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Erie County Executive Blasts Bad Internet Access for Harming Western N.Y. Economy

Western New York

In a recent survey of 2,000 residents living in Erie County (Buffalo), N.Y., it was clear almost nobody trusts their internet service provider, and 71% were dissatisfied with their internet service.

Seventeen years after many western New York residents heard the word “broadband” for the first time at a 2000 CNN town hall at the University of Buffalo, where then U.S. Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton called for increased federal funding for high-speed internet, many upstate residents are still waiting for faster access.

The Buffalo News featured two stories about the current state of the internet in western New York and found it lacking.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz blames internet service providers for serving up mediocre broadband, and no service at all in some parts of the county he represents.

“It’s been put in the hands of the private sector, and the private sector has, for whatever reason, elected to not expand into particular areas or not increase speeds in particular areas, putting those areas behind the eight ball,” he said.

Poloncarz effectively fingers the three dominant internet providers serving upstate New York – phone companies Verizon and Frontier and cable company Charter/Spectrum. He argues that companies will not even consider locating operations in areas lacking the most modern high-speed broadband. The digital economy is essential to help the recovery of western New York cities affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs and the ongoing departure of residents to other states.

Poloncarz

An important part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statewide broadband improvement initiative is prodding Charter Communications and its predecessor Time Warner Cable to do a better job offering faster internet speeds and more rural broadband expansion. The New York Public Service Commission, as part of its approval of Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable, extracted more concessions from the cable giant than any other state. Among them is a commitment to expand the cable company’s footprint into adjacent unserved areas by 2020 to reach at least 145,000 homes and businesses now outside of Charter’s service area.

Last week, the cable company told the PSC it was ahead of schedule on its expansion commitment, now reaching 42,889 additional households and businesses, which is above its goal of 36,771. It has two years left to add at least another 102,111 buildings.

Charter also recently increased broadband speeds to 100 Mbps for 99% of its customers in New York and has committed to boosting those speeds to 300 Mbps by the end of next year.

But where Charter does not provide service, broadband problems come courtesy of western New York’s biggest phone companies – Verizon and Frontier. In Erie County, a broadband census found a lack of service in parts of South Buffalo, the far West Side and East Side of Buffalo, as well as in parts of every town in the county except in the prosperous communities of West Seneca and Orchard Park. Verizon FiOS can be found in a handful of well-to-do Buffalo suburban towns, but not in the city itself or in rural parts of the region.

Verizon spokesman Chris McCann said the company had no further plans to expand FiOS service in upstate New York, and stopped announcing additional expansions in 2010. In the rest of its service area, Verizon supplies DSL service as an afterthought, and has made no significant investments to improve or expand service. Frontier Communications, which is the dominant phone company in the greater Rochester region, also provides service in some other rural western New York communities, but its DSL service rarely meets the FCC’s minimum speed definition to qualify as  broadband.

Rep. Collins

Both phone companies have no plans for significant fiber optic upgrades that would boost internet speeds. There is little pressure on either company to begin costly upgrades. In rural communities, both companies lack cable competition and in more urban areas, both have written off their ongoing customer losses to their cable competitor. That leaves towns like North Collins in a real dilemma. Poloncarz told the newspaper residents frequently park in the town library parking lot at night to connect to the library’s Wi-Fi service, because they lack internet service at home.

A political divide has opened up between area Democrats and Republican officials on how to solve the rural broadband problem. Democrats like Poloncarz are exploring solving the rural internet problem with a county-owned fiber network that would be open to all private ISPs to assist them in expanding service. He is joined by Erie County legislator Patrick Burke, who thinks it is time to spend the estimated $16.3 million it will take to build an “open access network” across Erie County.

“There are literally geographic dead zones, and it’s unnecessary,” said Burke, a Buffalo Democrat. “There’s no excuse.”

Poloncarz is more cautious and told the newspaper he will only propose the idea if he is convinced it will solve the problem, but is willing to continue studying it.

Republicans from the western New York congressional delegation believe deregulation and other incentives may give private companies enough reasons to begin upgrades and expansion.

Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence-area congressman with close ties to the Trump White House, defended FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s recent decision to eliminate net neutrality. Pai was born in Buffalo.

Collins argues net neutrality only raised the cost of business for ISPs, and being rid of it would inspire cable and phone companies to boost investment in 105 exurban and rural towns in his district, which covers eight counties and extends from the Buffalo suburbs east to Canandaigua, 80 miles away. More than 65% of those areas are under-served because DSL is often the only choice, and at least 3.3% had no internet options at all.

Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning) has just as many internet dead zones in his district, if not more. Reed represents the Southern Tier region of western New York in a district that runs along the Pennsylvania border from the westernmost part of New York east nearly to Binghamton. Much of recent broadband development in this part of New York comes as a result of Gov. Cuomo’s state-funded broadband expansion initiative, not private investment.

Reed has a record in Congress that is better at explaining the rural broadband dilemma than solving it.

“In a rural district, there are areas that are just physically difficult to serve,” Reed shrugged.

Collins’ hope that the banishment of net neutrality will inspire Frontier, Verizon, and Charter to use their own money to expand into the frontiers of western New York seems unlikely. Gov. Cuomo’s plan, which uses public funds to help subsidize mostly private companies to expand into areas where Return On Investment fails to meet their metrics has had more success.

But the rural broadband debate has been accompanied by a fierce pushback among upstate New Yorkers against the Republican-controlled FCC and elected officials like Collins who support the recent gutting of net neutrality. A backlash has developed in his district, and some have accused Collins of aiding and abetting a corporate takeover of the internet.

“The hysteria and narrative that this will kill the internet is blatantly false,” responded Collins. “Internet service providers have said they do not increase speeds for certain websites over others, and I have signed onto legislation that would make such a practice illegal.”

Goodbye FairPoint, New Owner Rebrands as Consolidated Communications

Just shy of 10 years after FairPoint Communications acquired Verizon’s landline properties in the northern New England states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, both the company and its name are disappearing forever.

Consolidated Communications, which announced it would acquire FairPoint in December 2016, intends to put FairPoint’s name and reputation behind it, and is rebranding the phone company as Consolidated Communications with plans for significant broadband upgrades for its customers.

FairPoint bought the assets of Verizon’s landline network in the three northern New England states in 2007 for $2.4 billion. The transition from Verizon to FairPoint did not go well, and the company stumbled for years trying to keep up with billing and service problems and the need to continually expand broadband service to stay competitive, all while also trying to pay off the debts it incurred in the acquisition. The company failed on all accounts and declared bankruptcy in 2009, eventually emerging with a new business plan in 2011.

FairPoint’s performance post-bankruptcy has relied on cautious spending, cost-cutting measures and benefits cutbacks for its employees, which triggered a 131-day strike in 2014 among FairPoint’s union workforce — the longest walkout of any company that year. Replacement workers sent in to handle service calls and network maintenance were criticized by customers and lacked experience to manage New England’s rough winters.

By early 2016, executives claimed their “turnaround” plan for FairPoint had made significant strides. By that summer, activist shareholders were demanding FairPoint be put up for sale, in part to allow them to quickly recoup their investments in company debt that could not be monetized unless another company acquired FairPoint and assumed those debts.

In late 2016, Consolidated Communications did exactly that, acquiring FairPoint’s assets in northern New England and many other states where it operates small phone companies for $1.5 billion — a significant drop in value for assets that sold for nearly $1 billion more nine years earlier.

Rob Koester, Consolidated Communications vice president for consumer products clearly wants to put FairPoint behind him.

“It is a new beginning,” he said. “It’s a new chapter for us. It’s a re-dedication to our customers.”

Some of the biggest planned changes appear to be more job cuts. Consolidated recently eliminated FairPoint’s state president positions in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont and will depend on regional management instead. The phone company will also once again face negotiations with unions that represent much of its workforce later this year. Most expect the unions will not be friendly to anticipated company efforts to further consolidate and reduce benefits.

