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AT&T/Verizon Wireless’ No-Subsidy Plans Working Great for Them, Not So Much for You

Phillip Dampier April 24, 2014 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon, Wireless Broadband 1 Comment

galaxy s5AT&T and Verizon Wireless are thrilled customers are moving away from subsidized smartphones, because both are raking in extra revenue they are not returning to customers with lower plan prices.

In the past, customers have usually chosen discounted new phones that come with a two-year contract. A smartphone that retails for $650 sells in the store for $199 or less, with the $450 subsidy gradually repaid through artificially high service plan prices over the length of the contract. The subsidy system didn’t hurt long-term revenues because the money was eventually recovered and contracts locked most customers into place for at least two years. But Wall Street has never been thrilled by carriers tying up subsidy money on the books for two years.

For a transition away from the subsidy system to be fair, providers need to lower plan prices enough to drop the subsidy payback. But neither AT&T or Verizon Wireless have done that.

AT&T customers choosing an $650 iPhone on contract under the subsidy system will pay $200 up front, a $36 activation fee, and $80 a month for a two-year plan with 2GB of data. Total cost: $2,156.

If you buy your own iPhone and finance it through AT&T, which most customers are likely to do, the cost is $65 a month for the service plan, no activation fee, and a device installment payment plan of $32.50 a month for 20 months. Total cost: $2,210 or $54 more than the subsidized plan costs.

verizon attVerizon Wireless is a bigger taker.

Sign a two-year contract with Big Red for that same phone and 2GB plan and you will pay $200 up front, an activation fee of $35, and $75 a month for the service. That adds up to $2,035. Buying a no-contract iPhone without a subsidy costs $27 a month for the installment plan, no activation fee, and $65 a month for the service. That totals $2,210, $175 more than a subsidy customer pays.

Big spending-customers can realize some further savings by upgrading to plans with a bigger data allowance, but those plans won’t make sense if you don’t use up your allowance.

Both companies claim the unsubsidized plans save customers money, but they actually don’t for most because neither lowered plan rates enough and are now pocketing the difference. Verizon and AT&T also argue customers don’t have to pay several hundred dollars up front for a phone, which is true, but they will pay more for it over time. It is also true these unsubsidized plans allow for earlier upgrades, but customers are paying for that privilege.

It’s hard to say whether AT&T and Verizon Wireless will pay fair value for old phones as customers choose to upgrade. If they don’t, customers could effectively hand both companies even more money through undervalued trade-ins.

At least 40 percent of AT&T customers are choosing the unsubsidized route through AT&T Next and the company couldn’t be more pleased.

In a conference call with investors this week, AT&T’s chief financial officer told analysts wireless service margins were up to 45.4%, with AT&T Next having a positive impact on that margin.

John Stephens noted that with the retail price of smartphones being in the $600-650 range, more customers are being convinced to sign up for AT&T’s handset insurance plan, which provides AT&T with two benefits. First, the insurance earns AT&T more than it pays out in claims and second, devices returned under the insurance program are refurbished and then sent to other AT&T customers filing claims in the future.

Tim K. Horan from Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. believes AT&T’s total subsidy expenses/internal costs are around $400 for a subsidized phone but only $100 for a phone sold on the Next unsubsidized installment plan.

With competition from T-Mobile starting to have an impact on both companies, AT&T and Verizon Wireless have plenty of room to further lower their rates and still come out ahead.

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AT&T Usage Caps U-verse GigaPower at 1TB/Month; Usual Overlimit Fees Apply

Phillip Dampier April 23, 2014 AT&T, Consumer News, Internet Overcharging 3 Comments

rethink attAT&T has usage capped its heavily promoted U-verse GigaPower fiber to the home service at 1TB a month, according to fine print appearing on communications sent to customers.

Any customer that exceeds 1TB of usage per month will be subject to AT&T’s usual overlimit fees: $10 for each additional 50GB of data sent or received. At least AT&T currently caps the maximum overlimit fee at $30 for its fiber customers.

Many Austin GigaPower customers are signing up for the company’s Premier package, which includes a waiver of equipment, installation, and activation fees and provides 36 months of fixed rates and free HBO and HD service along with 300/300Mbps broadband.

