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J.D. Power & Associates Tie Vote! Hemorrhagic Fever vs. Comcast vs. Time Warner Cable

jd powerLove can be a fickle thing.

Take Comcast’s affair with J.D. Power & Associates, for example. In Comcast’s filings with regulators, it is very proud that J.D. Power cited Comcast for the most improvement of any cable operator scored by the survey firm. Comcast touted the fact it had managed to increase its TV satisfaction score by a whopping 92 points and Internet satisfaction was up a respectable 77 points. (Comcast didn’t mention the fact J.D. Power rates companies on a 1,000 point scale or that it took the cable company four years to eke out those improvements.)

Last month, J.D. Power issued its latest ranking of telecommunications companies and… well, the love is gone.

If customer alienation was an Olympic event, J.D. Power awarded tie gold medals to both Comcast and Time Warner Cable for their Kafkaesque race to the bottom.

The survey of customer satisfaction largely found only dissatisfaction everywhere in the country J.D. Power looked. While Comcast likes to cite its “customer-oopsies-gone-viral” blunders as “isolated incidents,” J.D. Power finds them epidemic nationwide.

skunkThe highest rating across television and broadband categories achieved by either cable company was ‘Meh.’ J.D. Power diplomatically scored both cable companies on a scale that started with “among the best” as simply “the rest.” Customers in the west were the most charitable, those in the south and eastern U.S. indicated they were worked to their last nerve.

“The ability to provide a high-quality experience with all wireline services is paramount as performance and reliability is the most critical driver of overall satisfaction,” said Kirk Parsons, senior director of telecommunications, in a statement.

Having competition available from a high-scoring provider also demonstrates what is possible when a company actually tries to care about customer service. In the same regions Comcast fared about as popular as hemorrhagic fever, WOW! Cable and Verizon FiOS easily took top honors. Even AT&T U-verse scored far higher than either cable company, primarily because AT&T offers very aggressive promotional packages that include a lot for a comparatively low price.

Other cable and smaller phone companies didn’t do particularly well either. Frontier and CenturyLink both earned dismal scores and Charter Cable only managed modest improvement. The two satellite television companies did fine in customer satisfaction for television service, but it was the two biggest phone companies that managed the best scores for Internet service. Among cable operators, only independents like WOW! (and to a lesser extent Cox) did well in the survey.

If J.D. Power is the arbiter of good service Comcast seems to claim it to be, the ratings company just sent a very clear message that when it comes to merging Comcast and Time Warner Cable, anything multiplied by zero is still zero.

J.D. Power ranking (Image courtesy: Reviewed.com)

J.D. Power ranking (Image courtesy: Reviewed.com)

CenturyLink Unfazed by AT&T/Verizon’s Rural Wireless Broadband; ‘Caps Too Low, Prices Too High’

centurylinkCenturyLink does not believe it will face much of a competitive threat from AT&T and Verizon’s plans to decommission rural landline service in favor of fixed wireless broadband because the two companies’ offers are too expensive, overly usage-capped and too slow.

Both AT&T and Verizon have proposed mothballing traditional landline service in rural areas because both companies claim wireline financial returns are too low and ongoing maintenance costs are too high. In its place, both companies are developing rural fixed wireless solutions for voice and broadband service that will rely on 4G LTE networks.

CenturyLink does not traditionally compete against either AT&T or Verizon because their landline service areas do not overlap. But as both AT&T and Verizon Wireless continue to emphasize their nationwide wireless networks, independent phone companies are likely to face increased competition from wireless phone and broadband services.

CenturyLink isn’t worried.

“About two-thirds of our customers can get access to 10Mbps or higher [from us and] that continues to increase year by year,” CenturyLink chief financial officer Stewart Ewing told attendees at Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s 2014 Global Telecom & Media Conference. “Our belief is that with the increasing demands customers have for bandwidth — the Netflix bandwidth requirement — just the increasing amount of video that customers are watching and downloading over their Internet pipes, we believe will drive customers to using a provider that basically has a wire in their home because we believe you will get generally higher bandwidth and a much better experience at lower cost.”

Ewing

Ewing

CenturyLink customers consume an average of slightly less than 50GB of Internet usage per month, and that number is growing. Ewing said that CenturyLink has long believed that as bandwidth demand increases, wireless becomes less and less capable of providing a good customer experience.

“At this point, we don’t really have any concerns because people on the margin — the folks that don’t use much bandwidth — probably use a wireless connection today to download,” Ewing said. “But as the bandwidth demands grow, the wireless connection becomes more and more expensive and that could tend to drive people our way. So as long as we have 10Mbps or better to the customers, we don’t really think there is that much exposure.”

CenturyLink does not measure the difference in Internet usage between urban and rural residential customers, but the company suspects rural customers might naturally use more because alternative outlets are fewer in number outside of urban America.

“Folks in rural areas might actually can use Internet more for buying things that they can’t source [easily], but it’s hard to really count,” said Ewing. “I think our customers in the rural areas probably are not that much different from folks in urban areas.”

Prism is CenturyLink's fiber to the neighborhood service, similar to AT&T U-verse. It is getting only a modest expansion in 2014.

Prism is CenturyLink’s fiber to the neighborhood service, similar to AT&T U-verse. It is getting only a modest expansion in 2014.

CenturyLink’s largest competitor remains Comcast, which co-exists in about 40% of CenturyLink’s markets. The merger with Time Warner Cable won’t have much impact on CenturyLink, increasing Comcast’s footprint in CenturyLink territory by only about only 6-7%. CenturyLink believes most of any new competition will come in the small business market segment. Comcast’s residential pricing is unlikely to attract current CenturyLink customers in Time Warner Cable territory to consider a switch to Comcast if the merger is approved.

Ewing also shared his thinking about several other CenturyLink initiatives that customers might see sometime this year:

  • Don’t expect CenturyLink to expand Wi-Fi hotspot networks. The company found they are difficult to monetize and is unlikely to expand them further;
  • Any change in the FCC’s definition of minimum broadband speed to qualify for federal broadband expansion funds would slow rural broadband expansion. Ewing admitted a 10Mbps speed minimum is considerably more difficult to achieve over DSL than a 4 or 6Mbps minimum;
  • Don’t expect any more merger/acquisition activity from CenturyLink in the Competitive Local Exchange Carrier business. CenturyLink shows no sign of pursuing Frontier, Windstream, FairPoint, or other independent phone companies. It is focused on expanding business services, where 60% of CenturyLink’s revenue now comes;
  • CenturyLink fiber expansion will primarily be focused on reaching business offices and commercial customers in 2014;
  • CenturyLink will only modestly expand PrismTV, its fiber-to-the-neighborhood service, to an additional 300,000 homes this year. The company now offers the service to two million of its customers, with 200,000 signed up nationwide. Last year, CenturyLink expanded PrismTV availability to 800,000 homes.

Charlotte Lusts for Fibrant’s Fiber-to-the-Home Broadband Speed They Won’t Get Anytime Soon

fibrant_logo_headerA 2011 state law largely written by Time Warner Cable will likely keep Charlotte, N.C. waiting for fiber broadband that nearby Salisbury has had since 2010.

North Carolina is dominated by Time Warner Cable, AT&T and CenturyLink. Google and AT&T recently expressed interest in bringing their fiber networks to the home in several cities in the state, but neither have put a shovel in the ground.

Fibrant, a community owned broadband provider in Salisbury, northeast of Charlotte, not only laid 250 miles of fiber optics, it has been open for business since November 2010. It was just in time for the publicly owned venture, joining a growing number of community providers like Wilson’s Greenlight and Mooresville, Davidson and Cornelius’ MI-Connection. Time Warner Cable’s lobbyists spent several years pushing for legislation restricting the development of these new competitors and when Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2011, they finally succeeded. Today, launching or expanding community broadband networks in North Carolina has been made nearly impossible by the law, modeled after a bill developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

With fiber fever gripping the state, Fibrant has gotten a lot of attention from Charlotte media because it provides the type of service other providers are only talking about. Fibrant offers residents cable television, phone, and broadband and competes directly with Time Warner Cable and AT&T. Although not the cheapest option in town, Fibrant is certainly the fastest and local residents are gradually taking their business to the community alternative.

Charlotte, N.C. is surrounded by community providers like Fibrant in Salisbury and MI-Connection in the Mooresville area.

Charlotte, N.C. is surrounded by community providers like Fibrant in Salisbury and MI-Connection in the Mooresville area.

“A lot faster Internet speeds, a lot clearer phone calls,” said Sidewalk Deli owner Rick Anderson-McCombs, who switched to Fibrant after 15 years with another provider. His mother, Anganetta Dover told WSOC-TV, “I think we save about $30 to $40 a month with Fibrant and the advantages of having the speed is so much better.”

Julianne Goodman cut cable’s cord, dropping Time Warner Cable TV service in favor of Netflix. To support her online streaming habit, she switched to Fibrant, which offers faster Internet speeds than the cable company.

Commercial customers are also switching, predominately away from AT&T in favor of Fibrant.

“Businesses love us because we don’t restrict them on uploads,” one Fibrant worker told WCNC-TV. “So when they want to send files, it’s practically instantaneous.”

Fibrant offers synchronous broadband speeds, which mean the download and upload speeds are the same. Cable broadband technology always favors download speeds over upload, and Time Warner Cable’s fastest upstream speed remains stuck at 5Mbps in North Carolina.

AT&T offers a mix of DSL and U-verse fiber to the neighborhood service in North Carolina. Maximum download speed for most customers is around 24Mbps. AT&T has made a vague commitment to increase those speeds, but customers report difficulty qualifying for upgrades.

Time Warner Cable is a big player in the largest city in North Carolina, evident as soon as you spot the Time Warner Cable Arena on East Trade Street in downtown Charlotte.

Taxpayer dollars are also funneled to the cable company.

Time Warner Cable’s $82 million data center won the company a $2.9 million Job Development Investment Grant. Charlotte’s News & Observer noted the nation’s second largest cable company also received $3 million in state incentives.

When communities like Salisbury approached providers about improving broadband speeds, they were shown the door.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WCNC Charlotte Fibrant Already Provides Fiber 3-5-14.mp4

WCNC-TV reports that with Google expressing an interest in providing fiber service in Charlotte, Salisbury’s Fibrant has been offering service since 2010. (2:57)

“Our citizens asked for high-speed Internet,” says Doug Paris, Salisbury’s city manager. “We met with the incumbent providers [like Time Warner and AT&T, and that did not fit within their business plans.”

Salisbury and Wilson, among others, elected to build their own networks. The decision to enter the broadband business came under immediate attack from incumbent providers and a range of conservative astroturf and sock puppet political groups often secretly funded by the phone and cable companies.

Rep. Avila with Marc Trathen, Time Warner Cable's top lobbyist (right) Photo by: Bob Sepe of Action Audits

Rep. Avila, a ban proponent, meets with Marc Trathen, Time Warner Cable’s top lobbyist (right) (Photo: Bob Sepe)

Critics of Fibrant launched an attack website against the venture (it stopped updating in March, 2012), suggesting the fiber venture would bankrupt the city. One brochure even calls Stop the Cap! part of a high-priced consultant cabal of “Judas goats for big fiber” (for the record, Stop the Cap! was not/is not paid a penny to advocate for Fibrant or any other provider).

Opponents also characterize Fibrant as communism in action and have distributed editorial cartoons depicting Fibrant service technicians in Soviet military uniforms guarding Salisbury’s broadband gulag.

