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11 Cities Getting Verizon 5G Beta Test; No Details on Speed or Pricing Yet

Verizon will invite several thousand customers in 11 cities to participate in a “pre-commercial” beta test of its newly built 5G wireless network during the first half of 2017.

The fixed wireless, home broadband replacement will be provided over a limited coverage area in these cities: Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Bernardsville, N.J., Brockton, Mass., Dallas, Denver, Houston, Miami, Sacramento, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

Verizon’s announcement only generally promotes the future potential of 5G service without being too specific about what it intends to offer. We expect the service will be marketed as a wireless home broadband service, not for those on the go. There is no finalized standard for 5G service yet, so Verizon’s adaptation isn’t necessarily going to be the final standard and could change before the wireless provider expands the service to other customers.

“The 5G systems we are deploying will soon provide wireless broadband service to homes, enabling customers to experience cost-competitive, gigabit speeds that were previously only deliverable via fiber,” said Woojune Kim, vice president, Next Generation Business Team, Samsung Electronics.

Verizon’s ability to offer gigabit speeds will depend on several factors:

  • Backhaul connectivity: Verizon will likely choose areas where fiber connectivity is already installed, either as part of its FiOS project or through its fiber connections to cell towers. Because of the very high frequencies involved, 5G connectivity will be line-of-sight and the coverage area will be very limited, within a mile or less of the tower or small cell infrastructure Verizon will depend on to provide service to each neighborhood.
  • Distance and signal quality: 5G service will be distance sensitive and fixed wireless will require the installation of an antenna either pointed out a window or installed externally on a building. The further away, the slower the speed.
  • Shared network: Total available bandwidth on a 5G tower or small cell is shared among all users connected to it. During the initial beta test, speeds are likely to be very high. That may not stay the case as Verizon adds customers to its service.

Verizon has avoided mentioning specific speed tiers, pricing, whether service is unlimited or usage capped, equipment costs, and contract terms. We are also not aware if the service will be marketed by Verizon Communications, the wireline company that also markets FiOS or Verizon Wireless, the mobile operator side of Verizon.

Several of the test cities represent Verizon’s first home broadband invasion on other providers’ turf. Frontier Communications is likely unhappy to learn it faces direct competition from Verizon in Dallas. Verizon sold its landline and FiOS network in Texas to Frontier. Most of the other test cities seem to avoid direct competition with Charter Communications, as almost all are serviced by Comcast. The new 5G service will also compete directly with AT&T in Michigan, Georgia, Texas, Florida, and California.

AT&T Slowly Strangling U-verse TV to Reposition Bandwidth for Broadband

Phillip Dampier February 16, 2017 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

AT&T’s U-verse TV has been losing customers for over a year. (Image: Market Realist)

AT&T wants its U-verse TV video service dead, but is willing to watch it bleed customers for a while before likely downsizing or axing the service to make room for better broadband speeds.

The phone company has allowed U-verse TV to wither on the vine for more than a year, losing hundreds of thousands of customers every quarter since late 2015, and surprisingly has done almost nothing to stop the subscriber losses. In all, more than a million AT&T U-verse TV customers canceled service in 2016.

AT&T has admitted it has abandoned aggressively marketing its U-verse TV platform and has put its marketing muscle into selling DirecTV, the satellite provider AT&T acquired two years ago. DirecTV has added customers at a remarkably similar rate that AT&T has been losing U-verse TV customers. AT&T is even willing to watch customers walk into the arms of their competitors, a clear sign AT&T hopes their U-verse TV customers churn away.

Customers report U-verse TV-related promotions and retention plans have gotten worse in the last 14 months and some tell Stop the Cap! they were steered to DirecTV when they contacted AT&T to discuss their options.

Even the U-verse brand is being gradually discontinued. AT&T recently rebranded its fiber to the home service AT&T Fiber, dropping the AT&T U-verse with GigaPower brand the company had used since first announcing gigabit speed access.

AT&T U-verse as a brand is slowly disappearing in favor of AT&T Fiber.

Market Realist reports AT&T doesn’t necessarily want to spend a lot of money upgrading its legacy U-verse fiber to the neighborhood network across its entire landline service area, but needs to boost broadband speeds to stay competitive with cable broadband. When U-verse was originally launched, the service reserved much of its available bandwidth for television service, limiting broadband speeds to a maximum of around 24Mbps. That is no longer seen as competitively adequate and that leaves AT&T with only two options: upgrade its legacy infrastructure to support fiber-fed gigabit speed or reduce the amount of bandwidth devoted to television services and use it to expand broadband speeds.

