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UAE Leads With 93.7% of Homes on Fiber Internet; U.S. Lags at 13.1%

Phillip Dampier September 21, 2017 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

The United Arab Emirates now has the highest penetration of fiber optic broadband in the world, according to data from the FTTH Council Europe.

At least 93.7% of UAE homes are now hooked up to fiber-to-the-home internet service, and the country’s largest provider — Etisalat — promises it will spend millions more to further expand fiber connected home broadband and mobile services across the country.

In contrast, the United States has only wired 13.1% of its homes to fiber broadband, 11.8% in Canada. The countries with the highest percentage of fiber connections are the UAE, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan.

According to the World Bank, broadband internet is today seen as critical to the transition to knowledge-intensive economies across the world. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa are accelerating their fiber broadband programs, believing the technology will prove transformational to remake or build their economies in a digital world. As many first world countries’ telecommunications networks are captive to large, for-profit corporate interests that have dragged out broadband expansion to protect profits, the developing world has a chance to leapfrog over countries in North America and Europe and launch new connected technology centers for the digital economy.

For the UAE, fiber optic broadband is a critical part of the country’s Vision 2021 strategy to invest vast sums in infrastructure and development programs to diversify the country’s economy away from its dependence on oil and gas reserves and guarantee future prosperity.

Charter/Spectrum Sweetens Deal for New Customers With $500 Contract Buyout Offer

Phillip Dampier September 21, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 1 Comment

Even as millions of Spectrum subscribers began paying higher rates for programming and equipment this month, Charter Communications has sweetened the deal for its new customers by offering free DVR service with their triple play bundle of TV Select, internet, and voice service for $89.97/mo during the first year. The cable company will also reimburse customers up to $500 to cover any early termination/contract buyout fees for canceling their satellite or telephone company video package.

Charter’s “Strategic Accounts” department is handling the promotion, and it will benefit customers where there is significant competition between Spectrum and AT&T and Verizon or satellite providers like DirecTV and Dish Networks. Spectrum does not cover early termination fees from cell phone companies, and you must have subscribed to a “comparable level of service,” which disqualifies competitors like Hulu, Netflix, DirecTV Now, and Amazon.

Like the rebates Time Warner Cable used to offer customers, there is a specific process to submit documentation to qualify for this rebate, and skipping a step means… no rebate and no recourse. In addition to this FAQ, Stop the Cap! has this advice:

  1. You must install and keep current a qualified Spectrum triple play package from the time you submit the rebate request until the day you receive a check.
  2. You cannot have had Spectrum Video service within the last 30 days, something we’ll explain below.
  3. Your account must not be past due.
  4. You must submit a copy of your provider’s final bill showing itemized early termination fees actually billed to your account. Bank/credit card statements showing charges are not eligible.
  5. You must complete the “Charter Contract Buyout Form” in full and submit it by e-mail or by mail to: Spectrum, 7800 Crescent Exec. Dr., Charlotte, NC 28217, ATTN: Strategic Accounts Dept. with your documentation. Try to make sure the names on both accounts match.
  6. Your rebate request must be received by Charter within 60 days of installation of a Charter triple play package or within two weeks of the date listed on the competing provider’s final bill, whichever is later.
  7. Charter will only reimburse you for the actual amount of the early termination fee, up to a maximum of $500. Cash the check within six months or lose it.

Charter insists customers who have had Spectrum Video service within the last 30 days cannot qualify for this rebate. This is an effort to close a loophole where an existing Spectrum customer cancels their regularly-priced cable service, switches to a competitor for a few weeks, and then promptly switches back to a Spectrum package at the new customer price, which also leaves Charter on the hook for paying the early termination fee charged by the other company. To avoid this, a customer would have to cancel Spectrum service, switch to a competitor for at least 31 days, and then switch back to Spectrum. That is likely to be a hassle for most people.

Customers who have participated in these rebate schemes in the past also warn that companies can reject a rebate if you do not have a “comparable” level of service with a competitor. In other words, if you signed up for a $20 basic video package and then head to Spectrum for a $90 triple play package, the company may not consider that “comparable.” “Comparable” can mean the dollar amount of the video package you have with a competitor or the combination of a satellite package with one provider and a broadband package with another. You can contact Charter directly and check if your existing package(s) qualify. If the representative says yes, write down the name of the person and keep it handy in case your rebate request is later rejected.

Charter says you won’t have long to wait for a rebate rejection or a check.

“When you submit your information to the Contract Buyout Team, your information goes through a verification process, which can take up to 5-7 business days. After approval, your check will arrive within 10 business days,” the company reports.

