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Time Warner Cable Promises Possible 1Gbps Upgrade for Los Angeles by 2016

gigabitAssuming Comcast doesn’t take over Time Warner Cable and change priorities, the city of Los Angeles is getting a commitment Time Warner will “be in a position to offer” gigabit broadband speeds to homes and businesses in the city no later than 2016.

“Over the last four years, Time Warner Cable has invested more than $1.5 billion to enhance our infrastructure and services in Los Angeles. This significant investment coupled with new ‘Gigasphere’ technology positions us to be able to introduce gigabit-per-second speeds in 2016,” said Peter Stern, executive vice president and chief strategy, people and corporate development officer at TWC. “Leveraging our existing network allows us to deliver these speeds faster and with less disruption than any other provider.”

The new gigabit broadband service will be deployable with an upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which offers cable operators a more efficient way to deliver broadband over current cable system infrastructure.

“We believe the introduction of consumer gigabit speeds in our near future will facilitate even greater innovations among students, entrepreneurs and many industries powering the Los Angeles economy,” said Dinni Jain, chief operating officer at TWC. “Cable was the first to bring broadband Internet to the masses nearly 20 years ago, and thanks to the dynamic nature of our fiber-rich network, we foresee endless new possibilities as we roll-out gigabit speeds to all of Los Angeles.”

twcmaxThe first Gigasphere pilot test will begin sometime next year. But a Comcast takeover could shift priorities away from offering the kinds of broadband speeds Time Warner is providing under its TWC Maxx upgrade program. Time Warner’s Internet speeds in upgraded areas are now substantially faster and cheaper than what Comcast offers in its service areas. Comcast could decide to retire the broadband upgrade program altogether and settle on offering speeds comparable to what it already sells across much of its national footprint.

Comcast is also readying a return to usage caps and overlimit fees, with no options for unlimited service, in several test markets.

But there are some caveats on Time Warner’s side as well.

Time Warner’s careful language suggests the company may be technologically capable of providing gigabit speeds but isn’t absolutely committing to offer those speeds anytime soon. Time Warner will not complete Maxx upgrades in Los Angeles until the end of this year, and the company has made no announcements about further expanding Maxx upgrades to other cities. No pricing details were available.

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I Love You Comcast! An Amazing 180 for Former Antitrust Attorney David Balto

Phillip "I got whiplash just watching" Dampier

Phillip “I got whiplash just watching” Dampier

A former policy director at the Federal Trade Commission and antitrust attorney at the U.S. Justice Department has managed an impressive 180 in just a few short months regarding the merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast.

In February, David Balto told TheDeal the proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable “is a bad deal for consumers.” Today, Mr. Balto’s panoply of guest editorials, media appearances and columns — suddenly in favor of the merger — are turning up in the New York Times, the Orlando Sentinel, Marketplace, WNYC Radio, and elsewhere.

Balto’s arguments are based on “research” which, in toto, appears to have been limited to thumbing through Comcast’s press releases and merger presentation. That was enough:

First, this deal should create benefits for Time Warner customers, who will gain a significantly faster Internet and more advanced television service.

Second, competition is increasing in both the pay-TV and broadband businesses. Ninety-eight percent of viewers have a choice of three or more multichannel services, plus growing options online. Yahoo just announced a new video service, joining Netflix, Amazon and YouTube. In the last five years, cable has lost about seven million customers, satellite has gained nearly two million, and the telecommunications companies have gained six million.

Third, Comcast’s post-merger share of broadband falls closer to 20 percent when including LTE wireless and satellite providers. Over all, 97 percent of households have at least two competing fixed broadband providers — three or more if mobile wireless is included.

We used to wonder why government officials and regulators were so easily fooled by the corporate government relations people sent into their offices armed with press releases, talking points, cupcakes, and empty promises. We understand everyone isn’t a Big Telecom expert, but too often regulators’ reflexive acceptance of whatever companies bring to their table threatens to win them rube-status. We’d like to think Mr. Balto isn’t Comcast’s sucker, and we certainly hope there are no unspoken incentives on the table in return for his recent, very sudden conversion to celebrate all-things Comcast. Maybe he’s simply uninformed.

Balto

Balto

Although our regular readers — nearly all consumers and customers — are well-equipped to debunk Mr. Balto’s arguments, for the benefit of visitors, here is our own research.

