Home » broadband » Recent Articles:

Comcast Extends $9.95 Internet Essentials to Low-Income Veterans

Comcast announced this week it is expanding its $9.95 discount internet access program Internet Essentials to qualified low-income veterans.

“Veterans have stood up for our country, and for our way of life, and we believe it’s time for all of us to stand up for those veterans,” said David L. Cohen, Comcast’s senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer, speaking at a news conference Monday at a veterans housing complex under construction in Philadelphia. Cohen claimed the program’s expansion “will enable us to reach about a million low-income veterans.”

Comcast’s Internet Essentials

  • $9.95/month
  • 15/2 Mbps service
  • No activation fees and no equipment rental fees
  • Option to purchase laptop/computer for $149.99 + tax
  • Access to free internet training online, in print and in person
  • A free Comcast Wireless Gateway, delivering in-home Wi-Fi at no additional cost

Comcast requires all applicants, including veterans, to pre-qualify for the service with an application and agree to submit re-qualification paperwork annually. The cable company has carefully shielded its program from cannibalizing existing internet revenue by excluding almost everyone who currently subscribes to Comcast internet service or has a pre-existing past due balance. Applicants have to certify they have not had Comcast internet service for at least 90 days before submitting an application (not applicable to customers in the city of Philadelphia), must prove their low-income status by sending proof they are enrolled in one of several federal assistance programs, and prove their veteran status.

Qualified Assistance Programs

  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • National School Lunch Program’s Free Lunch Program
  • Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps or SNAP)
  • Federal Public House Assistance
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
  • Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TTANF)
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
  • Head Start

In the seven years of its existence, Comcast has only managed to enroll six million people in the program, a fraction of those that would otherwise qualify who live in Comcast service areas. Most critics blame Comcast’s onerous qualification requirements for the relatively low enrollment.

Bryan Mercer, executive director of West Philadelphia’s Media Mobilizing Project, told The Inquirer Internet Essentials offers “speeds that don’t even meet the FCC definition of broadband” and a “series of restrictions” that disqualify those who already manage to scrape enough money together to buy Comcast internet access without the benefit of the Internet Essentials discount program. Mercer says the restrictions that insist customers go without Comcast internet for at least three months and never have an outstanding bill are particularly hard for many low-income people to meet.

“That is a real roadblock to someone trying to keep their utilities affordable and their families online,” Mercer told the newspaper.

About 70 percent of low-income veterans presently lack internet access. In Philadelphia, the nation’s poorest large city, the contrast between super-wealthy Comcast and the thousands of poverty-level residents is striking. Because of its large low-income population, only about 75% of Philadelphia’s residents have internet access. Detroit, which has seen major depopulation and is no longer deemed a “large city,” is even worse, with only 60.9% of city residents signed up for internet.

Nearly half of all adults with an income below $30,000 don’t have home broadband service or a traditional computer, a 2017 Pew Research study found.

Comcast has been testing expansion of its Internet Essentials program, which originally only targeted families with school-age children, with new qualifying groups to boost subscriber numbers:

  • Low-Income Seniors: (SSI, Medicaid, and other low-income program participation required). Only available in: Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Fresno County, Calif., Hartford County, Conn., Houston, Miami-Dade County, Fla., Palm Beach County, Fla., Philadelphia, San Francisco, Santa Clara County, Calif., and Seattle.
  • Housing Assistance: Everywhere Comcast is available. Enrollees have to prove they receive qualifying housing assistance.
  • Internet Essentials Philadelphia: Only available in Philadelphia, this program offers less pre-qualification restrictions, but maintains proof of low-income requirements to enroll.
  • Community College: Available only to those enrolled in a participating two-year community college in Illinois or Colorado, and receive a Pell Grant.

Comcast was required to offer and finance Internet Essentials as a deal condition for approval of is 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal. Although that deal commitment expired in 2014, Comcast has voluntarily extended it since then, but reserves the right to change or discontinue the program at any time.