Enrolling in a discounted promotional plan does mean you consent to allow AT&T to collect information about your browsing habits through deep packet inspection.

 

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AT&T GigaPower Can’t Even Reliably Deliver 300Mbps Service, Complain Customers

Bunny and TurtleWhile AT&T trumpets vague plans to upgrade up to 100 cities with gigabit fiber to the home service, some AT&T GigaPower U-verse customers in Austin wish they could just consistently get the 300Mbps service they were promised.

More than a few customers are unhappy with the service they are getting and have been vocal on an AT&T forum with complaints about service interruptions and speed issues.

Among the complaints:

Unresponsive Internet

A common complaint for U-verse GigaPower customers is a suddenly unresponsive Internet.

“Since upgrading to GigaPower often times my browser (same issue with Firefox, Safari, Chrome) will not always load or display web sites. Same thing happens with Tuba and/or Youtube,” writes bcslas. “Often it will fail to load and sometimes I see timeout errors, yet at other times the site loads fine. [...] Usually a refresh or 30 second wait to refresh will fix the issue – but it is constant.”

gigapower“I upgraded to GigaPower last December and since then, the service started getting disconnected multiple times per week,” wrote ybasha. “Sometimes it lasts a few minutes and sometimes longer. When that happens, I lose Internet and TV service. I called technical support multiple times. They sent technicians twice. One of them swapped the modem, but I still have the problem.”

“When I do a Google search from Chrome, it hangs there until it eventually times out and then I have to reload the page, after which the search results appear,” writes bustedmagnet. “Another example is in Gmail, sometimes the initial page is very slow to load, but it hangs forever when trying to open individual emails. Again, multiple page refreshes seem to fix this.”

It turns out that IPV6, enabled by default, is unreliable when using AT&T GigaPower. Customers have usually found relief downgrading to IPV4-only support or switching to Google’s IPV6 DNS servers:

  • 2001:4860:4860::8888
  • 2001:4860:4860::8844

Slow Speeds

austinAT&T GigaPower is supposed to offer 300/300Mbps service today with an upgrade to gigabit Internet forthcoming later this year. But not every customer comes close to getting those speeds. GigaOM writer Stacey Higginbotham found some customers cannot reliably get more than 75Mbps:

Yesterday I was at my brother in-law’s house where he is a GigaPower subscriber, his computer was registering speeds of 70 Mbps down and 50 Mbps up using Ookla on a wired connection. That’s fast, but not 300 Mbps fast and certainly not a gig. My brother and sister-in-law are not speed freaks like myself, but they were disappointed with the GigaPower product.

To me, what was most troubling is that they couldn’t tell me if they had signed up for AT&T’s service plan that offers them a lower price on internet service if the customer lets AT&T use your surfing habits to offer ads. They signed up for a bundle, they said, that was cheaper than their previous service.

“Upload speeds are consistently slower than download speeds,” complained egardiner. “Using att.com/speedtest, I can consistently achieve 320Mbps down, but typically never more than ~180Mbps up. The CrashPlan backup service is glacially slow, never achieving more than 3kbps when sending data to CrashPlan’s cloud servers.  CrashPlan’s techs have suggested that there are no issues on my client PC side nor on their server’s side, and they’ve asked if U-verse GigaPower is throttling backup traffic.”

Broadband Reports’ readers report Usenet newsgroup downloads appear to be heavily throttled over the GigaPower fiber network as well, with speeds dropping well below 100Mbps.

It turns out GigaPower speeds won’t help you with a good Netflix viewing experience either.

“I signed up for the U-Verse GigaPower service and the overall speeds seem to be faster,” writes mstang1988. “The bad, some of regularly used services are not performing. For example, Netflix. On Grande [a competing provider] I was always running at HD. With U-verse I’m seeming giant blocks of blur. I’m fixing to cancel.”

annoyedKim R. in Cedar Falls, Tex. isn’t happy either:

AT&T GigaPower was good for the first 20-30 days, then they made a change and my upload speed is 35-78 on average with a lot of latency and my VoIP phones cannot send or receive calls. Multiple techs were dispatched on Friday and they were at my home for 7+ hours. They eliminated my home as being the source of the issue and other friends in the neighborhood are having the same issues.

