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AT&T Tells Customers $30 Extra for Unlimited Internet is Good News (for AT&T)

fat cat attAT&T has indirectly announced it will enforce hard data caps on its U-verse broadband service for the first time, imposing overlimit fees for customers that exceed their allowance unless they agree to pay $30 extra a month for a new unlimited add-on plan.

AT&T’s Consumer Blog announced effective May 23, AT&T was increasing the usage allowances on its DSL and U-verse broadband service and is introducing a new $30 unlimited option for broadband-only customers many actually had all along because AT&T never enforced its cap for U-verse.

Customers currently bundling video and data services from AT&T/DirecTV will get a break – the unlimited option will apply at no extra charge if you agree to a single, combined bill for all of your AT&T services. The decision to apply usage caps to broadband-only customers, often cord-cutters, while effectively exempting current U-verse TV/DirecTV video customers is sure to raise eyebrows.

AT&T originally told customers its usage caps were designed “to ensure it is providing a sustainable network to customers.”  But in a company FAQ, AT&T destroys its own argument for the need to cap anyone. “Will offering unlimited data negatively impact the AT&T network? No. AT&T will continue to actively manage the network to handle the increasing demand for data.”

AT&T’s need for data caps is also eroded by company claims only a small percentage of customers exceed them.

Why caps again?

Why caps again?

“Today, our home Internet customers use just over 100GB of data per month on average,” AT&T wrote. “So even with our smallest U-verse Internet data allowance of 300 GB the average customer has plenty of data to do more.”

At least for now.

A review of AT&T’s past average usage claims is revealing. In 2011, AT&T told Tom’s Hardware the average customer consumed about 18GB a month. In 2015, AT&T’s cached support site claimed average customers used around 35GB a month. As of this week, AT&T says average users now exceed 100GB a month. If AT&T decides not to regularly revisit allowances (AT&T took five years to revisit the subject this week, having introduced 150GB caps on DSL and 250GB on U-verse in 2011), customers are likely to face pressure to sign up for the $30 unlimited add-on or buy television service from AT&T to avoid overlimit charges that will top out at $200 in penalties for DSL customers, $100 for U-verse overlimit fees.

average usage

Beginning May 23, AT&T’s website will include a data usage meter to help avoid AT&T’s overlimit penalty: $10 for each 50GB increment one exceeds their allowance. AT&T claims only 4% of its customers will exceed their future data allowances. They wouldn’t say how many exceed the current ones.

Because U-verse customers have avoided AT&T’s usage caps in the past, the company is now reminding customers it will give several warnings before you experience bill shock:

  • In the first bill cycle when you reach 100% of your data allowance, AT&T will update you via email, but there will be no charges.
  • In the second bill cycle, AT&T will notify you via email at 65%, 90%, and 100%, and still without charges.
  • In the third bill cycle, and each bill cycle thereafter, you’ll receive reminder emails at 65% and 90%. At 100% AT&T will notify you and add an additional 50GB of data to your account for $10 each time you exceed the allowance. Customers will receive reminders about their data usage for the additional 50GB at 75% and 100%.

All usage — including uploads and downloads — counts towards the cap. There is just one exception. Wireless traffic from an AT&T MicroCell, designed to boost weak cell signals inside the home, is not included in AT&T’s Internet data usage allowance. To help ensure accurate billing, you have to register your AT&T MicroCell account and residential AT&T Internet account.

Here are the new data allowances that will take effect May 23rd:

monthly data allowance

DSL Reports’ Karl Bode is skeptical of the “consumer benefits” AT&T is touting as part of the change:

That last bit is a fairly transparent ploy to address a spike in cord cutting at AT&T — by forcing customers into signing up for television services they may not actually want if they want to avoid usage restrictions. Whether using arbitrary caps to force users to sign up for TV technically violates net neutrality (either the FCC’s rules or the concept in general) is something that’s likely to be hotly debated.

It’s also curious that just as AT&T indicates it’s backing away from U-Verse TV (which should technically free up more bandwidth on the AT&T network), it’s implementing caps on a network it originally stated didn’t need caps thanks to “greater capacity.” That’s because as with Comcast, caps really aren’t about capacity or financial necessity, they’re about protecting traditional TV revenue from Internet video. At the end of the day, AT&T’s just charging $30 a month (or more) for the same service, while trying to frame it as a net positive for consumers.

Verizon Takes N.Y. Landline Customers to the Cleaners: Finds $1,500

Phillip Dampier March 28, 2016 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon, Video No Comments

ShakedownVerizon’s loyal landline customers are subsidizing corporate expenses and lavish spending on Verizon Wireless, the company’s eponymous mobile service, while their home phone service is going to pot.