Promised broadband upgrades from speed increases come with few details, except a broad commitment to raise speeds for 300,000 internet customers over the course of this year — which represents about 30% of FairPoint customers. Spokeswoman Angelynne Amores claims there will be no price hikes for faster internet speeds.

But Consolidated will also be under the watchful eye of Wall Street, which does not want the company to invest too much in broadband upgrades until shareholders are comfortable with the company’s financial future. There are few business successes in wireline acquisitions and mergers these days, as Frontier Communications can attest from its purchase of Verizon’s network in Florida, California, and Texas.

Any upgrades cannot come soon enough for FairPoint customers forced to endure its DSL service as their only internet access option.

Michael Charter, a FairPoint customer in Jericho, Vt., lives just outside the state’s largest city, Burlington, where there are several internet service providers. But in his part of Jericho, FairPoint is the only broadband provider available, and it does not come close to offering actual broadband speeds.

Charter told the Associated Press his current solution is to buy two DSL accounts from FairPoint and divide up the load from his family’s streaming, internet browsing, downloading and telecommuting across two different accounts. His television and computers share one FairPoint DSL account hooked up to one router while other internet usage is confined to a second router connected to a second account. FairPoint is unable to bond the two connections together to increase speed, so two slow DSL lines is the best option for him for now.

Consolidated isn’t likely to make a lot of money taking over FairPoint’s residential and business landlines or DSL accounts. But it could earn substantial revenue from FairPoint’s extensive fiber network laid across the three northern New England states it serves. Companies and public institutions rely on fiber connectivity, as do cell towers — including the future swarm of 5G small cells expected to eventually be placed across the phone company’s footprint.

The phone company’s biggest rival is Comcast, which has some cable coverage in the region, but large sections of all three states are bypassed by Comcast and Charter Communications, which has a substantial presence in eastern Maine.

Charter Spectrum Updates Approved Modem List for New Speed Tiers

Phillip Dampier January 11, 2018 Broadband Speed, Charter Spectrum, Consumer News 5 Comments

[Clarification 1/15/2018: This list only covers customer-owned modems approved by Charter Communications. It is not a comprehensive list of modems that may have been supplied directly by Charter/Spectrum, or its predecessors Time Warner Cable or Bright House Networks, which are obviously also acceptable. However, if you have a modem supplied by Time Warner or Bright House, it might not support the upgraded faster speeds Spectrum now offers. You might want to contact customer service to verify whether your current modem is capable of performing at the speeds now provided.]

Charter Communications recently increased broadband speeds for most of their customers, and many cable modems that are still in use from the days of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks cannot support the company’s fastest speed tiers. As a result, Charter has updated their approved/recommended cable modem list to help customers obtain a modem that can support faster speeds.

Those customers who have moved away from a legacy Time Warner Cable or Bright House internet plan can get a free cable modem from a local Spectrum cable store. If you prefer to still own your own, here is the updated listing. We recommend choosing a model capable of supporting up to 300 Mbps speed because additional speed upgrades are likely in the future. Most customers now receive at least 100 Mbps service, so at least choose a model that can support that speed.

Gigabit (940 Mbps) Tier

At this time there are no modems that have passed certification testing for the Spectrum Internet 1 Gig speed tier (940Mbps). You need to use a cable modem supplied by Charter/Spectrum.

400 Mbps

Vendor Model
ARRIS SB6190
ASUS CM-32_AC2600
Linksys CM3024
NETGEAR C7000-100NAS
NETGEAR CM600

300 Mbps

Vendor Model
ARRIS SB6183
ARRIS SB6190
ARRIS SBG6900-AC
ASUS CM-16
Motorola MB7420
Motorola MB7540
Motorola MB7550
NETGEAR C6250
NETGEAR C6300
NETGEAR CM500-100NAS
SMC NETWORKS D3CM1604
TP-Link Archer CR700
TP-LINK TC-7620
Zoom 5370