In January of this year, city officials were able to report positive news. Fibrant has begun to turn a profit after generating $2,223,678 in the revenue from July through December, 2013. Fibrant lost $4.1 million during the previous fiscal year. That is an improvement over earlier years when the venture borrowed more than $7 million from the city’s water and sewer capital reserve fund, repaying the loans at 1 percent interest. The city believes the $33 million broadband network will break even this year — just four years after launching.

Fibrant is certainly no Time Warner Cable or AT&T, having fewer than 3,000 customers in the Salisbury city limits. But it does have a market share of 21 percent, comparable to what AT&T U-verse has achieved in many of its markets.

Fibrant also has the highest average revenue per customer among broadband providers in the city — $129 a month vs. $121 for Time Warner Cable. Customers spend more for the faster speeds Fibrant offers.

Some residents wonder if Fibrant will be successful if or when AT&T and Google begin offering fiber service. Both companies have made a splash in Charlotte’s newspapers and television news about their fiber plans, which exist only on paper in the form of press releases. Neither provider has targeted Salisbury for upgrades and nobody can predict whether either will ultimately bring fiber service to the city of Charlotte.

Those clamoring for fiber broadband speeds under the state’s anti-community broadband law will have to move to one of a handful of grandfathered communities in North Carolina where forward-thinking leaders actually built the fiber networks private companies are still only talking about.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSOC Charlotte Charlotte could gain from fiber optic network already in place 4-22-14.flv

WSOC-TV in Charlotte reports Salisbury customers are happy with Fibrant service and the competition it provides AT&T and Time Warner Cable. (2:12)

CenturyLink to Idaho Residents: You Don’t Need 1Gbps, DSL is Good Enough for You

centurylinkCenturyLink’s philosophy about offering gigabit fiber broadband speeds in Idaho can be summed up simply as “for business-use only.”

Jim Schmit, Idaho CenturyLink’s vice president and general manager, believes super fast broadband connections are overkill for homes and most businesses in the state.

“It’s like having a fancy sports car,” Schmit told the Idaho Statesman. “It might go 200 miles per hour, but what good does that do if the speed limit is 60?”

Schmitt’s attitude of broadband a-plenty is nothing new. In 2007, he told attendees of the Emerging Directions in Economic Development conference in Boise that “virtually all” Idahoans already had access to high-speed broadband. That was news to the audience, with about a quarter of the economic development professionals attending stating they represented a community that didn’t have it yet. Most of the questions related to how their communities could get the access they’d been told wasn’t available.

Seven years later, the Statesman reports more than a few homes and businesses in the region still rely on slow DSL, satellite and even dial-up access because faster options are just not available.

idahoIdaho could find itself a bystander in the growing movement to deploy gigabit fiber to the premise broadband, despite the fact CenturyLink already has fiber infrastructure available nearby.

“We’re getting to the point where, for businesses in most places, we’re within last-mile connections for most locations,” Schmit says.

CenturyLink is willing to extend its fiber, but only if that fiber line reaches businesses needing gigabit speeds. Residential customers need not apply.

Fiber optics can be found in several office buildings in downtown Boise, which has been good news for established tech companies that need more bandwidth. Three data centers are operational in the city and would likely not be there without fiber.

But for home-based entrepreneurs of future Internet startups, most will be forced to choose between CenturyLink DSL or cable broadband from providers like Cable ONE, which offer slower speeds.

Smaller broadband providers have begun to fill the gap left open by the lack of interest from cable and phone companies. While Google is showing interest in building fiber networks in a handful of U.S. cities, many more communities are realizing they will not get gigabit speeds anytime soon unless they build a publicly owned broadband network themselves or rely on much smaller-scale projects under development in the private sector.

Patrick Lawless, founder and CEO of Boise voice recognition software developer Voxbright Technologies Inc., sees opportunity providing a limited fiber network in Boise. Lawless has plans to build a 2.6-mile fiber-optic loop and deliver television, phone and broadband service to apartment and office buildings in a manner similar to Google’s. It’s a small early effort, limited to a handful of businesses and new residential buildings — mostly apartments and renovated former office buildings or hotels. He plans to charge $99 a month for a package including television, 100Mbps broadband, and phone service.

With the project’s small scope and uncertain cost, CenturyLink says it isn’t too worried about the competition. For now they will continue to bank on offering only the broadband speed they believe customers actually need, and it will be up to a competitor to prove them wrong.

Cable Customer Service Improvements: Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

Phillip "More empty promises from the cable industry" Dampier

Phillip “More empty promises from the cable industry” Dampier

Listening to Time Warner Cable’s “Here today and gone much richer tomorrow” CEO-in-passing Rob Marcus prattle on endlessly about improving “the customer experience” on analyst conference calls, the cable company’s blog, and in various press statements always makes me pinch myself to be certain I am not dreaming.

Time Warner’s Rob Marcus:

I’m focused on ensuring we establish a customer-centric, performance-oriented, values-driven culture defined by four basic tenets:

  • We put our customers first,
  • We are empowered and accountable,
  • We do the right thing, and
  • We are passionate about winning

What does that mean for customers? If we expect customers to trust us to connect them to what matters most, we must put them at the center of everything we do.

How is that working out for you?

Based on consumer surveys, many of Marcus’ customers may have a different sentiment:

  • Time Warner puts what is best for Time Warner first,
  • Time Warner is empowered to raise rates for no clear reason and as a deregulated entity is accountable to no one,
  • Time Warner does the right thing for Time Warner executives and shareholders,
  • Charlie Sheen was also passionate about “winning.”

 

So much for Comcast's customer service improvement project promised back in 2007.

So much for Comcast’s customer service improvement project promised back in 2007. (Source: ACSI)

There is nowhere to go but up when it comes to improving the abusive relationship most Americans have with the local cable or phone company. CNN asked the question, “do you hate your Internet provider,” and within hours more than 600 customers sang “yes!”

Marcus

Marcus

This is hardly a new problem. Karl Bode at Broadband Reports reminds us that Comcast broke its promises for major improvements in customer service more than five years ago. CEO Brian Roberts at the time blamed the troubles on Comcast’s enormity — taking 250 million calls a year handling orders, customer complaints, etc., is a lot for one company to handle.

“With that many calls, you are going to have failures,” Roberts admitted.

With more than 10 million Time Warner Cable customers waiting to move in at Comcast, if what Roberts says is true, things are about to get much worse. In fact, even before the merger was announced Comcast was just as despised as ever, thanks to rate hikes, usage caps, and poor service often delivered from their notorious sub-contractors that appear on the news for falling asleep, murder, digging in the wrong yard or blowing up laptops, dishwashers or homes.

Judging from the enormous negative reaction customers of both Time Warner Cable and Comcast had to the news the two were combining, it’s clear this merger isn’t the exciting opportunity Marcus and Roberts would have you believe.

‘If you despise Comcast today, your hate will know no bounds tomorrow as Comcast spends the next two years distracted with digesting Time Warner Cable,’ suggested one customer.

Another asked whether Americans have resigned themselves to a trap of low expectations, seeking out one abusive telecom company relationship after another.

highlights“After twenty years of Time Warner’s broken promises, service you can’t count on, and price hikes you can, I made the fatal mistake of running away from one bad relationship into the arms of another with the Bernie Madoff of broadband: AT&T,” wrote another. “Slower service, an unnecessary allowance on broadband usage, and one rate increase too many is hardly the improvement we were promised in the shiny brochure. But we have nowhere else to go.”

Being stuck with an independent phone company with no cable provider nearby can mean even worse service.

“I live in Seattle, and the only option in my neighborhood is CenturyLink DSL,” wrote Jen Wilson.

CenturyLink’s top speed in Wilson’s neighborhood? 1Mbps. At night, speeds drop to 122kbps — just twice the speed of dial-up Internet.

CNN’s Frida Ghitis observed the current state of broadband in the United States is alarmingly bad, and allowing Comcast and Time Warner Cable to merge won’t fix it:

Americans are divided on many issues, but resentment against these telecom giants is so pervasive that it may just be the most heartwarming symbol of national unity. And that’s as it should be. Except that the resentment should extend to politicians who have made this disastrous system possible and allow political contributions to prevent them from fixing it. The problem is not just one of dismal customer service. Instead, it is a growing threat to the country’s economic and strategic position.

If you travel overseas, you will quickly notice that Web access in much of the developed world is light years ahead of America’s. You may also be irritated to discover that far better Internet is much, much cheaper in other countries.

Time Warner's notorious modem rental fee was just a hidden rate hike, according to the ex-CEO.

Time Warner’s notorious modem rental fee was just a hidden rate hike, according to the ex-CEO.

Thus far, Time Warner’s remedy to improve service is yet another rate increase. Broadband prices are rising an average of $3 a month — $36 a year, with no speed enhancements on the horizon except in New York, Los Angeles, and cities where Google Fiber is threatening to kick the cable company in the pants. That means Time Warner’s 11.1 million broadband customers will deliver as much as $33.3 million more in revenue each month for broadband service alone. What will you get in return? In most cases, nothing.

Television customers will be pick-pocketed for the newly-“enhanced” on-screen guide many still loathe, which carries a new surcharge applied to the cost of set-top boxes and DVRs. This “enhancement” alone will cost most customers with two boxes an extra $30 a year. It will provide Time Warner with more than $170 million each year in revenue enhancement.

The cable company that fought a battle with CBS last summer “on behalf of customers” faced with paying extortionist pricing for CBS-owned cable networks and local stations will instead send their extortion payment direct to Time Warner, thanks to a new $2.25/mo “Broadcast TV Fee” imposed this spring by the cable company.

But Time Warner is unlikely to hang on to that money for long.

If it wanted to discourage programmers from demanding double-digit percentage rate increases, the plan is likely to backfire once the networks smell the money — more than $25 million a month, $300 million a year — Time Warner claims to be collecting on their behalf.

Kansas’ Senate Commerce Committee Members Well-Compensated by Big Telecom

lobbyist-cashThe Kansas State Legislature website makes it very difficult to find exactly who wrote and introduced Senate Bill 304, the laughingly titled, “Municipal Communication’s Network and Private Telecommunications Investment Safeguards Act.

In fact, the bill should be titled, “The Big Telecom Duopoly Protection Act,” because it makes it almost impossible for any publicly owned network to get off the ground and compete in the state of Kansas, even in places where the nearest cable or DSL connection is dozens of miles away.

Instead of naming names, the legislature’s website prefers to show the bill introduced by the Committee on Commerce, sponsored by the Committee on Commerce, and referred to the Committee on Commerce for further consideration. Since they apparently wrote and co-sponsored the bill, we don’t expect it will take them too long to rubber stamp their approval.

The Republican-dominated members of the committee are already well-acquainted with the state’s largest cable and phone companies, as their campaign donations from 2012 illustrate:

  • Sen. Julia Lynn (R), Chairperson: AT&T ($1,750), Comcast ($1,500), CenturyLink ($1,000);
  • Sen. Susan Wagle (R), Vice-Chair: Cox Communications ($1,750), AT&T ($1,500), Kansas Cable Telecommunication Association ($1,250), Comcast ($1,000), CenturyLink ($1,000);
  • Sen. Tom Holland (D), Ranking Member: AT&T ($1,000);
  • Sen. Pat Apple (R): AT&T ($1,000), Comcast ($1,000), Kansas Cable Telecommunication Association ($250), Time Warner Cable ($250), Verizon ($250), CenturyLink ($250);
  • Sen. Jim Denning (R): CenturyLink ($250);
  • Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau (D): AT&T ($1,000), Cox Communications ($1000), Kansas Cable Telecommunication Association ($250);
  • Sen. Jeff Longbine (R): AT&T ($2,000), CenturyLink ($1,750), Cox Communications ($500);
  • Sen. Jeff Melcher (R): CenturyLink ($1,000);
  • Sen. Robert Olson (R): AT&T ($1,750), Comcast ($1,500), CenturyLink ($1,250), Cox Communications ($750);
  • Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R): Comcast ($1,000).