Bruce Kushnick from New Networks Institute knows Verizon’s tricks of the trade. He reads tariff filings and arcane Securities & Exchange Commission corporate disclosures for fun. He’s been building a strong case that Verizon has used the revenue it earns from regulated landline telephone service to help finance Verizon’s FiOS fiber network and the company’s highly profitable wireless service.

Kushnick tells the New York Post at least two million New Yorkers with (P)lain (O)ld (T)elephone (S)ervice were overcharged $1,000-$1,500 while Verizon allowed its copper wire network to fall into disrepair. Kushnick figures Verizon owes billions of dollars that should have been spent on its POTS network that provides dial tones to seniors and low-income customers that cannot afford smartphones and laptops.

Verizon’s copper network should have been paid off years ago, argues Kushnick, resulting in dramatically less expensive phone service. What wasn’t paid off has been “written off” by Verizon for some time, Kushnick claims, and Verizon customers should only be paying $10-20 a month for basic phone service. But they pay far more than that.

To ensure a proper rate of return, New York State’s Public Service Commission sets Verizon’s basic service charge of regulated phone service downstate at $23 a month. Deregulation has allowed Verizon to charge whatever it likes for everything else, starting with passing along taxes and other various fees that raise the bill to over $30. Customers with calling plans to minimize long distance charges routinely pay over $60 a month.

Unregulated calling features like call waiting, call forwarding, and three-way calling don’t come cheap either, especially if customers choose them a-la-carte. A two-service package of call waiting and call forwarding costs Verizon 2-3¢ per month, but you pay $7.95. Other add-on fees apply for dubious services like “home wiring maintenance” which protects you if the phone lines installed in your home during the Eisenhower Administration happen to suddenly fail (unlikely).

verizonIn contrast, Time Warner Cable has sold its customers phone service with unlimited local and long distance calling (including free calls to the European Community, Canada, and Mexico) with a bundle of multiple phone features for just $10 a month. That, and the ubiquitous cell phone, may explain why about 11 million New Yorkers disconnected landline service between 2000-2016. There are about two million remaining customers across the state.

New York officials are investigating whether Verizon has allowed its landline network to deteriorate along the way. Anecdotal news reports suggests it might be the case. One apartment building in Harlem lost phone and DSL service for seven months. Another outage put senior citizens at risk in Queens for weeks.

“They don’t care if we live or die,” one tenant of a senior living center told WABC-TV.

Verizon claims Kushnick’s claims are ridiculous.

“There is absolutely no factual basis for his allegations,” the company said.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WABC New York Seniors vent against Verizon after phone service outage 3-9-16.flv

WABC’s “7 On Your Side” consumer reporter Nina Pineda had to intervene to get Verizon to repair phone service for a senior living center that lasted more than a month. (2:50)

Frontier: Your Lousy Wi-Fi is Responsible for Your Slow Internet, Not Us

wi-fi blameFrontier Communications CEO Dan McCarthy blames slow Internet connections on your lousy home Wi-Fi network, not on his company’s broadband service.

McCarthy hoped to convince investors attending the J.P. Morgan Global High Yield & Leveraged Finance Conference earlier this month that Frontier’s last-mile network performance isn’t the real problem, it’s his customers’ Wi-Fi, and delivering faster broadband service isn’t going to solve many speed woes.

“I think the biggest issue that we face in having those kind of increments of capacity is the experience in the home can be substandard not only for us and they perceive a speed issue, but it’s really a Wi-Fi issue,” McCarthy said. “If you look at that many of the perceived speed issues in a home are purely due to a neighbor on the same Wi-Fi channel, which can cut your throughput by 50 percent.”

McCarthy claimed at least 40 percent of the complaints Frontier customers lodge about the company’s broadband service relate to the home Wi-Fi experience. Oddly, customers of other broadband providers don’t seem to complain as much about the performance of their Internet access provider. Frontier scores #12 on Netflix’s speed performance ranking, delivering an average of 2.51Mbps video streaming performance. It isn’t great, but it beat Windstream, Verizon DSL and last place CenturyLink.

frontier new logoFrontier Communications has promised to commit additional investment to expand and improve broadband after it completes its purchase of Verizon landlines in Florida, California, and Texas. Copper DSL customers may eventually get 25Mbps service, fiber customers up to 1Gbps. But the speed improvements have not been as forthcoming in Frontier’s original service areas, dubbed “legacy territories.”

