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California Legislature Wants to Give $300 Million of Your Money Away to AT&T, Frontier, and Big Cable

Delivering 21st century broadband speeds to rural Californians just doesn’t interest incumbent phone companies like AT&T and Frontier Communications, so the California legislature has been hard at work trying to entice upgrades on the taxpayer’s dime while reassuring ISPs they won’t have to break a sweat doing it.

Steve Blum from Telus Venture Associates reports the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), California’s equivalent of the FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF) – is about to get a makeover sure to delight the two phone companies while throwing some cash at cable operators like Comcast, Cox and Charter to keep them happy as well.

The changes are encompassed in Assembly Bill 1665, sponsored by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D–Riverside County), who counts AT&T as his sixth biggest contributor. The phone company has cut checks to the former mayor of Coachella not less than a dozen times amounting to $16,700. Garcia has also received special attention from AT&T’s lobbyists, who invited him to appear side-by-side with AT&T officials at press-friendly events where the phone company donated $10,000 to an abused women’s shelter and $25,000 to the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Imperial County.

Blum reports that the bill has been largely a placeholder until now as negotiations and dealmaking happened behind the scenes. The result is a corporate welfare bonanza that will raise $330 million for the CASF by reinstating a telephone tax on consumers and businesses than ended last year. Of that, $300 million will end up in the pockets of phone and cable companies, $10 million will go to regional broadband efforts, and the remaining $20 million will be designated for schools, libraries, and non-profit groups to promote broadband use, but only where providers already offer service or will shortly. In effect, that $20 million will turn public institutions into sales agents for ISPs.

The corporate giveaway bill will also sell Californian consumers down the river:

  • The bill effectively replaces the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband (25/3Mbps) with California’s own minimum: 6/1Mbps — conveniently about the same speed telephone company DSL provides. As Blum writes, the language “makes 1990s legacy DSL technology the new 21st century standard.”
  • AT&T and Frontier Communications get monopoly protection with exclusive CASF rights in areas where they currently receive federal CAF funding. This means both companies will get to double-dip federal and state money to expand inferior DSL or fixed wireless service and never have to worry about taxpayer funding going to their competitors or communities that might choose to build their own superior broadband networks. It virtually guarantees rural California will be stuck with sub-standard internet access indefinitely, and at the taxpayer’s expense.
  • CASF funding has always been exclusively for infrastructure construction — building out the last mile to deliver internet access to consumers and businesses. But the new bill now allows the money to also be spent on “operating costs,” a rat hole where millions can quickly disappear with little improvement in broadband expansion or service.
  • The new bill suggests that provider contributions — where providers agree to kick in a percentage (usually 30-40%) of their own money on expansion projects in return for getting taxpayer subsidies, is just too hard on struggling phone companies like AT&T and Frontier. Under the new proposal, this requirement should be eliminated.
  • Individual homeowners would be able to apply for grants to get broadband connections, a direct nod to the state’s cable companies that routinely ask would-be customers just out of reach of the nearest cable line to pay tens of thousands of dollars to build a line extension. If approved, cable companies could set the installation price as high as the sky and get taxpayers to foot the bill, enriching themselves while avoiding any regulatory scrutiny.

Cable companies also get another wish granted — keeping subsidized broadband out the hands of many poor Californians that need connections for education, job-seeking, and training. The bill proposes to ban funding for broadband facilities in public housing. Cable companies have been irritated spending capital on broadband expansion to public housing only to find many of its customers would likely to qualify for their “internet for the poor” programs that cost as little as $10 a month.

Blum reports the language isn’t final and is likely to be amended as negotiations continue. A hearing of the Communications and Conveyance Committee at the State Capitol, Room 437 is scheduled for 1:30pm PDT today on the bill. You can listen to the hearing when in session here.

AT&T Uses Tax Dollars to Subsidize Expensive, Capped, and Slow Wireless Rural Broadband Solution

AT&T Fiber isn’t coming to rural communities and farms in the phone company’s service area anytime soon. Instead, AT&T grudgingly accepted $428 million in ratepayer-subsidized Connect America funds to build fixed wireless networks that do not meet the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband, come usage-capped, and will offer a price break only to customers who sign up for AT&T’s other services.

AT&T’s Fixed Wireless Internet service begins this week in Georgia, offering up to 10/1Mbps service with a monthly data cap of 160GB (additional 50GB increments cost $10 each). The monthly price is $70, or $60 with a one-year contract, or $50 if a customer has AT&T wireless phone service or DirecTV. The installation fee is $99, waived if you bundle with DirecTV. The fee covers the installation of an outdoor antenna and indoor residential gateway, which remains the property of AT&T. The service works over AT&T’s 4G LTE network. Credit approval is required, and those not approved may have to pay a refundable deposit to start service. These prices do not include taxes, federal and state universal service charges, regulatory cost recovery charges (up to $1.25), gross receipts surcharge, administrative fees and other assessments which are not government-required charges. See att.com/additionalcharges for details on fees & restrictions.