First, Comcast’s Internet service is not faster than Time Warner Cable. Mr. Balto needs to spend some time away from Comcast’s merger info-pack and do some real research. He’ll find Time Warner Cable embarked on a massive upgrade program called TWC Maxx that is more than tripling broadband speeds for customers at no extra charge. Those speeds are faster than what Comcast offers the average residential customer, and come much cheaper as well. Oh, and TWC has no compulsory usage limits and overlimit penalties. Comcast’s David Cohen predicts every Comcast customer will face both within five years.

Second, that “advanced TV platform” Balto raves about requires a $99 installation fee… for an X1 set-top box. It also means equipment must be attached to every television in the house, because Comcast encrypts everything. At a time when customers want to pay for fewer channels, Comcast wants to shovel even more unwanted programming and boxes at customers. Older Americans who want their Turner Classic Movies have another nasty surprise. They will need to buy Comcast’s super deluxe cable TV package to get that network, at a cost exceeding $80 a month just for television. Ask Time Warner customers what they want, and they’ll tell you they’d prefer old and decrepit over an even higher cable TV bill Comcast has already committed to deliver.

Has competition truly increased? Not in the eyes of most Americans who at best face a duopoly and annual rate hikes well in excess of inflation. Even worse, for most consumers there is only one choice for 21st century High Speed Internet service – the cable company. Mr. Balto conveniently ignores the fact cable’s primary competitor is still DSL which is simply not available at speeds of 30+Mbps for most consumers. In some areas, like suburban Rochester, N.Y., the best the local phone company can deliver some neighborhoods like ours is 3.1Mbps. That isn’t competition. Verizon and AT&T have both stopped expanding DSL. Verizon has ended FiOS expansion and AT&T’s U-verse still maxes out at around 24Mbps for most customers. AT&T’s promised fiber upgrades have proven to be more illusory than reality, available primarily in a handful of multi-dwelling units and new housing developments. In rural areas, both major phone companies are petitioning to do away with landline service and DSL altogether.

Raise your hands if you want Comcast’s “benefits.” In New York, out of 2,300 comments before the PSC, we can’t find a single one clamoring for Comcast’s takeover. The public has spoken.

Cable "competition" in Minneapolis

Cable “competition” in Minneapolis. Charter and Comcast have also teamed up to trade cable territories as part of the Time Warner Cable merger package deal.

Satellite television’s days of providing the cable industry with robust competition have long since peaked. AT&T is seeking to further reduce that competition by purchasing DirecTV, not because it believes in satellite television, but because it wants the benefits of DirecTV’s lucrative volume discounts.

Any antitrust attorney worth his salt should be well aware of what kind of impact volume discounting can have on restraining and discouraging competition. Comcast’s deal for Time Warner will let it acquire programming at a substantial discount (one they have already said won’t be passed on to customers) so significant that any would-be competitors would be in immediate financial peril trying to compete on price.

Frontier Communications learned that lesson when it acquired a handful of Verizon FiOS franchises in Indiana and the Pacific Northwest. After losing Verizon’s volume discounts, Frontier was so alarmed by the wholesale renewal rates it received, it let loose its telemarketing force to convince customers fiber was no good for television and they should instead switch to a satellite provider they partnered with. It’s telling when a company is willing to forfeit revenue in favor of a third party marketing agreement with an outside company.

So what does this mean for a potential start-up looking to get into the business? Since programming is now a commodity, most customers buy on price. The best triple-play deals will go to the biggest national players with volume discounts – all cable operators that have long agreed never to compete directly with each other.

In the Orlando Sentinel, Mr. Balto seemed almost relieved when he concluded Comcast and Time Warner don’t compete head-to-head, somehow easing any antitrust concerns. It is precisely that fact why this deal must never be approved. Comcast has been free to compete anywhere Time Warner provides service, but has never done so. Letting Comcast, which has even worse approval ratings than Time Warner, become the only choice for cable broadband is hardly in the public interest and does nothing for competition. Instead, it only further consolidates the marketplace into a handful of giant companies that can raise prices and cap usage without restraint.

If Mr. Balto truly believes AT&T and Verizon will ride to the rescue with robust wireless broadband competition, his credibility is in peril. Those two companies, among others, are completely incapable of meeting the growing broadband demands (20-50GB) of the home user. With punishing high prices and staggeringly low usage caps, providers are both controlling demand and profiting handsomely from rationing service at the same time. Why change that?