We have been in this mode for 4 days now and I have spend most of today working with tech support with no luck. Customer service was no help either when I asked them to suspend billing until they got it working again, of course there answer was “we can’t do that”.

I will loose another day of service when the tech(s) come out again tomorrow. Beware of AT&T’s GigaPower, it’s a myth so far and their techs ride on unicorns and most have no idea about any networking.

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AT&T Shakes Its Moneymaker: Look How Many Customers Upgrade to 10GB Data Plans

mobile share

At least 46 percent of AT&T’s wireless customers are now paying at least $100 a month for a Mobile Share account with at least a 10GB usage allowance, a dramatic increase of more than 11 million customers during the last three months alone. AT&T customers used to pay a flat rate of $30 a month for unlimited wireless data. Now they pay much, much more for much less usage.

AT&T’s Mobile Share plans start at $20 a month (plus the cost of the device) and include just 300MB of data. Prices escalate from there (all prices don’t include the cost of the device)

  • yay att$20 for 300MB
  • $25 for 1GB
  • $40 for 2GB
  • $70 for 4GB
  • $80 for 6GB
  • $100 for 10GB
  • $130 for 15GB
  • $150 for 20GB
  • $225 for 30GB
  • $300 for 40GB
  • $375 for 50GB

AT&T is banking on growing mobile data use to earn the company perpetually accelerating revenue and dramatically higher average revenue per customer. The average AT&T customer does not come close to exceeding their current allowance, but the company’s sales force has proven exceptionally adept at convincing customers to upgrade to higher allowance plans whether the customer needs one or not.

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AT&T’s Magic Fairyland U-verse GigaPower Fiber “Expansion”: Don’t Hold Your Breath

Fairy_Tales3One of the first lessons a good magician learns is that to best impress an audience, one has to at least show an actual rabbit going into the hat before making it disappear.

AT&T is no David Copperfield. In its latest sleight of hand, AT&T today announced a major potential expansion of its U-verse GigaPower fiber to the home network to 21 major cities across its landline service area, with future plans to expand to as many as 100 eventually.

“We are excited to bring GigaPower to 100 cities and towns,” Lori Lee, head of AT&T’s U-verse unit, said in a phone interview with Bloomberg, which accompanied a press release. “We will work with local officials as we look for areas of strong demand and pro-investment policy.”

Among the cities slated to get fiber upgrades are Austin and Kansas City — where AT&T will face competition from Google Fiber. But AT&T isn’t bothering to compete head-on with any municipal fiber providers like Chattanooga’s EPB, Wilson, N.C.’s Greenlight, or Lafayette, La.’s LUSFiber. North Carolina, Texas and California are the states with the most cities chosen to potentially get upgrades.

But AT&T has yet to fully deliver on its earlier promise to deploy fiber to the home service in Austin, where single home residential customers have usually been stymied by general unavailability of the fiber service. AT&T has consistently refused to say exactly how many customers have actually been able to sign up for AT&T GigaPower fiber service.

For customers actually able to buy GigaPower, many are already served by an existing AT&T fiber cable. It is not uncommon to find fiber hookups in new housing developments or multi-dwelling units like apartment buildings and condominiums. Most customers don’t realize they are fed service from a fiber cable brought to the back of the building that interfaces with plain old copper wiring, providing service artificially slowed by the company in an effort to provide consistently marketed broadband products.

AT&T GigaPower is easy to provide in these locations with very little extra investment. Tearing up streets and yards to replace copper wiring with fiber optics is another matter, one AT&T has avoided for years by choosing a less costly fiber to the neighborhood approach that leaves existing copper wiring on phone poles and in customer homes largely intact. Moving to fiber to the home service would require AT&T to dramatically boost capital spending to cover the cost of stringing fiber across the backyards of millions of customers.

But earlier this year, AT&T promised investors it was actually planning to cut its budget for capital expenses in 2014 to $21 billion, most of that still earmarked for its profitable wireless network. That is down at least $200 million from 2013. Unless AT&T reneges on its earlier commitment to Wall Street, even David Copperfield couldn’t make fiber to the home service from AT&T magically appear.

Notice the word "may"

Welcome to Neverland. Despite exciting press releases, AT&T has indicated it won’t spend the money required for widespread fiber expansion. But then, AT&T’s own graphics only promise these communities “may” get GigaPower.