AT&T is using ratepayer funds to construct a sub-standard fixed wireless network that it will use to cross-sell its own products and services by offering customers a discount. The minimum speed to be considered “broadband” according to the FCC is not less than 25Mbps. But AT&T would have to spend considerably more to equip its wireless solution to work at those speeds, and the company has already admitted fixed wireless will be available in areas where it is “uneconomical to build wireline” networks, according to AT&T president of technology operations Bill Smith.

The new wireless network will be in service for 400,000 locations in Georgia by the end of this year, with 1.1 million locations up and running across 17 other states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin) by 2020.

The buildout is required to meet the terms of the FCC’s Connect America Fund, which AT&T committed to in 2015.

Fixed wireless fits nicely with AT&T’s long-term strategy of mothballing its wireline networks in rural service areas, in favor of wireless alternatives. The company has been behind bills in more than a dozen state legislatures where it offers landline service to permanently disconnect rural customers from wired landline and broadband services.

“We’re committed to utilizing available technologies to connect hard-to-reach locations,” said Eric Boyer, senior vice president, wireless and wired product marketing at AT&T. Just as long as that technology isn’t fiber optics.

Questions and Answers About AT&T’s Fixed Wireless Internet

What is AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet?

AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet provides qualified households and small businesses with high-speed internet service via an outdoor antenna and indoor Wi-Fi Gateway router. AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet includes:

  • High-speed internet with download speeds of at least 10Mbps.
  • 160GB of internet usage per month. If you exceed the amount of data in your plan, additional data will automatically be provided in increments of 50GB for $10, up to a maximum of 20 such increments or $200
  • Wi-Fi connections for multiple devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, smartphones, gaming consoles, etc.).
  • Wired Ethernet connections for up to 4 devices.

What speed does AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet provide?

AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet will provide speeds of at least 10Mbps for downloading and at least 1Mbps for uploading. However, data speeds can vary depending upon various factors:

  • Wi-Fi isn’t as fast as a wired connection. You get the best Wi-Fi signal closest to your gateway without obstructions. Use a wired (Ethernet) connection for the best results.
  • Devices have a maximum internet speed they can reach, and might not be as fast as your possible internet service level (especially older devices).
  • Multiple devices sharing your internet connection at the same time, whether wired or Wi-Fi, can reduce your internet speed.
  • Learn more at att.com/speed101 and att.com/broadbandinfo.

Can I add AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet to my AT&T Mobile Share Plan and is Rollover Data included?

No, AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet cannot be added to a Mobile Share plan, and Rollover Data is not included in the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet data plan.

Is Wi-Fi included with AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet?

Yes, you can connect multiple Wi-Fi enabled devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets to the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet Wi-Fi Gateway, and up to 4 Ethernet-connected devices. When you access your AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet over your Wi-Fi home network using any type of device (including smartphones and some home automation equipment), that counts as AT&T internet data usage. However, if you access the internet via a public or commercial Wi-Fi hotspot, that access does not count as usage.

How far does the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet Wi-Fi signal reach?

The AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet Wi-Fi Gateway router enables wireless networking capabilities throughout your home or business and helps to minimize wireless dead spots. This smart technology allows you to:

  • Provide high-speed internet connections to multiple devices
  • Create safe and secure wireless networking

Does weather affect service?

AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet relies on a LTE signal from a cell tower. Many things can affect the availability and quality of your service, including network capacity, terrain, buildings, foliage, and weather. A professional installer will confirm sufficient signal strength at your location before installation.

What type of support is available for AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet service?

For AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet Customer Care, call 1-855-483-3063, available 6AM to midnight Central Time 7-days a week.

How long does it take to get AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet service?

AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet service is available for installation within 10 business days of ordering. Professional installation (required) usually takes about 3 hours.

If I move, can I take AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet with me?

If you are moving, please contact AT&T to find out if AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet or other AT&T services are available at your new address. Please do not attempt to move the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet outdoor antenna.

Can I take AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet to my cottage or second home?

No, AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet is not movable or mobile. Please do not attempt to move the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet outdoor antenna.  Please contact AT&T to find out if AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet or other AT&T services are available at your cottage or second home.

How is AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet different from AT&T Wireless Home Phone & Internet?