McCarthy claimed more customers within its copper service areas will get speeds of 25-30Mbps, with some getting speeds of 100Mbps and above. But legacy customers often report they consider themselves lucky to see 6Mbps from Frontier DSL.

McCarthy

McCarthy

Despite that, McCarthy seemed to signal Frontier will direct much of its investment into its newest acquisition service areas, not the communities which have had Frontier DSL service for a decade or more.

“We’re investing in the copper facilities as we go into these three states,” McCarthy said. “We’ll be putting in the latest generation of bonded VDSL with vectoring capabilities at the DSLAM and that gives us the ability to have those 80-100 Mbps speeds.”

McCarthy does get the benefit of bragging the company has a larger amount of fiber broadband than ever before.

“Before we do the three-state acquisition, about 10 percent of our markets are passed with fiber-to-the-home and with these three markets about 55 percent of those markets are fiber-to-the-home,” McCarthy said. “We’ll have a substantial slug of markets passed with fiber.”

This excludes the fact Frontier did not build this additional fiber infrastructure itself. It acquired it from another company, in this case Verizon.

Frontier’s Showboating of Verizon Deal in Fla., Calif., and Tex. Called Out by Citi

Phillip Dampier March 9, 2016 Competition, Consumer News, Frontier, Rural Broadband 3 Comments

frontier new logoFrontier Communications stock took a beating this afternoon after Citi analyst Michael Rollins downgraded the company’s stock from Neutral to Sell after announcing he didn’t believe Frontier’s rosy promises of synergy savings from its acquisition of Verizon’s wired networks in Florida, Texas, and California.

Rollins believes Frontier’s legacy copper networks, long overdue for significant upgrades, will continue to pose a greater-than-expected drag on Frontier’s financial performance, substantially reducing any benefits of its latest acquisition deal with Verizon. Frontier executives previously admitted they have less than a 25% market share in many of their service areas, evidence customers are dumping Frontier landlines and DSL broadband and never looking back.

citiFrontier was depending on the Verizon acquisition, scheduled to close March 31, to help stabilize its revenues and OIBDA numbers. That isn’t likely, according to Rollins, because Frontier customer revenue is down in all-copper service areas. Frontier’s revenues from its legacy service areas dropped more than 4 percent in 2015.

The news is slightly better in areas where Verizon has acquired fiber to the neighborhood (Connecticut) and fiber to the home (Pacific Northwest, Indiana) networks from AT&T and Verizon. Frontier FiOS has helped keep the company’s revenue stable to modestly down, but there are no clear signs Frontier plans to build its own fiber networks in its legacy service areas, outside of an experimental network in North Carolina.

As a result, Rollins is convinced the “synergy realization” numbers need to be run again. He predicts they will turn out much lower than anticipated. Experience with Frontier’s earlier acquisitions from AT&T and Verizon demonstrated lower than anticipated synergies.

Frontier Plans National IPTV Service for Up to 50% of Their Customers

Phillip Dampier February 23, 2016 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Frontier 2 Comments

frontier new logoFrontier Communications plans to leverage their existing fiber-copper infrastructure to offer broadband-powered television service for up to half of their national customer base over the next four years.

Like many Frontier initiatives, the company’s IPTV effort relies on minimal spending, with just $150 million in capital budgeted for the project, spread out over several years.

“Our plans are to introduce video service to more than 40 markets representing approximately three million households over a three- to four-year period,” said Frontier CEO Daniel McCarthy. “Once complete, video service will be available to about 50% of the 8.5 million households in Frontier’s existing footprint, not counting the pending Verizon acquisition.”

Frontier intends to sell the service to the 57% of customers it claims can receive at least 20Mbps broadband speed. The video streams will co-exist with customers’ data service.

“Our IPTV applications employ the latest very advanced compression technology,” said McCarthy. “[Each] HD television channel will require approximately 2.5Mbps of capacity, meaning a household with four HDTVs active at once will require 10Mbps of capacity into the home, leaving the remainder available for data usage.”

Frontier’s IPTV approach is similar to AT&T U-verse. The company will depend on fiber to the neighborhood service already in place in certain markets, coupled with existing copper wiring already on telephone poles or buried underground in each neighborhood. To further minimize expenses (and customer inconvenience), Frontier will rely on customer-installable wireless set-top boxes that can be relocated to any television in the home.

McCarthy

McCarthy

Frontier has experimented with its video service since last fall in its test market of Durham, N.C. That city also benefits from an extensive fiber upgrade undertaken by Frontier. Frontier’s website sells the service as Frontier FiOS TV, even though Durham’s fiber network was built by Frontier, not Verizon.