In fact, AT&T has been telling investors it is more than halfway done completing its Project VIP effort, which budgeted $14 billion over three years to further expand basic U-verse service, improve its 4G LTE network, and expand rural wireless coverage within AT&T local service areas. Project VIP is integral to AT&T’s plan to eventually walk away from its rural wired infrastructure in favor of a wireless platform providing wireless landline service and 4G wireless broadband.

To assuage investors fearing AT&T is about to pull out the credit card and go on a fiber broadband shopping spree, AT&T carefully notes towards the bottom of its press release, “this expanded fiber build is not expected to impact AT&T’s capital investment plans for 2014.”

In other words, AT&T is not committing any money not already earmarked as part of Project VIP for its fiber expansion.

Without that money, if you live in a single-family residential home and are currently served by AT&T copper wiring, it is very unlikely the company will offer fiber upgrades anytime soon.

So why is AT&T promising vaporware upgrades it cannot possibly manage on its current budget?

AT&T will work with local leaders in these markets to discuss ways to bring the service to their communities. Similar to previously announced metro area selections in Austin and Dallas and advanced discussions in Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem, communities that have suitable network facilities, and show the strongest investment cases based on anticipated demand and the most receptive  policies will influence these future selections and coverage maps within selected areas. This initiative continues AT&T’s ongoing commitment to economic development in these communities, bringing jobs, advanced technologies and infrastructure.

This expanded fiber build is not expected to impact AT&T’s capital investment plans for 2014. – See more at: http://about.att.com/story/att_eyes_100_u_s_cities_and_municipalities_for_its_ultra_fast_fiber_network.html#sthash.Nh31BZEu.dpuf
This expanded fiber build is not expected to impact AT&T’s capital investment plans for 2014. – See more at: http://about.att.com/story/att_eyes_100_u_s_cities_and_municipalities_for_its_ultra_fast_fiber_network.html#sthash.Nh31BZEu.dpuf
This expanded fiber build is not expected to impact AT&T’s capital investment plans for 2014. – See more at: http://about.att.com/story/att_eyes_100_u_s_cities_and_municipalities_for_its_ultra_fast_fiber_network.html#sthash.Nh31BZEu.dpuf
This expanded fiber build is not expected to impact AT&T’s capital investment plans for 2014. – See more at: http://about.att.com/story/att_eyes_100_u_s_cities_and_municipalities_for_its_ultra_fast_fiber_network.html#sthash.Nh31BZEu.dpuf
Phillip "AT&T has a larger agenda here and it isn't fiber" Dampier

Phillip “AT&T has a larger agenda here and it isn’t fiber” Dampier

For years, AT&T’s lobbyists have promised politicians everything under the sun — telecom nirvana — if only Ma Bell can be unshackled by burdensome regulations. Some states have accepted AT&T’s deal only to find their residents’ phone bills rapidly increasing with no corresponding improvement in service. U-verse is AT&T’s effort to stay relevant at a time when mobile phones are replacing landlines and cable companies have poached a number of their customers.

But in return for that deregulation, AT&T delivered an cheaper, inferior fiber-to-the-neighborhood technology that requires hideously large infrastructure cabinets, often installed in front of customer homes, that has trouble keeping up with cable broadband speeds.

But nothing ever satisfies AT&T.

Recently, their lobbyists have been skulking around in the shadows of state legislatures ghostwriting new bills that would permit AT&T to abandon its rural landline customers altogether to focus on the far more profitable wireless business. But consumer groups have gotten wise to AT&T’s astroturf and lobbying efforts and have begun to limit their successes.

Meanwhile, along comes Google, promising groundbreaking, affordable fiber to the home gigabit broadband service to a handful of communities willing to work with them in a de facto partnership — cutting through bureaucratic red tape to facilitate infrastructure upgrades — a radical change from the traditional regulator-provider framework.

Hundreds of cities fell all over themselves competing for the privilege, and it didn’t require a penny in lobbying or campaign contributions.

Where Google has been willing to offer service, most communities have been more than thankful and have made life easier for the creative entrant.

