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Verizon’s Curious Allies, Employees Urge N.J. Regulators to Forget About FiOS Fiber Expansion

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still dead.

New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities has heard from hundreds of New Jersey residents about a settlement proposal that would let Verizon off the hook for failing to keep a commitment to provide high-speed broadband service statewide no later than 2010.

Curiously, hundreds of those comments were identical e-mails originating from AOL, Hotmail, MSN and Yahoo mail accounts urging the state to show lenience to Verizon — to forgive and forget the company’s broken promises. No mailing addresses were included. But the attached names and e-mail addresses were enough for Stop the Cap! to discover many of those submitting comments used non-working e-mail addresses or claimed their names were submitted without their knowledge or permission. Many others were actually employed by Verizon or were retirees.

“The proposed stipulation is fair and balanced and under your guidance, will build on the success that the Board and Verizon have achieved in making the Garden State one of the most wired broadband states in the country,” writes David Gudino, who doesn’t disclose in his correspondence with the BPU that his name is included in a list of attorneys working for Verizon Wireless.

“I would like to declare my support for the proposed stipulation between your Board Staff and Verizon as it relates to Opportunity New Jersey,” says another on behalf of an organization getting contributions from Verizon. “The stipulation will help ensure continued deployment of advanced communications services. Access to these services will not only benefit New Jersey’s businesses and nonprofits, but consumers of all ages as well.”

new-jerseyBy “advanced communications services,” the letter’s signers should know very well that means more 4G LTE wireless broadband with stingy usage caps and high prices, not more FiOS fiber to the home service.

What proved especially surprising was finding so many customers claiming to be happy with Verizon’s broadband performance in New Jersey who are still relying on AOL dial-up accounts. Stop the Cap! contacted a random 150 signers of the identical letters by using their attached e-mail addresses, which are part of the public record. We asked the writers to expand on their views about Verizon’s performance in New Jersey, whether they were satisfied with their current Internet provider, whether they have broadband service, and where they learned about this issue.

Remarkably, 35 of the e-mail addresses turned out to be invalid, so we contacted an extra 35 and 12 of those e-mail addresses were invalid as well. We found this unsettling because the only identifying information attached to the pro-Verizon correspondence was a name and e-mail address. We couldn’t be sure the authors were New Jersey residents much less real people.

We received 18 replies. Several were Verizon retirees asked to sign letters of support for Verizon. Another five had no idea what we were talking about and denied they submitted any views, pro or con, about Verizon. Three of those were Comcast customers that said goodbye to Verizon more than a decade earlier. Many others were associated with groups that happen to receive financial support from Verizon. Several  had no broadband access and were using dial-up.

Stop the Cap! did not receive a single reply from any person ready to articulate informed views about the terms of the settlement offer. They were simply asked to lend their names and e-mail addresses to Verizon’s campaign and had never seen the settlement proposal or heard much about it.

bpuJudith Stoma’s family has worked for Verizon/NJ Bell since 1958. She’s 71 years old today and she supports Verizon, at least in its efforts to “lead the way with N.J. at the forefront of technology.” Abdicating on FiOS expansion in favor of the same old DSL service Verizon proposes in its settlement seems to run contrary to that goal.

In several other instances, some of Verizon’s “supporters” actually used a space provided in the form letter to vent their frustration with Verizon!

Michael DeNude was irritated he never got FiOS: “We live in Riverdale and have not benefited by any upgrade.”

Paula Thomas was annoyed that Verizon outsources its workforce: “Verizon already outsources their telephone [operator] service. They should also guarantee that U.S. Citizens are given preference in the ‘job growth’ they ensure will happen.”

William Barlen thinks it’s a shame the current state of broadband in the U.S. is lacking: “It is sad that we have dropped behind over 50 countries on broadband speed and deployment. If you do not support this work exactly what are you doing?”

Paul Minenna is concerned that without FiOS broadband, speedier Internet access is not forthcoming: “Please make sure that you keep NJ moving forward with top-notch technology access. This is not the time to slow down Internet access.”

John Zilg’s letter is the same as nearly every other in support of Verizon, until he was given the opportunity to include his own remarks, which are completely contrary to everything else in the letter: “It is critical to continue supporting what has already been put into place. I urge you to not change direction.”

It is easily apparent that among the letters in support of Verizon, more than a few were not at all informed about what they were signing, and in many cases actually held completely different views when someone took the time to inquire in more detail. We are also very concerned about the number of invalid e-mail addresses attached to letters that carried no mailing address. On an issue of this importance, it is disturbing to not be certain those communications represent the legitimate views of actual New Jersey residents.

These factors must be taken into consideration as the Board of Public Utilities ponders the public input.

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CenturyLink to Idaho Residents: You Don’t Need 1Gbps, DSL is Good Enough for You

centurylinkCenturyLink’s philosophy about offering gigabit fiber broadband speeds in Idaho can be summed up simply as “for business-use only.”

Jim Schmit, Idaho CenturyLink’s vice president and general manager, believes super fast broadband connections are overkill for homes and most businesses in the state.