Altice Dismisses Wireless Broadband as Inadequate, “There is No Substitute” for Wired

Goei

While Wall Street and the tech media seems excited about the prospect of 5G and other fixed wireless home broadband services, Altice, which owns Cablevision and Suddenlink, dismissed wireless broadband as inadequate to meet rapidly growing broadband usage.

“In terms of usage patterns, our customers are taking an average download speed of 162 Mbps as of the second quarter of 2018, which is up 74% year-over-year,” Dexter Goei, CEO of Altice USA told investors on a recent conference call. “[Our customers now use] over 220 GB of data per month, which is up 20% year-over-year, with 10 in-home connected devices, on average. If you take the top 10% of our highest data consuming customers as a leading indicator, they are using, on average, almost 1 terabyte of data per month with 26 in-home connected devices. To support these usage patterns, which are mainly driven by video streaming and the proliferation of new over-the-top [streaming] services, it requires a high quality fixed network like ours. There is no substitute.”

Goei argued America’s wireless carriers are not positioned to offer a credible, serious home broadband alternative.

“For example, so-called unlimited data plans from the U.S. mobile operators start capping or significantly throttling customers at 20 GB of usage per month,” Goei said. “Over 60% of our customers are now using over 100 GB of data per month right now, which the mobile operators do not and will not have the capacity to match on a scaled basis unless they overbuild with a new dense fiber network.”

Altice just so happens to be building a dense fiber network, scrapping Cablevision’s remaining coaxial cable in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut in favor of a fiber-to-the-home network that will eventually reach all of its customers.

TDS Wins 54% Market Share After Upgrading Customers to Fiber Service

Phone companies can beat their cable competitors, but only if they invest in fiber upgrades that can deliver as-advertised broadband service and speed.

TDS Telecom, an independent phone company based in Chicago, has reported good results from the $60 million in fiber upgrades it has committed to complete in 2018.

TDS has been overbuilding beyond its existing telephone service areas to deliver broadband, phone, and television service to communities evaluated as:

  • Having a good demographic mix of upper middle class residents;
  • Experiencing population growth;
  • Underserved by incumbent phone/cable companies;
  • Offers good population density where homes and business are close enough to each other to warrant the expense of wiring each for fiber service.

TDS chief financial officer Vicki Villacrez made her case with investors to think positively about investments in fiber, reporting one TDS market garnered a 54% market share in broadband and took 33% of the market share for video after fiber service arrived.

TDS, unlike many other independent phone companies, is not avoiding investments in delivering faster broadband speed to customers. TDS typically reinvests 75% of its revenue in network upgrades and returns the other 25% to shareholders. Outside of its landline service areas, TDS has also acquired cable companies to provide service to customers, offering gigabit speeds in many areas.

In rural areas, the company is combining federal Connect America Funds with its own money to deploy bonded DSL service in areas too unprofitable to serve with fiber. This typically delivers faster internet service than rural broadband rollouts from other phone companies like Windstream and Frontier.

TDS is often the third provider in its overbuilt markets, a fact that is usually not well-received by investors because it can constrain market share and potential profits. TDS chooses its overbuild markets where incumbents have chronically underinvested in their networks, and the result is “pent-up demand” by customers, according to Villacrez. TDS’ market share is typically higher in their markets than other overbuilders.

Villacrez routinely tells investors the company’s success largely depends on fiber upgrades. About 24 percent of TDS Telecom’s local landline service area now has fiber to the home service, and the company is aggressively cutting the number of customers still served by slow traditional ADSL service.

GOP Rival for Governor of New York Backs Charter Spectrum; Calls Cuomo “Putin on the Hudson”

Molinaro

Charter Communications has found itself an ally in Marc Molinaro, Republican candidate for New York’s governor, who attacked Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday for ordering the removal of Spectrum from New York State.

“We’ve got a megalomaniac on our hands, a veritable ‘Putin on the Hudson,'” Molinaro charged, defending the cable company for being attacked by the governor and “his surrogates” for political purposes.

Cuomo “put his thumb on the scale of a major PSC decision,” said Molinaro. “I think Andrew Cuomo got furious with NY1 News and effectively pulled the plug on an entire cable system as punishment to NY1, and as a warning to others he can affect who dare to ask him tough questions.”