If it worked for Google, why can’t it work for AT&T? As a result, the company that spent years telling customers fiber upgrades didn’t make any sense and that few people actually needed gigabit speeds, AT&T might appear to have reversed course. Dig a little deeper and you find a deeper agenda:

“Communities that have suitable network facilities, and show the strongest investment cases based on anticipated demand and the most receptive policies will influence these future selections and coverage maps within selected areas.”

Translation: Communities that already have considerable fiber infrastructure previously installed and are willing to bend to the business and public policy agenda of AT&T will make all the difference whether your city will be considered for a future fiber upgrade or not.

In the end, even if a community does everything AT&T asks of it, it still has no commitment AT&T will actually deliver the fiber upgrades they only promise “may” happen. But AT&T will have achieved its public policy goals of abolishing regulations and limiting oversight, all without have to install a single strand of fiber.

That is a deal community leaders should think twice about making with a company that has always looked out for its investors long before its customers.

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More Phantom AT&T Fiber in Texas, North Carolina; Highly Limited Rollouts = Press Release Candy

phantom gigapowerAT&T U-verse with Gigapower is not coming to a home near you, although AT&T hopes you believe it will.

In the public and government relations arena, convincing everyone there is robust competition in broadband is a good prescription to keep the regulators at bay. To make that happen, AT&T continues to roll out more press releases than actual fiber to the home service, this time announcing it is planning to bring its fastest gigabit Internet service to “six cities in North Carolina” and more areas in and around Austin.

“The U-verse GigaPower fiber-optic service will be offered in parts of Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh and Winston-Salem, North Carolina,” AT&T said today in a statement.

But AT&T will not say exactly how many homes it will offer service to, but gave a clue mentioning it plans to connect as many as 100 businesses and 100 “public sites.” It also said it will provide a free, but slow-speed service to as many as 3,000 homes — something it can offer on its existing copper-fiber U-verse platform.

AT&T claims it is ‘racing’ to offer fiber service, but evidence suggests otherwise. Much of AT&T’s U-verse with Gigapower is turning up in condos, new housing developments, and other multi-dwelling units like apartments. Single family homes are evidently not a priority. AT&T’s costs to bring fiber to the back of a complex or large apartment building is lower than stringing or burying fiber to individual homes.

In Austin, one of AT&T’s major Gigapower expansions will come to communities under construction and condo complexes developed by PulteGroup. AT&T signed a favorable agreement with the developer to bring fiber into up to 3,000 homes. AT&T routinely signs similar agreements with developers that offer AT&T exclusive access to existing inside wiring and, in some cases, provide AT&T services to every resident, billed as part of the rent or neighborhood association service fees, deterring competition from cable operators.

AT&T likely selected the communities in North Carolina after receiving a Request For Proposals from a regional group called North Carolina Next Generation Network, which has enticed private providers to build gigabit fiber networks. The coordinated effort is led by six municipalities and four leading research universities and supported by local Chambers of Commerce and businesses in the Research Triangle and Piedmont regions.

With local governments directly involved in the initiative, AT&T was likely satisfied they would not face much difficulty from zoning and permitting procedures to expand their network, and might even receive favorable treatment.

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Surprise: Some Alabama Customers Unhappy About AT&T’s Experiment Ending Landline Service

att-logo-221x300AT&T customers in Carbon Hill, Ala. received an unwelcome surprise in their mailbox recently when AT&T informed them they will be part of an experiment ending traditional landline service in favor of a Voice over IP or wireless alternative.

Affected customers are involuntary participants in what AT&T calls an “exciting opportunity for our customers and for our company,” but many residents want no part of it.

The Wall Street Journal reports Carbon Hill city clerk Janice Pendley says some people in the former mining town are not pleased.

“Some of them like their landline, and they like it just the way it is,” she says.

AT&T’s experiment will force new and existing customers to switch to its more-expensive U-verse broadband platform, use a mobile phone, or a home landline replacement that works over AT&T’s cellular network. The FCC has granted AT&T permission to impose its experimental plan to end traditional landline service in two communities where regulatory protections for landline customers are weak to non-existent — Alabama’s Carbon Hill and Delray Beach, Fla.