“It’s like having a fancy sports car,” Schmit told the Idaho Statesman. “It might go 200 miles per hour, but what good does that do if the speed limit is 60?”

Schmitt’s attitude of broadband a-plenty is nothing new. In 2007, he told attendees of the Emerging Directions in Economic Development conference in Boise that “virtually all” Idahoans already had access to high-speed broadband. That was news to the audience, with about a quarter of the economic development professionals attending stating they represented a community that didn’t have it yet. Most of the questions related to how their communities could get the access they’d been told wasn’t available.

Seven years later, the Statesman reports more than a few homes and businesses in the region still rely on slow DSL, satellite and even dial-up access because faster options are just not available.

idahoIdaho could find itself a bystander in the growing movement to deploy gigabit fiber to the premise broadband, despite the fact CenturyLink already has fiber infrastructure available nearby.

“We’re getting to the point where, for businesses in most places, we’re within last-mile connections for most locations,” Schmit says.

CenturyLink is willing to extend its fiber, but only if that fiber line reaches businesses needing gigabit speeds. Residential customers need not apply.

Fiber optics can be found in several office buildings in downtown Boise, which has been good news for established tech companies that need more bandwidth. Three data centers are operational in the city and would likely not be there without fiber.

But for home-based entrepreneurs of future Internet startups, most will be forced to choose between CenturyLink DSL or cable broadband from providers like Cable ONE, which offer slower speeds.

Smaller broadband providers have begun to fill the gap left open by the lack of interest from cable and phone companies. While Google is showing interest in building fiber networks in a handful of U.S. cities, many more communities are realizing they will not get gigabit speeds anytime soon unless they build a publicly owned broadband network themselves or rely on much smaller-scale projects under development in the private sector.

Patrick Lawless, founder and CEO of Boise voice recognition software developer Voxbright Technologies Inc., sees opportunity providing a limited fiber network in Boise. Lawless has plans to build a 2.6-mile fiber-optic loop and deliver television, phone and broadband service to apartment and office buildings in a manner similar to Google’s. It’s a small early effort, limited to a handful of businesses and new residential buildings — mostly apartments and renovated former office buildings or hotels. He plans to charge $99 a month for a package including television, 100Mbps broadband, and phone service.

With the project’s small scope and uncertain cost, CenturyLink says it isn’t too worried about the competition. For now they will continue to bank on offering only the broadband speed they believe customers actually need, and it will be up to a competitor to prove them wrong.

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Time Warner Cable, Comcast Crash, Burn in Consumer Reports’ 2014 Ratings

consumer reportsDespite claims of improved customer service and better broadband, Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s customer satisfaction scores are in near-free fall in the latest Consumer Reports National Research Center’s survey of consumers about their experiences with television and Internet services.

Although never popular with customers, both cable operators plummeted in the 2014 Consumer Reports ratings — Time Warner Cable is now only marginally above the perennial consumer disaster that is Mediacom. Comcast performs only slightly better.

In the view of Consumers Union, this provides ample evidence that two wrongs never make a right.

“Both Comcast and Time Warner Cable rank very poorly with consumers when it comes to value for the money and have earned low ratings for customer support,” said Delara Derakhshani.  “A merger combining these two huge companies would give Comcast even greater control over the cable and broadband Internet markets, leading to higher prices, fewer choices, and worse customer service for consumers.”

These ratings reflect Internet service only.

These ratings reflect Internet service only.

Comcast ranked 15th among 17 television service providers included in the ratings and earned particularly low marks from consumers for value for the money and customer support.  Time Warner ranked 16th overall for television service with particularly low ratings for value, reliability, and phone/online customer support.

Another ratings collapse for Comcast and Time Warner Cable

Another ratings collapse for Comcast and Time Warner Cable

Comcast and Time Warner Cable were mediocre on overall satisfaction with Internet service.  Both companies received especially poor marks for value and low ratings for phone/online customer support.

“In an industry with a terrible track record with consumers, these two companies are among the worst when it comes to providing good value for the money,” said Derakhshani.  “The FCC and Department of Justice should stand with consumers and oppose this merger.”

For as long as Stop the Cap! has published, Mediacom has always achieved bottom of the barrel ratings, with satellite fraudband provider HughesNet — the choice of the truly desperate — scoring dead last for Internet service. We’re accustomed to seeing the usual bottom-raters like Frontier (DSL), Windstream (DSL), and FairPoint (DSL) on the south end of the list. But now both Comcast and Time Warner Cable have moved into the same seedy neighborhood of expensive and lousy service. Comcast couldn’t even beat the ratings for Verizon’s DSL service, which is now barely marketed at all. Time Warner Cable scored lower than CenturyLink’s DSL.

Breathing an ever-so-slight sigh of relief this year is Charter Communications, which used to compete with Mediacom for customer raspberries. It ‘rocketed up’ to 18th place.

If you want top-notch broadband service, you need to remember only one word: fiber. It’s the magical optical cable phone and cable companies keep claiming they have but largely don’t (except for Verizon and Cincinnati Bell, among a select few). If you have fiber to the home broadband, you are very happy again this year. If you are served by an independent cable company that threw away the book on customer abuse, you are relieved. Topping the ratings again this year among all cable operators is WOW!, which has a legendary reputation for customer service. Wave/Astound is in second place. Verizon and Frontier FiOS customers stay pleased, and even those signed up with Bright House Networks and Suddenlink report improved service.

Ratings are based on responses from 81,848 Consumer Reports readers. Once again they plainly expose Americans are not happy with their telecom options. The average cost of home communications measured by the Mintel Group is now $154 a month — $1,848 a year. That’s more expensive than the average homeowner’s clothing, furniture or electricity budget. The same issues driving the bad ratings last year are still there in 2014: shoveling TV channels at customers they don’t want or need, imposing sneaky new fees along with broad-based rate increases every year, low value for money, and customer service departments staffed by the Don’t Care Bears.

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German Chancellor Mocks British Prime Minister Over State of UK’s Broadband

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister David Cameron

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister David Cameron

The slow pace of rolling out superfast broadband across the United Kingdom did not escape the notice of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who stung Prime Minister David Cameron with a joke comparing the two countries’ progress to provide Internet access to every home.

While traveling to Hanover to visit the CeBIT trade fair, Carmeron sought to promote Great Britain’s economic relationship with Germany. But Merkel wanted to know when Britain would finally complete the rollout of high-speed Internet access to every house in the country.

Cameron’s government has faced criticism over its decision to roll out an advanced form of DSL using fiber to the neighborhood technology similar to AT&T U-verse. Some critics accuse the government of allowing BT and other vendors to overspend public resources on a network that some fear will not prove fast enough to compete in the long-term.

Cameron told Merkel the government had earmarked hundreds of millions of pounds on the project. In response, Merkel dryly replied that Germany’s network would successfully reach every citizen in Germany by 2018.

btUK Communications Minister Ed Vaizey has also faced criticism from communities learning they are not on the upgrade list as well as those promised improved service but still waiting to receive it. Vaizey repeated his claim that 95 percent of the United Kingdom would have faster Internet access by 2017. The British regulatory agency Ofcom’s statistics show the government has a long way to go, with only 73 per cent of the country able to get access to high-speed broadband as of this month.

While in Hanover, Cameron suggested the world was nearing a new industrial revolution dependent on a speedy Internet. Cameron noted the future includes “The Internet of Things,” where technology would enable devices of all kinds to interact over wireless networks. Robust broadband infrastructure was therefore essential to the economies of both countries.

As part of that effort, the two leaders announced a joint effort between British and German universities to develop the next generation of Wi-Fi dubbed “5G” that would be fast enough to download a typical movie in less than one second.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/UK Superfast Broadband 2014.flv

Although BT likes to advertise “superfast broadband” as coming from a fiber network, in fact most homes will receive an advanced form of DSL service delivered over a hybrid fiber-copper network. (2:38)

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Wireless ISP Fends Off Frontier’s DSL Expansion in Indiana; Telco Denied Expansion Money

onlyinternetA wireless Internet Service Provider serving rural northeastern Indiana has successfully challenged Frontier Communications’ application for federal funds to introduce DSL service in the region.

Great American Broadband (GAB) challenged Frontier’s request for funds from the Connect America Fund to wire homes in the Wells County community of Uniondale. It turns out the Bluffton-based wireless ISP already provides service to the community, making Frontier’s request redundant.

uniondaleGAB’s OnlyInternet serves around 3,000 customers in Adams, Allen, Blackford, Delaware, Elkhart, Grant, Howard, Huntington, Jay, LaGrange, Madison, Randolph, Tipton, Wabash, Wells and Whitley counties. Founded in 1995, the wireless ISP uses a network of towers to offer a high-speed service comparable to Wi-Fi to residents who generally cannot get broadband from any cable or telephone company.

The FCC found Uniondale was already sufficiently served by OnlyInternet and denied funds earmarked for Frontier’s proposed expansion into the community of about 300. Wireless ISPs have had a hard time successfully defending their turf from phone companies that can subsidize expansion of their DSL service with federal tax money or funds provided by other telephone ratepayers. Many wireless ISPs are family owned and financed by private bank loans and small investors. They do not appreciate subsidized competition, particularly from the Connect America Fund, which is generally only available to telephone companies.

Frontier“We have to look out for the interests of our members,” Rick Harnish, executive director of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association in Ossian, told the Journal Gazette. The group alerted OnlyInternet of Frontier’s FCC filing for rural dollars. “The Connect America Fund is a subsidy program set up for phone companies, which is why wireless providers are left out. We continue lobbying for equitable treatment, but we’re a small voice compared to the bigger companies.”

Rural ISPs have taken about a $10 million chunk out of Frontier’s application for $71.5 million in Connect America Funds by successfully challenging the phone company’s applications around the country. In general, Connect America Funding for broadband expansion is available only to unserved areas where customers cannot get broadband service.

In northern Indiana, Frontier can use the federal money to offer services in parts of Huntington, Jay and Wells counties.

Frontier is still free to use its own funds to wire Uniondale for DSL service, and customers might welcome the competition.

OnlyInternet currently provides wireless service at speeds ranging from 512/128kbps ($24.95) to 3Mbps/768kbps ($64.95). Until last year, Frontier generally provided most rural communities with up to 3Mbps broadband, but has upgraded service to speeds ranging from 6-40Mbps. Most of the higher speeds are available only in urban areas.

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AT&T Proposes Pulling the Plug on Landline Service in Alabama and Florida

carbon hill

Carbon Hill, Ala.

AT&T is seeking permission to disconnect traditional landline service in Alabama and Florida as it plans to abandon its copper wire network and move towards Voice Over IP in urban areas and force customers to use wireless in suburbs and rural communities.

AT&T’s BellSouth holding company has asked the Federal Communications Commission to approve what it calls “an experiment,” beginning in the communities of West Delray Beach, Fla., and Carbon Hill, Ala.

The first phase of the plan would start by asking residents to voluntarily disconnect existing landline service in favor of either U-verse VoIP service or a wireless landline replacement that works with AT&T’s cellular network. In the next phase of the experiment, traditional copper-based landline service would be dropped altogether as AT&T and the FCC study the impact.

“We have proposed conducting the trials in Carbon Hill, Ala., and in West Delray Beach, Fla.,” AT&T writes on the company’s blog. “We chose these locations in an effort to gain insights into some of the more difficult issues that likely will be presented as we transition from legacy networks. For example, the rural and sparsely populated wire center of Carbon Hill poses particularly challenging economic and geographic characteristics.  While Kings Point’s suburban location and large population of older Americans poses different but significant challenges as well.  The lessons we learn from these trials will play a critical role as we begin this transition in our approximately 4700 wire centers across the country to meet our goal of completing the IP transition by the end of 2020.”

Delray-Beach-CrossFit1The transition may prove more controversial than AT&T is willing to admit. A similar effort to move landline customers to wireless service was met with strong resistance when Verizon announced it would not repair wired infrastructure on Fire Island, N.Y., damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Hundreds of complaints were registered with the New York Public Service Commission over the poor quality of service residents received with Verizon’s wireless landline replacement. The company eventually abandoned the wireless-only transition and announced it would also offer FiOS fiber optic service to customers seeking a better alternative.

“Be ready, beware,” Jim Rosenthal, a seasonal Fire Island resident, told Bloomberg News when asked what communities need to know about the changes. “Get your ducks in order. Make the alliances. Speak loudly, make sure you’re not roadkill.”

Customers that have already dropped landline service in favor of wireless and do not depend on AT&T for broadband will not notice any changes. Neither will customers  subscribed to U-verse phone and broadband service. But those who rely on AT&T DSL are likely to lose their wired broadband service and asked to switch to a very expensive wireless broadband alternative sold by AT&T. That alternative may be their only broadband option if the neighborhood is not serviced by a cable competitor.

The biggest impact will be in rural Carbon Hill, where 55% of AT&T customers will only be able to get wireless phone and broadband service, according to AT&T documents. At least 4% of local residents will get no service at all from AT&T, because they are outside of AT&T’s wireless coverage area. The phone company has no plans to expand its U-verse deployment in the rural community northwest of Birmingham. In contrast, every customer in West Delray Beach will be offered U-verse service. That means AT&T’s DSL customers will eventually be forced to switch to either U-verse for broadband or a wireless broadband plan that costs $50 a month, limited to 5GB of usage.

AT&T promises the transition will be an upgrade for customers, but that isn't always the case.

AT&T promises the transition will be an upgrade for customers, but that isn’t always true.

AT&T’s wireless home phone replacement is not compatible with fax machines, home or medical monitoring services, credit card machines, IP/PBX phone systems, dial-up Internet, and other data services. AT&T also disclaims any responsibility for mishandled 911 emergency calls that lack accurate location information about a customer in distress. The company also does not guarantee uninterrupted service or coverage.

AT&T chose Carbon Hill, which was originally a coal mining town, because it represents the classic poor, rural community common across AT&T’s service area. At least 21 percent of customers live below the poverty line. Many cannot afford cable service (if available). AT&T selected Alabama and Florida because both states have been friendly to its political agenda, adopting AT&T-sponsored deregulation measures statewide. AT&T was not required to seek permission from either state to begin its transition, and it is unlikely there will be any strong oversight on the state level.

“We looked for places where state law wasn’t going to be an issue, where the regulatory and legal environment in the state was conducive to the transition,” admitted Christopher Heimann, an AT&T attorney, at a briefing announcing the experiment.

Verizon faced a very different regulatory environment in New York, where unhappy Fire Island customers dissatisfied with Verizon’s wireless landline replacement Voice Link found sympathy from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who appealed to the state PSC to block the service. Sources told Stop the Cap! the oversight agency was planning to declare the service inadequate, just as Verizon announced it would offer its fiber optic service FiOS as an alternative option on the island.

Voice Link sparked complaints over dropped calls, poor sound quality, inadequate reception, and inadequacy for use with data services of all kinds. Customers were also upset Verizon’s service would not work as well in the event of a power interruption and the company disclaimed responsibility for assured access to 911.

carbon hill

Carbon Hill, Ala.

Although millions of Americans have disconnected landline telephone service in favor of wireless alternatives, traditional landlines are still commonly used in businesses and by poor and elderly customers. Many medical and security monitoring services also require landlines.

The loss of AT&T’s wired network could also mean no affordable broadband future for rural residents — wireless broadband is typically much more expensive. AT&T admits it will not guarantee DSL customers they will be able to keep wired broadband after the transition.

AT&T will “do our very best” to provide Internet-based services in trial areas, Bob Quinn, senior vice president for federal regulatory matters, said in a 2012 blog post proposing the trials.

“For those few we cannot reach with a broadband service, whether wireline or wireless, they will still be able to keep voice service,” Quinn said. “We are very cognizant that no one should be left behind in this transition.”

AT&T is likely to be the biggest winner if it successfully scraps its copper network. The company wants to drop landline service completely by 2020, saving the company millions while ending government oversight and eliminating service obligations.

“It’s a big darn deal,” said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. “The amount of cost that it removes from our legacy businesses is dramatic and it’s significant.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT The Next Generation IP Network 2-21-14.mp4

An AT&T-produced video showing a sunny future with IP-based phone service. But the future may not be so great for AT&T’s rural DSL customers. (1:31)

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Read Between AT&T’s Landlines: What They Don’t Say Will Cost Kentucky, Other States

Phillip "Another year, another AT&T deregulation measure" Dampier

Phillip “Another year, another AT&T deregulation measure” Dampier

It’s back.

It seems that nearly every year, AT&T and its well-compensated fan base of state legislators trot out the same old deregulation proposals that would end oversight of basic telephone service and allow AT&T (and other phone companies in Kentucky) to pull the plug on landline service wherever they feel it is no longer profitable to deliver.

This year, it’s Senate Bill 99, introduced once again by Sen. Paul “AT&T Knows Best” Hornback (R-Shelbyville). Back in 2012, Hornback disclosed AT&T largely authors these deregulation measures and he introduces them on AT&T’s behalf. In fact, he’s proud to admit it, telling the press nobody knows better than AT&T what the company needs the legislature to do for it.

“You work with the authorities in any industry to figure out what they need to move that industry forward,” Hornback said. “It’s no conflict.”

While Hornback moves AT&T forward, “his” bill will move rural Kentucky’s best chances for broadband backwards.

AT&T always pulls out all the stops when lobbying for its deregulation bills. In Kentucky, AT&T has more than 30 legislative lobbyists, including a former PSC vice chairwoman and past chairs of the state Democratic and Republican parties working on their behalf. It has spent over $100,000 in state political donations since 2007.

The chief provisions of the bill would:

  • End almost all oversight of telephone service by the Public Service Commission anywhere there are more than 15,000 people living within a telephone exchange’s service area;
  • Give Kentucky phone companies the right to disconnect urban/suburban basic landline phone service and replace it with either wireless or Voice over IP service;
  • Allow rural customers to keep landline service for now, but also permits AT&T and other companies to effectively stop investing in their rural wired networks.

yay attThis year, AT&T apparently conceded it was just too tough to convince the legislature to let them disconnect hundreds of thousands of rural Kentucky phone customers at the company’s pleasure, so this time they have permitted rural wired service to continue, with some exceptions that make life easier for AT&T.

First, the end of oversight of telephone service means customers in larger communities in Kentucky will have no recourse if their phone service doesn’t work, is billed incorrectly, is disconnected during a billing dispute, or never installed at all. The PSC has traditionally served as a last resort for customers who do not get satisfaction dealing with the local phone company directly. PSC intervention is taken very seriously by most phone companies, but the state agency will be rendered almost toothless under this bill.

Second, although existing rural phone customers would be able to keep their basic landline service (for now) under this measure, nothing prevents AT&T from marketing alternative wireless phone service to customers experiencing problems with their existing service. Verizon has attempted that in portions of upstate New York, where telephone network deterioration has led to increased complaints. In some cases, Verizon has suggested customers switch to wireless service instead of waiting for phone line repairs which may or may not solve the problem. New rural customers face the possibility of only being offered wireless or alternative phone services.

Third, provisions in the bill give AT&T and other companies wide latitude to offer wireless or Voice over IP alternatives to landline service with little recourse for customers who only later discover these alternatives don’t support faxes, medical or security alarm monitoring, dial-up Internet, credit card processing, etc.

Fourth, the bill eliminates any requirement imposed upon broadband service in existence as of July 15, 2004. In fact, the measure specifically defines both phone and broadband service as “market-based and not subject to state administrative regulation.” That basically means service will be unregulated.

AT&T's wireless home phone replacement

AT&T’s wireless home phone replacement

Here are some real world examples of where S.B. 99 could trip up consumers:

  1. An elderly Louisville couple living the summer months in Louisville discover their phone service has been switched to the U-verse platform over the winter as AT&T seeks to decommission its deteriorating landline network in the neighborhood. S.B. 99 offers customers a 30-day opt out provision upon first notification, allowing a customer dissatisfied with the alternative service the right to switch back to their landline. But this couple was in Florida during the 30-day window, did not receive the notification to opt out in time to act, and are now stuck with U-verse. Unfortunately, the home medical monitoring equipment for his pacemaker does not work with Voice over IP phone service. This couple’s recourse: None.
  2. A customer moves into a new home currently served by AT&T’s wireless home phone replacement service. The customer doesn’t like the sound quality of the service and wants a traditional landline instead. Her recourse: None.
  3. A retired couple uninterested in broadband service or television from AT&T U-verse suddenly discovers AT&T wants to raise prices on landline phone service, but offers savings if the couple agrees to sign up for U-verse. Instead of paying a $25 monthly phone bill, the couple is now being asked, on a fixed income, to pay $100 a month for services they don’t want or need. Their recourse: They can appeal to keep their landline if they meet the aforementioned deadline, but they have no recourse if AT&T raises rates for basic phone service to make its discounted bundled service package seem more attractive.

Hood Harris, president of AT&T Kentucky, follows the same playback AT&T always uses when pushing these bills by framing its argument around landline telephone service regulation, which is an easy sell for cell phone-crazy customers who have not made a landline call in years:

Harris

Harris

Some of Kentucky’s laws that regulate our phones were written before cable television, cell phones, the Internet or email existed.

Because of these outdated laws, providers like AT&T must sink resources into outdated technology that could be invested in the modern broadband and wireless technology consumers want and need.

Every dollar invested in old technology is a dollar not being invested in speeding up the build out of new technology across the commonwealth.

It’s no longer the 19th century coming into your home over the old, voice-only phone network that was put in place under now-outdated laws. It’s the 21st century coming into your home over modern networks. While technology has changed dramatically for the better in just the past few years, our laws have not.

Despite what you may have heard, SB 99 will not remove landlines from rural homes or businesses.

Instead, this legislation puts those customers in charge of deciding which communications services they want and need. If you are a rural customer, for example, you may choose to join the nearly 40 percent of Kentuckians who already have moved on from landline home phones and gone only with a wireless phone, or you may choose a landline phone that’s provided over the Internet (known as Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP), or you may choose both a VoIP and a wireless service.

But you do not have to — you can keep your existing landline phone if you like. Under SB 99, the choice is yours.

It’s seems like a logical argument, until you read between the lines. Harris implies that those old-fashioned laws governing landlines you don’t have anymore are slowing down AT&T from bringing about a Broadband Renaissance for Kentucky. If AT&T only was freed from the responsibility of patching up its copper wire phone network, it could spend all of its time, money, and attention on improving cell phone service and bring broadband to everyone. Harris promises every resident will have a choice to get the service they want — wireless or wired — as long as you remember he is only talking about basic phone service, not broadband.

If your community isn't highlighted on this map, AT&T has a wireless-only future in store for you.

If your community isn’t highlighted on this map, AT&T has a wireless-only future in store for you.

Harris avoids disclosing AT&T’s true agenda. The company has freely admitted to shareholders it wants to scrap its rural wired network, now considered too costly to maintain for a diminishing number of customers. Unlike independent phone companies like Frontier, AT&T has been in no hurry to upgrade these rural customers for broadband service. AT&T has not even bothered to apply for federal broadband funding assistance to defray some of the costs of extending DSL to its rural customer base. With no possibility of buying broadband from AT&T, customers have little incentive to keep wired service if a cell phone will do. But decommissioning landline service in rural Kentucky guarantees these customers will probably never receive adequate broadband.

The "long term cost reduction" AT&T mentions above is for them, not for you.

The “long-term cost reduction” AT&T mentions above is for them, not for you.

AT&T claims it will invest the savings in a wireless broadband network for rural customers, but as any smartphone owner will attest, AT&T’s wireless service is much more expensive than traditional phone service and its data plans are stingy and very expensive. Customers who can buy DSL from AT&T pay as little as $14.99 a month for up to 150GB of usage. A wireless data plan with AT&T for a home computer or notebook starts at $50 a month and only provides 5GB of usage before customers face a $10 per gigabyte overlimit fee. Which would you prefer: paying $14.99 for 150GB of usage with AT&T DSL or $1,500 for the same amount of usage on AT&T’s wireless network?

AT&T’s claims it will expand broadband as a result of not having to spend money on its landline network are specious. In fact, regardless of whether Kentucky passes S.B. 99 or not, AT&T has already embarked on its last known U-verse expansion. Project Velocity IP (VIP) devotes $6 billion to expanding U-verse to 57 million homes, reaching 75% of customer locations by the end of 2015. For the remaining 25% of customers, mostly in rural areas, AT&T’s plan isn’t to spend more money on improved wired service. Instead, it will build out its wireless network to serve the remaining customers with its LTE wireless broadband service — the same one that costs you $1,500 a month if you use 150GB.

Wireless is a cash cow for AT&T, so even saddled with its landline network, the company still spends the bulk of its investments on the wireless side of the business. Project VIP could have devoted all its resources to bringing U-verse to a larger customer base, but it won’t. AT&T sees much fatter profits spending $14 billion now to expand its wireless 4G LTE network and collect a lot more money later from its rural Kentucky customers.

Kentucky residents who don’t have U-verse in their area by the end of 2015 are probably never going to get the service, with or without S.B. 99. So why support a measure that delivers all the benefits to AT&T and leaves you sorting through the fine print just to keep the service you have now at a reasonable price. In every other state where AT&T has won deregulation, it raises the rates with no corresponding improvement in service.

Just how bad can AT&T’s wireless home phone replacement be? Just look at their disclaimers:

AT&T Wireless Home Phone is not compatible with home security systems, fax machines, medical alert and monitoring services, credit card machines, IP/PBX Phone systems, or dial-up Internet service. AT&T’s fine print on its website.

“AT&T’s wireless services are not equivalent to wireline Internet.” Wireless Customer Agreement, Section 4.1.

“WE DO NOT GUARANTEE YOU UNINTERRUPTED SERVICE OR COVERAGE. WE CANNOT ASSURE YOU THAT IF YOU PLACE A 911 CALL YOU WILL BE FOUND.” (All caps in original). Section 4.1.

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Windstream Pays $600,000 to Settle False Broadband Speed Claims in Georgia

Phillip Dampier February 26, 2014 Video, Windstream 1 Comment
Windstream delivers turtle slow Internet speeds to customers paying for fast connections.

Windstream delivers turtle slow Internet speeds to customers paying for fast connections.

Windstream broadband customers in Georgia were not imagining their turtle-slow DSL Internet speeds after all. After a year-long investigation, the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection (GOCP) this week announced a $600,000 settlement with the rural telephone company over claims it was ripping off customers by falsely advertising broadband speeds it was in no position to deliver.

“This is essentially a truth in advertising case,” says John Sours, administrator of the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection.  “What consumers thought they were getting from a major company was significantly different from what they allegedly received. People need to be able to make informed choices about buying the services they need to communicate and do business. We are confident that this settlement will ensure that will now occur here.”

A GOCP investigation found substantial evidence Windstream routinely advertised and sold certain Internet speeds to customers it should have known it could not provide and/or guarantee, especially over its deteriorating copper landline network. Customers complained they should have been sold cheaper broadband packages with Internet speeds Windstream could actually deliver.

windstreamlogoCustomers who called to complain about the poor performance of their connection received empty promises from Windstream representatives that misrepresented the time frame within which broadband speeds would improve. In some cases, customers were not told their speed issues would likely never be resolved. In rural Georgia communities, DSL broadband is often the only available option.

The GOCP also found that some of Windstream’s “Lifetime Price Guarantee bundle” advertisements falsely implied that the advertised offer included high-speed Internet packages with speeds of “up to 12 Mbps”.

Windstream was also criticized for advertising a free 6-month “Hulu Plus” subscription but did not clearly disclose that consumers who failed to cancel the subscription at or before the 6-month period would be charged membership fees every month afterwards, until the membership was cancelled.

To resolve these allegations, Windstream will pay a total of $600,000, which includes a $175,000 civil penalty, $175,000 in administrative fees and expenses, and $250,000 in cy pres restitution to be used to buy new computer equipment for the Technical College System of Georgia. Customers will receive no compensation from the settlement, but Stop the Cap! strongly recommends that affected customers insist on compensation by appealing directly to Windstream for service credits and/or a penalty-free exit from any service commitments.

gocp“Windstream … has cooperated fully throughout the inquiry by the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection,” wrote a company spokesperson in a statement. “Windstream is pleased to resolve this inquiry by entering an assurance of voluntary compliance with all applicable advertising laws. That agreement includes no finding or admission of violation by the company.”

Windstream has represented to the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection that it is in the process of investing about $14 million to upgrade its fiber-supported areas in Georgia.  The company says that 90% or more of these upgrades were completed by the end of 2013, with the remaining upgrades slated for completion by mid-2014. The company expects the upgrades to address systemic download speed issues in the areas undergoing the upgrades. It is also seeking federal funding as well as exploring other options for upgrading the Internet service for consumers who are served by network equipment supported by copper-fed wires.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WGCL Atlanta Windstream Settles False Advertising Suit 2-25-14.mp4

WGCL in Atlanta reports Windstream has agreed to settle charges they falsely advertised broadband speeds customers could never receive. The state gets $600,000, customers get nothing. (1:56)

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Danish Telco TDC Offers Customers 100% Speed Guarantees; No More “Up To” Speeds

Phillip Dampier February 20, 2014 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News 2 Comments

tdcDenmark’s TDC telephone company is so confident about their network upgrades, they are ready to guarantee customers will get the broadband speeds advertised, or their money back and a commitment to fix the problem.

Most phone companies selling DSL service have always had to qualify their speed marketing claims with words like “up to” because customers further away from central switching offices or remote hubs won’t necessarily get the speeds on offer. The further away a customer lives from a telephone company facility, the slower the speeds on copper-based networks. Total network capacity can also create problems during peak usage periods, but not for TDC, which says it has a network robust enough to handle demand.

denmarkGoogleMapsTDC’s Guaranteed Speed Tiers (US$):

  • Basic: 20/2Mbps $47
  • Enhanced: 30/5Mbps $49.50
  • Superior: 40/10Mbps $53
  • Extreme: 50/10Mbps $55

“With this initiative we want [to show] how communication to broadband customers can be further improved,” said Rene Brochner, director of TDC’s residential service division. “With the new products we now offer we guarantee that the speed is always [as advertised]. For example, the 40Mbps/10Mbps speed is always 40Mbps/10Mbps.”

Two-thirds of Denmark will be upgraded to 20/2Mbps service by the middle of this year, with another 750,000 households qualified for 50Mbps service because of TDC’s investment in fiber and pair bonding. Next year, TDC will add Vectoring technology, which will improve speeds on existing copper lines to as much as 100Mbps.

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House of (Credit) Cards: How to Blow Through Your Usage Cap With One Netflix Show

house-of-cards

“…every kitten grows up to be a cat. They seem so harmless, at first, small, quiet, lapping up their saucer of milk. But once their claws get long enough, they draw blood, sometimes from the hand that feeds them. For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: Hunt or be hunted.” — Francis Underwood

Addicts of Netflix’s hit series House of Cards may need to grab a card of a different kind to cover overlimit fees charged by your Internet Service Provider for blowing past your usage allowance.

As online video streaming moves into the realm of 4K — the next generation of high-definition video — watching television shows and movies online could get very expensive because of the massive file sizes involved. It’s all just in time for ISP’s increasing enforcement of usage caps.

courtesy-notice-640x259Gizmodo just did the math for those intending to spend a weekend watching the entire second season of the made-for-Netflix series in high-definition:

Streaming in 1080p on Netflix takes up 4.7GB/hour. So a regular one-hour episode of something debiting less than 5GB from your allotment is no big deal. However, with 4K, you’ve got quadruple the pixel count, so you’re burning through 18.8GB/hour. Even if you’re streaming with the new h.265 codec—which cuts the bit rate by about half, but still hasn’t found its way into many consumer products—you’re still looking at 7GB/hour.

But you’re not watching just one episode, are you? Of course not! You’re binging on House of Cards, watching the whole series if not in one weekend then certainly in one month. That’s 639 minutes of top-quality TV, which in 4K tallies up to 75GB if you’re using the latest and greatest codec, and nearly 200GB if not. That means, best case scenario, a quarter of your cap—a third, if you’re a U-Verse customer with a 250GB cap—spent on one television show. Throw in a normal month’s internet usage, and you’re toast.

Sure you can send 900+ emails, download hundreds of songs, upload hundreds of pictures, but you can't watch one standard and one HD movie a day at the same time without blowing past your AT&T DSL limit.

Sure you can send 900+ emails, download hundreds of songs, upload hundreds of pictures, and play online games 24 hours a day, but you can’t also watch one standard and one HD movie a day at the same time without blowing well past your AT&T DSL limit.

What is worse is that h.265 is still more theoretical than actually available to most consumers, so customers will either have to settle with degraded video or prepare to eat close to 19GB an hour at the highest resolution. No wonder Netflix has introduced video degradation settings to save you from your ISP’s arbitrary cap. Of course, your video quality will suffer, especially on a big screen television.

Comcast customers (and presumably Time Warner Cable customers also eventually subjected to Comcast’s cap) will still have a generous 100GB left over to watch, browse, and send that avalanche of e-mails usage cappers love to boast about. If you live in the reality-based community and have a family active online, that 100GB isn’t going to go too far. Video game addicts regularly face downloading huge updates, many ranging from 8-12GB apiece. Call of Duty: Ghosts? That’s 39.5GB. Madden NFL 25? Another 12.51GB, says Gizmodo. Using a file backup cloud storage service can also eat your allowance for breakfast.

Gizmodo also mentions Sony’s Unlimited Video service has 70 titles (and growing) available in 4K. A Sony representative admits a single two-hour movie will burn up 40GB. Watch a few of those and you are well on your way to blowing your allowance Vegas-style.

AT&T cooked up the arbitrary de facto standard overlimit fee now adopted by many American ISPs, and granular it isn’t. Exceed your allowance by even 1 kilobyte and you will be charged an extra $10 for 50 extra gigabytes. Because AT&T, Comcast, Suddenlink, and others are not already paid enough for broadband service and their modem rental.

Online video is the online application most likely to put you over your limit. Most ISPs don’t like to talk about that, however. They prefer to explain caps in terms of activities no online user is likely to ever exceed, including sending thousands of e-mails, viewing hundreds of thousands of web pages, transferring boatloads of songs and images, and watching YouTube videos at low resolution.

If you don’t watch online video, your cable or phone company thanks you for paying for cable television instead. If you haven’t used a peer-to-peer network in years, chances are you won’t exceed any limits either. But as Internet usage continues to evolve, anything that appears to be a competitive threat delivered over your ISP’s broadband pipe can be effectively controlled with the elimination of flat rate Internet service and imposing overlimit fees that deter usage.

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