Both AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet and AT&T Wireless Home Phone & Internet provide internet access. AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet includes an outdoor antenna that is professionally mounted on or near the exterior of your home or business to provide a strong signal for better connectivity, while Wireless Home Phone & Internet uses a small desktop device that you can install yourself since there is no outdoor antenna. Stated another way, Wireless Home Phone & Internet is a mobile service, whereas AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet is not. AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet is only available in select (typically rural) areas, while Wireless Home Phone & Internet is available throughout the AT&T wireless footprint.  AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet provides internet download speeds of 10Mbps or over, while Wireless Home Phone & Internet provides the highest speed available to it, typically in the range of 5-12Mbps.

What service limitations apply to AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet?

Services like web hosting or hosted services such as camera, gaming server, peer-to-peer, etc., that require static IP address are not supported by AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet. AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet may not be compatible with DVR/Satellite systems; please check with your provider.

Republican-Controlled FCC Votes to Deregulate Business Data Services; Huge Win for AT&T, Verizon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to effectively deregulate the $45 billion business data services market in a win for companies like AT&T Inc, CenturyLink Inc and Verizon Communications Inc that will likely lead to price hikes for many small businesses.

The 2-1 vote is a blow to companies such as Sprint Corp and others that claim prices for business data are too high and backed a 2016 plan under former President Barack Obama that would have cut prices.

It marked a significant step in FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s aggressive agenda to roll back many existing telecommunications rules and Obama era regulations.

Small businesses, schools, libraries and others rely on business data services, or special-access lines, to transmit large amounts of data quickly.

The services are used, among other applications, to connect banks to ATM machines or gasoline pump credit card readers. Wireless carriers rely on them to get data from an end user to a node in a major network or the so-called backhaul of mobile traffic.

Thursday’s vote scrapped most regulatory requirements in the business data services market, although some price caps in areas with little competition will be retained.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who accused her Republican colleagues of siding with “the interests of multibillion-dollar providers,” said the ruling “opens the door to immediate price hikes” to small businesses. The rule deregulates pricing in a majority of counties and more than 90 percent of buildings using the services.

Pai defended the decision, saying regulatory requirements had threatened competition and investment.

Pai plans as early as next week to unveil plans to dismantle the Obama administration’s “net neutrality” rules, even as he favors a free and open internet under a different regulatory scheme.

He declined to discuss his plans, but said he had met this week with executives at Facebook Inc, Oracle Corp, Cisco Systems Inc and Intel Corp to discuss internet issues.

In recent days, the independent Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, the European Union and Democratic members of Congress have raised concerns about the lifting of net neutrality rules.

Under Obama, then FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in April 2016 proposed a sweeping reform plan for business data services that aimed to reduce prices paid. Wheeler had proposed maintaining and lowering lower price caps using legacy data systems with a phased-in 11 percent price reduction.

Sprint, which backed Wheeler’s proposal, told the FCC in a March 22 letter that “thousands of large and small businesses across the country were paying far too much for broadband because of inadequate competition.”

CenturyLink praised Thursday’s decision as something that aligned regulations with “competitive market realities.” Comcast Corp said the vote would help minimize “burdensome and investment-killing regulations, specifically on new entrants.”

Advocacy group Public Knowledge said the decision “doubles down on incumbent market power, forcing businesses, hospitals, schools, and ultimately consumers to pay more for essential connectivity.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Andrew Hay and Tom Brown).

FCC Gives Quick Approval of TV Station Sale That Could Speed AT&T-Time Warner Merger

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Monday it approved Time Warner Inc’s sale of a broadcast station in Atlanta to Meredith Corp, a transaction that could help speed Time Warner’s planned merger with AT&T Inc.

In January, AT&T said it expected to be able to bypass the FCC in its planned $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner because it would not seek to transfer any significant Time Warner licenses.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said previously he did not plan to use the proposed TV station license transfer as a way to examine the AT&T-Time Warner merger. About a dozen senators had urged him to review the deal.

The station that Time Warner is selling, WPCH-TV, for $70 million, is its only FCC-regulated broadcast station. It has other, more minor FCC licenses.

Meredith has operated WPCH-TV for Time Warner since 2011. It was previously known as WTBS. The station is no longer considered a superstation in the United States, after Turner Broadcasting System created a new national network it dubbed TBS. WTBS changed its over-the-air call letters to WPCH, rebranded as “Peachtree TV,” and is considered an independent television station airing off-network sitcoms and dramas. However, WPCH is still widely seen across Canada, where it remains a “superstation” after Canadian regulators refused to allow Canadian providers to carry Turner’s TBS network.

WPCH-TV, an independent TV station in Atlanta, dubs itself as “Peachtree TV.”