For customers, it will likely be a welcome change from Frontier’s ongoing dependence on its partnership with satellite provider Dish Networks to offer video service. One clue Frontier has not well withstood heavy competition from competing cable operators comes from the company’s latest quarterly earnings report. Frontier executives admitted voice service disconnects are accelerating beyond expectation and average revenue per customer dropped 1.1% to $63.14 for the fourth quarter of 2015.

Frontier also continues to feel the wrath of former AT&T customers in Connecticut that withstood a messy “flash cut” from AT&T to Frontier that left some customers without service for days. Despite the expiration of special pricing promotions for Connecticut customers resulting in the prospect of higher revenue, Frontier still recorded a $7 million decline from Connecticut alone, which it mostly blamed on customers ditching landlines. In the rest of the country, Frontier’s “legacy service areas” (those still dependent on aging copper infrastructure) delivered another $4 million decline in revenue for the quarter.

Where are those customers going? Cable operators continue to grab Frontier’s unhappy DSL customers and wireless companies continue to benefit from landline disconnects.

To prevent a repeat of Connecticut in the Frontier-acquired Verizon territories in Florida, California, and Texas, Frontier will keep Verizon’s service plans and only gradually shift services away from Verizon, with the ability to back out of the transition immediately if something goes wrong.

Frontier’s IPTV service will depend on the classic cable television model — 100+ local, network, and cable channels delivered in a bundle with broadband and voice service. At the outset, Frontier won’t be emphasizing skinny bundles of TV channels, but will allow existing Verizon FiOS customers to keep the slimmed down packages they already have.

West Virginia Lawmakers Battle Slow Broadband; Propose to Fine ISPs for False Speed Claims

frontier speedFrontier Communications is the obvious target of an effort by members of West Virginia’s House of Delegates to embarrass the company into providing at least 10Mbps broadband service or face steep penalties if it does not stop advertising slow speed DSL as “High-Speed Internet.”

State lawmakers continue to be flooded with complaints about the poor performance of Frontier Communications’ DSL service, which customers claim delivers slow speeds, unreliable service, or no service at all.

Although Frontier frequently advertises broadband speeds of 10Mbps or faster, customers often do not receive the advertised speeds, and the service can be so slow it will not work reliably with online video services.

West Virginia’s broadband problems remain so pervasive, the state legislature this year will entertain several broadband improvement measures, including a proposal to spend $72 million to build a publicly owned middle mile fiber optic network. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chris Walters (R-Putnam) claims the new fiber network would boost Internet speeds, improve service, and force down broadband pricing.

With cable broadband available only in major communities, much of West Virginia is dependent on DSL service from Frontier Communications, the telephone company serving most of the state. That is a unique situation for Frontier, which typically serves smaller and medium-sized cities in-between other communities serviced by larger providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Qwest/CenturyLink. Frontier’s problems meeting customer expectations have been well heard in Charleston, the state capitol, if only because most members of the state legislature have Frontier customers in their districts.

Legislators have found they have little recourse over a business that operates largely without regulation or government oversight, as Delegate John Shott (R-Mercer) told the Charleston Gazette. Shott heads the House Judiciary Committee and gets plenty of complaints from his constituents.

“[Customers] feel they never get the speed the Internet providers represent,” said Shott. “There doesn’t seem to be any recourse or regulatory body that has any ability to cause that to change.”

In the absence of regulation or direct oversight, a class action lawsuit on behalf of Frontier DSL customers in the state is still working its way through court. In December 2015, a separate action by West Virginia Attorney General Pat Morrisey resulted in a settlement agreement with Frontier. The company agreed to guarantee at least 6Mbps speeds for around 28,000 customers, or give them a substantial monthly discount off their broadband bill.

frontier wvShott’s bill, HB 2551, targets “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” of Internet Service Providers that advertise fast speeds but never deliver them. The bill would expose a violating ISP to damages up to $3,000 per customer, a $5,000 state fine, and allow customers to walk away from any outstanding balance or contract:

It is an unfair or deceptive act or practice and a violation of this article for any seller or Internet service provider to advertise or offer to provide “high speed Internet service” that is not at least ten megabytes per second.

If a seller or Internet service provider violates […] this section, the consumer has a cause of action to recover actual damages and, in addition, a right to recover from the violator a penalty in an amount, to be determined by the court, of not less than $100 nor more than $3,000. No action brought pursuant to this subsection may be brought more than two years after the date upon which the violation occurred or the due date of the last scheduled payment of the agreement, whichever is later.

If a seller or Internet service provider violates […] this section, any sale or contract for service is void and the consumer is not obligated to pay either the amount due, the amount paid or any late payment charge. If the consumer has paid any part of a bill or invoice, or of a late payment fee, he or she has a right to recover the payments from the violator or from any [collection agency] who undertakes direct collection of payments or enforcement of rights arising from the alleged debt.

The Attorney General of this state shall investigate all complaints alleging violations […] and has a right to recover from the violator a penalty in an amount, to be determined by the court, of not less than $500 nor more than $5,000 per violation, with each advertisement or contract to sell or provide “high speed Internet” being a separate violation. The Attorney General also has the power to seek injunctive relief.

As of today, the bill counts Delegates J. Nelson, Border, Kessinger, Arvon, Moffatt, A. Evans, Wagner, Cadle, and D. Evans as sponsors.

Delegate Shott

Delegate Shott

“The list of sponsors of this bill [HB 2551] are from a broad geographic area,” Shott told the newspaper. “They’ve identified this as a problem in their areas.”

Some legislators believe West Virginia should enforce the FCC’s latest minimum definition of broadband – 25Mbps, but the Gazette reports that kind of robust speed definition could be difficult for a DSL provider to achieve without significant additional investment. Some worry companies like Frontier could have difficulty justifying further rural broadband expansion in a state traditionally challenged by its number of rural areas and difficult terrain.

Despite those difficulties, incumbent providers like Frontier, Suddenlink, and Comcast have not appreciated efforts to help expand public broadband networks in the state, including the proposal outlined in Sen. Chris Walters’ SB 315, which would authorize about $72 million to build a public middle mile fiber network that would be offered to ISPs at wholesale rates.

Frontier strongly objects to the project because it would use public dollars to compete with private businesses like Frontier. The phone company’s opposition raised eyebrows among some in Charleston, who note Frontier had no objections to accepting $42 million in state dollars in 2010 to construct and install a fiber network it now operates for hundreds of public facilities across the state and $283 million in federal dollars to expand rural broadband. The 2010 fiber project was rife with accusations of waste, fraud, and abuse. Critics allege Frontier overcharged the state, installing service for $57,800 per mile despite other providers routinely charging about $30,000 a mile in West Virginia.

The West Virginia Cable Television Association, representing cable operators in the state, called the project a money-waster, noting it would not result in a single new hookup for broadband service. Middle mile networks do not reach individual homes and businesses and the bill does not authorize the state to get into the ISP business.

Sen. Walters

Sen. Walters

Much of the support for the public network comes from smaller ISPs like Citynet, which predominately serves commercial customers, and equipment vendors like Alpha Technologies. Walters believes if West Virginia builds the network, broadband providers will come to use it. The state’s dominant cable and phone companies vehemently disagree. The cable association has launched an all-out PR war, hoping to attract opposition from conservative lawmakers with claims the project will mandate state and local governments to buy Internet connectivity exclusively from the state-owned network and would trample on corporate rights by using eminent domain to seize parts of the cable industry’s fiber networks to complete the state network.

Walters brushed away the accusations, telling the Gazette there is no mandate that state agencies use the network and there are no plans for the government to take any fiber away from a private company.

Cable operators prefer an alternative measure also introduced in the West Virginia Senate. SB 16 would grant tax credits of up to $500 per address for any phone or cable company that agrees to wire a previously unserved rural address. The bill would limit total tax credits to $1 million.

The difference between the two measures? Walters’ bill would use public money to build a public broadband network owned by the public and answerable to the state. The cable industry-backed proposal would use public money in the form of tax offsets to wire homes and businesses to broadband owned by private businesses answerable to shareholders.

Frontier Communications: New Logo, Same Old Service

Phillip Dampier January 11, 2016 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Frontier 1 Comment

frontier

Frontier Communications is making a splash in 2016 with a new logo and a press release explaining it:

Frontier Communications Corporation today announced a new logo. The evolved look reflects a transformed typeface, a brighter color palette, and a reimagining of the arc to represent the transfer of data and the importance of connectivity. The logo also uses the name Frontier Communications, instead of just Frontier, to avoid confusion in the marketplace. Today’s launch comes as the 81-year-old company prepares to close a $10.54 billion acquisition of Verizon’s wireline, broadband and FiOS assets in California, Florida and Texas at the end of March.

“2016 is the year of transformation for Frontier,” said Cecilia McKenney, Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer, who oversees marketing for the company. “Our company is growing and expanding into new markets: the perfect time to showcase a new logo. We are also in the process of refining a brand promise to be unveiled upon the closing of the $10.54 billion acquisition from Verizon at the end of this quarter.”

