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Maine: Your Broadband Speeds and Availability Suck – 49th Out of 50 States

Maine's broadband speeds are among the worst in the country. (Graphic: Portland Press Herald)

Maine’s broadband speeds are among the worst in the country. (Graphic: Portland Press Herald)

If talking about broadband was the same as getting broadband, Maine would be saturated with High Speed Internet service. Despite years of blue ribbon task forces, studies, grants, and lawsuits, the state of broadband in Maine has never been worse, ranked 49th among 50 states for quality of service and availability. The only state below Maine is Montana.

Maine’s woeful broadband is the result of passive providers including Time Warner Cable and FairPoint Communications that find little incentive to expand service into Maine’s considerable rural back country. Even if they did offer service, Maine’s aging population hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for spending hours online, assuming they understood how to navigate the Internet in the first place.

So how do you convince Maine’s broadband providers to deliver more and better service? Throw money at them in the form of tax breaks and subsidies, suggests David Maxwell, program director of the ConnectME Authority. He believes that if providers are incentivized to wire the unwired by agreeing to cover some of the costs, they will do it.

But as the Portland Press Herald reports, eight rounds of ConnectME grant funding to providers that averaged $1 million each has not made much of an improvement in the state’s broadband standing.

Maine residents in cities and large towns can usually find broadband service from either Time Warner Cable or FairPoint Communications, which purchased the deteriorating copper wire network abandoned by Verizon Communications as it exited the landline business in northern New England. Cable broadband customers can buy speeds up to 50Mbps, but Time Warner’s presence in Maine is not widespread. The majority of customers still buy access from FairPoint, and DSL speeds in Maine are slow.

Gizmodo reports the majority of Maine counties serviced by FairPoint currently receive a maximum speed of 7.3-10.9Mbps, primarily over DSL. That is 40-60 percent slower than the national average. In nearby Boston, speeds average 21.8-25.5Mbps.

FairPoint has been reticent about upgrading its landline infrastructure, particularly in rural counties. Maxwell told the newspaper FairPoint and other providers can’t justify an investment in broadband with no possibility of a quick return. But the phone company has also been accused of reneging on commitments already made to improve Internet access.

The Maine Public Advocate’s Office sued FairPoint to speed up and broaden its efforts to expand broadband to at least 87 percent of customers no later than April.

Wayne Jortner, senior counsel, told the Portland newspaper FairPoint vigorously defended against the lawsuit, but ultimately lost.

“In fact, the litigation did cause us to go all the way to the Maine Supreme Court, and we won there again,” Jortner said. “Now they’re on track to pretty much do what they said they would do.”

95% of Vermont Has Access to Broadband; 100% May Have It in 2013

VTA_logoAt least 95 percent of Vermont residents will have access to broadband by the end of today, because of a combination of private investment, public funding, and innovative service solutions for some of the state’s most rural areas.

State officials say 2012 was an important year for broadband availability in Vermont, as dominant phone company FairPoint Communications made inroads in expanding its DSL service in areas that never had access before.

In 2011, Governor Shumlin set an ambitious goal to see 100 percent of Vermont covered by broadband by the end of 2013, and the state appears on track to achieve that target in the coming year.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Ask The Governor Broadband 2-3-11.flv

Gov. Shumlin answered questions from state residents regarding his plan to see 100% broadband coverage in Vermont by the end of 2013. (Feb. 3 2011) (3 minutes)

Vermont’s small size would seem to make it an easy target for total broadband coverage, but significant rural areas have made it unprofitable for commercial phone and cable companies to make inroads.

Comcast, the state’s largest cable operator, has not grown much geographically over the past five years. FairPoint, which took control of much of the state’s landline network from Verizon in 2008, has been compelled to achieve broadband expansion as part of an agreement that approved the sale.

logo-broadbandVTKaren Marshall, who heads a state effort to expand both cell phone and broadband access in Vermont says the remaining areas without coverage will be a difficult challenge, but one that can be achieved with the help of private and public investment.