In a statement on Monday, Meredith said it was pleased the FCC approved the application and that it anticipated “moving forward expeditiously to close this deal.”

The company said in February it expected to close on the sale by June 30 and that the deal would not have a material impact on its results.

Time Warner did not immediately comment on the FCC approval.

The Justice Department has to prove a proposed deal harms competition in order to block it. The FCC has broad leeway to block a merger it deems is not in the “public interest” and can impose additional conditions.

AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson told CNBC in February the Justice Department review was ongoing and he thought the deal would close by the end of the year.

“It’s a clean transaction,” he said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Stop the Cap!/Phillip Dampier.)

AT&T Getting Pushback from Consumer Groups Over Dropping Landline Service in Illinois

Phillip Dampier April 20, 2017 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video No Comments

A telecommunications bill largely written at the behest of AT&T now working its way through the Illinois legislature would allow AT&T to discontinue landline telephone service in the state, potentially eliminating traditional phone service that more than a million Illinois residents and businesses still depend on.

“The Illinois Telecom Act is up for review in the 2017 legislative session, and AT&T is pushing two deregulation bills—Senate Bill 1381 and House Bill 2691,” says the Citizen’s Utility Board (CUB) website. “The bills would open the door for the company to end traditional home phone service in Illinois and push consumers onto less affordable and reliable alternatives.”

Consumer advocates urged Illinoisans to visit SaveOurPhoneService.com to send messages to the General Assembly against AT&T’s deregulation bills, or they can also call a special toll-free hotline, at 1-844-220-5552, to talk to their legislators.

With Illinois’ Telecommunications Act under review and set to expire July 1, AT&T’s bills would:

  • Abolish the state requirement that AT&T serve traditional landline customers. That authority would be ceded to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and Illinois would be stripped of any meaningful oversight to protect AT&T’s 1.2 million business and residential landline customers from inferior service.
  • Abolish low-cost calling plans. The General Assembly mandates that AT&T offer three “Consumer’s Choice” plans, which were created by CUB under a legal settlement. Illinois’ best local phone deals, which cost about $3 to $20 a month, have saved callers millions of dollars, and are under a state-mandated price freeze.

For many in Illinois still bypassed by AT&T’s U-verse fiber-to-the-neighborhood system, the measure could leave customers with just two choices for home phone service – a local cable operator or a wireless mobile provider — both potentially more expensive and less reliable than basic landline service.

“It doesn’t take someone with an economic degree that one option, one unregulated option for people, isn’t very cheap. So I’m sure cable is sitting back licking their chops,” said Citizens Utility Board director of governmental affairs Bryan McDaniel.

Some Chicago-area residents, like Michele Charous and Carol Kolen, prefer traditional landline service for its cost and reliability. A significant percentage of older residents still depend on affordable rotary dial landline phone service from AT&T — a service the phone company now wants to scrap.

AT&T claims more than 90% of Illinois customers have either replaced landline service for a cell phone or have switched to digital U-verse phone service from AT&T or a cable operator. But AT&T doesn’t mention its network upgrades have bypassed large rural sections of the state, and its U-verse phone service can cost more than a traditional landline.

Kolen and Charous claim their AT&T landline service has proven reliable for decades, while cell service has not, especially in an emergency.

Katherine Panny adds she is in her 80s, does not have a cellphone or a computer and has a rotary dial phone on her kitchen wall. She said she likes it.

“I depend on this landline with my life,” she said.

“We are not at the point we can guarantee that this is going to work all the time,” added Kolen.

AT&T’s part supplier.

“I would be just isolated because how would I be able to talk anybody if the battery died or I forgot to charge it what would I do,” Charous said.

“For a lot of people a landline is there most reliable and affordable lifeline to vital services,” said Jim Chilsen, of the Citizens Utility Board. “Our fear is that, what AT&T really wants to do is push consumers onto phone options that tend to be more expensive and tend to be less reliable.”

AT&T Illinois and Midwest president Paul La Schiazza gave some stark admissions to reporters about the state of AT&T’s wireline network in Illinois.

By the end of this year, “less than 10 percent of the households [in Illinois] will have an old style, voice-only line in their home,” La Schiazza said. AT&T is losing about 1,000 traditional landline customers a day. Maintenance on the traditional telephone system is also getting more difficult, and the phone company is turning to some unique sources for parts these days.

“Believe it or not, even AT&T at times, has to go to eBay to scrounge for parts to keep these ‘old-style’ switches running,” he said.

WMAQ in Chicago reports some Illinois consumers are worried AT&T is about to pull the plug on their landline home phone service. (2:38)

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