No 3G/4G network under current ordinary traffic loads can honestly deliver a better online experience than DSL, and customers who attempt to replace their home broadband connection in favor of wireless will likely receive a punishing bill for the attempt at the end of the month. The only players who want to count mobile broadband as a serious competitor in the home broadband market are the cable and phone companies desperately looking for a defense against charges they have a broadband monopoly or are part of a comfortable duopoly.

One last point, while Mr. Balto seems impressed that Comcast would continue to voluntarily abide by the Net Neutrality policies he personally opposes, he conveniently omits the fact Comcast was the country’s biggest violator of Net Neutrality when it speed limited peer-to-peer traffic, successfully sued the government over Net Neutrality after it was fined by the FCC for the aforementioned violation, and only agreed to temporarily observe Net Neutrality as part of its colossal merger deal with NBCUniversal. It’s akin to a mugger promising to never commit another crime after being caught red-handed stealing. A commitment like that might be good enough for Mr. Balto, but it isn’t for us.

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Here’s How to Tell the N.Y. Public Service Commission to Reject the Comcast/TWC Merger

ny pscThe New York Public Service Commission needs to hear from you about the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. Unlike some of the southern and midwestern states that have utility commissions that basically rubber stamp the agenda of Big Telecom companies, New York’s PSC has a reputation for being tougher and more customer-oriented. But the PSC cannot act in your interest if you don’t share your views.

It is incredibly easy to file your own comments with the PSC. Nearly 2,300 New Yorkers have done so thus far, but we need to make sure they understand our serious objections to Comcast’s usage caps, its expensive service, and customer abuse.

We have provided a sample letter below. We hope you will write your own, but offer ours as a guide that includes some of our biggest concerns. We may prepare another one soon outlining other concerns.

How to file your comment:

  • E-Mail: [email protected]
  • Mail: Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess, Secretary, Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350.
  • Phone: 1-800-335-2120 (press “1″ to leave a recorded comment)

All comments should refer to “Case 14-M-0183, Petition of Comcast Corporation and Time Warner Cable Inc.”

Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess
Secretary
Public Service Commission
Three Empire State Plaza
Albany, New York 12223-1350

Re: Case 14-M-0183, Petition of Comcast Corporation and Time Warner Cable Inc.

Dear Ms. Burgess,

I am writing to ask the Public Service Commission to reject the merger proposal of Comcast and Time Warner Cable on the ground the companies have failed to show such a merger would be in the best interests of New York and its residents.

Although Time Warner Cable has never been a prize, Comcast’s reputation for bad service, high prices, rationed Internet access, and customer abuse is well documented in just about every community the company serves. Comcast has repeatedly been voted the “Worst Company in America” by Consumer Union’s Consumerist.com. The American Consumer Satisfaction Index has documented so many complaints about Comcast, it declared it the worst company it has ever scored, performing even worse than the Internal Revenue Service. For more than three years running, Harris Interactive has called Comcast one of the least reputable companies in America.

That alone should be enough to reject this merger out of hand. Permitting it would reward this company’s appalling behavior towards its own customers and expose New Yorkers to an even bigger monopoly problem than we deal with now. Unless you live in a Verizon FiOS service area, cable is your only real choice for true broadband speeds. DSL is rapidly losing favor and market share and Verizon has shown no interest in expanding it.

Comcast already uses its market power to its advantage by raising prices… a lot. Time Warner Cable charges less for its services than Comcast does.

For example, Time Warner Cable offers a standard television service package that provides all the popular cable networks for one price. Comcast offers a similar package but stripped out cable networks including Cloo, CNBC World, Al Jazeera America, Discovery Fit & Health, Disney XD, DIY, a range of ESPN’s extra networks, EWTN, Fine Living, Fox Business News, Great American Country, IFC, Investigation Discovery, Lifetime Real Women, Military Channel, MLB, most of MTV’s extra networks, NBA, National Geographic Channel, NFL Network, NHL Network, most of Nickelodeon’s extra networks, OWN, Oxygen, Sundance, Turner Classic Movies, The Science Channel, and VH1′s extra networks.

Customers who want these networks, like Turner Classic Movies, National Geographic, and IFC will have to pay a stunning price of up to $86 a month — just for television. Many of these networks are especially popular with fixed income older residents, who will now face an even larger cable TV bill.

Comcast promotes the fact its Internet speeds are faster than Time Warner Cable, but that is not true as Time Warner Maxx upgrades arrive. Comcast Internet service costs more, is slower, and increasingly usage-capped. Time Warner Cable has made clear it will not limit customers’ Internet usage. Comcast has made clear it will, predicting usage limits/usage-based pricing will be imposed on customers across its entire footprint within five years. That is no improvement for New York. That is literally a downgrade. We can do better in New York with Time Warner Cable.

In fact, the company has promised extremely little to New York after winning your approval to merge. Comcast is so arrogant, it already announced it will not share any cost savings with customers, promising even higher cable bills for New York with the merger. Even its touted X1 set top system will cost New Yorkers — it comes with a steep installation price of almost $100. Again, how does this serve the public interest?

Comcast’s public service programs are also woefully inadequate. Its Internet Essentials is a bureaucratic nightmare that only provides temporary discounts to a small percentage of customers (with school age children) who need an affordable Internet option. I guess childless couples and the elderly poor don’t matter. Time Warner Cable offers a $14.99 discount program available to anyone who wants it, no paperwork or waiting periods required.

It is my understanding Comcast must prove this merger is in the public interest to win your approval. It has utterly failed to do so, and I expect my state’s Public Service Commission to reject this merger. This is one deal that can never be modified sufficiently to make it acceptable for people like myself. You are doing us no favors trying to negotiate for an Internet discount program or expanding Comcast’s service area by a small amount in rural upstate New York. The end result is that millions of New Yorkers will get worse service than we get today, at a higher price, with little/no competition on the horizon.

This is a rare opportunity for our state, which lost most of its oversight powers over the cable industry years ago. Cable operators have abused their deregulated status and have raised prices, provided dreadful customer service, and have kept competition away. Letting Comcast into New York from Buffalo to the Bronx will only encourage more abuse, wreaking havoc on New York’s growing digital economy. Let’s send a clear message to Comcast New York isn’t willing to put our broadband future in the hands of “the worst company in America.” Let’s make it clear enough is enough.

Sincerely,

 

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Albania Says Goodbye to Usage Caps: 1-100Mbps Broadband in the Land of Sheep

ABCom is Albania's largest ISP.

ABCom is Albania’s largest ISP.

Albanians no longer have to watch usage meters while browsing the Internet and downloading movies and music. The country’s largest ISP – ABCom – has eliminated data caps on all but its cheapest broadband plans (4Mbps service with a 2GB cap: $4.81 for 15 days or 4Mbps service with a 5GB cap: $9.69 for 30 days). Now residents of Tirana, Durrës, Shkodër, Elbasan, Vlorë, and Gjirokastër can browse the Internet at self-selected speeds between 1-100Mbps with no usage-based billing or fixed caps.

It is remarkable progress for Europe’s poorest country. For much of the 20th century, Albania was infamous for its oppressive Communist dictatorship under the leadership of Enver Hoxha, a man who felt Stalin was the Soviet Union’s last true Communist leader and who courted and later cut ties with both the U.S.S.R. and the People’s Republic of China over what he called their “revisionist Marxist-Leninist” policies that betrayed true socialism. Hoxha’s idea of a worker’s paradise was to force huge numbers of both blue and white color workers into the fields every summer to help harvest the country’s strawberry crop.

During Hoxha’s 40 years in power, telecommunications for most Albanians consisted of a portable radio (and occasionally an imported television). Only 1.4 out of 100 had basic telephone service. If more wanted it, they could not get it. A long waiting list guaranteed an installation date years in the future. Albania began its transformation into a democracy with just 42,000 telephone lines, despite a population of nearly three million.

After the Communist government fell in 1991, life changed little in rural Albania. Peasants found initiatives to improve rural telephone service so irrelevant they knocked out service to about 1,000 villages after commandeering telephone wire to build fences to keep their sheep herds from straying. Even in the capital city Tirana, telecommunications infrastructure was decrepit at best. Even the wealthiest Albanians had to contend with rotary dial telephones produced in a forgotten factory in Bulgaria or Romania. Many preferred refurbished telephones rebuilt with scrap parts obtained from Italy.