Unfortunately, nothing was mentioned about using the new logo as an opportunity to commit to significantly better and faster DSL service for large parts of Frontier’s legacy service areas, still serviced by copper wire networks that are often incapable of delivering anything faster than 3Mbps service.

“A logo change will not bring me usable Internet service at night,” said Ralph Tennant whose wife has struggled with Frontier DSL in her office for years in West Virginia.

“We can either get usage-capped Internet from Suddenlink or unlimited and unusable Internet from Frontier,” said Tennant. “Two bad choices not made better by a pretty new logo.”

Compare/Contrast: Taiwan’s Presidential Candidates Can’t Wait to Give Away Free Broadband

The three candidates contesting in the 2016 Presidential Elections are James Soong from the People First Party (PFP) (L), Eric Chu from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) (Center), and Tsai Ing-wen from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) (R).

The three candidates running for President of the Republic of China are: James Soong from the People First Party (PFP) (L), Eric Chu from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party (Center), and Tsai Ing-wen from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) (R).

Taiwan’s three presidential candidates, appearing in a nationwide debate on Sunday, promised to deliver improved High Speed Internet in the Republic of China, with some candidates committing to give broadband away for free to low and middle-income families.

Taiwan is making broadband expansion and improvement a top national priority, as the country races towards delivering gigabit wired broadband and 5G wireless service. The government wants to boost the country’s broadband ranking, now 33rd in the world.

Bringing speeds up while reducing broadband bills is the goal of Eric Chu, the candidate from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party. During his terms as leader of New Taipei and Taoyuan County, Chu presided over a major expansion of Internet penetration rates. Chu believes the next step is to make broadband service free of charge for low/middle-income residents and deliver nationwide free Wi-Fi to every centimeter of Taiwan.

Internet providers would still profit from selling faster access to customers willing to pay for it, but Chu’s policies continue a theme that broadband access is a basic human right, a position increasingly popular in the country. Voters appeared skeptical of Chu’s claims, however, because the KMT has garnered a reputation of being in bed with big business during its last two terms in office. But that has not stopped Chu from criticizing telecom executives for not doing more to invest and eventually offer next generation 5G wireless service in Taiwan.

James Soong, from the People First Party — considered to have a close (but frequently tense) alliance with the KMT  — predictably agreed with Chu, but also wants Taiwan to do more to protect Internet privacy and online safety. Soong wants to completely scrap the country’s legacy copper wire telecommunications infrastructure and replace it with fiber optics, delivering fiber service to every home and business in Taiwan. With a fiber upgrade, Soong is convinced Taiwan will achieve his goal of top-10 broadband status.

Tsai Ing-wen from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said when private companies don’t deliver, it is government’s responsibility to address the digital divide, by making high quality service affordable and fast. Taiwan’s telecom companies are paying close attention to the DPP candidate because polls make her the favorite to become the next president of Taiwan, after the election on Jan. 16.

“The use of broadband Internet service should be part of the people’s basic human rights,” she said. “It is also important to narrow the digital divide to improve educational opportunities for children in remote areas and develop children’s digital capabilities.”

With broadband being treated as a high priority issue in the presidential race, Taiwan’s largest broadband provider, Chunghwa Telecom – 中華電信, has announced the first commercial deployments of G.fast technology – the newest generation of DSL – across Taiwan.

Israeli chipmaker Sckipio demonstrated G.Fast technology at CES 2016 in Las Vegas this week, claiming it is faster than traditional DSL and cable broadband. In a limited demonstration, the company demonstrated download speeds achieving 750Mbps over traditional copper wire networks, about 50 times faster than average broadband speeds. Sckipio promised G.Fast technology will debut in the United States later this year.

Frontier Agrees to $150 Million Settlement for West Virginia DSL Customers; A 2nd Lawsuit Continues

frontier wvFrontier Communications had to be chased by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to improve broadband speeds for at least 28,000 DSL customers who thought they were buying 6Mbps DSL service but ended up with maximum speeds of 1.5Mbps or less.

Frontier today agreed to a settlement with state officials to spend an extra $150 million to boost DSL speeds for rural customers around the state and offer deep discounts for affected customers until they can receive at least 6Mbps service. Today’s settlement has no impact on a separate class action lawsuit brought by Frontier customers who accuse the company of throttling broadband speeds to save money and reduce traffic on its network.

The agreement is the largest, independently negotiated consumer protection settlement in West Virginia history and is expected to improve broadband service over the next three years.

“This agreement is a game changer for the Mountain State,” Morrisey said. “The settlement helps consumers receive the high-speed service they expected, while directing significant monies to help fix connectivity issues that consistently keep our state from achieving economic success.”