Molinaro has repeatedly claimed the Public Service Commission is in the back pocket of the governor’s office.

Cuomo vs. NY1 – Spectrum’s 24-hour news channel in New York City

Molinaro’s campaign has been critical of an ongoing spat between the governor and reporters from NY1, Spectrum’s 24-hour news channel in New York City.

Earlier this month, Cuomo bristled at a question about improper campaign contributions from Crystal Run Healthcare, a health insurance provider in Middletown. NY1 reporter Zack Fink asked if the governor was considering returning those contributions and launching an internal investigation.

Gov. Cuomo

GOV. CUOMO: […] If the ongoing investigation finds any fraud, then as we’ve always done, we will return the donations. That’s standard operating procedure. We’re doing it in this case; we’ve always done it.

But speaking of fraud, Charter Spectrum has been executing fraud on the people of this state. They were given a franchise for a very specific set of conditions. It is a very valuable franchise. Many companies could have been given the franchise. Charter Spectrum said that they would increase cable access to the poor and rural communities around the state. That was the condition of them getting the franchise. I promised this state 100% high-speed broadband. Why? Because high-speed broadband is going to be the great equalizer, the great democratizer.

Whether you’re a business, an individual, you’re going to need high-speed broadband to be competitive. Charter Spectrum defrauded this state. They are defrauding consumers. Charter Spectrum is running ads that say we are ahead of schedule and at no cost to the taxpayer. The Public Service Commission said they’re behind schedule, not on schedule, and certainly not ahead of schedule. And to say it is no cost to the taxpayers is also a fraud, because that’s the condition upon which the taxpayers gave you the franchise. So you are defrauding the people of this state. That’s a fraud.

Fink

ZACK FINK (NY1): You said the PSC is looking into new operators. Is it the PSC’s place to do that or is it the market’s?

GOV. CUOMO: Are you speaking on behalf of Charter Spectrum or yourself?

ZACK FINK (NY1): No, I’m just asking a question. You brought it up so I’m curious. You said Friday that the PSC was looking at potential new operators.

GOV. CUOMO: Well, the Public Service Commission is saying that Charter Spectrum violated their franchise agreement. If you violate your franchise agreement, then you lose the franchise agreement and then they would have to find another operator without disruption to any of the consumers or the good workers of Charter Spectrum.

Viewers of NY1, a Spectrum News channel, never saw this exchange, which was widely covered elsewhere by the New York media. Viewers also didn’t see an on-the-record call-in by the governor made later than day to NY1’s newsroom to discuss the exchange. News of the call leaked after nobody at NY1 would publicly discuss it or why the news channel refused to air it.

Cuomo’s opponents on both his left and right criticized the governor over his treatment of the NY1 reporter.

“I’ll come right out and say it. It looks to me like Andrew Cuomo is trying to send a chilling message to the news media, ’don’t mess with me’, and I hope the inspector general can prove me wrong,” Molinaro said in a statement.

This week, Molinaro turned up the heat by claiming the governor was “acting more like a third-world dictator trying to intimidate the news media into dropping stories than an elected democratic leader who respects the First Amendment and has nothing to fear from it.”

Cynthia Nixon, running for the Democratic nomination to the left of Cuomo politically, claimed his chastising of NY1 reporters was out of line, resembling how Donald Trump treats the press.

“Cuomo can’t hold himself up as New York’s answer to Donald Trump, and simultaneously threaten members of the press for doing their job,” Nixon said, asking the governor to apologize.

Cuomo’s spokesman Rich Azzopardi claimed the ongoing criticism of Charter is nothing new for Gov. Cuomo.

“The governor answered his question and made the same statement that he has made to Charter Spectrum reporters and reporters statewide numerous times over the past few months, communicating the facts of the state’s two-year dispute with Charter for failing to serve the citizens of the state,” Azzopardi said.

