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Verizon Reaches Deal With N.Y. Public Service Commission to Expand Fiber Network

Verizon Communications will bring fiber and enhanced DSL broadband service to an additional 32,000 New Yorkers in the Hudson Valley, Long Island, and upstate as part of a multi-million dollar agreement with the New York Public Service Commission.

When combined with an earlier agreement, Verizon has committed to bringing rural broadband service to more than 47,000 households in its landline service area, with the state contributing $71 million in subsidies and Verizon spending $36 million of its own money.

By the end of this year, Verizon expects to introduce high-speed fiber to the home internet service to 7,000 new locations on Long Island and 4,000 in the Hudson Valley and upstate regions.

“The joint proposal strikes the appropriate balance for consumers, Verizon and its employees,” said PSC Chairman John Rhodes. “The joint proposal builds upon and expands important customer protections previously approved by the Commission and it requires Verizon to expand its fiber network and invest in its copper network, both of which will result service improvements.”

The broadband expansion agreement will include copper reliability improvements in the New York City area, where FiOS is still not available to every home and business in the city. It also includes a commitment to provide fiber-to-the-neighborhood (FTTN) service in sparsely populated areas. This will allow Verizon to introduce or enhance DSL service capable of speeds of 10 Mbps or more.

Verizon has also committed to remove at least 64,000 duplicate utility poles over the next four years around the state. Utility companies have been criticized for installing new poles without removing damaged or deteriorating older poles.

For now, neither Verizon or the PSC is providing details about where broadband service will be introduced or improved.

The state has negotiated with Verizon for more than two years to get the company to improve its legacy landline and internet services, still important in New York. Verizon has complained that with most of its landline customers long gone, it didn’t make financial sense to invest heavily in older, existing copper wire technology. But Verizon suspended expansion of its fiber to the home network in upstate New York eight years ago, leaving many customers in limbo as landline service quality declined. There are still more than two million households and businesses in New York connected to Verizon’s copper wire network.

The state says the deal will “result in the availability of higher quality, more reliable landline telephone service to currently underserved communities and will increase Verizon’s competitive presence in several economically important telecommunications markets in New York.”

The upgrades will cover landline and broadband service improvements. Verizon has no plans to restart expansion of FiOS TV service.

The agreement was reached as the PSC continues to threaten Charter Communications with additional fines and Spectrum cable franchise revocation for failure to meet the terms of its 2016 merger agreement with Time Warner Cable.

Lifting Co-Op Broadband Restrictions in Tennessee Triggers Major Fiber Expansion

While parts of rural Tennessee languish with little or no broadband service, the state’s electric cooperatives are jumping to deliver internet access over fiber optic cables after the governor eased restrictions written into state law on rural co-ops offering public broadband service.

After Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed a bill in 2017 permitting not-for-profit electric co-ops to offer broadband service to their customer-members, at least seven of Tennessee’s 22 municipal co-ops almost immediately launched fiber to the home service projects that offer faster and more reliable service than many of the state’s phone companies that still offer DSL service (or nothing at all).

Offering broadband service is a win-win for small communities and the co-ops that serve them, because existing infrastructure already in place to provide electric service can be augmented with fiber optic cables to deliver phone, television, and internet service as well. Co-ops can also use the fiber infrastructure to manage smart electricity grids, which can better detect outages and offer useful power management tools.

Among some of the projects now underway:

  • Tri-County Fiber Communications  of Lafayette, Tenn., serves more than 50,000 customers in rural Tennessee and Kentucky. Its fiber project will serve part of its current service area and is enrolling customers now who want to commit themselves as future customers and avoid a $1,500 installation fee.
  • SVEConnect, providing electric service since 1939, will offer customers in seven counties starting internet speeds of 200 Mbps and up to 1 Gbps in 2018, along with phone and television service.
  • Gibson Connect, operated by the Gibson Electric Membership Corporation, offers service to 39,000 homes and businesses in eight west Tennessee counties (Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Haywood, Lake, Lauderdale, Obion and Madison) and four west Kentucky counties (Carlisle, Fulton, Graves and Hickman). Fiber broadband is planned to roll out gradually in many of these areas, and the co-op has already signed up 6,000 customers before service is even available. Gibson Connect will sell 100 Mbps internet for $49.95 and 1,000 Mbps service for $69.95 a month. Some customers in its service area are already served by other providers, but Gibson promises faster speeds, no data caps, and more affordable pricing.

The conservative and industry-backed groups that coordinated with the telecom industry to push Tennessee to pass restrictive laws effectively banning municipal or public broadband competition are grudgingly tolerating co-ops entering the broadband marketplace, as long as they only service areas where they won’t compete with an established phone or cable company. They also must remain within their electric service area.

Those opposed to public broadband claim the networks offer unfair competition because they often receive subsidies or grants. But many municipalities are doubly frustrated because the same companies that are lobbying to keep them out of the broadband business also refuse to provide service in their towns and villages. Many communities are too small or sparsely populated to provide enough Return On Investment (ROI) to entice those providers to expand, they add.

In areas where residents are quick to complain about government spending, many are strongly in favor of broadband development. Local officials have been told by frustrated residents, “if you do not provide the service, nobody else will.”

Despite the flourishing of fiber-fast broadband in areas served by co-ops, other parts of Tennessee remain broadband dead zones because the current state law continues to frustrate local communities trying to build financially feasible broadband projects that have a chance of breaking even. Tennessee’s Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is running for a Senate seat this year, is notoriously one of the country’s biggest allies of AT&T, Comcast, and other telecom companies and favors keeping public broadband in shackles. She is also among the top recipients of campaign contributions from the telecom industry.

N.Y. Regulator Hammers Spectrum for Fake Ads, Intentionally Deceptive and Misleading Conduct

New York’s top telecommunications regulator has called Charter Communications a purveyor of fake ads, deception, and broken promises and has again called into question how much longer the company should be allowed to do business in New York State.

The New York State Department of Public Service/Public Service Commission today sent a letter to Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge condemning Spectrum’s false and misleading advertising campaigns and the ongoing deception of New York consumers about its expansion efforts. The letter warned Rutledge Charter must immediately cease and desist airing fake ads about the company’s efforts to expand critical broadband service across the state. The letter also warns that if the misrepresentations and unacceptable way Spectrum conducts its business in New York does not stop, the company could find itself out of business in New York State.

“The situation regarding Charter/Spectrum is getting more serious with each passing day,” Department CEO John B. Rhodes said. “Not only has the company failed to meet its obligations to build out its cable system as required, it is now making patently false and misleading claims to consumers that it has met those obligations without in any way acknowledging the findings of the Public Service Commission to the contrary. Access to broadband is essential for economic development and social equity. Charter/Spectrum’s intentional deception of New Yorkers must end now.”

So far, Charter has ignored the Public Service Commission’s June 14 order demanding Charter indicate full and unconditional acceptance of the 2016 merger agreement and the terms it contained. The deadline for Charter or its attorneys to respond is this Thursday, June 28, 2018. If the deadline passes with no response, the Commission warned it may rescind, modify, or amend the approval order granting the merger, file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of New York to potentially cancel the merger, and fine Charter for being out of compliance with state law.

Letter from New York regulators to Charter Communications (click image to download or view complete letter).

Charter’s Fake Ads

Rhodes

The letter accuses Rutledge of knowingly misleading New York customers in its advertising and printed materials that claim Charter has fully complied with — and exceeded — its commitments to New York under a merger agreement with the state allowing Charter to acquire Time Warner Cable systems. The letter emphatically states these representations are demonstrably and materially false.

State regulators pointed to Charter’s historic and systematic pattern of false advertising, noting a 2017 lawsuit filed by New York’s Attorney General over the company’s inability to provide advertised speeds has survived several company challenges in court and is moving forward.

The Merger Itself is in Peril

Charter will face the possibility of additional legal troubles as the PSC refers Spectrum’s latest conduct to the Attorney General’s office for possible further legal action. State regulators also suggested Charter was materially deceiving investors in violation of federal securities laws by not disclosing the company’s failure to honor its commitments to New York and warning investors the merger itself was now in significant peril if it is revoked in New York.

Regulators have also put Charter executives on notice that in advance of a possible penalty action by the Commission against the company directly, it further demanded that Spectrum produce records regarding its false representations and preserve all documents, including email, text messages, voice mail, recordings, and other documentation relating to its advertising claims.

A Record of Failure in New York

According to a PSC investigation and a Public Service Commission order, Spectrum missed its required December 16, 2017 build-out commitment to extend its network to pass additional residences and businesses by 12,245 passings. Spectrum also failed to cure, as required, its earlier failure by March 16, 2018. For these two failures, Spectrum was ordered by the Public Service Commission to forfeit $2 million. These failures came on top of earlier failures by Spectrum to meet its commitments. The PSC argues Spectrum has not met a single build-out deadline since the approval of its acquisition of Time Warner Cable in 2016.

The PSC stated that, instead of working to meet its commitments to New York, Charter executives have ignored state regulators as Spectrum knowingly continued to advertise and publish false claims that the company is exceeding its mid-December 2017 commitment made to New York by more than 6,000 locations and is on track to extend the reach of advanced broadband network to 145,000 unserved or underserved locations by May 2020. Both claims are patently false, claims the PSC.

“Spectrum’s failure to meet its build-out commitments hurts unserved and underserved New Yorkers, leaving them without a key public utility service crucial to their future success and well-being,” the regulator wrote.

“Spectrum’s publication of claims that it knows are false harm all consumers who rely on honest and accurate information in choosing suppliers from among competitors,” the PSC wrote. “And when Spectrum continues to advertise and publish false claims even after being directed not to by its governmental regulator, it demonstrates deliberate disregard and lack of respect for the Public Service  Commission, the rule of law, and regulation in New York State. Accordingly, in the name of customers and potential customers, the Department called on Spectrum to set the record straight by advertising and publishing the truth that the company has been found by the Public Service Commission to have failed to keep its buildout commitment to New York State.”

Charter Communications produced this video incorporating similar elements used in its advertising targeting New York consumers. Charter does not mention its investment in rural broadband in New York is not altruistic. It was a core condition the company agreed to as part of a settlement with the New York Public Service Commission to approve the acquisition of Time Warner Cable in 2016. (1:36)

Cable Broadband in 2025: DOCSIS 4.0 Could Raise Speeds as High as 60/60 Gbps

Phillip Dampier May 24, 2018 Broadband Speed, Consumer News 6 Comments

The next standard for cable broadband is due around 2025.

Just as the cable industry is widely introducing gigabit download speed supported by DOCSIS 3.1 technology, cable engineers are working on a way to boost upload and download speeds to as high as 60 Gbps (60,000 Mbps) starting as soon as 2025.

According to a new article in Light Reading, DOCSIS 4.0 (or DOCSIS.Next) represents a transformational leap of cable broadband technology. Jeff Finklestein, Cox Communications’ executive director of advanced technology, claims the next major broadband update will be able to use at least 3 GHz of RF spectrum available on existing coaxial cable for high-speed internet. That is more than twice the 1.2 GHz that being used by some cable systems for today’s DOCSIS 3.1 (and the 1.8 GHz that will be needed to support DOCSIS 3.1 FD, which will allow operators to dramatically boost upload speeds by 2020.)

Designed for the next decade, DOCSIS 4.0 will support 30/30 Gbps speed (or 60/60 Gbps if an operator is willing to dedicate up to 6 GHz for broadband). Today’s coaxial cable networks can use up to 10 GHz of RF spectrum in all, with some compromises and allowances to deal with possible signal ingress and other types of interference.

By the time DOCSIS 4.0 arrives, many cable operators will not mind delivering the majority of their available spectrum to broadband, because most are expected to eventually deliver a single broadband stream that collectively supports IPTV, digital phone, and broadband service.

Finklestein

To make the next generation of cable broadband possible, cable systems will likely need to reduce the amount of copper coaxial cable in their networks and push fiber optics deeper into neighborhoods. The more optical fiber the better — the technology is not hampered by coaxial cable’s limitations and degradation.

Engineers are also likely to shift away from DOCSIS 3.1’s orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) modulation and use advanced wave form technology instead.

While engineers are excited about the project, some suspect DOCSIS 4.0 may be a tougher sell for cable industry executives, asked to invest in another transformational broadband upgrade less than ten years after DOCSIS 3.1 was introduced. Many cable operators using older cable network plants will have to spend millions on overhauls and upgrades, and there is some question about whether that kind of additional investment in a Hybrid Fiber Coax (HFC) network platform makes sense. Altice certainly does not believe so, and in 2016 elected to scrap Cablevision/Optimum’s HFC network and replace it with fiber to the home service.

As cable companies push fiber deeper into their networks, the cost of taking fiber the rest of the way to customer homes and businesses is coming down as well.

The cable industry has generally dismissed fiber to the home service as an extravagant and expensive technology to deploy, arguing cable’s HFC networks can deliver the broadband speeds that are commercially in demand today, while working on upgrades like DOCSIS 4.0 to meet consumer and business demands tomorrow, without the cost of tearing up streets to lay optical fiber.

Conn. Regulator Bans Public Broadband to Protect Comcast, Frontier, and Altice from Competition

Connecticut’s telecommunications regulator has effectively banned public broadband in the state, ruling that municipalities cannot use their reserved space on utility poles if it means competing with the state’s dominant telecom companies — Comcast, Altice, and Frontier Communications.

The ruling by Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) is a death-blow for municipalities seeking to build gigabit fiber networks to offer residents the broadband speeds and services that incumbent phone and cable companies either refuse to provide or offer at unaffordable prices.

Among the petitioners appealing to PURA to protect them from competition is Frontier Communications, which owns a large number of utility poles across the state acquired from AT&T. The company was unhappy that municipalities were planning to use reserved space on state utility poles to construct fiber to the home networks that are generally superior to what Frontier offers consumers and businesses in the state. Other providers, like Frontier, said little about the early 1900s Connecticut statute that guarantees municipalities “right of use space” on poles until it became clear some communities were planning to threaten their monopoly/duopoly profits.

The law was originally written to deal with the dynamic telecommunications marketplace that was common in the U.S. during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Utility pole owners were confronted with a myriad of companies selling telegraph and telephone service — all seeking a place on increasingly crowded poles. Local governments could have been crowded out, were it not for the “Act Concerning the Use of Telegraph and Telephone Poles,” approved on July 19, 1905. It was one sentence long:

Every town, city, or borough shall have the right to occupy and use for municipal purposes, without payment therefor, the top gain of every pole now or hereafter erected by any telephone or telegraph company within the limits of any such town, city, or borough.

The law stood as written until 2013, when the legislature clarified exactly who could benefit from the use of “municipal gain.” Where the original law effectively protected reserved pole space for “municipal” use, the language was broadened in 2013 to read “for any purpose.”

Observers said the law was modified because of ongoing disputes with pole owners relating to planned municipal broadband projects. Frontier, in particular, has sought restrictive pole attachment agreements with communities trying to build out their broadband networks. In addition to accusations of foot-dragging over issues like “make ready” — when existing pole users move wiring closer together to make room for new providers, Frontier has tried to impose restrictive language on communities that would permanently restrict their ability to offer service. The most common restriction is to compel towns to agree to use their pole space exclusively “for government use,” which would restrict third-party providers hired to manage a community’s municipal broadband service.

PURA’s decision surprised many, because it completely ignored the 2013 language changes and relied instead on its perception of a conflict between state and federal laws. PURA ruled “municipal gain” establishes “preferential access” for towns and communities, and could be in conflict with the federal Communications Act, which mandates “non-discriminatory access” to utility poles, and prohibits local governments from blocking companies from providing telecommunications services.

“Providing municipal entities free access to the communications gain for the purpose of offering competitive telecommunications services … appears to be inconsistent with these principals and other aspects of federal law,” the decision reads.

In the early 20th century, vibrant competition meant a lot of utility poles were crowded with wires.

Except communities are not seeking to block providers looking to offer broadband service. These communities are seeking to become a provider. Pole attachment controversies typically relate to unreasonable limits on access to poles and allegations of price gouging pole attachment fees, not “preferential access.”

The end effect of PURA’s ruling: communities can use their pole space for government or institutional purposes only, such as building closed fiber networks available only in public buildings like libraries, schools, town halls, and police and fire departments. It also means any community seeking to build a fiber broadband network serving homes and businesses will either have to pay market rates for pole space, give up on the project, or place all the project’s wiring exclusively underground — a potentially costly alternative to aerial cable and one likely to cost taxpayers millions.

“We are very disappointed in the decision,” Consumer Counsel Elin Katz told Hartford Business. Katz is a strong supporter of municipal broadband. “It ignores the plain language of the statute, and by deciding that [municipal gain] cannot be used by our cities and towns to provide broadband to those affected by the digital divide, denies our municipalities a tool provided by the legislature for just that purpose.”

Frontier and the state’s cable and wireless companies, however, are delighted PURA has come to their rescue, calling its decision “fully consistent with the law.”

“Frontier Communications continues to support efforts to expand broadband access in Connecticut,” said spokesman Andy Malinowski. “PURA reached the correct result. This decision helps ensure the continuation of robust broadband competition in our state.”

The New England Cable & Telecommunications Association (NECTA), the cable industry’s regional lobbying group in the region, was also happy to see an end to unchecked municipal broadband growth and the competition it will bring.

“Our members, who pay millions of dollars annually to rent space on utility poles, offer competitive broadband services with speeds ranging up to 1 gigabit-per-second for residential Connecticut customers, in addition to offering speeds up to 10 gigabits for business customers,” noted NECTA CEO Paul Cianelli.

Other supporters of PURA’s decision include the wireless industry lobbying group CTIA and the Communications Workers of America — unionized employees at Frontier Communications who fear their jobs may be at risk if a municipal provider gives Connecticut customers an additional option for broadband service.

PURA’s decision leaves little room for municipal broadband expansion efforts that have been underway in the state for a decade. Most projects that cannot afford to pay for space on utility poles or the cost to switch to underground cable burial will probably not survive unless a court overturns the regulator’s decision or the state legislature clarifies state law in a way that makes PURA’s current interpretation untenable.

A number of groups are considering suing PURA to overturn its decision, noting the regulator completely ignored the very clear and understandable 2013 language that allows municipalities to use their allotted space on utility poles “for any purpose.” That purpose includes giving the state’s telecom duopoly some competition.

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