Data: Project Vote Smart, 1/30/2014

Anti-Community Broadband Bill Introduced in Kansas; Legislating Incumbent Protection

What company is behind the effort to ban municipal broadband in kansas.

AT&T is a frequent backer of anti-community broadband initiatives, as are some of the nation’s biggest cable companies.

The Kansas Senate’s Commerce Committee has introduced a bill that would make it next to impossible to build publicly owned community broadband networks that could potentially compete against the state’s largest cable and phone companies.

Senate Bill 304 is the latest in a series of measures introduced in state legislatures across the country to limit or prohibit local communities from building better broadband networks that large commercial providers refuse to offer.

SB 304 is among the most protectionist around, going well beyond the model bill produced by the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). At its heart, the bill bans just about any would-be competitor that works with, is run by, or backed by a local municipality:

Sec. 4. Except with regard to unserved areas, a municipality may not, directly or indirectly offer or provide to one or more subscribers, video, telecommunications or broadband service; or purchase, lease, construct, maintain or operate any facility for the purpose of enabling a private business or entity to offer, provide, carry, or deliver video, telecommunications or broadband service to one or more subscribers.

For purposes of this act, a municipality offers or provides video, telecommunications or broadband service if the municipality offers or provides the service:

  • Directly or indirectly, including through an authority or instrumentality:
  • Acting on behalf of the municipality; or for the benefit of the municipality;
  • by itself;
  • through a partnership, joint venture or other entity in which the municipality participates; or
  • by contract, resale or otherwise.
Tribune, Kansas is the county seat of Greeley County.

Tribune, Kansas is the county seat of Greeley County.

This language effectively prohibits just about everything from municipally owned broadband networks, public-private partnerships, buying an existing cable or phone company to improve service, allowing municipal utilities to establish broadband through an independent authority, or even contracting with a private company to offer service where none exists.

The proposed legislation falls far short of its intended goals to:

  • Ensure that video, telecommunications and broadband services are provided through fair competition;
  • Provide the widest possible diversity of sources of information, news and entertainment to the general public;
  • Encourage the development and widespread use of technological advances in providing video, telecommunications and broadband services at competitive rates and,
  • Ensure that video, telecommunications and broadband services are each provided within a consistent, comprehensive and nondiscriminatory federal, state and local government framework.

Proponents claim the bill is open to allowing municipalities to build broadband services in “unserved areas.” But upon closer inspection, the bill’s definition of “unserved” is practically impossible to meet anywhere in Kansas:

“Unserved area” means one or more contiguous census blocks within the legal boundaries of a municipality seeking to provide the unserved area with video, telecommunications or broadband service, where at least nine out of 10 households lack access to facilities-based, terrestrial broadband service, either fixed or mobile, or satellite broadband service, at the minimum broadband transmission speed as defined by the FCC.

Even the FCC does not consider satellite broadband service when it draws maps where broadband is unavailable. But this Big Telecom-backed bill does. Even worse, it requires would-be providers to prove that 90 percent of customers within a “census block” don’t have access to either mobile or satellite broadband. Since satellite Internet access is available to anyone with a view of the southern sky, and the most likely unserved customers would be in rural areas, it would be next to impossible for any part of the notoriously flat and wide open state to qualify as “unserved.”

Each rectangle represents one census block within one census tract that partially covers Greeley County. Under the proposed legislation, a community provider would have to visit every census block to verify whether a private company is capable of providing service, including satellite Internet access.

Each rectangle represents one “census block” within a larger “census tract” that partially covers Greeley County. Under the proposed legislation, a community provider would have to visit each census block to verify whether a private company is capable of providing broadband service, including satellite Internet access.

To illustrate, Stop the Cap! looked at Greeley County in western Kansas. The county’s total population? 1,247 — the smallest in the state. Assume Greeley County Broadband, a fictional municipal provider, wanted to launch fiber broadband service in the area. Under the proposed bill, the largest potential customer base is 1,247 — too small for most private providers. Still, if a private company decided to wire up the county, it could with few impediments, assuming investors were willing to wait for a return on their investment in the rural county. If SB 304 became law, a publicly owned broadband network would have to do much more before a single cable could be installed on a utility pole.

Census Block 958100-1-075, in downtown Tribune, has a population of 10.

Census Block 958100-1-075, in downtown Tribune, has a population of 10.

To open for business, Greeley County Broadband would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to independently verify its intended service area — the county — is unserved by any existing broadband technology, including satellite and mobile broadband. The authors of the bill intentionally make that difficult. Just one census tract in Greeley County (#9561), encompassing the county seat town of Tribune (pop. 741) has dozens of census blocks. Some are populated, others are not.

Greeley County Broadband now has several big problems. Under the language in the bill, a municipal provider must first define its service area entirely within its borders — in this case Greeley County — and base it on contiguous census blocks. That means if pockets of qualifying potential customers exist in a census block surrounded by non-qualifying census blocks, Greeley County Broadband cannot include them in its service area.

Census Block 958100-1-075 — essentially at the intersection of Broadway Ave. and West Harper St., right next to City Hall — has a population of 10. AT&T Mobility’s coverage maps show Tribune is covered by its 3G wireless data network (but not 4G). That census block, along with every other in the area, would be disqualified from getting municipal broadband the moment AT&T upgrades to 4G service, whether reception is great or not. It doesn’t matter that customers will have to pay around $60 for a handful of gigabytes a month.

But wait, Verizon Wireless declares it already provides 4G LTE service across Greeley County (and almost all Kansas). So Greeley County Broadband, among other would-be providers, are out of business before even launching. Assuming there was no 4G service, if just two of those ten residents had a clear view to any satellite broadband provider, Greeley County Broadband would not be permitted to provide anyone in the census block with service under the proposed law. Under these restrictions, no municipal provider could write a tenable business plan, starved of potential customers.