Today, like many other countries lacking wired infrastructure, Albanians depend mostly on their cell phones to communicate. In 2012, there were 312,000 landlines in use, but 3.5 million cell phones were active. More than a half million wireless users rely entirely on their phones for Internet access.

no limit internet

“Are you ready for unlimited Internet with guaranteed 100Mbps speed?”

In 1998, ABCom launched its Internet Service Provider business, initially selling DSL and wireless broadband. With Albania’s economy always in difficulty, the country chose the cheaper path followed by North America — adopting Hybrid Fiber-Coax (HFC) network technology instead of fiber to the home, common elsewhere in southern Europe. HFC Internet access is better known by most of us as broadband from our local cable company. Expansion of wired broadband has been very slow in Albania. The concept of delivering television, broadband, and phone service over ABCom’s cable system in a triple play package only began in 2009.

The biggest attractions to wired broadband include no data caps and more reliable fixed broadband speeds the country’s wireless providers cannot deliver. Because of wide income disparity, ABCom offers a large range of speed plans for different budgets: 1, 2, 4, 8, 12, 30, and 100Mbps.

In response, competition from wireless providers has stepped up recently. Vodafone Albania is offering five mobile Internet options for users of its 3G network. Customers can opt to pay for daily, weekly or monthly bundles. The 40MB daily bundle costs $0.58; the 250MB weekly bundle costs $2.91; the 500MB monthly bundle costs $4.85, and the 1GB monthly bundle costs $7.76. The speeds are much slower than the plans offered by ABCom, however.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ABCom Mesazh Promocional nga ABCom March 2013.mp4

ABCom produced this television ad introducing its new triple play TV, broadband, and telephone package for Albanian customers. (Albanian) (0:31)

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

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

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

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

CenturyLink isn’t worried.

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

Ewing

Ewing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Don’t expect CenturyLink to expand Wi-Fi hotspot networks. The company found they are difficult to monetize and is unlikely to expand them further;
  • Any change in the FCC’s definition of minimum broadband speed to qualify for federal broadband expansion funds would slow rural broadband expansion. Ewing admitted a 10Mbps speed minimum is considerably more difficult to achieve over DSL than a 4 or 6Mbps minimum;
  • Don’t expect any more merger/acquisition activity from CenturyLink in the Competitive Local Exchange Carrier business. CenturyLink shows no sign of pursuing Frontier, Windstream, FairPoint, or other independent phone companies. It is focused on expanding business services, where 60% of CenturyLink’s revenue now comes;
  • CenturyLink fiber expansion will primarily be focused on reaching business offices and commercial customers in 2014;
  • CenturyLink will only modestly expand PrismTV, its fiber-to-the-neighborhood service, to an additional 300,000 homes this year. The company now offers the service to two million of its customers, with 200,000 signed up nationwide. Last year, CenturyLink expanded PrismTV availability to 800,000 homes.
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TDS Telecom Ditches Copper, Fires Up 1,000Mbps Fiber Service in New Hampshire

fiberville-cardThe town of Hollis, N.H., population 7.600, is the first community in New Hampshire to receive gigabit broadband, courtesy of the local telephone company.

TDS Telecom charges less than $100 a month (when bundled with other services) for gigabit broadband speeds on the fiber to the home network TDS introduced after scrapping obsolete copper telephone wiring.

“What can you do with 1Gig? Whatever you want,” says Matt Apps, manager of Internet product management and development at TDS. “This state-of-the art connection is one hundred times faster than the average connection. It’s only available in only a few communities across the country. With 1Gig, you experience the Internet full-throttle.”

The 1,000/400Mbps service is an upgrade for Hollis, which used to receive speeds up to 300Mbps. TDS bundles its Internet package with 260-channel cable television service delivered over its all-digital Mediaroom platform, and telephone service.

TDS’ 1Gig Internet service includes a free subscription to Remote PC Support which provides unlimited access to technical expertise. Remote PC Support technicians help with device setup, Internet troubleshooting, plus computer optimization and safety.

All of these areas in Hollis now have fiber service available.

All of these areas in Hollis now have fiber service available.

Customers looking for more budget-priced packages will still find plenty-fast Internet access available for less on the fiber network:

  • 1,000/400Mbps: $99.95/mo
  • 300/120Mbps: $75.00/mo
  • 100/40Mbps: $35.00/mo
  • 50/20Mbps: $25.00/mo
  • 15/2Mbps: $19.95/mo
  • 2-5Mbps/512kbps: $14.95/mo

Customers bundling a TV package with Internet service get a $20 monthly discount off the total price of both packages.