AT&T is doing a little of both, expanding its gigabit broadband service in very limited areas in 46 cities with 23 more to come sometime this year. An indication of just how few customers can actually buy AT&T’s gigabit speeds was revealed indirectly by AT&T. Only four million homes and businesses, including 650,000 apartment and condo units can buy 1,000Mbps broadband from AT&T nationwide. Los Angeles and Chicago — both AT&T Fiber service areas, combined have more than five million potential customers alone.

In many cases, fewer than 10% of AT&T’s customers in AT&T Fiber cities can actually buy the service. In Knoxville, Tenn., AT&T admitted its gigabit service was only available in about 30 apartment and condominium complexes.

AT&T is promising to expand its fiber service to reach at least 12.5 million customers in 67 metro areas by the summer of 2019. But that will still likely leave more than half of AT&T’s customers out of reach of the service.

AT&T has told investors it plans no blockbuster budget increases to aggressively roll out fiber service across its footprint, which includes much of the south and midwest and large sections of California. Instead, it will likely offer fiber service to new housing developments, multi-dwelling units, and higher income areas. That decision still requires AT&T to do something for customers not on a near-term upgrade list, and that will likely be a gradual transformation of legacy U-verse into broadband-only service with speeds closer to 50-75Mbps, where video streaming from services like DirecTV Now can travel over the top to customers.

Charter Spectrum Raising Broadband Prices $5; $64.99/Mo for Entry-Level 60Mbps Plan

Customers in Florida and Texas received this notice with his latest cable bill. (Image courtesy: Nucleartx)

The “consumer benefits” of Charter Communications’ acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks just keep on coming as the company has begun hiking the cost of its broadband plans by $5 a month:

Important Billing Update: At Spectrum, we continue to enhance our services, offer more of the best entertainment choices and deliver the best value. We are committed to offering you products and services we are sure you will enjoy.

Effective with your next billing statement, pricing will be adjusted for:

  • Internet Service from $59.99 to $64.99.

If you are currently on a discounted rate, you will not realize an increase until the end of your promotional period.

The rate increase means Charter/Spectrum’s nationally available, entry-level broadband plan will now cost customers $64.99 a month. The company is also hiking rates on its Ultra tier (300Mbps in former Time Warner Cable Maxx markets, 100Mbps in most other markets) by $5 to $104.99.

Customers signed up to Spectrum’s base 60Mbps internet plan may be able to threaten their way to a lower price by contacting customer service and informing them you plan to switch to Earthlink, which is offering lower-speed plans as low as $29.99 a month for six months. Charter Spectrum has given many complaining customers a 12-month retention plan priced at $39.99 or $44.95 a month for 60Mbps.

Ajit Pai Starts FCC Chairmanship by Clear-Cutting Pro-Consumer Policies, Cheap Internet for the Poor

Pai

Like President Donald Trump, Ajit Pai is a busy man. He’s spent his first month as FCC chairman gutting his predecessor’s legacy, reversing pro-consumer policies, ending forays into set-top box competition, fair pricing for inmate phone calls, cheap internet access for the poor, ending reviews of data caps and zero rating practices, and threatening to terminate Net Neutrality with extreme prejudice.

No wonder Bob Quinn, AT&T senior executive vice president of external & legislative affairs applauded President Trump’s appointment of Pai, proclaiming he will “quickly and decisively put back in place the commonsense regulatory framework necessary to support the President’s agenda for job creation, innovation and investment. We look forward to working with him and his team and the FCC to support President Trump’s growth agenda.”

AT&T’s only growth agenda is sending customers ever-increasing bills, and with Mr. Pai at the helm of the FCC, they are sure to get their wish.

Over their terms at the FCC under the Obama Administration, Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly frequently complained their minority voices on the Commission were ignored and newly proposed regulations or policies would come before the FCC so quickly, there was inadequate time for public review. But since Pai teamed up with O’Rielly to abolish many of the most important achievements of his predecessor, Chairman Thomas Wheeler, they have reportedly all but ignored the sole remaining Democrat currently serving on the Commission — Mignon Clyburn.