Kansans need to consider whether that is “fair competition” or corporate protectionism. Is it a level playing field to restrict one provider without restricting others? If competition promotes investment in technologically challenged rural Kansas, would not more competition from municipal providers force private companies to finally upgrade their networks to compete?

In fact, the bill introduced this week protects incumbent cable and phone companies from competition and upgrades by keeping out the only likely competition most Kansans will ever see beyond AT&T, Comcast, or CenturyLink’s comfortable duopoly – a municipal or community-owned broadband alternative. Providing the widest possible diversity is impossible in a bill that features the widest possible definition of conditions that will keep new entrants out of the market. Community-owned networks usually offer superior technology (often fiber optics) in communities that are usually trapped with the most basic, outdated services. While the Kansas legislature coddles AT&T, that same company wants to mothball its rural landline network pushing broadband-starved customers to prohibitively expensive, usage capped wireless broadband service indefinitely.

verizon 4g

Seeing Big Red? The areas colored dark red represent the claimed coverage of Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE network in Kansas. Under SB 304, these areas would be prohibited from having a community-owned broadband alternative.

CenturyLink’s Prism TV Expands in Omaha; Expands Lineup Through Online Video App

Phillip Dampier January 6, 2014 CenturyLink, Competition, Consumer News, Video 2 Comments

prism tvCenturyLink has launched an aggressive new marketing campaign to promote its fiber to the neighborhood service in the greater Omaha area.

Prism TV is CenturyLink’s equivalent of AT&T’s U-verse — a fiber-copper network that delivers video, phone, and broadband service to customers over their existing copper phone lines.

Currently available to about one-third of Omaha homes, CenturyLink plans to expand Prism TV to the entire area by early 2016.

CenturyLink has not broadly promoted the service in Omaha because so few homes could buy the service when it soft launched around six months ago. The earliest customers were company employees and those in selected neighborhoods where it was sold door-to-door.

CenturyLink says their early experience with the service proves customers are unhappy with the dominant cable company in the area — Cox Communications.

omahaLike AT&T, CenturyLink has put its DVR front and center in its marketing efforts. Most cable company DVRs allow two simultaneous recordings — Prism TV supports up to four. The service also introduces the “whole house DVR” concept to customers without an expensive add-on. This feature lets customers pick up watching recorded shows where they left off when switching rooms.

Cox has responded to the competitive threat by beefing up its own services. The cable company recently introduced a DVR that can record six shows at once, as well as the Cox Contour smartphone/tablet app to watch cable programming on personal devices.

“We’ve been competing with other communications providers for decades and aggressively invest in our infrastructure and technology to ensure that our products are superior,” Cox spokeswoman Gail Graeve told the Omaha World-Herald. “Our customers are looking for viewing options that are both personal and portable, and Contour meets those needs.”

CenturyLink has already upgraded its own viewing app, which now includes more channels and an expansion of live and on-demand content. The newest version allows Prism TV customers to watch two dozen networks while traveling and up to 100 channels while streaming from home. There are versions of the TV Everywhere app for iOS, Android tablets and smartphones, and Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet.

Prism TV is now available in selected neighborhoods in the city of Omaha, as well as in Belle­vue, Ralston, Papillion, La Vista, Springfield, Gretna, the Elkhorn area and in unincorporated Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

Nationwide, CenturyLink ended the third quarter of 2013 with 149,000 Prism TV subscribers in the following areas: La Crosse, Wis.; Columbia and Jefferson City, Mo.; Tallahassee, Fla., various communities in central and southwest Florida where CenturyLink is the local telephone company; Las Vegas; central North Carolina; Phoenix; Colorado Springs and Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Channels Available for Viewing Outside the Home:

CenturyLink offers a $300 rebate to new customers.

CenturyLink offers a $300 rebate to new customers.

  • AWE
  • Bloomberg
  • Cars
  • Comedy
  • CSPAN
  • CSPAN-2
  • FearNET
  • FOX Business Network
  • Fox News Channel
  • Justice Central
  • MAVTV
  • PAC 12 Arizona
  • PAC 12 Mountain
  • PAC 12 National
  • Pets
  • Pixl
  • Recipes
  • Shorts East
  • Sony Movie Channel
  • Sportsman
  • STARZ – East
  • STARZ – West
  • Travel
  • Universal Sports
  • World Fishing Network

In-home Viewing Only:

  • prism on the goA&E
  • AMC
  • Animal Planet
  • Aspire
  • AWE
  • BBC America
  • BBC World
  • Big Ten National
  • Biography
  • Bloomberg
  • Boomerang
  • Bravo
  • Cars
  • Cartoon Network
  • Chiller
  • Cloo
  • CNBC
  • CNN en Espanol
  • CNN
  • CNN International
  • Comedy
  • CSPAN
  • CSPAN-2
  • prism featuresDiscovery
  • E!
  • ENCORE – East
  • ENCORE – West
  • Encore Action
  • Encore Español
  • Encore Suspense
  • Esquire TV
  • FearNET
  • FOX Business Network
  • Fox News Channel
  • Fox Sports 1
  • Fox Sports AZ (Phoenix)
  • Fox Sports AZ Plus (Phoenix)
  • Fuse
  • FX
  • FX Movies
  • FXX
  • G4
  • Golf Channel
  • H2
  • Hallmark Channel
  • Hallmark Movie Channel
  • HeadLine News
  • History
  • HRTV
  • IFC East
  • Indiplex
  • Inspiration Network
  • Justice Central
  • Lifetime
  • Lifetime Movie Network
  • Lifetime Real Woman
  • MAVTV
  • MGM
  • Movieplex
  • MSNBC
  • Mun2 West
  • National Geographic Channel
  • National Geographic Wild
  • Oprah Winfrey Network
  • Outside
  • Oxygen
  • PAC 12 Arizona
  • PAC 12 Mountain
  • PAC 12 National
  • Pets
  • centurylink prismPixl
  • Recipes
  • Retroplex
  • Science
  • Shorts
  • Smithsonian – East
  • Smithsonian – West
  • Sony Movie Channel
  • Sportsman
  • Sprout
  • STARZ – East
  • STARZ – West
  • Starz Black
  • Starz Cinema
  • Starz Edge
  • Starz Kids & Family
  • SYFY
  • TBN
  • TBS
  • The Weather Channel
  • TLC
  • Travel
  • TRUTV
  • Turner Classic Movies
  • Universal HD
  • Universal Sports
  • UP
  • USA
  • WGN
  • Women’s Entertainment
  • World Fishing Network
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CenturyLink Prism Demo Overview 1-6-14.flv