For at least two years, Frontier customers sent Morrisey’s office complaints stating they were not getting the speed and performance Frontier advertised for its DSL service. While the company told both customers and investors it had blanketed West Virginia with speeds “up to 6Mbps,” many customers discovered the phone company locked their modems to receive no better than 1.5Mbps.

Attorney General Morrisey

Attorney General Morrisey

Frontier denied any allegation of wrongdoing and says it entered into the settlement to resolve disputed claims without the necessity of protracted and expensive litigation. But it will cost the company at least $150 million in additional upgrades, not including the $180 million Frontier already earmarked for broadband expansion in West Virginia, partly subsidized by the ratepayer-funded Connect America Fund.

About 28,000 customers identified by Frontier with modems the company provisioned for service at speeds of 1.5Mbps or lower will begin seeing an ongoing credit applied to their bills beginning Jan. 25, 2016, reducing the price of Frontier’s DSL service to $9.99 a month.

Affected customers can verify if they are included in the settlement on a special website Frontier has set up for its West Virginia customers.

The discounts will continue individually for each customer until the company can demonstrate it can deliver the 6Mbps speeds customers in West Virginia paid to receive. New Frontier DSL customers with speeds no better than 1.5Mbps will also qualify for the discount. Those with modems locked at speeds above 1.5Mbps but still getting less than 6Mbps will not benefit from this settlement, but may still get relief from a separate class action lawsuit covering customers in the state being heard in Lincoln County.

Last week, Lincoln County Circuit Judge Jay Hoke rejected an effort by Frontier to have the class action case dismissed. The company insisted its terms and conditions forbade customers from taking Frontier to court, requiring them to pursue arbitration instead.

fine printJudge Hoke rejected Frontier’s arguments, finding the phone company “buried” the arbitration clause in fine print on its website and on the last pages of customer billing inserts. Hoke also ruled Frontier was attempting to retroactively apply its arbitration clause years after customers initially signed up for broadband service.

“We are finally going to get our day in court,” Michael Sheridan, a Frontier customer in Greenbrier County and Stop the Cap! reader told the Charleston Gazette. Sheridan is suing Frontier over its poor performance in West Virginia. “We think this lawsuit is the best chance we’ll ever have of bringing real Internet to rural West Virginia.”

Frontier argued if customers were dissatisfied with its DSL service, they could have canceled but never did. The company did not mention many of the affected customers have no other options for broadband service except satellite Internet, which receives poor reviews.

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling,” said Frontier spokesman Andy Malinoski. “In our view, arbitration provides for fair resolution of consumer concerns that is quicker, simpler, and less expensive than lawsuits in court. We plan to appeal.”

Frontier’s decision to appeal might take longer and cost more than addressing problems for at least some of the affected customers.

lincoln countyJudge Hoke also took a dim view of Frontier’s style of disclosing changes to its terms and conditions.

‘On the website, computer users must scroll to the bottom of the page and click on a “Terms & Conditions” link that’s “buried among 25 other links,” then click on two other links to find the arbitration provision that denies customers’ rights to a jury trial,’ Hoke wrote in his order. ‘There’s no button to click or box to check that allows customers to agree to Frontier’s terms. In monthly bills, the arbitration clause shows up one time on the “fourth and last page” of an insert and another time in “miniscule font,” Hoke found.

Customers would have to be psychic to guess Frontier had important news restricting their right to take a dispute to court.

“There is no reason whatsoever for a customer to turn to the last page,” Hoke wrote. “Additionally, the bills contain no prompting that customers should flip to the last page for information concerning Frontier’s desire to alter the customer’s right to a jury trial.”

While Frontier pursues its appeal at the state Supreme Court, Frontier is expected to lose million in revenue from the settlement with the Attorney General.

“The reduced rate gives Frontier a strong incentive to raise speeds for these customers,” Morrisey said.

Another provision in the settlement requires Frontier to pay $500,000 to the state’s Consumer Protection Fund. That payment will offset investigative and monitoring expenses in addition to helping defray the costs of transitioning consumers to higher Internet speeds.

Frontier spokesman Andy Malinoski said the company had planned to address the issues all along. He said the settlement will accelerate the improvements.

West Virginians seeking more information about the maximum speed their modem is provisioned to receive can call Frontier at 1-888-449-0217 for more information.

Those with further questions can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 800-368-8808 or visit the office online at www.wvago.gov.

Verizon: Ignore Our Adamant Denials of Not Being Interested in Selling Our Wired Networks

carForSaleDespite denials Verizon Communications was interested in selling off more of its wireline network to companies like Frontier Communications, the company’s chief financial officer reminded investors Verizon is willing to sell just about anything if it will return value to its shareholders.