“The last 5 percent are the needle in the haystack,” Marshall told Vermont Public Radio. “They are the most far-flung, probably the most expensive and sometimes even the most physically challenging to get to.”

Wireless is often the most cost-effective solution, both for broadband and cell expansion, and Marshall suggested Vermont would use microcell technology along Vermont’s rural roadways.

“I think we will be one of the first places in the country that is deploying microcell technology for example, on the top of telephone poles or utility poles, kind of like a daisy chain,” Marshall said.

The rural Vermont Telephone Company won a $5 million state grant to cover Vermont’s southernmost counties with a combination of wireless phone and broadband service.

While areas of rural Vermont will likely have broadband access for the first time, improvements have also been available to those who already have the service.

Marshall estimated the average broadband speed in the state has increased from 5.5 to 9.7Mbps, which is above the national average.

Vermont Public Radio surveys how the state is doing meeting Gov. Shumlin’s goal to see broadband service available to every Vermonter. (December 28, 2012) (2 minutes)
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33 New Hampshire Communities Getting DSL Expansion from FairPoint

Phillip Dampier November 20, 2012 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, FairPoint, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband Comments Off

FairPoint Communications will introduce DSL service across 33 New Hampshire communities that either have incomplete coverage or no broadband at all.

At least 4,000 homes and businesses will gain access with financial assistance from the FCC’s Connect America fund.

FairPoint says it has invested $189 million in network infrastructure since purchasing northern New England landlines from Verizon Communications. That investment has targeted broadband improvements through fiber middle mile networks and extended DSL service with Ethernet and DSLAM equipment. The last mile installation to individual homes and businesses requires a suitable return on investment. If a provider cannot recoup expenses within a few years, those failing the test will not receive service. The Connect America Fund covers some of the investment costs, bringing rural areas closer to the return expectations providers have.

FairPoint earlier promised to reach 95 percent of New Hampshire with broadband service, with similar goals in Maine and Vermont.

FairPoint customers in larger northern New England communities can also expect eventual speed upgrades as the company continues to work on deploying next generation DSL technology.

Cable competition in the region is spotty, with Comcast and Time Warner Cable providing the bulk of service, mostly in the largest communities.

The communities slated to see DSL service (or extended service into previously unserved areas) include:

Alexandria, Barrington, Bartlett, Canterbury, Concord, Conway, Cornish, Croydon, Dorchester, Dover, Durham, Effingham, Epping, Epsom, Franklin, Gilmanton, Goffstown, Grantham, Jackson, Lee, Litchfield, Manchester, Meredith, New Hampton, Nottingham, Orange, Ossipee, Pembroke, Richmond, Sanbornton, Strafford, Tuftonboro and Wolfeboro.

ALEC Rock: How Big Corporations Pass the Laws They Write Themselves

ALEC Rock exposes the truth about how many of today’s bills are actually written and passed into law with the help of a shadowy, corporate-backed group known as the “American Legislative Exchange Council” (ALEC). Counted among its members are: AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, FairPoint Communications, Sprint, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. ALEC works on elected members of state legislatures to deregulate phone and cable service, eliminate consumer protection/oversight laws, ban publicly-owned broadband networks, and let phone companies walk away from providing rural phone service at will.  (2 minutes)

Trouble Looms for Smaller Phone Companies As Cable Swipes Away Business Customers

The cable industry is moving in on the phone companies' best customers: commercial enterprises

The growing competitiveness of the cable industry in the commercial services sector could spell trouble for some of the nation’s smaller telecommunications companies.

A new report from Moody’s Investor Service declares the cable industry is spoiling the business plans of telephone companies to grow revenue selling service to business customers.

With cable companies now investing in wiring office parks and downtown buildings to sell packages of voice and data services to corporate customers, traditional phone company revenue will suffer, declares Moody, which predicts traditional wireline revenue will be flat or decrease this year into next.