100 Mbps

Vendor Model
ARRIS SB6141
ARRIS SBG6400
ARRIS SBG6580
ARRIS SBG6580-2
ARRIS SBG6700-AC
D-Link DCM301
LINKSYS CM3008
Motorola MB7220
Motorola MG7310
Motorola MG7315
NETGEAR C3000-100NAS
NETGEAR C3700-100NAS
NETGEAR CM400
NETGEAR 450 CG3000Dv2
TP-LINK TC-7610
TP-LINK TC-W7960
ZOOM 5341J
ZOOM 5345
ZOOM 5350
ZOOM 5352
ZOOM 5354
ZOOM 5360
ZOOM 5363
ZyXEL CDA30360

60 Mbps

Vendor Model
ARRIS SB6120
ARRIS SB6121
Netgear CDM31T

These modems are NOT RECOMMENDED, but are still allowed on the Charter/Spectrum network.

Vendor Model
ARRIS SBG6950AC2
ARRIS SBG7400AC2
ARRIS SBG7580
ASUS CM-32
LINKSYS CG7500
LINKSYS CM3016
NETGEAR C3000v2
NETGEAR C3700v2
NETGEAR C6300-100NAS
NETGEAR C6900
NETGEAR C7000v2
NETGEAR C7500
NETGEAR CM700
NETGEAR N450-100NAS
TP-LINK CR500
TP-LINK CR1900
TP-LINK TC7650
ZOOM Motorola MB7621

Charter Spectrum Hurrying Out 100 Mbps Speed Upgrades Before Year’s End

Updated 12/15: The speed upgrades for several regions including upstate New York have now launched. You may need to reset your modem to get the new speeds. You should see at least 100/10 Mbps. If that does not work, call or chat with Spectrum and have them reauthorize your modem. If you are on a legacy Bright House or Time Warner Cable plan, you will not get these upgrades until you change to a Spectrum plan. We will have a report up on the home page shortly about additional gigabit speed upgrades likely to launch next week later tonight. — PMD

“By the end of the year, Charter’s flagship speed will be an industry leading 100 megabits per second (Mbps) in virtually every market we serve. In the last year, we increased that speed 66% – from 60 Mbps to an even faster 100 Mbps – at no extra cost to our customers. Additionally, in a growing number of markets, we have begun upgrading that flagship speed to 200 Mbps.” — Charter Communications blog post for Nov. 30, 2017

Charter Communications is hurrying out 100 Mbps speed upgrades to “virtually all” its markets, whether customers were originally serviced by Charter or were acquired from Bright House Networks or Time Warner Cable.

The company has been on a publicity drive to suggest its merger/buyout of BH and TWC was consumer-friendly. Charter also wants to reassure shareholders concerned about the ongoing trend of cord-cutting and customer backlash over rising internet prices that the value of Spectrum’s faster internet service has improved.

Unfortunately, its publicity campaign also flies in the face of an industry push to convince Americans the Obama Administration’s Net Neutrality policies have neutered investments in broadband upgrades, which is exactly what did not happen with the second largest cable company in the country.

“Since 2014, Charter has invested more than $21 billion in [upgrades] including video delivery, more efficient bandwidth management and advanced compression technologies,” Charter wrote. “This investment has enabled us to improve the quality of our video while reducing the bandwidth needed for its delivery. The bandwidth that is made available can then be dedicated to significantly increasing our broadband speeds.”

Several legacy Time Warner Cable markets, particularly in upstate New York, New England, and some markets in the deep south and Rockies are still waiting for the digital television conversion that will free up bandwidth for internet speed upgrades. Albany, N.Y. is nearly complete and Rochester, N.Y. is next on the list.

Sources suggest Charter may find a way to boost speeds in almost all of its markets, regardless of whether digital TV conversions are complete. That would mean communities in these areas would see standard internet speeds rise from 60 Mbps to 100 Mbps at no extra charge. Those who agreed to pay Charter’s $199 upgrade fee for “Ultra” 100 Mbps service would see their speeds rise to as high as 300 Mbps.