TDS‘ Fiberville is already established in Hollis, but will also be forthcoming in Farragut, Tenn., and other New Hampshire communities including: Andover, Boscawen, New London, Salisbury, Springfield, Sutton, and Wilmot.

Click on each community name to learn the current status of the fiber project.

Customers who enroll as fiber service first becomes available get free whole-house installation and special discounts for being early adopters.

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Deutsche Telekom Agrees to Sell T-Mobile USA to Sprint, But Regulators May Balk

And then there were three?

And then there were three?

Deutsche Telekom has agreed to sell T-Mobile USA to the Japanese parent company of Sprint in a deal that would combine the third and fourth largest wireless companies in the United States under the Sprint brand.

Japan’s Kyodo News Agency said they learned about the buyout agreement from industry sources, but did not reveal any further details.

SoftBank CEO and Sprint chairman Masayoshi Son and his lobbyists have been promoting such a merger for weeks, so the outlines of a deal between the two companies come as no surprise.

SoftBank son

Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son

U.S. regulators have repeatedly signaled their discomfort with any merger between Sprint and T-Mobile, however. Both the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Justice Department have repeatedly raised concerns about the emergence of just three national wireless competitors in the U.S.

AT&T is largely responsible for that perception after its failed attempt to buy T-Mobile in 2011. The large breakup fee and spectrum T-Mobile received after the deal collapsed helped T-Mobile relaunch as a feisty competitor that has forced competitors to cut prices. To regulators, it demonstrated the importance of having at least four national competitors, if only to check the dominance of leaders AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Both the FCC and Justice Department fear any additional mergers would lead to increased prices for U.S. consumers.

Son has argued that the four-competitor policy has left AT&T and Verizon dominant against their two much-weaker competitors. An enlarged Sprint would force broadband speeds upwards as a combined Sprint and T-Mobile launch a massive network upgrade that would force prices down.

Both Softbank and Deutsche Telekom seem eager to close a deal. Softbank is already arranging financing for the estimated $50 billion Deutsche Telekom is expected to ask for T-Mobile USA and the German owner of T-Mobile has sought to exit the U.S. market for at least two years, with the proceeds of any sale used to improve its operations in Germany and eastern Europe, where the company has been more profitable.

So far, Wall Street has had only a muted reaction to the merger news. Many analysts still expect U.S. regulators to shoot down any deal that proposes merging any of the four current large wireless carriers.

SoftBank CEO and Sprint chairman Masayoshi Son was interviewed at this week’s Code Conference. On the current state of wireless: “Oh my god, how can Americans live like this?” (1:23)

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Time Warner Cable Unsurprisingly Chooses Austin as Its Next 300Mbps Upgrade City

Greater Austin, a city served by up to four different broadband providers — three either offering or promising fiber to the home service — is getting a speed upgrade from the one company that is sticking with its fiber-coax network — Time Warner Cable.

Starting June 3, Time Warner Cable customers who receive letters regarding the upgrade will see major broadband speed boosts at no additional charge:

speed-plan-chart-2014

 

Austin: Keeping the good broadband all to themselves. (Image courtesy: Kong)

Austin: Keeping the good broadband all to themselves. (Image courtesy: Kong)

The upgraded speeds will be offered to approximately 40 percent of customers in Austin and surrounding communities in June, with the remaining customers in the area getting upgraded through early fall. Here is the upgrade schedule:

June Speed Upgrade: Downtown Austin, West Campus, Hyde Park, Clarksville, Old Enfield, North Loop, Terrytown, Highland Park West, Central East Austin, Windsor Hills, Copperfield, Springdale Heights, Harris Branch, Edinburgh Gardens, Rollingwood, West Lake Hills, Lost Creek, Barton Creek, Jollyville, Anderson Mill, Brushy Creek, Bull Creek Park, Steiner Ranch, River Place, Canyon Creek, and the Reserve at Twin Peaks, as well as these communities: Manor, Cedar Park, Jonestown, Bee Cave, Kyle, Mountain City, and Uhland.

Fall Speed Upgrade: Round Rock, Leander, San Marcos, Elgin, Marble Falls, Lockhart, Bastrop, Fredericksburg, Taylor, Smithville, Wimberley, Liberty Hill, Lago Vista, Buda, Kyle, Elroy, and Lakeway.