Cable Companies Quash Telecom Business-Revenue Rebound,” warns the companies at the greatest risk of revenue declines include EarthLink, Inc., Integra Telecom, Inc., U.S. TelePacific Corp., and CCGI Holding Corp. Among familiar independent phone companies, Frontier Communications, FairPoint Communications, and Hawaiian Telcom are at the biggest risk of losing customers, primarily because all three lack strong business products, according to the Moody’s report.

AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon are at a lower risk of losing customers, because all three focus investments on commercial services. CenturyLink’s acquisition of Qwest, a  former Baby Bell, strengthened its business services position, especially in the Pacific Northwest.

The cable companies best positioned to steal away telephone company customers are Comcast and Time Warner Cable, both of which have invested heavily in wiring commercial businesses for service. In the past, cable operators charged thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of dollars to install service in unwired commercial buildings, but now that initial wiring investment is increasingly being covered by cable operators.

Moody’s declares the business service sector a growth industry for cable. The report notes business revenues only account for $5 billion — just six percent — of the cable industry’s total business in 2011. In contrast, phone companies earn 40 percent of their revenue from business customers.

The report also states individual cable companies are now collaborating to deliver business service to companies with multiple service locations, which used to present a problem when offices were located in territories served by different operators.

If the cable industry continues to erode traditional telephone company revenue, it could eventually threaten the viability of some companies, especially those heavily-laden with acquisition-related debt.

The Death of the Landline? AT&T Ditches Yellow Pages, Pay Phones Disappear; So Do Customers

As AT&T joins Verizon selling off its Yellow Pages publishing unit and payphones keep disappearing from street corners, the media is writing the landline obituary once again.

CNN Money asks today whether we’re witnessing the death of the landline.

In as little as 20 years, the concept of a wired phone line may become the novelty a rotary-dial phone represents today.  Yes, traditional phone lines will still be found in businesses and in the homes of those uncomfortable dealing with a mobile phone, but America’s largest phone companies are well aware the traditional telephone line is in decline.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT Archives What is the Bell System.flv

The Bell System, as it was known until the 1980s, used to comprise AT&T, Bell Labs, Western Electric, Long Lines, and two dozen local “operating companies” like New York Telephone, Mountain Bell, etc.  This AT&T documentary, from 1976, explores how “the phone company” used to function.  New innovations like “lightwave” are showcased, promising to deliver voice phone calls over glass fibers one day.  

Much of the technology seen in the documentary may be unfamiliar if you are under 30 (and check out how customer records were maintained back then), but those who remember renting telephones in garish colors from your local phone company will recognize the phones that occupied space in your home not that long ago.  The only part of the landline network that hasn’t changed much in the last 40 years is the wiring infrastructure itself, which has been allowed to deteriorate as customers continue to depart.

Why was the company so darn big back then?  Because it had to be, the documentary says, to serve a big America.  Hilariously, the company defends its then-status as a “regulated monopoly” telling viewers “[a] regulated monopoly works well in communications because you don’t duplicate facilities and you produce real economies over the long haul.”  (14 minutes)

CNN reports nearly one-third of all American homes no longer have landline service, double the rate from 2008, triple that of 2007.  Verizon is feeling the heat the most, with revenue down 19% over the last five years.  AT&T has seen their revenue drop 16.5% over the same period.

But things are not all bad for phone companies willing to spend money upgrading their networks.  Verizon’s top-rated FiOS fiber to the home service is a compelling competitor to Comcast and Time Warner Cable.  AT&T’s U-verse has gotten a respectable market share larger midwestern cities and draws customers who like its DVR box and the chance to stick it to the local cable company they’ve hated for years.

But where both companies have decided against investing in upgrades — notably in their rural service areas — the traditional phone line is trapped in time.  Only the network it depends on is changing, and not for the better.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT 1993-1994 You Will Ad Campaign Compilation.flv

Back in 1993, AT&T produced seven advertisements dubbed the “You Will” series, showcasing future technologies AT&T would “deliver to you.”  Eerily, the vast majority of these predictions came true, but mostly from companies other than AT&T.  While the phone company predicted what would eventually become E-ZPass, Apple’s iPad, Apple’s Siri, the smartphone, Skype, Amazon’s Kindle, the cable industry’s home security apps, video on demand, and GPS navigation, most of those innovations were developed and sold by others.  