CenturyLink Prism: An introduction and demonstration. (2:25)

Staking the Heart of the Power-Sucking Vampire Cable Box

vampire-power-1-10964134Two years after energy conservation groups revealed many television set-top boxes use almost as much electricity as a typical refrigerator, a voluntary agreement has been reached to cut the energy use of the devices 10-45 percent by 2017.

The Department of Energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, the Consumer Electronics Association, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association agreed to new energy efficiency standards for cable boxes expected to save more than $1 billion in electricity annually, once the new equipment is widely deployed in American homes. That represents enough energy to power 700,000 homes and cut five million tons of CO2 emissions each year.

“These energy efficiency standards reflect a collaborative approach among the Energy Department, the pay-TV industry and energy efficiency groups – building on more than three decades of common-sense efficiency standards that are saving American families and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “The set-top box efficiency standards will save families money by saving energy, while delivering high quality appliances for consumers that keep pace with technological innovation.”

DVR boxes are the biggest culprits. American DVRs typically use up to 50W regardless of whether someone is watching the TV or not. Most contain hard drives that are either powered on continuously or are shifted into an idle state that does more to protect the life of the drive than cut a consumer’s energy bill. A combination of a DVR and an extra HD set-top box together consume more electricity than an ENERGY STAR-qualified refrigerator-freezer, even when using the remote control to switch the boxes off.

NRDC Set-Top Boxes  Other Appliances-thumb-500x548-3135

Manufacturers were never pressed to produce more energy-efficient equipment by the cable and satellite television industry. Current generation boxes often require lengthy start-up cycles to configure channel lineups, load channel listings, receive authorization data and update software. As a result, any overnight power-down would inconvenience customers the following morning — waiting up to five or more minutes to begin watching television as equipment was switched back on. As a compromise, many cable operators instruct their DVR boxes to power down internal hard drives when not recording or playing back programming, minimizing subscriber inconvenience, but also the possible power savings.

In Europe, many set-top boxes are configured with three levels of power consumption — 22.5W while in use, 13.2W while in standby, and 0.65W when in “Deep Sleep” mode. More data is stored in non-volatile memory within the box, meaning channel data, program listings, and authorization information need not be re-downloaded each time the box is powered on, resulting in much faster recovery from power-saving modes.

The new agreement, which runs through 2017, covers all types of set-top boxes from pay-TV providers, including cable, satellite and telephone companies. The agreement also requires the pay-TV industry to publicly report model-specific set-top box energy use and requires an annual audit of service providers by an independent auditor to make sure boxes are performing at the efficiency levels specified in the agreement. The Energy Department also retains its authority to test set-top boxes under the ENERGY STAR verification program, which provides another verification tool to measure the efficiency of set-top boxes.

Comcast, DirecTV, DISH Network, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision, Bright House Networks and CenturyLink will begin deploying new energy-efficient equipment during service calls. Some customers may be able to eventually swap equipment earlier, depending on the company.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WCCO Minneapolis Check Your Cable Box 6-27-11.mp4

WCCO in Minneapolis reported in 2011 cable operators like Comcast may make subscribers wait 30 minutes or more for set-top box features to become fully available for use after plugging the box in. (1:50)

CenturyLink’s Broadband Issues Color Company’s Deregulation Request in Washington

centurylinkCenturyLink is seeking “greater flexibility” to set its own prices, terms and conditions of service without a review by Washington State regulators, even as its broadband customers complain about bait and switch Internet speeds and poor service.

Three years after the Monroe, La., based independent phone company purchased Qwest — a former Baby Bell serving the Pacific Northwest — CenturyLink continues to lose customers to cell phone providers and cable phone and broadband service. Since 2001, CenturyLink and its predecessor have said goodbye to 60 percent of their customers, reducing the number of lines in service from around 2.7 million to just over 1 million.

CenturyLink is apparently ready to lose still more after upsetting customers with a notice it intended to seek deregulation that could lead to rising phone bills.

Docket UT-130477, filed with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) proposes to replace currently regulated service with what CenturyLink calls “an Alternate Form Of Regulation.” (AFOR)

broadband wa

If approved, CenturyLink will “normalize” telephone rates in Washington State, language some suspect is “code” for a rate increase. For CenturyLink customers in cities like Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma, the maximum rate permitted for basic phone service for the next three years will be $15.50 (unless a customer already pays more), before calling features, taxes, and surcharges are applied. Most observers, including the state regulator, suspect CenturyLink will limit rate hikes to $1-2 if approved. A higher increase might provoke more customers to leave.

Washington residents already pay the nation's second highest taxes on wireless service. Now landline customers also pay more.

Washington residents already pay the nation’s second highest taxes on wireless service. Now landline customers also pay more. (Graphic: The Spokesman)

“We don’t think they can do much because, in our view, all (a big rate increase) is going to do is accelerate people dropping the landline into their homes,” Brian Thomas, a spokesman for the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission told The Spokesman-Review. “A lot of people are cutting the cord.”