Other factors to consider:

  • Cable TV equipment is required and costs extra ($5.99/mo per HD box or DVR for new customers).
  • You will receive Spectrum’s base internet package, which is 60Mbps or 100Mbps in former TWC Maxx service areas. A $199 upgrade fee applies for faster speed.
  • Installation fees apply. You can avoid them with a self-install kit which can be mailed or picked up at a Spectrum retail store at no extra charge.
  • Fees and surcharges apply. The most important is the Broadcast TV Fee, which usually adds around $7.50 a month to your TV bill.
  • Rates reset to Charter’s regular price at the end of one year. There is no contract, so you can cancel anytime.

Denver Spent Last Night Without Comcast; One Fiber Line Cut Wipes Cable Out

Phillip Dampier September 19, 2017 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 3 Comments

A construction crew accidentally severed a single fiber optic cable on Monday and wiped out TV, broadband, and phone service for Comcast customers in metropolitan Denver.

The outage began at 4:30pm and lasted until around midnight when service was restored. Customers reported problems across Denver, Aurora, and other surrounding areas.

In these circumstances, Comcast does not usually give automatic bill credits for service outages — customers have to request them. But the widespread outage triggered a press release from Comcast claiming service credits will be automatic for “affected customers:”

We appreciate everyone’s patience during yesterday’s service outage in the Denver area. We regret the impact to our customers and we want to make it right. We are conducting an investigation into the cause and full impact of the outage. Upon completion of the investigation and identification of the impacted residential customers, we will automatically apply credits to their accounts.

If you are still experiencing issues with your service please send your account number and a brief description to our customer care team by clicking here or connect with an agent by phone or chat here.

If you want to be certain about receiving a credit, contact Comcast directly and ask for one instead of waiting for them.

Even Frontier Hints Without Major Broadband Upgrades, It’s Dead

Phillip Dampier September 18, 2017 Consumer News, Frontier 6 Comments

Frontier Communications spent $2 billion in 2014 to purchase AT&T’s Connecticut wireline business, believing it could make a fortune selling internet and cable television service to wealthy Nutmeg State residents over a network AT&T upgraded to fiber-to-the-neighborhood service several years earlier.

But thanks to a combination of management incompetence, cord-cutting, and Frontier’s competitors, the phone company’s dreams have turned bad in Connecticut, where the company lost hundreds of millions in the last three years along with at least 22% of its customers in the state. As a result, Frontier has turned a business that made AT&T $1.3 billion four years ago into one that earned Frontier $901.9 million last year.

Hartford Business notes Frontier’s biggest challenge is holding on to customers once they disconnect their landline service. In Connecticut between 2014 and 2016, Frontier lost 154,000 landline customers in the state, leaving just under 522,000 remaining landline customers. That is way down from the 675,000 customers AT&T had just before it sold the service area to Frontier. AT&T struggled with a similar problem, having more than one million landline customers in 2011, according to numbers from Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURA). What made AT&T different is its investment in U-verse — AT&T’s answer to the challenge of lost landline customers. AT&T invested in a new fiber to the neighborhood network to boost broadband speeds and sell television service, giving departing landline customers a reason to continue doing business with AT&T.

For millions of Frontier Communications customers in its “legacy service areas” — owned and operated by Frontier for years, if not decades, those upgrades have been slow to come, if they have come at all. As a result, dropping Frontier service in favor of a wireless or cable company is not a difficult decision for many customers, and cable operators report significant growth where their only competition is DSL service from Verizon or Frontier.

Frontier’s own executives admit broadband upgrades are essential if Frontier is to survive the challenges of landline disconnects.

Customers are increasingly taking a pass on landline service.

“It’s a surprise to no one that we have voiceline declines in Connecticut,” Mark Nielsen, Frontier’s general counsel and executive vice president told the business newspaper. “The challenge is to build our internet and video business so as to offset the declines in voice. We are very committed to the Connecticut operation, we see great potential in it.”

That commitment is coming in the form of internet speed upgrades. Frontier’s primary competitors in the state are cable operators Comcast, Charter, and Cox, some offering speeds as high as a gigabit. Frontier is trying to compete by introducing speeds at or greater than 100Mbps, but so far only in a few parts of the state.

According to Nielsen, Frontier’s profitability is less important to investors than maintaining positive cash flow, which means assuring more money is coming into the operation than going out.

“Cash is what’s available to make investments to return capital to shareholders,” Nielsen said.

But that represents a conflict for Frontier, because many shareholders are attracted to the stock’s long history of returning money to shareholders in the form of dividend payouts. If Frontier has to invest more of its capital on upgrades and network upkeep, that can result in a dividend cut, which usually causes the share price to decline, sometimes dramatically. If Frontier can manage to invest less and cut costs, that frees up more money that can be paid to investors.

For the past several years, Frontier’s business plan has been to avoid spending large sums on network upgrades. But the company was willing to spend handsomely to acquire more customers from a three-state deal with Verizon that cost $10.5 billion. Frontier’s acquisition of Verizon landline customers in Florida, California, and Texas made sense for many shareholders because it would dramatically increase the number of customers served by Frontier, and that in turn would boost revenue and cash flow, from which Frontier’s dividend to shareholders would be paid. Frontier acquired a fiber rich, FiOS service area in all three states, which automatically meant the company would not need to undertake its own significant and costly upgrades.

But Frontier did have to transfer its newest customers from Verizon’s systems to those operated by Frontier. If a company spends enough time and money to protect customer data during such “flash cutovers,” they are usually successful. A company that attempts it without careful planning causes service to be disrupted, sometimes for weeks, which is exactly what happened after Frontier switched customers in the three states to its systems. Customers have never forgotten, and have left every quarter since the deal was first announced.

Financial analysts see where this is headed.

“Each and every quarter their revenues decline, and each and every quarter their customer totals decline,” David Burks, a financial analyst at Hilliard Lyons, told the newspaper. He called Frontier a company that is struggling. He added Frontier needs to stem revenue erosion. He downgraded Frontier’s stock last month after the company reported a second-quarter net loss of $662 million. He could not ignore what he called “disturbing trends,” such as an 11.5 percent year-over-year decline in total customers across Frontier’s entire operation.

 

To win new customers Frontier must improve its network with upgrades that will cost the company billions — spending that is certain to affect Frontier’s shareholder dividend. Even if it does spend money to upgrade, some analysts are wondering whether it is too late.

“The time to play catch up has passed, given the time to market advantage that cable has, and we expect continued pressures from cable as DOCSIS 3.1 steps up the speed advantage that cable already enjoys,” wrote Jeffries in a a report written about by FierceTelecom. “In our view, it is far too late for the ILECs to ramp spend to compete, particularly given high leverage and the significant cost required to expeditiously play catch up.”

N.Y. Settles With Charter Communications; Rural Expansion Website Now Available

New York residents can click the image above and input their address and see if Charter’s expanded service area will include their home or business.

The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) today announced approval of a $13 million settlement agreement with Charter Communications after the cable company failed to build-out its cable network as required in last year’s approval of Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable. The $13 million settlement is the largest cable company financial settlement of its kind in state history and possibly the largest in the nation’s.

“In its approval of the merger, the Commission required Charter to undertake several types of investments and other activities,” said Commission Chair John B. Rhodes. “While Charter is delivering on many of them, it failed to expand the reach of its network to un-served and under-served customers at the pace it committed. We are taking these additional steps to ensure full and complete compliance.”

Charter Communications was required, as a condition of approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable, to expand its broadband service to 145,000 unserved/underserved homes and businesses in New York over the next four years. Rural broadband expansion was one of the conditions Stop the Cap! recommended to the New York regulator in our testimony regarding the merger proposal.

In the first year, Charter failed to meet its buildout requirements, only reaching 15,164 locations — less than half of the 36,250 it agreed to serve by May, 2017. The cable company first tried to blame utility companies for dragging their feet allowing Charter to place its cables on their utility poles, an argument that failed to impress the PSC. Even if utility companies instantly cleared the way for Charter, the cable company admitted it would not be ready to proceed because of necessary preparatory work needed to begin the buildout.

As a result, Charter has been forced to place $13 million in an escrow-type account that New York can tap into in amounts of up to $1 million increments to penalize the company for further delays. Charter can win back all $13 million if it stops missing its six-month buildout targets. Each time it does miss a deadline, the State reserves the right to withdraw funds in amounts that will vary based on the seriousness of the violation. Some forfeited funds will be used to acquire computers and internet training for low-income New Yorkers. The rest will be channeled into New York’s general fund.

Charter’s new targets require the company to expand its cable service in increments of 21,646 homes over six periods through May 18, 2020.

Many rural New Yorkers with no access to broadband service have complained Charter has not been forthcoming about whether the broadband expansion will reach their individual home or business, so the cable company has also agreed to launch a new website where New Yorkers can input their home or business address to learn if they are included in the broadband expansion. Charter warns that inclusion on the build-list database is not a guarantee that a home or area will be actually be reached.

“Build plans, timelines, and all other information provided are subject to change and areas designated for build may not be built,” the website states.

Charter is also required to deliver broadband speeds up to 100Mbps statewide by the end of 2018 — something the company has already accomplished in almost every part of the state where it provides service. The company is not subject to broadband rate regulation, and Charter charges a $199 setup fee for customers who seek to upgrade to speeds in excess of 60Mbps (except in former Time Warner Cable Maxx service areas, where 100Mbps is already the standard broadband speed). Charter must also make 300Mbps available to all New York residents by the end of 2019, something the company will likely achieve in most parts of the state sometime late next year.

Charter Communications is by far the largest cable company serving New York State. The company provides cable television, internet and telephone service in the major metropolitan areas of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and the boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens and parts of Brooklyn. Cablevision, now owned by Altice, covers the other boroughs and Long Island, as well as part of the Hudson Valley and Westchester County.

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