AT&T spun away Bell Labs and became preoccupied selling Internet access, cell phones and reassembling itself into its former ‘hugeness’ through mergers and buyouts. With limited investment in innovation, AT&T risks being left as a “dumb pipe” provider, selling the connectivity (among many others) to allow other companies’ devices to communicate. (Alert: Loud Volume at around 2 minutes) (4 minutes)

Verizon decided to ditch its rural service areas to FairPoint Communications in northern New England and Frontier Communications in 14 other states.  The results have not been good for the buyers (and often customers).  FairPoint went bankrupt in 2009, overwhelmed by the debt it incurred buying phone lines in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.  Frontier has watched its sales fall ever since its own landline acquisition, and the company has gotten scores of complaints from ex-Verizon customers about broken promises for improved broadband, billing errors, and poor service.

Analysts predict AT&T will start dumping its rural landline customers in the near future as well, letting the company focus on its U-verse service areas.  But who will buy these cast-offs?  CNN reports nobody knows.  CenturyLink and Windstream, two major independent phone companies, don’t appear to be in the mood to acquire neglected landline facilities they will need to spend millions to repair and upgrade.

One thing is certain — both AT&T and Verizon are tailoring business plans to favor Wall Street approval.  The companies’ decisions to temporarily boost revenue selling pieces of its operations has helped stock prices, but has also made the companies shadows of their former selves.  Nearly 30 years ago, customers still paid the phone company to rent their home telephones, relied extensively on the companies’ lucrative White and Yellow Pages for directory information, and discovered new technology innovations like digital switching thanks to Bell Labs, the research arm of AT&T — today independent and known as Alcatel-Lucent.  Today, people in some cities cannot even find a telephone company-owned payphone.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WJBK Detroit Quest to Find a Working Pay Phone 4-10-12.mp4

WJBK in Detroit this week ventured out across Detroit to see if they could find a pay phone that actually works.  That old phone booth on the corner is long gone, and some admit they haven’t touched a pay phone in 20 years.  (2 minutes)

Even the 1%’ers Have to Deal With 1Mbps DSL: FairPoint & Comcast Say No to Wealthy Enclave

No broadband for you...

Sometimes even money doesn’t talk… or buy you faster broadband service.

That is a lesson some of New Hampshire’s wealthiest residents — company presidents, top-dollar lawyers, and the trust-fund endowed — in Rindge and Grafton County are learning only too well.

It seems neither Comcast or FairPoint Communications has shown much interest in extending today’s definition of “broadband” to the multi-million dollar homes on Hubbard Road.

“Every year, I start working up the telephone chain, calling people at Comcast. I’m looking for the vice president, or whatever, in charge of infrastructure so I can call him, bribe him, plead with him to connect me,” said Leigh Eichel, who moved to the ritzy cul-de-sac in 2005. “I’ll pay anything!”

Eichel and his friends told their story to David Brooks of the Nashua Telegraph, who used the plight of the 1%’ers to ponder whether broadband should be a universal right.

A century ago, the government decided that mail service to all American homes was necessary and launched Rural Free Delivery. Then it decided electricity was necessary and created regulated utilities that guaranteed connection. It did the same with telephones, creating the universal access fund that collects money from all phone bills to subsidize land lines to the remotest home.

But nothing similar has happened with Internet service, which is mostly unregulated by government. The market has been largely left to its own.

The result is scattered empty spots like Hubbard Road, which should be broadband heaven.

... or you.

Comcast continues, for the seventh year running, to show zero interest in wiring the wealthy enclave.  That left residents trying to make do with satellite broadband, which they cried was too slow and usage-capped.

Eichel finally managed to cajole FairPoint Communications, the bankrupt phone company that bought out Verizon landlines in northern New England, to extend DSL to the neighborhood, but they did it on-the-cheap, leaving residents with sub-par service barely capable of breaking 1Mbps, when they’re lucky.

Welcome to broadband equality of a different kind, whether you are fighting AT&T from a family farm in Wisconsin for better-than-1Mbps DSL or a super-wealthy executive in New Hampshire suffering with FairPoint’s alleged broadband and utterly rejected by Comcast.

Particularly appalling for the well-traveled Hubbard Road residents: the realization that Singapore’s equivalent of a seedy Motel 6 has basic broadband service that beats the pants off New England’s dominant phone company.

Even Money Won't Talk

“I was staying in a budget hotel; there weren’t even windows in the room. Hey, I was spending my own money,” Eichel’s neighbor Rick Slocum told the newspaper. “[They had] 12Mbps broadband — the connection [was] 10 times as fast as my home.”

Brooks concludes New England wants the same thing most of the rest of the country wants — universal fiber-to-the-home access, which delivers 100-1000Mbps, depending on the provider.

They, like most everyone else, will have to wait.  Like AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS, FairPoint’s very-limited fiber offering FAST has reached a limit of its own — the amount the phone company is willing to spend rebuilding their network.  Future expansion plans are now on hold.

Slocum ponders the speed needs America will have in the future, and wonders if even fiber optics will one day need to be replaced for something even faster.

Brooks responds with a prediction.  As long as Comcast and FairPoint are in charge, whatever it is, Hubbard Road probably won’t have it.

Comcast/Time Warner Cable Biggest Broadband Winners; DSL Withers on the Vine

Won 1.1 million new customers in 2011

Comcast and Time Warner Cable collectively picked up more than 1.5 million new customers in 2011, with most of the growth coming from dissatisfied DSL subscribers seeking better broadband speeds.

Leichtman Research Group, Inc. (LRG) found the eighteen largest cable and telephone providers in the US — representing about 93% of the market — acquired 3 million net additional high-speed Internet subscribers in 2011. Annual net broadband additions in 2011 were 88% of the total in 2010.

The top broadband providers now account for 78.6 million subscribers — with cable companies having over 44.3 million broadband subscribers, and telephone companies having over 34.3 million subscribers.

Stalled growth

Despite AT&T’s position as the second largest Internet Service Provider in the country, the company only picked up 117,000 new customers in 2011.  In contrast, Time Warner Cable, with 6 million fewer customers, added almost a half-million new broadband subscriptions last year.

Frontier Communications, which made broadband a primary target for expansion, has not seen considerable growth either.  The company only added just short of 38,000 new broadband customers last year, almost all getting DSL, often at speeds of 1-3Mbps.

Other key findings include:

  • The top cable companies netted 75% of the broadband additions in 2011;
  • The top cable companies added 2.3 million broadband subscribers in 2011 — 98% of the total net additions for the top cable companies in 2010;
  • The top telephone providers added 750,000 broadband subs in 2011 — 68% of the total net additions for the top telephone companies in 2010;
  • In the fourth quarter of 2011, cable and telephone providers added 765,000 broadband subscribers — with cable companies accounting for 82% of the broadband additions in the quarter.

Now serving 10.3 million

“Despite a high level of broadband penetration in the US, the top broadband providers added 88% as many subscribers in 2011 as in 2010,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, Inc. “At the end of 2011, the top broadband providers in the US cumulatively had over 78.6 million subscribers, an increase of nearly 25 million over the past five years.”

Americans are increasingly treating broadband as an essential “utility” service, as fundamental as electricity or clean water.

The majority of consumers who lack the service either consider it irrelevant in their lives (a factor that increases with the age of the surveyed respondent), cannot obtain service from their provider because of their location, or cannot afford the service.

