC to meet spectrum reclamation goals without this becoming a government mandate.”

Broadcasters are feeling a bit peeved at the federal government for repeatedly returning to sell off a dwindling number of channels for other uses.  The original UHF dial included channels 14-83, but over the years the highest channel number has dropped to 51, mostly for the benefit of the cell phone industry.  Now they’re back for more, seeking channels 31-51 for wireless broadband and mobile telephony.

The cell phone industry wants broadcasters to “voluntarily” give up their channel space and reduce transmitter power so more stations can share the same dial position in nearby cities.  But that could leave fringe reception areas in rural communities between cities without over-the-air television reception, and make free television more difficult to watch without a rooftop antenna.

The NAB called on the FCC to immediately make public its analyses of the broadband plan’s potential negative impact on viewers of free and local television.

“We’ve waited patiently for over a year for FCC data on how the Broadband Plan impacts broadcasters, and more importantly, the tens of millions of viewers who rely every day on local TV for news, entertainment, sports and lifeline emergency weather information,” said the NAB’s Smith. “Even Congress can’t get information from the FCC. All we are seeking is more transparency. We have but one chance to get this right if we are to preserve future innovation for broadcasters and our viewers.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/NAB Free TV Spot.f4v

The National Association of Broadcasters is distributing this ad to local broadcasters to air on their stations to inform viewers about the spectrum controversy.  (1 minute)

The consumer wireless handset lobby does not deny the plan will leave Americans with fewer channel choices, but they believe that will come from corporate station owners voluntarily shutting down stations for profit.

“The study presumes an unrealistic scenario in which every single existing TV station continues to operate over-the-air. However in the event of incentive spectrum auctions, it is highly likely numerous stations will capitalize on their spectrum assets by exiting the business or sharing resources,” said Consumer Electronics Association senior vice president for government affairs Michael Petricone.

Petricone believes the number of Americans spending time with broadcast television is dwindling, and less important than the wireless industry’s spectrum woes.

“Our nation faces a crisis as demand for wireless spectrum will soon outstrip supply,” said Petricone. “Meanwhile, the number of Americans relying purely on over-the-air TV is less than 10 percent, according to both CEA and Nielsen market research. Incentive auctions would be a financial windfall for broadcasters, free up the spectrum necessary for the next generation of American innovation to move forward and bring in $33 billion to the U.S. Treasury.”

The cellular industry’s top lobbying group CTIA was more plain: it’s survival of the fittest.

“Since spectrum is a finite resource, it is vital that the U.S. government ensures the highest and best use of it,” said CTIA vice president Chris Guttman-McCabe.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/NAB Explains Spectrum.flv

The NAB explains the concept of “spectrum” — or ‘the airwaves’ to consumers and what a major reduction in UHF channel space would mean for “free television.”  (3 minutes)

Verizon’s Buffalo Bamboozle: WNY Data Center Never Materializes, and Why It Never Would Have

Economically-challenged western New York will take any new high-tech jobs it can find, which is why local politicians threw parties when Verizon announced interest in building a multi-billion dollar data center on the shores of Lake Ontario, in the Niagara County community of Somerset.

Covered last fall by Stop the Cap!, the project would have created up to 200 high-paying jobs, representing a feather in the cap for economic development efforts upstate cities have been engaged in even before the Great Recession.

Verizon’s Wish List

Just a few things seemed to be standing in the way, according to Verizon’s lobbyists.  Among them, an unfavorable piece of legislation that was pending in 2010, introduced by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester) and Senator Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point).  New York Assembly Bill 2208/Senate Bill 7263 came in response to watching Verizon selling off pieces of its landline network to Frontier Communications, and both Albany politicians did not want to see a repeat of that in New York State, unless Verizon shared the wealth with ratepayers in the form of credits on their monthly phone bills (or expanded broadband rollout in rural areas of the state).

That bill languished and eventually failed to be adopted by the legislature, so Verizon ultimately had few worries from Albany.  But Verizon’s wish list grew longer even as the fall days grew shorter.

The proposed site for Verizon's data center in Somerset, N.Y., which will now continue to offer a clear view to Lake Ontario. (Courtesy: WIVB-TV Buffalo)

The company sought a 20-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT agreement, getting Verizon off the hook for high New York State taxes — particularly western New York’s property taxes, recognized as the highest in the nation.  The company would also be able to obtain cheap hydropower, an important proposition in an area charged some of the highest electricity rates in the country.  Verizon even sought a sales tax exemption on building materials and technology to be used inside the new data center.  That’s nothing to sneeze at either, considering Niagara County’s 8% sales tax rate.

In all, Verizon would have saved at least $330 million if their wish list of taxes waivers and benefits was approved.

With the help of state senator George Maziarz (R-Newfane), Verizon seemed well on its way to winning those concessions from the state.

And Then Came The Neighbor Across the Street, Ms. Mary Ann Rizzo

As the state worked to fulfill Verizon’s checklist, all seemed on track to break ground until one Somerset resident in her 70s, Ms. Mary Ann Rizzo, began asking some hard questions.

Rizzo owns 116 acres of land across the street.  She wondered what kind of impact a multi-billion dollar project like this would have on her and other neighbors, and wanted the state to complete due diligence on an environmental impact review that somehow magically got cut short within five weeks of the application being filed.

