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Comcast Boosting Speeds Across Central U.S.; Most Will Get 25-100Mbps Service

Phillip Dampier November 15, 2017 Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 4 Comments

Comcast is raising broadband speeds across its expansive Central Division, which covers customers in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

  • Performance Starter (10Mbps) increases to 25Mbps;
  • Performance (25Mbps) will now be 60Mbps;
  • XFINITY Blast! (75Mbps) rises to 100Mbps.

Customers subscribed to the Performance tier will see the biggest speed jump, rising by more than double the current speed.

The new speeds are gradually rolling out to customers in these states from mid-November until mid-December. In some cases, customers will need to briefly unplug their cable modems to get the free speed upgrade.

 

Defenders of FCC’s Ajit Pai Miss the Point on Cutting Broadband Speed Standards

Defenders of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai are rushing to defend the Republican majority’s likely support for an initiative to roll back the FCC’s 25/3Mbps speed standard embraced by his predecessor, Thomas Wheeler.

Johnny Kampis, writing for Watchdog.org, claims that broadband speed standard has had an adverse affect on solving America’s rural broadband gap.

After raising that standard, suddenly those areas with speeds below 10 mbps were lumped into the same group with those who could access speeds of 10-25 mbps, resulting in diminished focus on those areas where the broadband gap cut the deepest.

Raising the standard meant, too, that fans of big government could point to the suddenly higher percentage of the population that was “underserved” on internet speeds and call for more taxpayer money to solve that “problem.”

Kampis is relying on the talking points from the broadband industry, which also happens to support the same ideological interests of Watchdog.org’s benefactor, the corporate/foundation-funded Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. The argument suggests that if you raise broadband standards, that opens the door to more communities to claim they too are presently underserved, which then would qualify them for government-funded broadband improvements.

Kampis’ piece, like many of those published on Watchdog.org, distorts reality with suggestions that communities with 50Mbps broadband service will now be ripe for government handouts. He depends on an unnamed source from an article written on Townhall.com and also quotes the CEO of Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, which is closely associated with the same Franklin Center that hosts Watchdog.org. Kampis’ piece relies on sourcing that is directly tied to the organization hosting his article.

In reality, rural broadband funding has several mechanisms in place which heavily favor unserved, rural areas, not communities that already have 50Mbps internet access. ISPs also routinely object to projects proposed within their existing service areas, declaring them already served, and much of the funding doled out by the Connect America Fund (CAF) Kampis suggests is a government handout are being given to telephone companies, not municipalities.

Kampis

Kampis is satisfied free market capitalism will eventually solve the rural broadband problem, despite two decades of lackluster or non-existent service in areas deemed unprofitable to serve.

“So while Pai’s critics denigrate him because his FCC is considering lowering that broadband standard, he’s just correcting an earlier mistake, with the realization that the free market, not big government, will solve the rural broadband gap if given enough time,” Kampis writes. “And returning to the old standards will help ensure that the focus will be placed squarely on the areas that need the most help.”

Kampis suggests that free market solution might be 5G wireless broadband, which can potentially serve rural populations less expensively than traditional wired broadband service. Communities only need wait another 5-10 years for that to materialize, if it does at all.

Kampis claims to be an investigative reporter, but he didn’t venture too far beyond regurgitating press releases and talking points from big phone companies and opponents of municipal broadband. If he had spent time reviewing correspondence sent to the FCC in response to the question of easing broadband speed standards, he would have discovered the biggest advocates for that are large phone companies and wireless carriers that stand to benefit the most from the change.

Following the money usually delivers a clearer, more fact-based explanation for what motivates players in the broadband industry. In this case, the 25Mbps speed standard has regularly been attacked by phone and wireless companies hoping to tap into government funds to build out their networks. Traditional phone companies are upset that the 25Mbps requirement means their typical rural broadband solution – DSL, usually won’t cut it. Wireless companies have also had a hard time assuring the FCC of consistent 25Mbps speeds, making it difficult for them to qualify for grants. AT&T wasn’t happy with a 10Mbps standard for wireless service either.

Incidentally, these are the same companies that have failed to solve the rural broadband gap all along. Most will continue not serving rural areas unless the government covers part of their costs. AT&T illustrates that with its own fixed wireless rural broadband solution, which came about grudgingly with the availability of CAF funding.

The dark money ATM network hides corporate contributions funneled into advocacy groups.

The free market broadband solution is rooted in meeting Return On Investment metrics. In short, if a home costs more to serve that a company can recoup in a short amount of time, that home will not be served unless either the homeowner or someone else covers the costs of providing the service. By wiping out the Obama Administration’s FCC speed standard, more ratepayer dollars will be directed to phone and wireless companies that will build less expensive and less-capable DSL and wireless networks instead of investing in more modern technology like fiber optics.

Mr. Kampis, and others, through their advocacy, claim their motive is a reduction in government waste. But in reality, and not by coincidence, their brand of journalism hoodwinks readers into advocating against their best interests of getting fast, future-proofed broadband, and instead hand more money to companies like AT&T. The Franklin Center refuses to reveal its donor list, of course, but SourceWatch reported the Center is heavily dependent on funding from DonorsTrust, which cloaks the identity of its corporate donors. Mother Jones went further and called it “a dark money ATM.”

