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Updated: Verizon Trials DSL Data Caps in Virginia

Phillip Dampier May 17, 2018 Consumer News, Data Caps, Verizon No Comments

Existing Verizon DSL customers in some states are discovering the company is defining “usage” allowances on its two DSL packages. (Image courtesy: Smith6612)

Is Verizon slapping the caps on its DSL customers in the northeast?

A handful of New York and New Jersey Verizon customers were surprised to find Verizon suddenly defining usage limits on their DSL service on its website dashboard for existing customers:

  • High Speed Internet: Up to .5 – 1 Mbps — 150 GB Usage
  • High Speed Internet Enhanced: Up to 3.1 – 7 Mbps — 250 GB Usage

The sudden appearance of data allowances confused some customers, because the only references to them appear on pages for existing customers seeking to change or upgrade their current DSL package, and only in certain sections of upstate New York and New Jersey.

Careful scrutiny of Verizon’s terms and conditions make no reference to the new data caps, although the company declares customers are responsible for all usage charges. There is also no mention of the caps on Verizon’s sales pages for prospective customers, and phone reps didn’t know anything about them either.

Verizon has not indicated what might happen if a customer exceeds that cap or where the caps are being enforced, if anywhere.

We reached out to different Verizon press contacts twice this week to get confirmation and have heard nothing back.

If you are a Verizon DSL customer, do us a favor and let us know in the comment section what you see when you review options to change your DSL service.

Update 7:18pm EDT: Verizon did get back in touch with us after we went to press in response to several questions.

Here is our Q & A with Verizon’s Ray McConville, corporate media relations representative for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and FiOS:

Q. Is Verizon setting data allowances on their DSL service plans?

No. We have been conducting a usage billing trial to a very small set of customers in Virginia where we would measure their data use and display it in their billing. While these customers were given the 250 GB and 150 GB allowances you showed in those screen shots, we’ve never billed customers who exceed those allowances and have no plans to do so. The purpose of the trial was more the idea of accurately collecting and displaying usage in billing.

Q. If a customer exceeds that allowance, what happens?

Nothing. Again, we don’t do data caps. We have the small Virginia trial of displaying usage in billing, but it’s still not a cap, and customers aren’t billed for exceeding the 150 or 250 GB numbers.

Q. Is this a new policy?

No. It’s not a policy – we don’t have data caps or overage charges.

Q. In what states or service areas, if any, is this data allowance policy in effect?

Just the small Virginia trial, and customers are not charged for going over the “allowance.”

Q. If that is the case, why are customers in New York and New Jersey seeing the usage allowances?

It’s a likely system error; they should not have seen that. Only customers in the very limited part of Virginia where we have the trial should see such a thing.

Q. What is the status of the trial in Virginia?

Trial is ongoing – not aware of any end point.

42% of Frontier’s Customers in Nevada are “Very Dissatisfied” With Their DSL Service

Bad results for Frontier DSL in Nevada. (Source: Elko Residential Broadband Survey)

Bad results for Frontier DSL in Nevada. (Source: Elko Residential Broadband Survey)

Only six Frontier Communications customers surveyed in Elko, Nev. gave the phone company an “A” for its DSL service, while 42% flunked Frontier for what they considered unacceptable internet service.

The Elko Broadband Action Team has surveyed residential and business customers about broadband performance and found widespread dissatisfaction with Frontier Communications over slow connections and service interruptions.

“I’m pretty disappointed in them,” said Elko councilman John Patrick Rice.

Businesses and residential customers were in close agreement with each other rating Frontier’s service, with nearly 87% complaining they endure buffering delays or slowdowns, especially when watching streaming video. When browsing web pages, nearly three-quarters of surveyed customers still found service lacking.

Among the complaints (Res)-Residential (Bus)-Business:

  • Service interruptions: 74.43% (Res)/79.69% (Bus)
  • Too slow/not receiving advertised speed: 72.16% (Res)/65.75% (Bus)
  • Price: 63.64% (Res)/37.5% (Bus)
  • Customer Service: 38.07% (Res)/45.31% (Bus)

The Nevada Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection received a steady stream of complaints about Frontier’s DSL service in the state over the past year.