Carbon Hill is a small town of around 880 households in extreme western Walker County. It is the kind of rural town AT&T would likely never consider for a U-verse upgrade. AT&T embarked on a second major push to extend U-verse into more communities last year, but also indicated it would strongly advocate for a wireless replacement for its landline network in the rest of its service areas. Because Carbon Hill is an experiment, AT&T will offer U-verse to at least part of the community regardless of the usual financial Return on Investment requirements AT&T usually imposes on its U-verse expansion efforts.

carbon hillAT&T is pushing forward despite the fact it  has no idea how it will offer service to at least 4% of isolated Carbon Hill residents not scheduled to be provided U-verse and not within an AT&T wireless coverage area. There are also no guarantees customers will be able to correctly reach 911, although AT&T says the technology “supports 911 functionality.” Serious questions among consumer advocates remain about whether the replacement technology will support burglar alarms, pacemakers and even systems used by air-traffic controllers.

The difficulties service Carbon Hill relate to its rural makeup and income profile. In Delray Beach, it is all about customer demographics. Half of the city is home to residents over 65 years old — the group most likely to prefer their existing landline service. Many are likely to be unhappy about a transition to new technology that will not work in the event of power interruptions, will require the installation of new equipment, or will be tied to a wireless platform that some say reduces the intelligibility of telephone conversations and often introduces audio artifacts like echo, background noise, and dropouts.

In both cities, customers only offered wireless-based service will no longer have access to DSL or wired broadband service of any kind. The wireless alternative from AT&T comes at a high cost and a low usage allowance.

The benefits to AT&T are unquestionable, however. The company will win almost universal deregulation as a Voice over IP or wireless telephone provider. Legacy regulations on customer service requirements, pricing, and obligations to provide affordable phone service to any customer that requests it are swept away by the new technologies. Competitors are also worried AT&T will be able to walk away from regulations governing open and fair access to AT&T’s network.

ip4carbon hillThe Wall Street Journal reports:

The all-Internet protocol “transition holds many promises for consumers, but losing access to affordable voice and broadband services cannot be part of that bargain,” wrote Angie Kronenberg, general counsel of Comptel, in a letter to the FCC last month on behalf of the small-carrier trade group, several companies and public-interest groups.

AARP said it believes AT&T’s plan has “numerous problems.” The technology might not be reliable enough or fail when calling 911 in an emergency, the advocacy group for seniors told regulators in its comment letter. The FCC is reviewing hundreds of comments received in response to AT&T’s request.

EarthLink piggybacks on the “incumbents as little as economically possible” and has laid nearly 30,000 miles of fiber-optic cables throughout the U.S. to help it reach more than a million customers, says Rolla Huff, a former EarthLink chief executive. Still, the company needs access to the connections built by AT&T and Verizon into buildings.

Telecom carriers such as Windstream in Little Rock, Ark., and sellers of broadband data services like EarthLink and XO Communications LLC, of Herndon, Va., have had the right to buy last-mile access at regulated prices since the last major overhaul of federal telecom laws in 1996.

tw telecomIf AT&T ends its traditional network, those competing service providers will have to negotiate with AT&T for access at whatever price AT&T elects to charge.

A preview of what is likely to happen has already been experienced by TW Telecom, an independent firm selling phone and Internet services to businesses over more than 30,000 miles of fiber lines. But that fiber network means nothing if a customer’s last mile connection is handled by a local phone company no longer subject to regulated pricing and access rules.

In Tampa, where Verizon has deployed FiOS as an unregulated replacement for its older, regulated copper-based network, TW Telecom learned first hand what this could ultimately mean:

Rochester Telephone Corporation was born in 1921 after a merger between the Rochester Telephonic Exchange, a branch of the Bell Company of Buffalo and locally-owned independent Rochester Telephone Company, which was not allowed to use Bell's long distance network.

Rochester Telephone Corporation was born in 1921 after a merger between the Rochester Telephonic Exchange, a branch of the Bell Company of Buffalo and locally owned independent Rochester Telephone Company, which was not allowed to use Bell’s long distance network.

TW Telecom approached Verizon in 2012 to seek last-mile access to a Tampa, Fla., building being converted into a bank from a restaurant. Verizon had installed only FiOS at the building.

Verizon said no, telling TW Telecom to build its own connection or pay Verizon thousands of dollars to do the job. TW Telecom declined to pay and lost the customer’s business.