A quick check showed no speed changes in the Rochester market as of this afternoon, but that could change before Christmas. Customers can check if they received an upgrade by briefly unplugging their cable modem and resetting it. A speed test will verify whether your areas has received an upgrade. Customers still holding onto a legacy Bright House or Time Warner Cable plan will see no speed changes. This is part of Charter’s effort to convince customers to abandon older plans and switch to Spectrum plans and pricing.

If speed upgrades are not in place by the end of 2017, they will be coming for the remaining Time Warner Cable markets in early 2018.

Meanwhile on Oahu, in Hawaii, Spectrum internet customers are welcoming gigabit internet (introductory price $104.99/mo). Those who don’t want to pay that much also received a free speed upgrade. What was 60 Mbps in the summer increased to 100 Mbps in the fall and as of Dec. 1 is now 200 Mbps. Similar speed increases will be coming to the cities that get gigabit upgrades from Charter. We anticipate all of those cities designated for gigabit service from Spectrum already have substantial competition from gigabit speed fiber to the home service from AT&T or Verizon.

Charter Introduces Gigabit Service on Oahu; New Standard Speed is 200Mbps

Charter Communications has announced gigabit broadband is available on the Hawaiian island of Oahu for $104.99/month, thanks to DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades being tested in the state.

Spectrum customers in Hawaii will also find their Standard tier internet speeds have also been doubled to 200Mbps, up from 100Mbps. A year ago, the company was selling 60Mbps broadband for the same $65 price it now charges for speeds more than triple as fast.

Charter has been at the rear of companies upgrading to DOCSIS 3.1 technology, primarily because the company is still upgrading legacy Time Warner Cable systems to free up space for boosting broadband speeds. The last analog television service in legacy Time Warner territory is not expected to disappear until 2019, with around half of former Time Warner Cable customers still waiting for upgrades. Charter executives don’t mind that the company is among the last, claiming that by the time DOCSIS 3.1 is fully deployed across their systems, equipment will be cheaper and more plentiful.

Charter plans to roll out DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades in selected cities — almost all facing substantial competition from Verizon FiOS, AT&T Fiber, or a municipal gigabit fiber provider — starting in 2018. But most markets will have to wait until 2019 or later before gigabit speeds become available from Spectrum.

Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge added Spectrum customers will see base plan speeds increase as the company continues its upgrade strategy.

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  • Chris: Im in Tri-Cities, WA and just caught wind of the upgrade. Charter said they'd be doing this at some point over the last year and it finally happened f...
  • JayS: It will be interesting to see how companies in Utility-Monopoly like markets (Cable Tv, Electric, Wired Internet) treat the "tax rate windfall". Then...
  • Adam Bryant: Please give us any updates you have on this! I received an approval letter on 11/29/2017 12:16 PM sayign they would be sending a check within 10 busin...
  • jgbbmodelrailroad: New York State has a weird law that means Internet Service Providers pay they same taxes on infrastructure regardless of how many customers it serves,...
  • nanaki: If your on a 100mbit card you will not see a full 100 mbit but do to over head will see between 70 and 85 90 if your computer and network are brand ne...
  • Jose: I can strongly relate to your frustration. My elderly neighbors were having issues with their Spectrum phone line always going down. It took about 6...
  • Jose: I believe there is some truth to the price of the cable box. Before my next door neighbors switched over to a Spectrum plan, they were paying about $...
  • Phillip Dampier: Charter has not fully converted former Time Warner Cable customers to its legacy Charter website and support platform, which is why TWC customers ente...
  • Phillip Dampier: Folks, I should have been more clear that this list is for approved CUSTOMER-OWNED modems for Charter/Spectrum customers. It does not include modems s...
  • Curious George: use this list too the ubee is on this list under Modems offered by Spectrum https://www.timewarnercable.com/en/support/internet/topics/modems.html#/...
  • Josh: sigh Capitalism, whee!...
  • EJ: Yep, yep they have essentially created another way to profit off of their shotty lower up time network. Give the guy that thought of this a big fat ra...

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