Frontier Communications, which previously won its own case for deregulation within its service areas including Everett, Wenatchee, and Tri-Cities, raised rates about $1 beginning this month.

A spokesman for the company confessed Frontier’s phone service is becoming obsolete.

“It’s safe to say plain old telephone service is in the process of becoming archaic for some people,” Frontier’s Carl Gipson said. “Five years from now, it will be almost – but not quite – extinct.”

Every rate change seems to provoke a review of whether landline service is still necessary.

Earlier this year, CenturyLink jumped on board legislation that purposely increased phone rates by several dollars a month by removing the sales tax exemption on residential telephone service. Wireless companies did not enjoy the same exemption and sued for parity.

A confidential settlement with state regulators made Washington phone customers, instead of telecom companies, liable for the sales tax starting in August. As a result, some residential phone bills went up at much as $5 based on retroactively charged sales tax.

Customers sticking with CenturyLink often say it is the only broadband provider in rural towns across the state. Although better than satellite broadband, the lack of regulatory oversight and technology investments have allowed CenturyLink to sell Internet speeds it cannot provide to customers.

At a hearing held this week by the San Juan County Council, members criticized CenturyLink officials on hand for selling fast service but delivering slow speeds to the group of islands between the mainland of Washington State and Vancouver Island, B.C.

Hughes

Hughes

“Last night I did a speed test at my house and I am paying for 10Mbps but only getting 4.74Mbps,” complained Councilman Rick Hughes (District 4 – Orcas West). “I am paying for 10 and I am only getting 5Mbps, so how is that fair? There has been a ton of frustration over the last two years we have worked on this broadband issue. Everywhere I go and every meeting I talk to all I hear is complaints about CenturyLink. No matter what they are paying for, it’s a poor broadband connection to the end customer.”

CenturyLink provides broadband to 88% of the territory the company serves in Washington. Like most telephone companies, CenturyLink relies on DSL in much of its footprint and has upgraded central offices, remote equipment, and the telephone lines that connect them. On the San Juan Islands, most customers used to receive 1-3Mbps, but CenturyLink claimed at this week’s hearing it spent billion on infrastructure improvements that can now deliver faster Internet service across the state. In San Juan County, CenturyLink claims:

  • 58% of all qualified addresses were upgraded to 10-25Mbps;
  • 66% now qualify for more than 10Mbps (but less than 25Mbps) versus 46% prior to upgrades;
  • 29% of customers now qualify to sign up for 25Mbps service.

CenturyLink warned the council its speed claims were not to be taken literally, noting DSL “speed is dependent on distance from equipment; speeds drop quickly as distance increases.”

san juan hsi

Hughes told CenturyLink officials residents appreciated the investment, but customers were still disappointed after being promised higher speeds than actually received.

“When people call customer service, there is always an excuse about why there is a problem,” said Hughes. “If people are paying for something, they want to receive it.”

opalco“For our long-term financial interests in this county, we need to have reliable 10-25Mbps service to customers on any part of the islands,” Hughes added. “My goal has always been 90+ percent should be able to get 25Mbps or better connectivity in the county.”

The problem for CenturyLink is the amount of upgrade investment versus the amount of return that investment will generate. San Juan County is disconnected from the mainland and collectively house only 15,769 residents. But it is also the smallest of Washington’s 39 counties in land area, which can make infrastructure projects less costly.

CenturyLink committed to continue investment in its network “where economically feasible.”

San Juan County’s Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (OPALCO), a member-owned, non-profit cooperative electric utility may have a partial solution to the problem of meeting Return on Investment requirements.

BB-growth-chartOPALCO originally proposed a hybrid fiber-wireless system designed to reach 90% of the county with a $34 million investment, to be built over two years. When completed, all county residents would pay a $15 monthly co-op infrastructure fee and a $75 monthly fee for broadband and telephone service. To gauge interest, OPALCO asked residents for a $90 pre-commitment deposit. By the annual meeting in May, the co-op admitted only 900 residents signed up and it needed 5,800 customers to make the project a success.

Some residents balked at the high cost, others did not want wireless broadband technology, and some local environmental activists wanted OPALCO to focus on clean, affordable energy and avoid the competitive broadband business.

The lack of commitment forced the co-op to modify its broadband plans, offering a “New Direction” to residents in June 2013.

OPALCO elected to stay out of the ISP business and instead announced a public-private initiative, providing fiber infrastructure to existing service providers. In effect, the co-op will cover the cost of building fiber extensions where CenturyLink is not willing to invest. For a $3-5 million investment from the co-op, ISPs like CenturyLink will be able to commission OPALCO to build fiber in the right places to make DSL service better. CenturyLink would have non-exclusive rights to the fiber network and would have to pay the co-op a service lease fee.

Unlike ISPs in other communities that have shunned publicly funded fiber infrastructure, CenturyLink says it will contemplate a trial — buying bandwidth from OPALCO instead of enhancing its own fiber middle mile network — to test what level of improved service CenturyLink can offer customers.

Regardless of CenturyLink’s plans, OPALCO is moving forward installing limited fiber connections as part of an effort to develop a more modern electric grid.

logo_broadband“Our data communications network brings exponential benefit to our membership,” OPALCO notes. “It includes tools that allow the co-op to: control peak usage and keep power costs down, remotely manage and control the electrical distribution system, manage and resolve power outages more efficiently, integrate and manage community solar projects and improve public safety throughout the county.”

There are some drawbacks, reports Wally Gudgell from The Gudgell Group.

“It will take longer to implement, and will impact fewer businesses and households,” Gudgell writes. “While about two-thirds of the islands will eventually be covered, more remote areas will have to work with a local ISP and potentially pay more for service.  DSL coverage for homes that are further than 15,000 feet from CenturyLink fiber-served distribution hubs will be challenging. Some homeowners may need to pay for fiber to be run to their homes by Islands Network (fiber direct is costly, estimated at $20/foot).”

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