Answering the survey question, “would you be interested in faster download and upload speeds at prices that are somewhat comparable to what you are paying now?” 97.87 percent of residential respondents said yes.

Frontier representatives responded to the survey results at a March 27 Elko City Council meeting.

“Frontier did recognize it could improve upstream and downstream flow and educated the council and the public on some of the issues,” Elko assistant city manager Scott Wilkinson said.

Javier Mendoza, director of public relations for Frontier’s West region, explained much of the area Frontier services in Nevada is very rural, so customers are “located many miles from the core Frontier network facilities used to provide broadband service, which makes it technologically and economically challenging to provide faster internet speeds. However, Frontier is continually evaluating and working to improve its network and has and will continue to undertake various initiatives at a customer and community level to enhance its internet services.”

Mendoza said Frontier was currently testing fixed wireless internet service to serve rural areas, but had few details about the service or when it might be available.

Frontier also noted internet traffic was up 25% in the Elko area, primarily as a result of video streaming, social media, and cloud services.

But Councilmen Reece Keener complained Frontier was underinvesting in its network, meaning the company is not well-equipped to deal with increases in demand, something Mendoza denied.

“Several areas of the network providing internet service to Elko have been and continue to be upgraded, providing enhanced service reliability, and ultimately will enable new and upgraded services,” Mendoza said.

It can’t come soon enough for students of Great Basin College, where those taking online courses using Frontier DSL have problems uploading their assignments, claimed Rice, who taught online classes at the college.

“We can get the classes out to the students, but the challenge is for students to get assignments back to the college,” Rice said in a phone interview with the Elko Daily Free Press.

Frontier also claimed improved service performance so far in 2018, up from the fourth quarter of 2017. The company claimed 98.3% of service orders met performance goals, up from 94.37% and  commitments met scored at 92 percent, up from 89.98 percent. Trouble tickets declined from 1,712 to 1,244 across Nevada, the company also claimed.

Strong Evidence CenturyLink Giving Up on Most Residential Broadband Upgrades

CenturyLink is ready to capitulate in its competitive war with the cable industry, conceding its residential broadband business is a money loser that will no longer get broad-based upgrades and investment under the management of incoming CEO Jeff Storey, who will refocus CenturyLink on its larger business/enterprise customers.

The independent phone company has sent strong signals it is going to focus only on residential customers that are cheapest and easiest to reach, promising to fund broadband urban and suburban upgrades only where costs are low and the chances of a significant return is high. In rural areas, CenturyLink will depend heavily on capital made available by the FCC’s Connect America Fund when choosing areas worthy of upgrades.

“We’ll focus more on return on investment, which includes rural capital from the CAF II program,” said Sunit Patel, CFO of CenturyLink.

Patel, along with CenturyLink’s incoming CEO, originally worked for Level 3 Communications, a business and enterprise internet company acquired by CenturyLink in 2016. Now top Level 3 executives, at the behest of Wall Street and shareholders, are gradually taking over the top management positions of CenturyLink, pushing out current CEO Glen Post III with an early retirement this spring. With Post leaving, there is clear evidence CenturyLink is embarking on a transformation away from low return residential phone and broadband service and towards the kind of high profit business and enterprise connectivity Level 3 has provided for years.

Wall Street increasingly sees CenturyLink’s residential business as costing the company a lot of money for network upgrades that simply don’t deliver shareholder expectations of return on that investment, especially as the cable industry continues to aggressively deploy faster speed service to its customers.

In the fourth quarter of 2017, CenturyLink lost another 105,000 broadband subscribers, bringing internet subscriber numbers down to around 5.7 million nationwide. That represents a 4.8% reduction year over year, despite repeated promises of upgrades to stem those customer losses.

Last November, Post blamed those losses on customers served by CenturyLink’s legacy copper/DSL service areas where speeds and performance are lowest.

Soon to be CenturyLink Ex-CEO and President Glen F. Post

“We saw a much higher than expected loss of customers at the 20 Mbps and below speeds in a lot of the markets where we have that,” Post said during a late fall earnings call, according to a Seeking Alpha earnings transcript. “We had a much higher loss there. I think a couple of reasons, first of all, you see cable rolling out more with more aggressive offers, higher speeds and just the demand for bandwidth in those markets.”