Companies like AT&T didn’t end up this lucky by accident. It donates to dark money groups that fund various sock puppet and astroturf operations that avoid revealing where the money comes from, while the groups get to claim they are advocating for taxpayers. By no coincidence, these groups frequently don’t attack corporate welfare, especially if the recipient is also a donor.

New York’s rural broadband initiative is on track to deliver near 100% broadband coverage to all New York homes and has speed requirements and a ban on hard data caps.

Raising speed standards does not harm rural broadband expansion. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s broadband expansion campaign is on track to reach the remaining 150,000 homes still without broadband access by sometime next year. His program relies on broadband expansion funding that comes with requirements that insist providers offer internet access capable of at least 25Mbps (with a preference for 100Mbps) for $60 or less and a ban on hard usage caps. Kampis claims the 25Mbps speed standard hampers progress, yet New York is the first state in the nation moving towards 100% broadband availability for its residents at that speed or better.

Chairman Pai’s solution is little more than a gift to the country’s largest phone and wireless companies that would like to capture more CAF money for themselves while delivering the least amount of service possible (and keep money out of the hands of municipalities that want to build their own more capable networks). The evidence is quite clear — relying on the same companies that have allowed the rural broadband crisis to continue for more than 20 years is a stupendously bad idea that only sounds brilliant after some corporation writes a large check.

Charter/Spectrum Will Offer Gigabit Speeds Using DOCSIS 3.1

Charter Communications has informed shareholders it will soon introduce gigabit speed broadband plans in select cities.

“In a couple of months, we’ll launch gigabit speeds offerings in several key markets using DOCSIS 3.1, with more launches planned through 2018,” said Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge. “We expect DOCSIS 3.1 modems to be priced similarly to DOCSIS 3.0 modems when purchased at scale, and we’ll begin to buy exclusively DOCSIS 3.1 modems and drive higher entry-level speeds.”

Charter will not be following Comcast and Altice with fiber to the home upgrades for customers looking for the fastest possible speed. Instead, it will begin limited rollouts of current DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which will support gigabit download speeds with a considerably more limited upload speed.

Charter may have accidentally leaked the first place it plans to offer gigabit service – Oahu, Hawaii, by jumping the gun on a support page (quickly removed yesterday) discovered by a DSL Reports reader.

Charter executives have consistently told shareholders the priority for the company this year is to continue upgrading its acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House cable systems to support Spectrum’s standardized internet speed of 100Mbps. (An unadvertised upgrade option to 300Mbps is also available for approximately $105/mo with a one time $199.99 upgrade fee. Legacy markets still awaiting upgrades continue to receive 60Mbps with an unadvertised upgrade option to 100Mbps for approximately $105/mo with a one time $199.99 upgrade fee.)

Charter is facing competitive pressure from Google and telephone company competitors upgrading to fiber to the home service. Hawaiian Telcom, for example, now offers gigabit broadband options on Oahu. Charter’s gigabit offerings are most likely to be introduced in markets where it already faces gigabit competition. For areas that don’t, Charter is moving forward with less dramatic upgrades that currently top out at 300Mbps.

“As of today, we offer [standard] internet speeds of 100Mbps in over 75% of our entire footprint, up from just 50% at the end of the second quarter,” added Rutledge. “And we expect to offer minimum speeds in excess of 100Mbps in nearly all of our passings by year-end.”

Rutledge did not define what the next set of broadband speed tiers would be.

Rutledge also announced new Spectrum broadband customers would be getting an improved Wi-Fi router, known as Wave 2, specifically developed and designed by Charter’s engineers.

“It has much faster speeds and even better propagation of reliability throughout the home,” Rutledge offered.

CableLabs Introduces Full Duplex DOCSIS 3.1: Same Upload/Download Speeds

Phillip Dampier October 11, 2017 Broadband Speed No Comments

CableLabs has resolved the cable industry’s long-standing competitive disadvantage with fiber optic broadband with the introduction of a Full Duplex (FDX) DOCSIS 3.1 specification.

“FDX DOCSIS 3.1 is an extension of the DOCSIS 3.1 specification that will significantly increase upstream capacity and enable symmetric multi-Gbps services over existing HFC networks,” CableLabs wrote. “Full Duplex DOCSIS 3.1 technology builds on the successful completion of the DOCSIS 3.1 specification, which has made deployments of 10Gbps downstream and 1Gbps upstream broadband speeds a reality.”

Cable operators that adopt FDX will be able to sell identical upstream and downstream speeds to customers. The new standard concurrently uses the same spectrum reserved for broadband service for uploads and downloads. The technology was developed using Time Division Duplexing (TDD).

The new standard is 100% compatible with DOCSIS 3.1, which is slowly being implemented by cable operators around the country. However, it is not compatible with DOCSIS 3.0, which is still the predominate cable broadband technology standard in use in North America. As DOCSIS 3.1 gradually gets introduced, some cable modem manufacturers are building modems compatible with both DOCSIS 3.0 and 3.1, so equipment is not rendered obsolete in the next few years. But early adopters will likely not find modems supporting FDX DOCSIS 3.1 for up to two years.