She hired attorney Art Giacalone to make sure New York State was following its own procedures in approving the largest project ever proposed for Niagara County in more than a half century.  Giacalone found a lightning-fast approval by Somerset town officials and one of the fastest reviews by state officials he’d ever seen.

Rizzo filed suit, but it was dismissed by a judge back in January.  Rizzo’s attorney filed a notice of appeal, and Verizon’s attorneys asked the court to speed up the process, something the Rochester judge hearing the case refused.

Within days of that, Verizon announced it was pulling the plug on the data center in Somerset, and Maziarz promptly laid blame at the feet of Ms. Rizzo.

Maziarz - 'It's all that woman's fault.'

The Misdirected Blame Game

“It just shows you how one person who owns property across the street, doesn’t even live on the property, but just owns property across the street has killed this up to $5 billion project,” Maziarz said.  “She is totally responsible for [Verizon’s] decision.”

That set local talk radio afire as local residents vilified Rizzo, as did some in the Buffalo and Niagara Falls press.

Verizon said it was considering taking its data center to Wyoming instead.

While Rizzo was in court and Maziarz was spending time cutting red tape for Verizon, the company acquired Teremark, a very large provider of data hosting services and cloud storage.  So large and important that Verizon touted the acquisition as providing at least $500 million in “synergies,” allowing cost-cutting and Verizon to transfer some of its data center needs to Teremark facilities, which is exactly what happened.

Nope, it's not being built in Laramie, Wyo. either.

In fact, while Verizon was complaining about New York’s foot-dragging, company officials were planning to close several of Verizon’s existing data centers, making the need to break ground for a new one on the shores of Lake Ontario unnecessary.

Wyoming officials rolled out a similar red carpet for Verizon, with Gov. Matt Mead budgeting $14 million towards a data center incentive package.  That’s a considerable sum for a state with only a half-million residents.

This week, we learned Wyoming was the second state to be left behind by Verizon, who abandoned plans for the data center proposed near Laramie.

“As a result of the acquisition, we do not have plans at this time to build a data center in Wyoming,” Verizon spokeswoman Lynn Staggs told the Laramie Boomerang. “The Terremark acquisition, announced earlier this year, provides Verizon with the chance to accelerate its data center and cloud strategy.”

In other words, Verizon bought its own solution.

Even if New York delivered on all of the legislative and tax abatement changes Verizon wanted, and Ms. Rizzo never existed, Verizon would still not be spending time on the beach at Somerset or wandering the wide open spaces of Laramie.  But they might have walked away with some nice deregulatory parting gifts without having to show a thing for it — gifts that the state of Wyoming already budgeted for companies like Verizon, all for a data center they won’t build.

A tip for rational living: Before handing everything a large telecommunications company wants on a silver platter, get the commitment in writing and be prepared to rescind those offers if the company pulls out.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Buffalo Media React to Verizon Data Center Project Canceled 3-2011.flv

Watch as Buffalo’s TV newscasts opened the floodgates for a wholesale blame game over a failed multi-billion dollar project Verizon was unlikely to ever build after acquiring Teremark.  (WGRZ/WIVB/WKBW)  (15 minutes)

DOCSIS 3 Upgrades Completed in Western NY, Time Warner Offers New Speeds Across the Region

Phillip Dampier

Time Warner Cable has completed their DOCSIS 3 upgrade of the Rochester/Finger Lakes region and their new Road Runner Extreme and Wideband services should now be available throughout the region.  Stop the Cap! HQ will receive its upgrade to Road Runner Extreme late this afternoon, primarily for the 5Mbps upstream speed, which will make uploading content to our servers much easier and more efficient.

The cable company is insistent on their installation fee, which amounts to nearly $68 (unjustified in my personal opinion).  Some details for our local readers:

  • Customers in the Rochester & Finger Lakes region almost never own their own cable modems — they are provided with Road Runner at no extra charge;
  • Upgrading to Extreme or Wideband will mean either a modem swap or a second piece of equipment if you have Time Warner phone service.  The new equipment includes a built-in wireless router;
  • You are not obligated to use the cable company’s equipment as your primary router if you favor using your own existing router;
  • As part of the installation fee, you have a right to insist they spend the time to configure service the way you want it, especially if you want to continue using your own router;
  • It is also a good time to ask them to check signal levels and clean up any wiring or service issues.  Western New York has endured a record-breaking deluge of rain this spring, and degraded outdoor wiring can create havoc for broadband and cable service.
  • If you are currently receiving a promotion such as free or discounted Road Runner Turbo service, you will lose the value of that promotion when you upgrade service and will pay full price going forward.

Beyond the installation fee, Road Runner Extreme (30/5Mbps) costs $20 more than Road Runner Standard (10/1Mbps) service.  Road Runner Wideband (50/5Mbps) is priced at $99 a month, but is a much better value bundled with the cable company’s Signature Home ($199) package, which includes complete packages of digital cable, “digital phone,” and broadband service.  For most in the Rochester/Finger Lakes area, the only alternative is Frontier Communications’ DSL combined with an unlimited calling plan and satellite television or a similar package from Verizon or much smaller Windstream.  Verizon’s fiber to the home service FiOS is not available anywhere in this region.

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