Broadband Internet Provider Subscribers at End of 4Q 2011 Net Adds in 2011
Cable Companies
Comcast 18,147,000 1,159,000
Time Warner^ 10,344,000 491,000
Cox* 4,500,000 130,000
Charter 3,654,600 252,900
Cablevision 2,965,000 73,000
Suddenlink 951,400 65,100
Mediacom 851,000 13,000
Insight^ 550,000 25,500
Cable ONE 451,082 25,680
Other Major Private Cable Companies** 1,925,000 55,000
Total Top Cable 44,339,082 2,290,180
Telephone Companies
AT&T 16,427,000 117,000
Verizon 8,670,000 278,000
CenturyLink 5,554,000 238,000
Frontier^^ 1,735,000 37,833
Windstream 1,355,300 53,600
FairPoint 314,135 24,390
Cincinnati Bell 257,300 1,200
Total Top Telephone Companies 34,312,735 750,023
Total Broadband 78,651,817 3,040,203

Sources: The Companies and Leichtman Research Group, Inc.
* LRG estimate
** Includes LRG estimates for Bright House Networks, and RCN
^ Totals prior to Time Warner Cable’s acquisition of Insight completed on 2/29/2012
^^ LRG estimate does not include wireless subscribers
Company subscriber counts may not represent solely residential households
Totals reflect pro forma results from system sales and acquisitions
Top cable and telephone companies represent approximately 93% of all subscribers

Telco’s Ethernet Over Copper Can Deliver Faster Speeds, If You Can Afford It

Ethernet over Copper is becoming an increasingly popular choice for business customers stuck in areas where companies won't deploy fiber broadband (Graphic: OSP Magazine)

With Verizon and AT&T effectively stalling expansion of their respective “next generation” fiber and hybrid fiber/coax networks, and independent phone companies fearing too much capital spent improving their networks will drive their stock prices down, telephone companies are desperately seeking better options to deliver the faster broadband service customers demand.

The options over a copper-based landline network are not the best:

  • ADSL has been around for more than a decade and is highly distant dependent. Get beyond 10,000 feet from the nearest switching office and your speeds may not even qualify as “broadband;”
  • DSL variants represent the second generation for copper-broadband and can deliver faster speeds, but usually require investment to reduce the amount of copper between the customer and the switching office;
  • Fiber networks are more expensive to build, and some companies are using it to reduce, but not eliminate copper wire in their networks. But companies traditionally avoid this solution in rural/suburban areas because the cost/benefit analysis doesn’t work for shareholders;
  • Ethernet Over Copper (EoC) is increasingly the solution of choice for independent phone companies because it is less expensive to deploy than fiber and can quickly deliver service at speeds of up to 50Mbps.

Unfortunately for consumers, EoC is typically way above the price range for home broadband.  Most providers sell the faster service to commercial and institutional customers, either for businesses that have outgrown T1 lines or where deploying fiber does not make economic sense.  Some companies have tried to improve on DSL by bonding multiple connections together to achieve faster speeds, but Ethernet is quickly becoming a more important tool in the broadband marketing arsenal.

With phone companies pricing EoC service from several hundred to several thousand dollars a month, depending on the speed of the connection, they hope to remain competitive players against a push by the cable industry to more aggressively target business customers.  In more rural areas, phone companies lack cable competition, so they stand a better chance of success.

Fierce Telecom‘s Sean Buckley published an excellent series of articles outlining the current state of EoC technology and what phone companies are doing with it:

  • AT&T: Inherited EoC from its acquisition of BellSouth, and barely markets it. Instead, AT&T uses it as a quiet solution for challenging customers who cannot affordably be reached by fiber.  AT&T will either deliver the service over copper, copper/fiber, or an all-fiber path depending on the client’s needs.
  • CenturyLink: No phone company is as aggressive about EoC as CenturyLink. When CenturyLink acquired Qwest, interest in the technology only intensified. EoC is a CenturyLink favorite for small businesses that simply cannot get the speeds they need from traditional DSL.  Most EoC service runs up to 20Mbps.
  • Verizon: Verizon’s network is the most fiber-intense among large commercial providers, so EoC is not the first choice for the company. However, it does use it to reach multi-site businesses who have buildings and offices outside of the footprint of Verizon’s fiber network/service area.
  • Frontier: In the regions where Frontier acquired Verizon landlines, EoC has become an important component for Frontier’s backhaul traffic. EoC has been deployed to reach cell tower sites and handles broadband traffic between central office exchanges and remote D-SLAMs, used to let the company sell DSL to a more rural customer base.  Frontier looks to EoC before considering spending money on fiber service, even for commercial and institutional users.
  • Windstream: EoC is the way this phone company gets better broadband speeds to business customers without spending a lot of money on fiber. Small and medium-sized customers are often buyers of EoC service, especially when DSL can’t handle the job or the company requires faster upstream speeds.  Windstream markets upgradable EoC capable of delivering the same downstream and upstream speeds and can deliver it more quickly than a fiber project.
  • FairPoint: Much of this phone company’s EoC efforts are in territories in northern New England acquired from Verizon.  FairPoint targets small and medium sized companies for the service, especially those who have remote offices or clinics that need to be interconnected. FairPoint has also gotten more aggressive than many other companies working with ADSL2+ or VDSL2 to deliver faster broadband to office buildings and complexes more economically than fiber.
  • SureWest: This company is strong believer in fiber to the premises service, so its interest in EoC has been limited to areas where deploying fiber makes little economic sense. In more out-of-the-way places, EoC is becoming a more common choice to pitch businesses who need more than traditional broadband.
  • Hawaiian Telcom: HawTel uses copper-based EoC to provide connectivity across the diverse Hawaiian Islands.  Speeds are generally lower than in mainland areas, partly because HawTel still relies heavily on traditional copper-based service. But fiber-based EoC is increasingly available in more densely populated areas.

FairPoint’s Funny Numbers: Counts Customers Who Can’t Buy DSL ‘Broadband-Ready’

Phillip Dampier December 1, 2011 Audio, Broadband Speed, FairPoint, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband Comments Off

FairPoint Communications is under fire for counting customers “broadband ready” when, in fact, they can’t buy DSL service from the northern New England phone company at any price.

One of the commitments FairPoint made to regulators who approved their buyout of Verizon landlines in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont in 2007 was that the company would expand broadband availability to at least 87 percent of residents in states like Maine.  In October, FairPoint claimed it had met that target, but now the Office of the Public Advocate has found instances where the phone company counted customers who live too far away from the phone company’s facilities to buy the service as “served.”

FairPoint is apparently counting most customers within a DSL-equipped exchange as reachable by broadband, even if only some of them actually are.  The rest either live too far away to get proper broadband speeds, or are connected to inferior lines that will not sustain a serviceable connection.

Maine’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) is upset FairPoint seems to be padding the numbers in its favor.  Maine’s Public Broadcasting Network talked with commissioners:

“I just find it hard to reconcile that it’s in the public interest to include in the definition of addressable lines, a line on which no customer can be connected and to which Fairpoint has made no planning or economic commitment to serve in the future,” said Vendean Vafiades. She, along with fellow commissioner David Littell, voted in favor of a decision which is likely to require Fairpoint to re-calculate the 87 percent figure using a stricter methodology.

“And I do believe that Fairpoint has a commitment to be economically viable in this state and to provide good quality service. And at a minimum I think Fairpoint should be required to provide actual access to meet its merger condition and obligations,” said Vafiades.

The holdout vote was that of PUC Chairman Tom Welch, who sympathized with Fairpoint on this issue.

The vote in Maine is likely to force FairPoint, which had hoped it was “all done” fulfilling broadband obligations, to spend more to upgrade its network to sufficiently service customers it promised it would.

FairPoint defends their interpretation of the numbers, noting the company has spent more than $169 million across their northern New England territories on broadband, making good on their commitment.  The state’s consumer advocate and PUC disagree, so now all parties will be re-evaluating their numbers, and FairPoint customers still waiting for DSL might still have a chance to get it after all.

Maine’s Public Broadcasting Network reports on the controversy over FairPoint’s promise to serve at least 87% of Maine with broadband service. Maine’s public utility commissioners voted to ramp up the pressure on Fairpoint Communications with regard to their broadband rollout. The expansion of high-speed internet to most areas of Maine was one of the conditions of Fairpoint’s purchase of Verizon’s former landline operation in 2007. (3 minutes)
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