“These significant speed increases will allow all our Internet customers in the greater Austin area to enjoy TWC Internet better,” said Kathy Brabson, area vice president of operations for Time Warner Cable in Central Texas.

Time Warner says it is spending about $60 million to upgrade its Austin-area network. That investment may help the cable company withstand competition from providers like Grande Communications, AT&T, and Google. For most in Austin, Time Warner Cable will be the first provider to dramatically boost Internet speeds. Google Fiber has postponed its launch until this fall, AT&T’s U-verse fiber to the home service is more press release than reality, and Grande Communications, although offering 1,000Mbps service for $65, only has that service available in parts of the greater Austin area.

Some customers will need to upgrade and/or exchange their current cable modem to receive the full speed upgrade. Customers leasing a modem can get information about whether an upgrade is needed from Time Warner’s Speed Increase website. We still strongly recommend customers consider purchasing their own modem — it will pay for itself in no time. Communication to the first group of customers about the new speeds and details about equipment is being delivered to homes this week.

Separately, Time Warner also announced it is expanding its local Wi-Fi hotspot network, but did not share any specific details.

Stop the Cap! will not be surprised to see Kansas City the next upgrade choice for Time Warner Cable — Google Fiber is up, running, and competing there. The rest of us will have to wait up to two years for faster speeds to arrive.

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Comcast Shakes Its Innovation Money-Maker: Considers Launch of All-New, Deluxe $ Unlimited Internet

"Customer service says you have the right to pay more."

Comcast says you must have the option to pay more for the same broadband service you already get, only now with an allowance

Comcast has announced it is considering testing an innovative new plan in several test markets offering “unlimited Internet access” to customers for a yet-to-be-determined price. Whoever heard of such a thing?

Comcast’s executive vice president David Cohen raised eyebrows last week when he predicted all Comcast customers nationwide would see usage-based billing for their Internet access within five years.

Such statements tend to muck up things like a $45 billion dollar merger with Time Warner Cable that both companies must prove is in the public interest. The buyer wants to limit your Internet usage and the seller got its fingers burned back in 2009 when it tried its own usage cap experiment and now advertises it has no data caps.

Telling Time Warner Cable customers it is in their best interest to lose unmetered Internet plans may be too tough to sell, so Cohen has spent much of this week backtracking and claiming he was “misunderstood:

To be clear, we have no plans to announce a new data usage policy.  In 2012, we suspended our 250 GB data cap in order to conduct a few pilot programs that were more customer friendly than a static cap.  Since then, we’ve had no data caps for any of our customers anywhere in the country.  We have been trialing a few flexible data consumption plans, including a plan that enables customers who wanted to use more data be given the option to pay more to do so, and a plan for those who use less data the option to save some money.  We decided to implement these trials to learn what our customers’ reaction is to what we think are reasonable data consumption plans.  We certainly have no interest in adopting any plans that our customers find unreasonable or disruptive to their Internet experience.

It’s important to note that we remain in trial mode only.   We’re now also looking at adding some unlimited data plans to our trials. We have always said that as the Internet, and our customers’ use of it, continues to evolve, so will Comcast and our policies.

Cohen makes a careful distinction between a strict usage limit and the kind of usage-based billing that will fill the company’s coffers with overlimit fees. But any usage allowance is a limit of how much you can use the Internet before something bad happens — either your access is shut off or your bill explodes.

comcasticStop the Cap! has talked with more than a dozen customers in Comcast’s test markets about their experiences with Comcast’s “data usage policy.” Although the company claims it is seeking customer reactions, it never asks whether those customers want usage limits or not, only what kind.

Giving customers “the option to pay more” is exactly the type of thinking that won Comcast the dubious distinction of being the worst company in America. No usage plan tested by Comcast actually offers savings to customers. It simply places an artificial, arbitrary usage allowance on the overpriced broadband service the company offers now.

At this point, Comcast is not offering any unlimited use trials, but we have learned the value they are likely to place on “unlimited” based on what certain customers have paid all along for that privilege. Ars Technica reports some avoided the 250GB cap by signing up for business class service. The cost? $133.79 a month for 50/10Mbps. If Google Fiber was in town, you’d pay $70 for unlimited 1,000/1,000Mbps service, and the search engine giant would still be making money.

Cohen claims nothing is set in stone, but considering Comcast’s “don’t care” attitude towards its customers, it is a safe bet they will do what is best for shareholders and ignore complaints from customers that often have nowhere else to go for 21st century broadband speeds.

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Time Warner Cable Customers in Queens Enjoying Free Maxx Broadband Speed Upgrades: 300/20Mbps

8681_262Time Warner Cable’s major broadband speed upgrade is alive in the Astoria, Woodside and Long Island City neighborhoods of Queens, N.Y.

The Time Warner Cable Maxx upgrade is Time Warner Cable’s effort to catch up to other cable operators that have significantly upgraded broadband speeds for customers over the last 18 months. Time Warner Cable has traditionally been one of the slowest major cable broadband providers in the country, with most customers only able to buy speeds up to 50/5Mbps. But Time Warner Cable has also committed to keeping unlimited use service available to customers, unlike Comcast, Charter, Cox, Suddenlink, and Mediacom.

The free speed upgrades are the largest ever for Time Warner Cable, typically more than tripling speeds for most customers.

Stop the Cap! has heard from readers in Queens who discovered the upgrades took effect this week, so we have been able to take a closer look at what customers can expect as Time Warner rolls out upgrades across New York City and Los Angeles and finally extending faster speeds over the next two years in other cities.

new speed

(Image: ematrix)

Arris Touchstone Telephony Gateway TG1672g

Arris Touchstone Telephony Gateway TG1672g

The first notification your area is about to receive an upgrade will come in a letter from Time Warner Cable.

Customers subscribing to the fastest speed tiers may need new equipment. Time Warner Cable is using 8-channel bonding in Queens for its 100 and 200Mbps tiers and 16-channel bonding for its 300Mbps tier. Some older and low-end DOCSIS 3 modems only support four channel bonding. For instance, a customer using a four-channel capable Motorola 6121 modem in Queens with Time Warner’s 30/5Mbps Extreme tier will only get speeds up to 50/5Mbps after the upgrade. If the customer owned a Motorola 6141, which supports eight channel bonding, they will get the full advantage of the upgrade: 200/20Mbps. But even the 6141 isn’t enough for Time Warner’s top tier: 300/20Mbps. Customers would need an upgrade to a 16-channel capable modem.

Time Warner’s notification letter says customers can swap out a company-owned cable modem for a 16-channel capable model, currently the Arris TG1672g, either by mail, through an area Time Warner Cable store, or with a service call. The usual modem rental fees still apply.

The TG1672g (download user manual) is a fully capable broadband and Wi-Fi home gateway that also supports Time Warner’s phone service:

  • 16×4 Channel Bonding
  • Full Capture Bandwidth Tuner
  • Multi Processor Technology with an Intel Atom Core Application Processor
  • DOCSIS® 3.0 and PacketCable™ 2.0 compliant design
  • 4 port Gigabit Ethernet Wireless Router
  • 3×3 Integrated Dual Band Concurrent
  • 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11n radios with Beam Forming
  • USB 2.0 Host Port
  • Upcoming support for DLNA and File Storage
  • Two FXS lines of carrier-grade VoIP with HD voice support
  • MoCA1.1 for in Home Video and Data distribution over Coax
  • Dual Stack IPv4/IPv6 Home Router
  • Internal Power Supply for Highest Reliability and reduced energy consumption
  • Battery backup: Single battery pack for reaching a full 8 hours of standby support

If picking up new equipment, a Time Warner representative will probably let you know if your account is flagged “Maxx-capable,” which means your neighborhood’s upgrade is imminent or complete. Time Warner may also want to swap out your set-top boxes if you subscribe to cable television, although readers report cable television service and the on-screen guide in Queens doesn’t look any different at present. The backup battery inside the cable modem is rated for up to 10 years of life and is replaceable by the user for around $60.

Customers who own their own cable modem might have to buy a new one if they are seeking the company’s fastest speeds. Time Warner’s latest approved modem list should guide what, if any, new equipment you might need. If you are considering buying your own modem, you might plan your purchase around the model(s) that support the speeds you want.

approved modems

Time Warner Cable’s Latest Approved Modem List

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TWC Techs Launch 300 Mbps Internet Speeds at Queens NY Hub 5-6-14.flv
Technicians launch 300Mbps broadband speeds for Time Warner Cable customers in Queens, N.Y. (1:27)

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