In September, rumors Verizon planned to sell more of its wireline network where the company has not invested in widespread FiOS fiber-to-the-home expansion grew loud enough to draw a response from Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam at the Goldman Sachs 24th annual Communicopia Conference.

“When people ask me, and I know there’s some speculation that we might be interested in selling the wireline properties, I don’t see it in the near-term,” McAdam said.

Today, Shammo seemed to clarify McAdam’s pessimistic attitude about another Verizon landline sell off in the near future.

“We’re extremely happy with the asset portfolio we have right now, but as we always say we continue to look at all things,” Shammo said. “Just like the towers, we said we would not sell the towers and then we got to a great financial position and we sold our towers. If something makes sense [and] we can return value to our shareholders and it’s not a strategic fit we’ll obviously look at that.”

Shammo

Shammo

For most of 2014, Verizon denied any interest in selling its portfolio of company-owned wireless cell towers. In February 2015 the company announced it would sell acquisition rights to most of its cell towers to American Tower Corporation for $5.056 billion in cash.

Some analysts believe the early indicators that suggest Verizon is ready to sell include its lack of upgrades in non-FiOS service areas and Verizon’s willingness to walk away from up to $144 million from the second phase of the FCC’s Connect America Fund to expand Internet access to more of Verizon’s rural landline customers.

Verizon’s decision to take a pass on broadband improvement funds infuriated four southern New Jersey counties that claim Verizon has neglected its copper network in the state. As a result of allegedly decreasing investment and interest by Verizon, customers in these areas do not get the same level of phone and broadband service that Verizon customers receive in the northern half of New Jersey.

More than a dozen communities have signed a joint petition sent to the Board of Public Utilities, New Jersey’s telecom regulator, insisting the BPU take whatever measures are needed to preserve the availability of telecommunications services in southern New Jersey. The towns also want the BPU to consider funding sources to help improve broadband service that public officials claim is woefully inadequate. Outside of Verizon FiOS service areas, Verizon offers customers traditional DSL service for Internet access.

Verizon-logoThe communities:

  • Atlantic County: Estell Manor and Weymouth Township.
  • Gloucester County: South Harrison Township.
  • Salem County: Alloway Township, Lower Alloways Creek, Mannington Township, Township of Pilesgrove, and Upper Pittsgrove Township.
  • Cumberland County: Commercial Township, Downe Township, Hopewell Township, Lawrence Township, Maurice River Township, City of Millville, Upper Deerfield Township, and Fairfield Township.

Officials claim Verizon has pushed its wireless alternatives to customers in the region, including its wireless landline replacement. But officials suggest Verizon’s wireless coverage and the quality of its service is not an adequate substitute for wireline service.

Verizon's Home Phone Connect base station

Verizon’s Home Phone Connect base station

Verizon has proposed decommissioning parts of its wireline network in rural service areas and substitute wireless service in the alternative. At issue are the costs to maintain a vast wireline network that reaches a dwindling number of customers. Verizon reminds regulators it has lost large numbers of residential landline customers who have switched to wireless service, making the costs to maintain service for a dwindling number of customers that much greater.

But for many communities, the focus is increasingly on broadband, especially in areas that receive little or no cable service. Telephone companies serving rural communities are surviving landline disconnects by providing broadband service.

For companies like Frontier Communications, CenturyLink, and Windstream, investments in providing broadband service are among their top spending priorities. At larger phone companies like Verizon and AT&T, highly profitable wireless divisions get the most attention and are top spending priorities.

Speaking this morning at the UBS 43rd Annual Global Media and Communications Conference, Shammo told investors Verizon will continue to allocate the majority of its capital allocation around Verizon Wireless to help densify its wireless network. Verizon, Shammo noted, plans further spending cuts for its wired networks next year as FiOS network buildouts start to taper off.

This will make expansion and improvement of Verizon DSL unlikely, and may put further cost pressure on maintaining Verizon’s wireline networks, which could further motivate a sale.

Verizon’s chief financial officer Fran Shammo is likely looking at three alternatives for the future:

  1. Increase investment in Verizon Communications to further expand FiOS fiber optics;
  2. Look at cost savings opportunities to improve the books at Verizon Communications, including decommissioning rural landline networks (if Verizon can win regulator approval);
  3. Consider selling Verizon’s non-core wireline assets in areas where the company has not made a substantial investment in FiOS and refocus attention on serving the dense corridor of customers along the Atlantic seaboard between Washington, D.C. and Boston.

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