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AT&T Usage Caps U-verse GigaPower at 1TB/Month; Usual Overlimit Fees Apply

Phillip Dampier April 23, 2014 AT&T, Consumer News, Internet Overcharging 1 Comment

rethink attAT&T has usage capped its heavily promoted U-verse GigaPower fiber to the home service at 1TB a month, according to fine print appearing on communications sent to customers.

Any customer that exceeds 1TB of usage per month will be subject to AT&T’s usual overlimit fees: $10 for each additional 50GB of data sent or received. At least AT&T currently caps the maximum overlimit fee at $30 for its fiber customers.

Many Austin GigaPower customers are signing up for the company’s Premier package, which includes a waiver of equipment, installation, and activation fees and provides 36 months of fixed rates and free HBO and HD service along with 300/300Mbps broadband.

Enrolling in a discounted promotional plan does mean you consent to allow AT&T to collect information about your browsing habits through deep packet inspection.

 

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N.J. Approves Verizon-Friendly Settlement; Verizon Now Off the Hook for Fiber Upgrades

bpuThe New Jersey Board of Public Utilities today voted unanimously to approve a Verizon-friendly settlement that lets the phone company off the hook for its 1993 commitment to offer broadband service to every resident in the state who wants it.

Critics call the decision a “total capitulation” by state regulators that proved “very amenable to Verizon’s agenda.”

Verizon will now be allowed to substitute its costly, usage-capped, high-speed 4G LTE wireless service in rural areas instead of expanding DSL or its fiber optic network FiOS.

Verizon won deregulation two decades ago in an agreement known as “Opportunity New Jersey” in return for a commitment to expand high speed Internet access to all of New Jersey by 2010 — a deadline long missed. Critics charge Verizon collected as much as $15 billion in unregulated service revenue it would have otherwise never received, yet stopped its fiber optic rollout more than two years ago.

A number of rural New Jersey communities including Hopewell, Alloway and Pilesgrove townships opposed Verizon’s settlement proposal because it would let the company walk away from its earlier commitments and leave parts of southern New Jersey without any broadband service. Now those communities may eventually be served by Verizon Wireless, but at a significant cost starting at $50 a month for up to just 4GB of broadband usage.

Verizon gets to keep its current deregulation framework in place as part of the settlement.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities consists of five commissioners all appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate for six year, staggered terms. Gov. Chris Christie’s appointees now dominate the BPU, and critics charge he uses the regulatory agency as a political patronage dumping ground. Earlier this year, he faced criticism for appointing the wife of a longtime Christie ally to lead the board. Dianne Solomon served on Christie’s transition team and brought a very thin resume to the position — serving as a paralegal and an umpire certified by the United States Tennis Association.

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Comcast’s Spring Cleaning: More Rate Hikes, X1 Boxes, Wireless Gateways and Usage Caps

speed increaseComcast will increase capital spending in the first half of 2014 to hasten the rollout of its advanced X1 set-top boxes and new wireless gateways that provide public Wi-Fi from customer homes.

Comcast told investors Tuesday its increased spending will likely be offset by increased earnings from more subscribers and room for further price hikes over the course of the year.

First quarter consolidated revenue increased 13.7% to $17.4 billion over the past three months. Almost $11 billion of that comes from Comcast’s cable business. The company boosted cable earnings by 5.3% in the first quarter. Most of that came from a 4.5% increase in the average customer’s cable bill. Comcast subscribers, on average, pay $134 per month. They will pay even more by the end of the year.

Although Comcast’s head of its cable division Neil Smit noted the company implemented lower rate increases during the first quarter, there is room to boost prices further.

“I wouldn’t read any trends into it,” Smit said. “We took rate increases across the smaller percentage of our footprint this quarter than last year as well, but we target different offers to different customers and I don’t think we’re seeing it topping out. In the competitive arena, the offers are in the same ballpark, the promo prices go up and down, but the destination pricing is fairly similar across these various competitors.”

Roberts

Roberts

Comcast continued to buck cord-cutting trends and added 24,000 new video customers in the quarter, a major improvement over the 25,000 it lost at the same time last year. Comcast believes its new X1 platform and aggressive customer retention efforts are responsible for winning and keeping cable television customers. Ongoing speed enhancements in Comcast’s broadband division won the company 383,000 new Internet customers in the last three months. Broadband is Comcast’s biggest money-maker, and revenues increased a further 9% during the quarter owing to customer growth, rate hikes, and customers choosing higher-speed tiers. By the end of the quarter, 38% of Comcast’s residential customers subscribed to at least 50Mbps service, showing growing demand for higher speed Internet.

Sources tell Stop the Cap! Comcast intends to further expand its trial of usage caps (Comcast prefers to call them “usage thresholds”) to more markets this year. Comcast has settled on 300GB usage allowances for most broadband products in current test markets, charging $10 for each additional allotment of 50GB as an overlimit fee. Comcast has avoided trials of usage caps in areas where Verizon FiOS delivers significant competition. Verizon has no usage caps on either their DSL or fiber broadband products.

Comcast also picked up 142,000 new phone customers in the quarter, mostly from those subscribing to aggressively priced triple play service bundle promotions. Around 155,000 new triple play customers signed up over the last three months.

At the end of the first quarter, 68% of Comcast customers took at least two products and 36% took three products, compared to 33% at the end of last year’s first quarter.

Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, said there were several factors that fueled Comcast’s growth during the quarter, starting with its advanced X1 set-top box platform, which offers a better television experience and makes finding things to watch easier. If customers have an X1, Roberts told investors, they are less likely to drop cable television service.

X1

X1

“These positive early results reinforce our decision to accelerate our X1 deployment this year, and we are now adding 15,000 to 20,000 X1 boxes per day, which is double our rate of deployment from just six months ago,” Roberts told analysts. “Additionally, we are now rolling out a new XFINITY TV app, which enables our customers to live stream virtually their entire television lineup on any IP device in the home and watch DVR recordings in the home or on the go.”

Although usage caps remain controversial, Comcast has been aggressive about increasing broadband speeds at least once a year.

“In broadband, we recently increased speeds again for the 13th time in 12 years,” Roberts offered. “Doubling speeds in our Blast products to 105Mbps, while our Extreme tier moved up to 150Mbps for customers in the northeast. And we’re not stopping there. Our focus on wireless gateway deployment is adding utility to our customers while at the same time helping us create the largest Wi-Fi footprint in the U.S. with over one million public Wi-Fi hotspots currently available to our customers.”

xfinitylogoAlthough Comcast’s first quarter capital expenditures increased $51 million (or 4.6%) to $1.1 billion (10.6% of cable revenue versus 10.7% in the first quarter of 2013), the cable company returned even more money to shareholders. In the first quarter, the company boosted return of capital by 35% to $1.3 billion. Comcast repurchased its own shares of stock totaling $750 million and paid $508 million in dividends for the quarter.

In 2014, Comcast will invest 14% of cable revenue (compared to 12.9% in 2013) to accelerate the deployment of X1 and wireless gateways, increase network capacity and continue to invest in expansion of business services and XFINITY Home. But it will spend far more than that placating shareholders. If Comcast wins support to buy Time Warner Cable, Comcast intends to increase its stock repurchase plan by $2.5 billion. The company earlier committed it would spend $3 billion on repurchasing its own shares, for an expected total of $5.5 billion during 2014.

When a company repurchases its own shares, it reduces the number of shares held by the public. That in turn means that if profits remain the same, the earnings per share increase. It also boosts the value of the massive portfolios of Comcast stock held by executives as part of their compensation packages.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Comcast Introducing the X1 Platform from XFINITY 4-14.mp4

Comcast produced this video showing off its X1 platform and new set-top boxes. (1:47)

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Time Warner Cable Provides Details on Upgrades for New York City and Los Angeles

twcmaxTime Warner Cable reports it has unleashed major broadband speed upgrades for a handful of communities in New York and Los Angeles and is now delivering speeds up to 300Mbps.

After overhauling its network and neighborhood nodes, residential customers in Costa Mesa and West Hollywood, Calif., Staten Island and the Woodside neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., should now be getting faster broadband speeds ranging from 50Mbps for Standard (formerly 15Mbps) to 300Mbps for Extreme (formerly 50Mbps) service.

“These significant speed increases and network enhancements will allow our Internet customers to get the most out of their TWC experience,” said Time Warner Cable CEO Robert D. Marcus. “With this service transformation, our customers can enjoy all the ways they use TWC Internet even better, including streaming video, downloading music and more.”

Time Warner Cable’s senior vice president for corporate development Mike Roudi said Time Warner Cable expects to roll out similar upgrades nationwide over the next two years. But Comcast may have other ideas if it successfully completes its merger with Time Warner Cable by this time next year.

The cable company’s progress in rolling out upgrades is not as fast as their new top broadband speeds. Time Warner only expects to reach 200,000 customers with the new speeds by the end of June. The next areas scheduled for upgrades include:

  • California: Covina, Cypress, Hoover, Crenshaw District and Jefferson Park areas of Los Angeles;
  • New York: Upper Manhattan and more neighborhoods in Queens and Staten Island.

Time Warner said it expects to complete upgrades in New York and Los Angeles by the end of this year. No timeline was provided to start upgrades in other cities. Affected Time Warner customers will be contacted about replacing their existing DOCSIS 2 modem and getting set-top boxes for the all-digital television conversion that accompanies the upgrade.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TWC Talks About New Customer Experience in NY LA 4-22-14.mp4

Time Warner Cable’s Mike Roudi explains how the cable company is upgrading customers for faster broadband speeds and all-digital television service in this company-produced video. (1:49)

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Netflix Will Raise Price for Streaming Service; New Customers Could Pay $10/Month

netflix-logoNetflix intends to raise the price of its online video service to as much as $10 a month sometime during the next three months to help finance content acquisition and improve its streamed video experience. But for up to two years, the new price will probably not impact existing customers.

CEO Reed Hastings announced in a first-quarter earnings letter to shareholders that Netflix intends to raise prices by $1 or $2 a month, initially only applying to new members:

“In the U.S. we have greatly improved our content selection since we introduced our streaming plan in 2010 at $7.99 per month. Our current view is to do a one or two dollar increase, depending on the country, later this quarter for new members only. Existing members would stay at current pricing ($7.99 in the U.S.) for a generous time period.

Netflix has already raised prices for some of its European customers after a rate hike experiment in Ireland was accepted by customers. New customers have to pay the new rate immediately, but existing members in good standing are unaffected for two years before rates reset.

In a separate announcement, Netflix today also formally announced its opposition to the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger.

If the Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger is approved, the combined company’s footprint will pass over 60 percent of U.S. broadband households, after the proposed divestiture, with most of those homes having Comcast as the only option for truly high-speed broadband (>10Mbps). As DSL fades in favor of cable Internet, Comcast could control high-speed broadband to the majority of American homes. Comcast is already dominant enough to be able to capture unprecedented fees from transit providers and services such as Netflix. The combined company would possess even more anticompetitive leverage to charge arbitrary interconnection tolls for access to their customers. For this reason, Netflix opposes this merger.

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AT&T’s Magic Fairyland U-verse GigaPower Fiber “Expansion”: Don’t Hold Your Breath

Fairy_Tales3One of the first lessons a good magician learns is that to best impress an audience, one has to at least show an actual rabbit going into the hat before making it disappear.

AT&T is no David Copperfield. In its latest sleight of hand, AT&T today announced a major potential expansion of its U-verse GigaPower fiber to the home network to 21 major cities across its landline service area, with future plans to expand to as many as 100 eventually.

“We are excited to bring GigaPower to 100 cities and towns,” Lori Lee, head of AT&T’s U-verse unit, said in a phone interview with Bloomberg, which accompanied a press release. “We will work with local officials as we look for areas of strong demand and pro-investment policy.”

Among the cities slated to get fiber upgrades are Austin and Kansas City — where AT&T will face competition from Google Fiber. But AT&T isn’t bothering to compete head-on with any municipal fiber providers like Chattanooga’s EPB, Wilson, N.C.’s Greenlight, or Lafayette, La.’s LUSFiber. North Carolina, Texas and California are the states with the most cities chosen to potentially get upgrades.

But AT&T has yet to fully deliver on its earlier promise to deploy fiber to the home service in Austin, where single home residential customers have usually been stymied by general unavailability of the fiber service. AT&T has consistently refused to say exactly how many customers have actually been able to sign up for AT&T GigaPower fiber service.

For customers actually able to buy GigaPower, many are already served by an existing AT&T fiber cable. It is not uncommon to find fiber hookups in new housing developments or multi-dwelling units like apartment buildings and condominiums. Most customers don’t realize they are fed service from a fiber cable brought to the back of the building that interfaces with plain old copper wiring, providing service artificially slowed by the company in an effort to provide consistently marketed broadband products.