Cuomo has made offhand remarks about Charter since the company replaced Time Warner Cable in 2016. He criticized NY1 and other Spectrum News stations around the state for not covering the IBEW strike against the cable company or a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general over the cable company’s failure to deliver on advertised broadband speeds.

“They virtually blacked it out,” Cuomo said of Spectrum News during a press event held on the day the PSC voted to drop Charter as a provider in New York.

Azzopardi also denied Molinaro’s accusation that the governor was involved in the PSC’s decision to force Charter to leave New York and dismissed the Republican opponent for spreading unproven “conspiracy theories.”

Cuomo is widely expected to be re-elected, with both Nixon and Molinaro running significantly behind the governor in polls. The primary is on Sept. 13.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo discusses Charter’s broken promises to New York State during a visit to Rochester, N.Y.  (Courtesy: Democrat & Chronicle) (2:28)

Frontier’s Latest Salvation Plan Doesn’t Include Significant Broadband Upgrades

While celebrating its success at cutting $350 million in expenses, Frontier’s newest plan to keep the company from drifting towards bankruptcy is a $500 million increase in revenue (and hopefully profits) with a series of “revenue enhancements” and cost cutting.

Significant broadband upgrades in legacy DSL service areas are not on the table, as Frontier continues to spend most of its capital on matching Connect America Funds (CAF) and state grants to expand broadband into unserved and underserved rural areas.

“Approximately 80% of our capital program continues to focus on revenue generating and productivity enhancing projects,” said R. Perley McBride, Frontier’s outgoing chief financial officer. “The focus of our capital spending remains consistent. We continue to focus on our CAF builds, using both wired and wireless technologies.”

Frontier has been criticized by some for spending too much on its network and acquisitions and not enough on shareholder return. The company suspended its dividend in February, and the share price has remained below $6 a share since July. After announcing its latest quarterly results and a new $500 million EBITDA initiative on July 31, the average share price posted only modest gains of around $0.25 a share.

Frontier’s business remains troubled, with looming debt repayments in its future. The date to remember is Sept. 15, 2022 — the day Frontier needs to repay $2 billion in unsecured bonds to maintain its credibility in the credit markets. If it fails to pay, the company could find future financing difficult, which is often what triggers a trip to bankruptcy court.

The year 2022 is also very important to Californians. Frontier disclosed it planned to expand rural broadband service to 847,000 unserved/underserved rural residents by the end of 2022, with specific commitments in the next few years to upgrade 77,402 locations, in part with CAF funding, increase broadband speed for 250,000 households, and deploy newly available service to 100,000 homes.

Frontier’s own deployment goals in California — goals the company may not be honoring. (Image courtesy of: Steve Blum’s blog)

According to the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), Frontier has no intention of meeting its rural broadband commitments. In effect, similar to Charter Communications, it merely made the commitments to win approval of its acquisition of Verizon’s wireline and FiOS business in California.

A day of reckoning for the company’s alleged failure to meet its obligations is likely forthcoming. Steve Blum’s blog notes Frontier isn’t saying much:

In its formal response to CETF’s allegations, Frontier never actually says that it kept to that timetable. All it says is that “Frontier sent a letter to the Communication Division dated March 8, 2018 on its commitments that includes a confidential attachment reflecting completed locations through December 31, 2017”. It sent a letter, but doesn’t say what’s in the letter or even claim that the letter documents fulfillment of its obligations.

CETF told California regulators a disturbing story about Frontier’s failure to perform and other allegations in its filing with the California Public Utilities Commission, alleging Frontier is reneging on the deal it made with the state and various stakeholders in return for getting its acquisition approved. The group also accused Frontier of failing to deliver on its affordable broadband offering, because the company made signing up difficult and bundled extra fees and surcharges onto the bill.

“Frontier launched its existing affordable broadband offer in late August 2016 and to date only 9,173 adoptions have been achieved, a mere 4.5% of the 200,000 household adoption goal,” the CETF wrote. “Due to the initial Frontier eligibility requirement that Frontier customers be a telephone landline Lifeline subscriber and the total bundled cost, the affordable broadband offer has only attracted 7,452 low-income subscribers, which is 190,827 households short of the agreed-upon goal.”