Last fall, Post emphasized his broad-based residential and commercial broadband upgrade transformation plan to stop those losses. Post committed CenturyLink would provide 90% of homes with at least 40 Mbps, 70% of homes and businesses with 100 Mbps and over 20% with 1 Gbps or higher no later than 2020.

That was before activist shareholders and Wall Street joined forces to successfully push CenturyLink’s board to replace Post with business-oriented Level 3 CEO Jeff Storey. CenturyLink stock had been down by about one-third of its value over the last nine months, which only aggravated investors to push harder for dramatic management changes at the phone company. Activists argued CenturyLink shouldn’t be devoting much attention to its legacy businesses. In their eyes, only “strategic/success” businesses are worthy of investment, and those include commercial and enterprise broadband, metro ethernet, and cloud/backup services. The revenue eating “legacy” businesses, namely residential landline and DSL service, represent a drain on profits and threaten the company’s shareholder dividend. About two-thirds of CenturyLink customers are commercial enterprises.

(Blue) CenturyLink (Orange) Level 3

On March 6, 2018 the company announced Post’s retirement effective the day of its annual shareholder meeting in May. Post had originally planned to leave at the end of 2018, but some shareholders were unwilling to wait that long.

Strategic changes in CenturyLink’s future were previewed at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom conference earlier this month, where Patel outlined the company’s new vision.

“On the consumer side, the focus will be on enabling higher broadband speeds,” Patel said, but added a caution. “We won’t be spending capital on 5-20 Mbps connections, but rather on 100 Mbps and higher speeds. In urban areas we want to make sure we’re spending the capital where the returns make sense so focusing on multi-dwelling units make more sense in urban areas.”

Since the company is now going to target upgrades only in areas that “make more sense,” Post’s goal of better broadband for all by 2020 seem doomed

Another key piece of evidence is the retirement of CenturyLink executive Duane Ring, who announced he is leaving after 34 years despite a recent promotion. Ring, who led CenturyLink’s 12-state midwest region, was also behind much of CenturyLink’s residential broadband enhancement effort, including the 2005 launch of Prism TV — CenturyLink’s cable-TV alternative, as well as deploying gigabit speed services in several midwestern states. In 2016, he oversaw the deployment of 500 Mbps service for multi-dwelling units in 44 Platteville, Wisc. buildings that included nearly 800 apartments.

Broadband industry analyst Dave Burstein already sees the writing on the wall.

“Their fiber and G.fast plans, modest already, have been cut,” he noted. “They simply aren’t competitive with cable, which by 2020 will have a gigabit to 90% [of customers]. I look at the network and say if they don’t cut the dividend, trouble is near. Depreciation was $3 billion more than capex the last three years. Dividends were higher than income.”

As cable broadband speeds increase and customers defect from CenturyLink, few may choose to come back, making investments in broadband upgrades even more questionable.

“The rumor is they will virtually abandon much of the wireline network,” Burstein noted. “They will temporarily draw cash out to upgrade where they have better prospects,” referring to areas Patel identified as worthy targets for upgrades.

German ISP Proposes Joint Project to Build Nationwide Fiber to the Home Network

Phillip Dampier March 13, 2018 Broadband Speed, Competition, Public Policy & Gov't 2 Comments

Dommermuth

The billionaire founder of United Internet, a Frankfurt based ISP with a 14% market share of Germany’s broadband market, has proposed the creation of a new jointly owned company to construct a nationwide fiber-to-the-home broadband network to improve German connectivity.

Ralph Dommermuth said German telecom leader Deutsche Telekom must be a decisive member of the alliance in a country where only 2.5% of homes are connected to fiber optic broadband. Dommermuth complained that the new government formed by Chancellor Angela Merkel only pledged €10-12 billion over the current parliamentary session to create what she calls a “Gigabit Society” by 2025. He believes that amount is completely inadequate.

In an interview with newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Dommermuth said Merkel’s government would contribute only a small fraction of the €80 billion he estimates is needed to wire up to 70% of the country with fiber optics.

German companies have already warned Germany’s economy was at risk from underinvestment in broadband, especially as business and transportation systems are increasingly powered by broadband networks.

Deutsche Telekom (DT) is frequently blamed for the mediocrity of German broadband. Its CEO Tim Hoettges has been heavily criticized for his decision to embrace upgrading its existing copper-based DSL service with “vectoring” instead of rebuilding its network using fiber optics. Although vectoring can significantly improve the speed of DSL connections, critics say it is a technological dead-end and further upgrades are limited and costly.

Hoetgges answers his critics by arguing Deutsche Telekom has spent more money on broadband — €5.4 billion — in the last year than all of its competitors put together.

Most ISPs in Germany are dependent on Deutsche Telekom to reach customers. United Internet, which does business under the 1&1 brand, pays DT for access to its DSL lines, over which it offers internet access.

Behind the controversy is what company ultimately controls Germany’s fiber optic telecom future. DT argues since it has spent the most money necessary to bring limited optical fiber connectivity to Germany, it should not have to share access to that network equally with its competitors. Hoettges said that would allow companies like United to profit from his company’s investments. To attract additional investment, DT wants control over the fiber optic network it is slowly building.

Dommermuth argues the country cannot wait the significant number of years it will take DT to expand that network on its own, which is why he proposes a consortium, with each member company paying a portion of the costs relative to its market share.

Frontier Communications Under Investigation in Minnesota for “Lousy Service”

Phillip Dampier March 2, 2018 Consumer News, Frontier, Public Policy & Gov't, Video No Comments

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) has opened an inquiry into whether Frontier Communications is meeting its service obligations to customers after receiving a major spike in complaints about the phone company.

The MPUC acknowledged it has been “receiving a large volume of complaints related to the service quality, customer service, and billing practices of Frontier Communications.” The regulator is concerned that “after attempts to mediate these complaints, many of them remain unresolved.”

The investigation will include the Minnesota Department of Commerce and Minnesota’s Attorney General, both tasked with determining if Frontier is complying with MPUC rules and Minnesota state law.

Frontier provides service to more than 98,000 landlines in Minnesota, doing business as Frontier Communications and Citizens Telecommunications. Most Frontier customers are located in northeastern and southern Minnesota, as well as communities like Apple Valley, Burnsville, Farmington, and Rosemount.

A survey of filed complaints found many involved Frontier’s DSL internet service, which customers complained was slow and prone to frequent outages. Other complaints involved inaccurate billing and missed service calls, which sometimes led to delays of days or weeks before service could be restored.

“I’d heard a bunch of complaints of poor service all across my district,” said Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls) in a news release. “I am a Frontier customer myself, and the service has been lousy.”

Other customers had their complaints published in the Timberjay newspaper, which has been the unofficial meeting place for frustrated customers who cannot get satisfaction from Frontier.

“This has been the worst service experience of my life,” said Melissa Holmes, of Embarrass in northeastern Minnesota. “My whole neighborhood here on Wahlsten Road in Embarrass has had service issues with Frontier for decades. Repeated calls to the company go nowhere.”

The newspaper blamed Frontier’s wrong priorities in a scathing editorial last fall:

Prospects for an improvement in Frontier’s service quality appear unlikely given the increasingly tenuous financial condition of the company. Frontier went deeply in debt in early 2016, when it completed an $11 billion purchase of landline infrastructure formerly owned by Verizon in California, Texas, and Florida. The acquisition more than doubled the size of the company, but also prompted a major restructuring, which included significant layoffs.

Frontier officials had touted the acquisition at the time, arguing that the company knew how to make money from traditional landline infrastructure even as the industry is rapidly transitioning to wireless. But the company has yet to demonstrate it is up to the challenge and as complaints over poor service have mounted, the company has hemorrhaged customers, particularly in more populated regions, where customers often have viable alternatives.

In response, Frontier claims it updated its billing software and is making “process improvements” in the way it conducts business.

If you live in Minnesota and wish to share your views with the MPUC, you can visit their website, register, and comment until May 25, 2018.

The state’s initial investigation and report on Frontier is due on May 11.

KSTP-TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul reports Frontier is under investigation by the state telecom regulator for poor service. (2:21)

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