AT&T GigaPower is easy to provide in these locations with very little extra investment. Tearing up streets and yards to replace copper wiring with fiber optics is another matter, one AT&T has avoided for years by choosing a less costly fiber to the neighborhood approach that leaves existing copper wiring on phone poles and in customer homes largely intact. Moving to fiber to the home service would require AT&T to dramatically boost capital spending to cover the cost of stringing fiber across the backyards of millions of customers.

But earlier this year, AT&T promised investors it was actually planning to cut its budget for capital expenses in 2014 to $21 billion, most of that still earmarked for its profitable wireless network. That is down at least $200 million from 2013. Unless AT&T reneges on its earlier commitment to Wall Street, even David Copperfield couldn’t make fiber to the home service from AT&T magically appear.

Notice the word "may"

Welcome to Neverland. Despite exciting press releases, AT&T has indicated it won’t spend the money required for widespread fiber expansion. But then, AT&T’s own graphics only promise these communities “may” get GigaPower.

In fact, AT&T has been telling investors it is more than halfway done completing its Project VIP effort, which budgeted $14 billion over three years to further expand basic U-verse service, improve its 4G LTE network, and expand rural wireless coverage within AT&T local service areas. Project VIP is integral to AT&T’s plan to eventually walk away from its rural wired infrastructure in favor of a wireless platform providing wireless landline service and 4G wireless broadband.

To assuage investors fearing AT&T is about to pull out the credit card and go on a fiber broadband shopping spree, AT&T carefully notes towards the bottom of its press release, “this expanded fiber build is not expected to impact AT&T’s capital investment plans for 2014.”

In other words, AT&T is not committing any money not already earmarked as part of Project VIP for its fiber expansion.

Without that money, if you live in a single-family residential home and are currently served by AT&T copper wiring, it is very unlikely the company will offer fiber upgrades anytime soon.

So why is AT&T promising vaporware upgrades it cannot possibly manage on its current budget?

AT&T will work with local leaders in these markets to discuss ways to bring the service to their communities. Similar to previously announced metro area selections in Austin and Dallas and advanced discussions in Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem, communities that have suitable network facilities, and show the strongest investment cases based on anticipated demand and the most receptive  policies will influence these future selections and coverage maps within selected areas. This initiative continues AT&T’s ongoing commitment to economic development in these communities, bringing jobs, advanced technologies and infrastructure.

This expanded fiber build is not expected to impact AT&T’s capital investment plans for 2014. – See more at: http://about.att.com/story/att_eyes_100_u_s_cities_and_municipalities_for_its_ultra_fast_fiber_network.html#sthash.Nh31BZEu.dpuf
This expanded fiber build is not expected to impact AT&T’s capital investment plans for 2014. – See more at: http://about.att.com/story/att_eyes_100_u_s_cities_and_municipalities_for_its_ultra_fast_fiber_network.html#sthash.Nh31BZEu.dpuf
This expanded fiber build is not expected to impact AT&T’s capital investment plans for 2014. – See more at: http://about.att.com/story/att_eyes_100_u_s_cities_and_municipalities_for_its_ultra_fast_fiber_network.html#sthash.Nh31BZEu.dpuf
This expanded fiber build is not expected to impact AT&T’s capital investment plans for 2014. – See more at: http://about.att.com/story/att_eyes_100_u_s_cities_and_municipalities_for_its_ultra_fast_fiber_network.html#sthash.Nh31BZEu.dpuf
Phillip "AT&T has a larger agenda here and it isn't fiber" Dampier

Phillip “AT&T has a larger agenda here and it isn’t fiber” Dampier

For years, AT&T’s lobbyists have promised politicians everything under the sun — telecom nirvana — if only Ma Bell can be unshackled by burdensome regulations. Some states have accepted AT&T’s deal only to find their residents’ phone bills rapidly increasing with no corresponding improvement in service. U-verse is AT&T’s effort to stay relevant at a time when mobile phones are replacing landlines and cable companies have poached a number of their customers.

But in return for that deregulation, AT&T delivered an cheaper, inferior fiber-to-the-neighborhood technology that requires hideously large infrastructure cabinets, often installed in front of customer homes, that has trouble keeping up with cable broadband speeds.

But nothing ever satisfies AT&T.

Recently, their lobbyists have been skulking around in the shadows of state legislatures ghostwriting new bills that would permit AT&T to abandon its rural landline customers altogether to focus on the far more profitable wireless business. But consumer groups have gotten wise to AT&T’s astroturf and lobbying efforts and have begun to limit their successes.

Meanwhile, along comes Google, promising groundbreaking, affordable fiber to the home gigabit broadband service to a handful of communities willing to work with them in a de facto partnership — cutting through bureaucratic red tape to facilitate infrastructure upgrades — a radical change from the traditional regulator-provider framework.

Hundreds of cities fell all over themselves competing for the privilege, and it didn’t require a penny in lobbying or campaign contributions.

Where Google has been willing to offer service, most communities have been more than thankful and have made life easier for the creative entrant.

If it worked for Google, why can’t it work for AT&T? As a result, the company that spent years telling customers fiber upgrades didn’t make any sense and that few people actually needed gigabit speeds, AT&T might appear to have reversed course. Dig a little deeper and you find a deeper agenda:

“Communities that have suitable network facilities, and show the strongest investment cases based on anticipated demand and the most receptive policies will influence these future selections and coverage maps within selected areas.”

Translation: Communities that already have considerable fiber infrastructure previously installed and are willing to bend to the business and public policy agenda of AT&T will make all the difference whether your city will be considered for a future fiber upgrade or not.

In the end, even if a community does everything AT&T asks of it, it still has no commitment AT&T will actually deliver the fiber upgrades they only promise “may” happen. But AT&T will have achieved its public policy goals of abolishing regulations and limiting oversight, all without have to install a single strand of fiber.

That is a deal community leaders should think twice about making with a company that has always looked out for its investors long before its customers.

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Verizon’s N.J. Astroturfing Revisited: More ‘Phoney’ Pro-Verizon E-Mails Revealed

astroturf200New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities received more than 460 identical e-mails urging the regulator to approve Verizon’s proposed settlement permitting it to renege on broadband expansion commitments that would have brought high-speed Internet to every citizen in the state that wanted it.

More than a few of those e-mails were submitted with fake e-mail addresses or without the knowledge of the alleged senders. An Ars Technica piece this week confirmed Stop the Cap!’s own findings of the astroturf effort and found more customers denying they ever submitted comments to the BPU about the settlement.

“I am a customer only to Verizon and I was not contacted by them to submit anything,” one person told Ars. “If they did, I would’ve slammed them. They are gougers. If AT&T was where I lived, I would switch in a heart beat.”

When this customer was shown the e-mail he allegedly sent to state officials, he said, “That would mean someone did it on my behalf. I can assure you that I did not send that response.”

In other cases, Ars discovered some of Verizon’s vendors were misrepresenting the nature of the settlement and asking people they worked with or knew to sign the petition as part of a contest.

Verizon-logo“I hope you are doing well. I have a favor to ask,” one e-mail read. “I’m working on a project for our client, Verizon, and they need some signatures to an online petition. Verizon wants to expand its offerings in New Jersey, but needs approval from the state. Higher-speed Internet, more FiOS, etc.”

“All you need to do is enter your e-mail and zip code,” the message continued. “I appreciate it. We’re in a contest with another vendor to see how many people we can get to sign it. Just let me know yea or nay, so I can get the credit for it.”

Of course signing the petition would result in the exact opposite of more FiOS deployment and higher speed Internet access.

That online petition turned out to be hosted on the website of the astroturf group 60+ Association, which is funded by various corporations and works with D.C. lobbying firms who help corporate clients launch “social media” campaigns that appear to be spontaneous grassroots movements. The group only supports Republican candidates for office and is normally preoccupied with attacking health care reform with the major financial contributions it receives from the pharmaceutical industry. With Obamacare more or less settled, the group now also advocates for telecom companies without bothering to disclose any financial arrangement.

60plus

One of the lobbying firms associated with 60+ Association — Bonner & Associates, was implicated in a 2009 scandal when they were caught sending forged letters to members of Congress claiming to be from local minority and senior citizen groups. The lobbying firm quietly changed its name to Advocacy to Win (A2W), where it is still accepting clients that want to launch astroturfing campaigns.

One banking trade association gave glowing reviews for their work:

“You ran a well-honed operation recruiting, educating, and mobilizing grasstops/community leaders,” said the president of a ‘leading financial services trade association.’ The grasstops supporters you mobilized were well educated on the issue, advocated convincing arguments for our side, and most importantly were strongly vocal with stories of the local impact this issue would have on their customers/members of their organization.”

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The Washington Post’s Delusional Support of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger Debunked

corporatewelfareIf you have started to confuse the Washington Post editorial page with that of the Wall Street Journal, you are not alone.

Under the stewardship of Fred Hiatt, WaPo’s editorial opinions have grown increasingly anti-consumer and pro-corporate at home and decidedly neoconservative abroad.

It’s the same newspaper that wholeheartedly supported the merger of Comcast and NBC-Universal in 2010. Let’s check whether they called that one right:

Entities that compete with NBC-owned cable channels fear that Comcast will relegate them to hard-to-find channel locations. Consumer advocates warn that Comcast will use its newfound power to raise subscription rates and stifle new voices on television and the Internet.

The same newspaper reported last week that Comcast refused to let Back9Network, a golf oriented network in direct competition with Comcast-owned Golf Channel, on its cable systems.

For years, Bloomberg TV — in direct competition with Comcast-owned CNBC — has been stuck in Channel Siberia, in some areas like Chicago dumped between Comcast’s promotional “barker” channel and “Leased Access.” CNBC enjoys Ch. 29, certain to attract more viewers than Bloomberg’s Ch. 102.

As Stop the Cap! reported yesterday, no cable company raises cable television rates more than Comcast, blaming programming rate increases that in several cases originate with Comcast-owned cable networks.

Regulators should scrutinize the proposed merger but should be skeptical of the critics’ claims. [...] Advocacy groups have been poor prognosticators of the effects of large media mergers.

The Washington Post’s editorial accuracy record has more than a few blemishes, from its 2003 declaration Colin Powell’s “evidence” of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was “irrefutable,” to suggestions that a wedding of Comcast and NBC Universal wouldn’t hurt anyone because the FCC was ready to manage any problems without pesky mandates or overbearing pre-conditions.

The FCC already requires cable operators to deal fairly with competitors. Its rules would require Comcast to give competitors access to NBC content on “reasonable” and “non-discriminatory” terms. The company would also be required to negotiate in good faith about carrying non-NBC channels. Competitors who believed that they were harmed by unfair dealing could have their complaints adjudicated by the agency. Critics of the Comcast-NBCU merger claim that these mechanisms are ineffective and slow. But the breakdown of the complaint system should not be used as an excuse to impose onerous conditions on one company. Instead, critics should push for an overhaul of the system.

The Bloomberg case, now three years old, remains unresolved. That should tell readers something about just how quickly the FCC gets around to dealing with these kinds of complaints. Comcast has been able to argue its decision to bury Bloomberg and keep Back9Network off its cable systems are examples of ‘good faith, reasonable decision-making that doesn’t discriminate.’ It sued to quash Net Neutrality, critical for online video competition, and won.

The Post editorial amusingly insists that Comcast’s merger plans should not be interrupted because of an ineffective complaint system that can’t or won’t promptly deal with Comcast’s ongoing abuse of the very non-discriminatory rules the editors declare as a reason to support the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger.

Many of the same fears of domination and manipulation were raised with the 2001 merger of AOL and TimeWarner; that megadeal crumbled after a few years. Comcast and GE, which will retain a 49 percent stake in NBCU, should be allowed to proceed, and regulators should do their jobs and watch the newly formed company carefully.

Phillip "The Post's Naivete is Showing" Dampier

Phillip “The Post’s Naivete is Showing” Dampier

The 2001 merger of AOL and Time Warner came at the last gasp of the dot.com boom. As the New York Times noted, “In May of 2000, the dot.com bubble began to burst and online advertising began to slow, making it difficult for AOL to meet the financial forecasts on which the deal was based. The world began moving quickly to high-speed Internet access, putting AOL’s ubiquitous dial-up service in jeopardy.”

The final unraveling of AOL Time Warner came about because the combined company, highly dependent on AOL (and its stock value), could not sustain its business model when nobody could figure out how to get paid for content in the online world. AOL’s dial-up Internet access business was also rapidly in decline as the country started moving towards broadband.

“The consumer has access to everything and now it’s going to be on a handheld device, so what I call the rolling thunder of the Internet started actually to eat its own, which was AOL,” writes the Times. “AOL was the Google of its time. It was how you got to the Internet, but it was using some old media business ideas that were undone by the Internet itself, and that’s why Google came along.”

The same sad story is not true for Comcast or Time Warner Cable (which was spun off from Time Warner, Inc. as an independent company as part of a restructuring in 2009.)

Both cable companies are in a better place than AOL-Time Warner:

  • AOL relied on dial-up and reseller access to some broadband providers — neither sufficiently lucrative to sustain AOL’s dot.com-days value. Comcast/TWC own their own broadband networks;
  • Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse are the only significant multi-city broadband competitors for the cable industry. U-verse remains challenged by its technological limitations and Verizon stopped expanding FiOS. Google Fiber has a totally insignificant market share and is likely to stay that way for several years. Google Fiber provides no competition in the northeast where Comcast and Time Warner Cable dominate;
  • Comcast and Time Warner Cable both oppose community-owned broadband competition and Time Warner has successfully managed to push legislation virtually banning network expansion in several states;
  • Comcast will both own and control the pipes and a significant amount of the content that crosses its broadband networks. At the time of the AOL-Time Warner merger, online video competition did not exist in a meaningful way.
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97% of Romania Served by Fiber Broadband, Speeds Outclass United States

Phillip Dampier April 15, 2014 Broadband Speed, Competition No Comments

romaniaJust twenty-five years ago, Romanians under the dictatorship of Nicolae “The Genius of the Carpathians” Ceaușescu didn’t have to worry about the Internet. The country was plagued by electricity outages and economic austerity imposed to pay off the Romania’s foreign debt.

After the National Salvation Front dispatched Ceaușescu and his wife (and Communism) in a hailstorm of revolutionary bullets on Christmas Day 1989, Romania’s Euro-Atlantic integration began. Romania’s ancient eastern bloc telephone system was unsuitable for dial-up, much less broadband, so it was largely scrapped in favor of fiber optics in an effort to bring the country up to date with current technology.

Today, 97 percent of Romania is wired with fiber optic broadband. Some goes straight to the home, other providers rely on a form of Ethernet broadband, while fiber to the neighborhood networks predominate in smaller cities.

It is much the same story across the rest of eastern Europe, which has allowed those nations to leapfrog ahead of the United States in broadband speed rankings.

What also sets Romania apart from many other countries is the low price charged for high-speed Internet access. Broadband service at reasonably fast speeds can be obtained for as little as $10 a month.

The top 20 fastest Internet speeds according to average peak connection:

  1. Hong Kong, 65.4Mbps
  2. South Korea, 63.6Mbps
  3. Japan, 52Mbps
  4. Singapore, 50.1Mbps
  5. Israel, 47.7Mbps
  6. Romania, 45.4Mbps
  7. Latvia, 43.1Mbps
  8. Taiwan, 42.7Mbps
  9. Netherlands, 39.6Mbps
  10. Belgium, 38.5Mbps
  11. Switzerland, 38.4Mbps
  12. Bulgaria, 37Mbps
  13. United States, 37Mbps
  14. Kuwait, 36.4Mbps
  15. United Arab Emirates, 36Mbps
  16. Britain, 35.7Mbps
  17. Canada, 34.8Mbps
  18. Czech Republic, 34.8Mbps
  19. Macau, 34.4Mbps
  20. Sweden, 33.1Mbps

Source: Akamai

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Big Telecom Sock Puppetry Too Often Comes Without Full Disclosure

Larry Irving Old Job: administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). New Job: Shill for Big Telecom companies

Larry Irving
Old Job: administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
New Job: Shill for Big Telecom companies

Community-owned, publicly funded broadband networks are under renewed attack in various Op-Ed and guest editorial pieces popping up in newspapers around the country, often written by those with undisclosed industry connections as part of a larger effort to ban the networks.

The Hill in Washington, D.C. was one of the latest to go to print, publishing a hit piece attacking the “growing fascination with publicly funded broadband networks” and suggesting only the “private-sector” could deliver the best telecommunications networks.

In his piece, author Larry Irving stated, “the specter of governments operating broadband networks in competition with the private sector, or of state or local governments serving as both regulators and owners of competing broadband networks, could stifle investment or reduce private-sector access to capital.”

Irving added that “with the exception of bringing or improving service to remote geographies, I don’t see many problems that government-owned or -operated broadband networks will solve.”

Here is how The Hill described Irving: “CEO of the Irving Group and served for almost seven years as assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).”

That is like describing Oscar Pistorius as a man embroiled in marital difficulties. It doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Media Matters does:

Irving is more connected with the telecom industry than America is with fiber broadband. Irving is the founding co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), an IRS 501(c)(6) telecommunications trade association whose purpose is to “prevent the creation of burdensome regulations,” according to documents filed with the IRS. IIA reportedly receives financial support from AT&T and includes members such as Alcatel-Lucent and TechAmerica, which lobbies on behalf of technology companies. The group’s 2011 IRS tax form — the most recent one available – states it received over $18 million in revenue.

the-hill-logoWhile The Hill noted that Irving heads the Irving Group, it did not disclose that the firm provides “strategic advice and assistance to international telecommunications and information technology companies.”

The Hill op-ed comes after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, released a February 2014 report concluding that federally funded and municipal networks were faster and cheaper than comparable networks. Specifically, the GAO found:

  • “federally funded or municipal networks offered higher top speeds than other networks in the same community and networks in nearby communities.”
  • “prices charged by federally funded and municipal networks were slightly lower than the comparison networks’ prices for similar speeds.”
  • “according to small business owners, the improvements to broadband service have helped the businesses improve efficiency and streamline operations. Small businesses that use the services of these networks reported a greater ability to use bandwidth-intensive applications for inventory management, videoconferencing, and teleworking, among other things.”

Most of the industry’s initiatives against community broadband come through a close association with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a corporate funded group that provides ghostwritten bills to mostly Republican legislators for introduction in state legislatures across the country. One such bill virtually bans community broadband.

alec-logo-sm

Sponsored by corporate interests

ALEC is now under fire again for its annual “Rich States, Poor States” report, released this week. The publication, whose lead author is economist Arthur Laffer, is sold to the press as an objective, academic measure of state economic performance, but should instead be viewed more as a lobby scorecard ranking states on the adoption of extreme ALEC policies that have little or nothing to do with economic outcomes.

Internal documents obtained by The Guardian expose a close financial connection between the Koch Brothers and ALEC. It turns out the Koch family funds the production of “Rich States, Poor States,” which this year put deregulation friendly Utah at the top and ALEC-skeptical New York at the bottom. The report claims the state of Mississippi outperformed New York, a surprising and entirely false assertion. But getting ALEC model bills signed into law in Mississippi is far easier than getting them past New York’s Assembly and Senate.

Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker is a former ALEC member who signed 19 ALEC bills into law in his first two years in office, slashed government spending and controversially eviscerated state unions prompting mass protests in February 2011. Despite the fact Wisconsin still has one of the worst job creation records in the country, ranking 32nd nationally or 9 out of 10 in upper Midwest, ALEC has been kind to Wisconsin in its economic report, ranking the state 17th for its economic outlook.

Any state that permits publicly funded broadband networks to exist is in obvious economic peril in the eyes of ALEC (and member corporations including AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable.)

sockpuppetThe Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch suggests ALEC’s agenda for Big Telecom is to make life easy for your provider and more expensive for you. ALEC has three model telecom bills it pushes on state legislatures:

The ALEC “Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act” is a “model” bill for states to thwart local efforts to create public broadband access. Promoted under the guise of “fair competition” and “leveling the playing field,” this big telecom-supported bill imposes regulations on community-run broadband that they would never tolerate themselves. Iterations of this anti-municipal broadband bill passed in 19 states to stop local governments in communities like Wilson, North Carolina from wiring their communities with fiber.

The ALEC “Cable and Video Competition Act” attacks municipal cable franchises and frees cable companies from oversight. The bill creates a single state franchising authority and releases the companies from requirements to wire the entire state, and allows companies to decide when — or if — to build out cable, and through that cable, to provide adequate internet access. In North Carolina, for example, the bill passed under the name “the Video Service Competition Act” in 2006 with the promise that deregulation would result in greater investment by cable broadband providers; but instead, the state is tied for last place in terms of the number of homes with a basic broadband connection. An estimated twenty-three states have enacted statewide video franchising laws in recent years. Additionally, bills like this one harm public access television stations, since cable companies no longer negotiate with individual jurisdictions and pay the franchising fees that fund public, educational, and government access television.

The ALEC “Broadband and Telecommunications Deployment Act” would give telecommunications providers access to all public rights-of-way, and make it harder for local communities to charge franchising fees or otherwise regulate providers. Cable and internet is largely wired via publicly owned “rights of way” — like under sidewalks or along utility poles — and traditionally, telecom providers profiting from the use of these public goods would be granted access in exchange for some sort of accountability, such as paying for access or providing services on a non-discriminatory basis to all customers willing to pay. This bill would largely eliminate local control over public rights-of-way in favor of telecommunications providers.

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