“When it happens, it’s devastating,” says Kristie Ince, who oversees regulatory policy at TW Telecom. Similar snarls have cost the company at least six customers since then. Other carriers say they have had similar clashes.

In Illinois, Sprint’s business phone network has run into a barricade manned by AT&T. Sprint needs AT&T to interconnect calls placed on Sprint’s network intended for AT&T’s customers. The two companies cannot agree on an asking price under the deregulation scheme so Sprint converts its Voice over IP calls to older technology still subject to regulation just so calls will successfully reach AT&T’s customers. AT&T promptly converts those calls back to Voice over IP technology as it completes them.

AT&T said it has “no duty” to connect its Internet protocol traffic with Sprint’s.

If the FCC keeps IP-based traffic deregulated, if and when the old landline network is decommissioned, AT&T will have the last word on access, potentially putting competitors out of business.

Our great-great grandparents experienced similar problems in the early days of telephone service, when high rates from the local Bell telephone subsidiary provoked local competition. But Bell companies routinely refused to handle calls placed on competitors’ networks, forcing customers to maintain a telephone line with both companies to reach every subscriber. Additionally, only Bell-owned providers had access to the long distance network – a competitive disadvantage to competing startups.

Regulatory changes, a handful of mergers and the eventual establishment of the well-regulated Bell System eventually solved problems which threaten to return if AT&T has its way.

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Time Warner Cable’s New Ad Campaign Advertises “No Data Caps”

nocapsTime Warner Cable has introduced a new marketing message to potential customers, promoting the fact its broadband service has “no data caps.”

The new ads, appearing for the first time earlier this month, break from the usual tradition of avoiding telling customers they can use broadband service as much as they like. The cable industry advertised “unlimited access” in its broadband offer for years to compete against dial-up Internet. More recently some have redefined the term to mean “you can use the service anytime day or night,” but not consume unlimited amounts of data.

Of course, with Comcast attempting to claim they have “no data caps” either, only “data thresholds,” Time Warner Cable still has some wiggle room should it impose usage-based billing. Technically, under that scheme users don’t have a “data cap,” just a usage allowance above which they will face overlimit penalties.

Still, it is a nice change for at least one major cable company to be willing to market service without data caps. Time Warner’s most likely intended target for the campaign is AT&T U-verse, which has increasingly cracked down on customers exceeding its own usage caps — 150GB a month for DSL, 250GB a month for U-verse. Customers pay a overlimit penalty of $10 for each 50GB allotment above those allowances.

 

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Wireless Company Lobbyists Add Cell Tower Deregulation to Connect Every Iowan Act

Is a cell tower coming to your backyard?

Is a cell tower coming to your neighbor’s backyard?

Amended language in a bill that would expand broadband service to rural Iowa strips local communities from regulating where wireless companies can place their cell towers, potentially threatening its passage.

The “killer” amended language originated from wireless phone company lobbyists, most likely working for AT&T, and suddenly appeared in the Iowa House version of the bill.

AT&T has routinely proposed such language in several states, claiming the new regulations are designed to “streamline” the expansion of cellular networks often held up by ‘spurious objections’ from local citizens opposed to the unsightly towers in their immediate neighborhoods.

Local governments have also regularly weighed in on approving cell towers in areas where they pose an aesthetic threat or a potential safety risk and some, according to AT&T, have interminably delayed consideration of cell site proposals.

The language in the House bill introduces time limits on cell tower approvals, prohibits communities from rejecting tower placement except under limited circumstances, and denies communities access to cell site documentation deemed private, competitive information by wireless companies.

(Unless you want to put a cell tower here)

(Unless you want to put a cell tower here)

The cell tower language is included in the House version of the Connect Every Iowan Act, legislation considered a priority by Gov. Terry Branstad this year. Branstad wants to remove financial and regulatory impediments and offer tax credits to stimulate expansion of broadband into areas most providers have previously deemed uneconomical to serve.

AT&T sees wireless broadband as a sensible alternative and the company has publicly advocated using wireless 4G technology in rural areas. If the House measure is approved, AT&T and other wireless companies can affix microcells or other cellular antennas to utility poles, street signs, or water towers without seeking permission from local authorities.

Colleagues in the Iowa state Senate were concerned about the language in the House version of the bill.

“The language in the House bill, in my view, is pretty egregious,” Sen. Steve Sodders, (D-State Center), who is leading the effort on the Senate bill. He told the Associated Press, “It really took away all local control of cell tower siting.”

“The real angst there is that without local control on these towers, these things can be built right in your neighborhood,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, (D-Des Moines). “Nobody wants to come home and see that. Finding that balance is going to be key.”

att-logo-221x300Des Moines city attorney Jeff Lester noted the language in the bill cleverly favors cellular companies with a built-in guarantee of approval of their cell tower requests:

The bill does not require cellular companies to provide company and business plan information to local governments when applying for a new cell tower site. Should municipal authorities deny a request, and a cellular company then brings the case to federal court, local authorities wouldn’t have the evidence necessary to justify their denial.

Lester said under federal law, company information serves as evidence in these appeals. Without it, there is no basis for denial, he said, and the ruling would be in favor of the cellular company.

Rep. Peter Cownie, (R-West Des Moines), who spearheaded the effort in the House, said determining where towers can or cannot go is a difficult task, but that it’s not his intent to weaken anyone’s say in their placement.

“I do not want to take away the authority of local officials in terms of cell tower siting,” he told AP. “I don’t think anyone’s goal is to take that away.”

Subcommittees in both chambers plan to meet to discuss the legislation next week.

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Telecom Italia Seeks Advice from AT&T on How to Grab More €uros from Customers

Telecom Italia wants to learn from the master of higher priced phone service: AT&T

Telecom Italia (TI) has a big problem. While AT&T charges the average American $66 a month for mobile service, competition in Italy has forced wireless prices down to $18 a month for comparable service.

TI chief executive officer Marco Patuano wants the price cutting to end and traveled to the United States to learn from AT&T how it was able to raise prices and increase customer spending with usage-capped Internet, phone and television service. His self-described “innovation trip” brought him straight to the office of AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

TI is trying to end years of losses and sales declines precipitated by falling prices and a growing disinterest in traditional landline service. AT&T accomplished that by boosting investment in mobile services. AT&T charged high prices for unlimited data plans until demand for data grew to the point the company could earn much more metering Internet usage. As a result, AT&T has earned a staggering $100 billion over the past decade from boosted phone bills.

Patuano

Patuano

Patuano wants to find a way to follow in AT&T’s footsteps as TI’s share price has fallen more than 70 percent over the last six years. Fierce competition from Vodafone and VimpelCom have forced prices down across Italy. With prices so low, investors have shown little interest in providing funding for wholesale upgrades to 4G wireless service. In turn, that has kept Telecom Italia from offering faster data speeds which would allow them to raise prices for service.

In North America, high wireless prices and the relative lack of competition have brought considerably better financial returns for investors. That high rate of return has attracted investment allowing providers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless to spend billions on network upgrades that have, in turn, further increased revenue at both companies. Customers benefit from the faster speeds, but also pay for the privilege with some of the highest wireless prices in the world.

It’s a formula Patuano wants to bring to the Italian market, but he needs more investment to stabilize TI’s finances. TI was the government-owned phone company until it was privatized in 1997. Despite having a massive customer base, nimble wireless competitors have outflanked the phone company and the results have been falling sales, disconnected customers, and its $37 billion in debt reduced to junk status by investor rating services. The company sold its headquarters in Milan and got rid of its Argentine subsidiary, along with suspending shareholder dividends.

att_logo“The first target now for a phone carrier is upgrading networks and transform it to a platform for high-value services,” Patuano said. “This is exactly what AT&T did and what we are calling for.”

Patuano has seen AT&T defend its turf in the wireline business by scrapping its traditional landline/DSL-only service in larger markets in favor of a hybrid fiber-copper network dubbed U-verse. Patuano is now pondering whether TI could deliver a package of phone, broadband and television service over a broadband platform. The average AT&T U-verse customer spends $170 a month on U-verse, an amount much better than $18 a month. TI could do even better than AT&T because Italy lacks many cable television providers — Italians depend on satellite television for multichannel pay television.

AT&T and TI are no strangers to one another. In 2007, AT&T attempted to buy a stake in the Italian phone company but met with a storm of objections from Italian politicians. AT&T dropped the idea soon after.

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