The prerequisites for cable operators interested in deploying the new standard are significant. The most important requirement is the adoption of “node+0” architecture, which requires deploying fiber optics deep into the cable company’s network.

The history of the DOCSIS standard powering cable broadband.

How cable systems work

In the early days of cable, companies relied primarily on coaxial cable between its “headend” — often its main office, and customers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, cable companies began replacing sections of its copper coaxial cable with fiber optics, a more reliable technology with fewer failure points. There was considerable debate about how much copper cable should be scrapped, based primarily on the cost to deploy fiber. More fiber = more money, less fiber = less reliability. Anyone who subscribed to cable in the 1970s and 1980s was well acquainted with frequent outages, often caused by a failure in one of the many amplifiers cable system operators used to get signals from their office to individual customers.

Many cable companies eventually settled on plotting each fiber optic route to the center of a circle on a map with a 1-kilometer radius. In most suburban areas, this meant that each fiber “node” would serve around 500 customers. The cable company would continue to use its existing coaxial cable to extend into neighborhoods and reach subscribers. Over the last 5-10 years, some cable companies have invested to push fiber optics “deeper” into their networks, which means further reducing the amount of copper coaxial cable still in use.

Today, in many cities, the average cable subscriber can theoretically find the location where a cable company’s fiber connection interfaces with coaxial cable somewhere within a three block radius.

To make FDX DOCSIS 3.1 work, cable companies need enough fiber pushed towards customers to completely eliminate the use of amplifiers. That is what “node+0” means: from the fiber node to the customer, there are zero amplifiers.

Timeline

Because of the cost implications, some cable operators may initially offer FDX DOCSIS 3.1 only to their commercial clients, especially in areas where a fiber competitor does not exist.

Although many cable operators doubt symmetrical broadband is attractive to residential customers, it does offer the cable industry the talking point its networks will be gigabit-capable without an investment in fiber to the home service.

The cable industry expects to test the technology in late 2018 or early 2019, with the expectation it will be introduced for sale starting in 2020.

Great North American Broadband Ripoff: Canada, U.S. Pay Double What Europe, Asia Pays

Phillip Dampier September 26, 2017 Broadband Speed, Canada, Competition, Public Policy & Gov't 4 Comments

Prices in €. (Source: European Commission)

The European Commission’s latest study on broadband pricing shows while Europe and Asia offer consumers affordable broadband, North American providers are forcing Americans and Canadians to essentially pay twice as much for equivalent levels of service.

Just as was the case in 2015, the report found some of the most costly broadband packages in the world are sold to customers in Canada and the United States. This year, the study found the average Canadian paid more than $52 a month for standalone broadband, in the U.S. an average of $42 a month. In contrast, Europeans paid an average of $30 and Asians paid $22 a month for comparable service. Customers in the U.S. and Canada with a triple play bundle package of broadband, TV, and phone service paid more than double what their counterparts in Asia and Europe did last year.

As U.S. and Canadian providers raise broadband speeds and constrict the number of service tiers they offer, customers are forced into more expensive tiers, whether they need or want them. That further exacerbates the digital divide based on broadband affordability.

In Europe, competition in many EU member states has caused prices to drop for some types of service. Double and triple play packages offering 100Mbps or less declined in price by as much as 10.6% in 2016.

The study found:

Broadband prices for budget tiers actually dropped in Europe last year.

For the download speed basket 12-30Mbps, the EU vies with Japan and in some cases Korea showing the least expensive prices in one or more of the four service bundles. The lowest price for Double Play with fixed telephony in the €28 is also the lowest compared to all the countries analysed. The EU, Japan and South Korea have relatively similar prices when compared with Canada and, in particular, the USA.

Comparing the €28 with other countries in the world, the pattern in the 30-100Mbps speed basket is similar to the 12-30 Mbps basket. Japan is the least expensive country for three of four bundles; only Single Play is slightly less expensive in South Korea. Here, the EU28 just fail to present the lowest price for Double Play with fixed telephony. Again, the EU, Japan, and South Korea stay at more or less close compared to Canada and the USA. Alternatively, Canada is the most expensive country in three of four bundles. However, USA shows the most expensive Double Play with fixed telephony – despite considering the lowest price offers in three States there.

With regard to the 100+ Mbps basket of advertised download speeds, Japan and South Korea are decisively the least expensive markets, across all service bundles. South Korea has the least expensive offer for Single Play, Japan for Double Play including TV services. For the top download speed basket, the EU lies in mid-field between the low-cost Asian and the high-priced North American countries.

Other conclusions:

• Ultra-fast broadband offers (100+ Mbps) were still most expensive in the USA and Canada
• The least expensive offer for South Korea across all bundles was faster than 100Mbps
• Compared to Japan and South Korea, European citizens have to pay similar prices for offers of up to 100Mbps, but significantly more for ultra-fast connections.

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