Last Friday, Clyburn accused Pai of hypocrisy for complaining about policies being rushed for a vote without explanation before doing the same thing himself late last week.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn

Clyburn

“Today is apparently ‘take out the trash day.’ In an eponymous episode of the West Wing, White House Chief of Staff Josh Lyman stated: ‘Any stories we have to give the press that we’re not wild about, we give all in a lump on Friday . . . Because no one reads the paper on Saturday,'” Clyburn said in a statement. “Today multiple Bureaus retract—without a shred of explanation—several items released under the previous administration that focus on competition, consumer protection, cybersecurity and other issues core to the FCC’s mission. In the past, then-Commissioner Pai was critical of the agency majority for not providing sufficient reasoning behind its decisions.”

Clyburn’s office asked for more than the allotted two days to review a dozen items that suddenly appeared on the FCC’s agenda.

“We were rebuffed,” Clyburn wrote.

Clyburn then accused Pai of violating the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires adequate public notice and a comment period for public input. When she asked the chairman to comply with the “reasoned decision-making requirements of the APA,” she was told ‘No deal.’

Mr. Pai’s regulatory rollback agenda has moved with breathtaking speed, according to some FCC observers. Consumer group Free Press today called Pai’s progress “Orwellian.” Over less than a month, Pai — with the help of Commissioner O’Rielly — has:

  • Announced the formation of a Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee that is expected to be stacked with industry stakeholders that will recommend reform the FCC’s pole attachment rules, identify “unreasonable” regulatory barriers to broadband deployment, encourage local governments to adopt “deployment-friendly” policies, and develop a “model code” for local franchising, zoning, permitting, and rights-of-way regulations for telecom infrastructure like cell towers. Few expect the eventual “model code” to stray far from Big Telecom companies’ wish lists;
  • Near-unilaterally loosened rules allowing AM radio stations to continue making their presence felt on the overcrowded FM band through the use of low-power FM “translator” stations that rebroadcast the AM station’s programming;
  • Changed FCC policies to give broader notice of upcoming agenda items and policy proposals, ostensibly to improve public access to FCC rulemaking procedures. But observers suggest the change will primarily benefit industry lobbyists who will have advance detailed notice about the FCC’s upcoming agenda items, allowing them time to lobby for or against the proposals, or suggest changes;
  • Rescinded “Improving the Nation’s Digital Infrastructure,” a policy paper promoting rural broadband deployment and other broadband improvements released just prior to the inauguration of President Trump. On Feb. 3, the FCC set “aside and rescinds the Digital Infrastructure Paper, and any and all guidance, determinations, recommendations, and conclusions contained therein. The Digital Infrastructure Paper will have no legal or other effect or meaning going forward.”
  • Rescinded “in its entirety and effective immediately, earlier guidance provided in a March 12, 2014, public notice, DA 14-330, “Processing of Broadcast Television Applications Proposing Sharing Arrangements and Contingent Interests,” which attempted to limit ongoing media consolidation controversies including allowing one TV station to effectively operate and provide content for so-called ‘competing’ stations in a local area.
  • Closed the FCC’s investigation into wireless carriers’ zero-rating policies, which allow subscribers free access to “preferred provider content” without it counting against their data plan. Critics call zero rating an end run around Net Neutrality, because providers treat their own content as “preferred.” AT&T charges other content providers to participate in its zero rating program.
  • Instructed the FCC’s legal team to stop defending court challenges to its authority to ensure fair and reasonable telephone rates for incarcerated prisoners held captive to using a single carrier to make phone calls at prices much higher than what the public pays. Those rates were as high as $5.70 for a 15-minute in-state collect call placed from an incarceration facility in Kentucky. In that state alone, consumers effectively paid $2.79 million in kickbacks to state prison systems or a county jail. In contrast, a similar 15-minute call placed from a West Virginia jail or prison would cost $0.48. As a result of Pai’s actions, companies like Global Tel*Link, Securus, and Telmate “can continue the practice of price gouging prisoners and their families,” according to Prison Phone Justice;
  • Ended former FCC Chairman Wheeler’s attempt to force competition in the cable set-top box marketplace, allowing consumers to take a bite out of the $20 billion cable companies make in rental fees annually. At least 99% of subscribers now pay an average of $231 a year to lease the boxes, even after the company has fully recouped their original cost. Customers in Canada can buy their own set-top boxes and DVRs.
  • Killed an expansion of the FCC’s Lifeline program to offer discounted internet access to the poor. Pai reversed approvals made to nine providers — none accused of waste, fraud, or abuse — including Kajeet, Spot On, Boomerang Wireless, KonaTel, FreedomPop, Applied Research Designs, Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico, Northland Cable Television and Wabash Independent Networks. Pai later defended the move claiming his predecessor rushed through approval of the providers and he was rescinding those “midnight rules” as current chairman. Many Republicans are seeking a complete elimination of the Lifeline program.
  • Rescinded the latest progress report on modernizing the Universal Service Fund’s E-Rate program, which is designed to subsidize telecom services for schools and libraries. It could be the first step in eliminating or dramatically reforming the Fund;
  • Gave two violators of the FCC’s rules on properly collecting and reporting information about the source of political advertising aired on stations air a free pass.
  • Threw out a white paper from the FCC’s own Homeland Security Bureau advising the agency on cybersecurity issues. Pai doesn’t think the FCC should be involved in cybersecurity, so anything contrary to his agenda of reducing the role of the FCC is likely destined for the nearest wastepaper basket.

FCC letter to AT&T’s Bob Quinn letting him know the company is off the hook with the FCC on zero rating.

“Ajit Pai has been on the wrong side of just about every major issue that has come before the FCC during his tenure,” said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press. “He’s never met a mega-merger he didn’t like or a public safeguard he didn’t try to undermine. He’s been an inveterate opponent of Net Neutrality, expanded broadband access for low-income families, broadband privacy, prison-phone justice, media diversity and more. If Trump really wanted an FCC chairman who’d stand up against the runaway media consolidation that he himself decried in the AT&T/Time Warner deal, Pai would have been his last choice — though corporate lobbyists across the capital are probably thrilled.”

Time Warner Cable’s Secret Scheme to Fool FCC’s Broadband Speed Measurement Program

This is part two of a multi-part series examining Time Warner Cable’s internal documents, made partly public as a result of a lawsuit filed by the New York Attorney General. You can read part one here.

In the summer of 2014, Time Warner Cable had a problem. For three years, the Federal Communications Commission had been issuing reports about the quality of broadband service from the nation’s largest internet service providers. The raw data collected by about 800 subscribers of Time Warner Cable who volunteered to participate in the project began to worry executives because it showed their broadband service was oversold in certain large cities and was no longer capable of consistently achieving advertised speeds. Even worse, the company’s congestion problems threatened to lower Time Warner Cable’s internet performance score at the FCC.

Sam Knows (but so does Time Warner Cable): The Not-So-Independent, Not-So-Confidential FCC Speed Test Program

The FCC commissioned a private company – Sam Knows – to distribute modified internet routers to gather data about the internet connections of thousands of volunteers and shared the results with the FCC to incorporate into its Measuring Broadband America program. After the FCC issued its first report in 2011, providers quickly learned the consequences of overpromising and underdelivering when Cablevision was called out for dramatically overselling its broadband service and not delivering the speeds customers paid to receive. While Cablevision executives publicly attacked the FCC speed test program as unreliable and wrong, they also quietly opened the company’s checkbook and spent millions quickly upgrading their facilities. The metric they failed to achieve was the FCC’s 80/80 test: “speed that at least 80% of the subscribers experience at least 80% of the time over peak periods.”

Here is what broadband performance on an oversold broadband service looks like. Notice Cablevision’s 2011 speed ranking plummets during peak usage periods when too many customers are sharing too little available bandwidth.

The incident embarrassed and damaged Cablevision’s reputation, and no cable operator wanted to be the next highlighted company for a public spanking by the FCC.

Time Warner Cable’s “Slow-Motion Train Wreck”

In 2013, a Time Warner Cable executive recognized the company’s practice of limiting company-financed expansion of their upstream connections with the rest of the internet would have serious implications for their own speed test scores, because customers were encountering nightly slowdowns on popular websites like YouTube caused by overcongested connections. Company executives feared customers participating in the Sam Knows/FCC program would soon reveal Time Warner Cable’s internet speeds were beginning to suffer some of the same peak usage problems Cablevision was encountering in 2011. The executive’s solution? Temporarily expand upstream connections just long enough to protect Time Warner Cable’s broadband speed scores:

“Our Sam Knows scores are like watching a slow-motion train wreck. We need to get in front of this. One thing I think we may need to be prepared to do is just give more ports to Cogent during sweeps month [when FCC results are measured for purposes of the MBA report]. We don’t have to make any promises, we just have to make it work temporarily.”

But even tricks like that failed to help Time Warner Cable’s speed scores in New York City, where serious congestion problems were obvious, even as late as last year:



The lawsuit filed by New York’s Attorney General revealed that FCC panelists in New York were getting speeds consistently well below the speeds they paid for, especially those paying for premium speeds:

FCC/Sam Knows Time Warner Cable Maxx Panelists in New York Speed Test Reports:

100Mbps subscribers received 73-87% of advertised speed (<80% advertised speed over six month period)
200Mbps subscribers received 49-58% of advertised speed (<60% advertised speed over six month period)
300Mbps subscribers received 33-52% of advertised speed (<38-74% advertised speed over six month period)

Speed test results showed consistent speed deficiencies between 2013-2016 occuring for many reasons, according to the lawsuit, including customers using outdated, company-supplied cable modems insufficient to support the customer’s speed plan, chronically oversold neighborhood groups that Time Warner Cable did not split or upgrade with additional capacity, and inadequate upstream/backbone connections to properly deliver content originating outside of Time Warner Cable’s own broadband network.

Overprovisioning Your Broadband Speed = “Putting Lipstick on a Pig”

We subscribe to 50/5Mbps service but receive closer to 62/6Mbps because Spectrum/Time Warner Cable overprovisions our service.

Instead of investing adequately in network upgrades and node splits, a July 7, 2014 internal email from Time Warner Cable’s former head of corporate strategy told senior colleagues the best way out of this dilemma was to cheat on the FCC broadband tests:

“We recommend increasing over-provisioning our modem speeds to around 20% to drive our Sam Knows scores >100% and then to market that we deliver more than promised speeds.”

In plain English, Time Warner Cable boosted the maximum allowed speed of each customer by about 20%. As a result, during non-peak usage times customers would find, for example, a plan advertising 50/5Mbps speed now delivered around 60/6Mbps. Although some customers considered overprovisioning a hidden free upgrade, Time Warner Cable’s motives were not altruistic. Because the Sam Knows testing program averages scores received from periodic testing, Time Warner Cable padded the results with higher-than-advertised speeds when their network was not congested, which compensated for the slower speeds and worse performance customers were getting during peak usage times. The lawsuit also alleges the practice helped to hide the abundance of obsolete rented cable modems still in use across Time Warner Cable’s broadband network.

The strategy worked to boost Time Warner Cable’s scores, but only as far as the FCC was concerned. Some customers were still finding their visits to YouTube, Netflix, and other websites littered with buffering problems and degraded resolution videos just about every evening. In 2013, before Time Warner Cable went ahead with its overprovisioning plan, the company’s own network engineers called the practice putting “lipstick on a pig.”

The Attorney General had its own analogy:

Using the highway analogy, Spectrum-TWC’s overprovisioning strategy amounts to allowing cars to go faster than the posted speed limit at certain times to compensate for the fact that often the highway slowed to a crawl. Boosting the average results with outlier results masked the enormous frustration for most subscribers stuck in traffic.

Breaking the FCC’s Rules

The lawsuit also alleges Time Warner Cable broke its own commitment to the FCC in the Code of Conduct it signed as a participant in the FCC’s testing program.

The FCC’s Code of Conduct required Spectrum-TWC to “at all times act in good faith” and not do anything “if the intended consequence of such act or omission is to enhance, degrade or tamper with the results of any test.” Specifically, the Code of Conduct prohibited the company from “modifying or improving services delivered to any class of subscribers” that was not “consistent with normal business practices.”

Stop the Cap! has also learned Time Warner Cable was able to identify each participant of the FCC/Sam Knows Time Warner Cable panel. This allowed the cable company to secretly verify the line quality and equipment in use by each participant, and give extra attention to those customers/volunteers to make sure service was performing as well as possible. In fact, executives instructed customer service representatives to assign FCC panelists “VIP treatment” and “best in class devices” when swapping modems, even as the company continued to supply deficient equipment to other customers who were not FCC panelists.

Still to Come: Playing games with online gamers, company officials tell the truth about bandwidth costs and Net Neutrality, and more….

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