Frontier has a employer turnover problem in California, evident from this filing by the CETF. (Courtesy: CETF)

The CETF said Frontier was “shirking” and should face the maximum fine of $50,000 a day retroactive to July 1, 2016 for failure to comply with its obligations. As of the end of July, 2018 that fine would amount to over $39 million.

To comply with existing obligations to California, Frontier could have to spend in excess of $1 billion in the next two years. But Frontier has told investors it planned to spend no more than $1.15 billion on capex in fiscal year 2018 across its entire national service area. This could explain why Frontier may be stalling on upgrades in California.

Also raining on Frontier’s parade is the muted reaction to Frontier’s latest money-raising scheme. Shareholders appear lukewarm, with some openly skeptical that Frontier can deliver what it promises.

The plan’s success depends on:

  • Frontier’s ability to raise rates and find other “revenue enhancements” of $150-200 million. Rate increases drive customers to competitors, reducing revenue.
  • Vague “operational improvements” are expected to bring $150-200 million.
  • Customer care and support savings are anticipated to generate $125-175 million in EBITDA benefit.

Outgoing CFO McBride relies heavily on opaque corporate-speak like this, with few specifics:

“In addition to the dedicated resources, we are utilizing a new approach that will significantly accelerate the benefits of both revenue and expense initiatives. This new approach involves utilization of external expertise to significantly reduce the time to successfully realize our objectives. This will allow us to execute more initiatives in parallel while still managing day to day requirements of the business.”

In short, this suggests Frontier will outsource a lot of initiatives they used to manage in-house. The company also plans to start limiting truck rolls to customer homes if the company determines the problem is likely elsewhere in their network. It also claims it is cutting customer hold times at their call centers, which are still frequently outsourced.

What Frontier has made clear, again, is their determination to keep a cap on spending, which means much of the money Frontier will spend each year will go towards network maintenance, not service upgrades. Therefore, customers can expect incremental upgrades, usually when a construction project requires Frontier to replace existing copper wire infrastructure with fiber optics or at a building site for a new housing development. Most customers in existing neighborhoods served by legacy copper wiring on the poles since the 1960s will continue to be serviced by those lines until they are torn down in a storm or stolen. Frontier has consistently shown no interest in wholesale network upgrades in its legacy service areas.

Search This Site:

Contributions:

Recent Comments:

  • Tommy Todd: This sounds good. But getting help to get the process started is next to impossible. The mobile website is a dead end, can't even check the service ma...
  • BestLolita: I have noticed you don't monetize your blog, don't waste your traffic, you can earn additional cash every month. You can use the best adsense alterna...
  • EJ: Josh you are correct as of right now. Without unlimited and/or very high (1TB) caps 4g/5g is nothing more then competition for satellite internet. We ...
  • Dylan: Got that right!...
  • Gayle Conversion: My name is Gayle Anne Wehner-Foglesong.To McAdams! Watch your mouth! You do not blame anyone but yourself. I know everything and I want my money now! ...
  • Michael sherwood: Spectrum charged me an overdue amount and I haven't even been with them for a month...
  • Josh: He’s not wrong, for once. The cell phone stuff keeps blathering s out speeds and how great it is, then can’t actuslly provide unlimited service or an...
  • Dylan: Yeah, Spectrum definitely needs this. I know here in New York, we have National Grid as our electric and gas provider and they definitely tell you abo...
  • FRED HALL: I wish Spectrum had this (and it was accurate). Whenever there's an outage, their tech support is either too stupid or too lazy to let the customer r...
  • Bob61571: TDS Telecom is a sub of Telephone & Data Systems(TDS). US Cellular is also a sub of TDS. TDS Telecom owns a number of smaller small town/rural t...
  • D H: If you want to really feature someone serious for the Governorship. I would suggest Larry Sharpe instead who is actually doing a grassroots campaign....
  • David: Well, I dropped them for earthlink DSL which is slower and buggier but I don't regret it since I don't accept getting pushed around. If earthlink keep...

Your Account: