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Comcast Screw Up Forces Washington Man to Sell His New Home; Quoted Him $60,000 Installation Fee

MasterMap_Oct2012A Washington state man who just moved into his new home is now being forced to consider selling it to somebody else because Comcast repeatedly misled him about its ability to provide service.

Seth told his extensive story to The Consumerist, which detailed his repeated attempts to get Comcast broadband service after multiple missed or unfinished service appointments. More importantly, Seth is representative of many Americans who have been told broadband is a fiercely competitive industry, yet they cannot sign up for service at a reasonable price from any provider.

For Seth, having reliable broadband service is not just a convenience — it is essential if he wants to stay employed. Before even considering making an offer on his new home in Kitsap County, Seth did his homework verifying Comcast provided service in the neighborhood. Comcast repeatedly assured him it did, and one sales rep confirmed a former resident at the same address had Comcast service. Seth was satisfied, bought the home and called to get Comcast service installed. But when a Comcast crew arrived Jan. 31, they quickly discovered there was no cable line strung to Seth’s property. That isn’t typically a deal-breaker and the techs completed a “drop bury request” that would normally result in the arrival of a Comcast cable burial crew to bring service from a nearby utility pole. Not this time.

Comcast determined the same home that its own sales rep promised used to have Comcast service was now suddenly too far away from Comcast’s infrastructure. If it decided to offer Seth service, the company quoted an installation fee approaching $60,000.

Seth consulted the FCC’s Broadband Map which depicted Kitsap County a veritable paradise of competition, with at least 10 providers fighting for his business. But Seth quickly realized the FCC’s map was misleading and inaccurate.

comcast whoppersFour of his options were wireless carriers that don’t provide a strong signal to his home or charge obscenely high prices for usage capped Internet access. ViaSat was on the list promising up to 25Mbps, but ViaSat satellite customers can testify the actual speeds received are much slower, and do not reliably support the VPN access Seth required.

Neither Comcast or CenturyLink offer broadband service to Seth, despite the fact both told the FCC they did for the purpose of its map. StarTouch uses microwave signals to reach its customers, but not in Seth’s part of Kitsap County. It seems someone put up a large building in between StarTouch’s transmission facilities and Seth’s home, blocking the service for a significant part of the county.

XO Communications does provide reliable T1 service to businesses at speeds from 1.544Mbps – 6Mbps. The biggest downside is its cost — $600 a month. Finally, Seth’s only other alternative is a gigabit fiber network run by the Kitsap Public Utility District. But cable companies like Comcast effectively lobbied to guarantee those types of networks would never be a competitor by pushing for laws that forbid retail service to individual homes or businesses. In Washington, the law only allows the utility district to sell wholesale access to its network to companies like… Comcast.

In the end, Comcast decided it wasn’t interested in serving Seth even if he found the $60,000 to cover the installation fee. CenturyLink shrugged its shoulders over why it isn’t offering DSL in Seth’s neighborhood. Seth is preparing to put his home back on the market. It’s a perfect choice for Luddites everywhere.

The moral of the story?

  • Comcast is not always forthcoming and honest when signing up customers and led Seth through two months of missed appointments and misinformation;
  • The accuracy of the FCC’s broadband availability map is questionable.

HissyFitWatch: Republicans Accuse the White House of Pressuring FCC on Net Neutrality

Wheeler at this morning's hearing.

Wheeler at this morning’s hearing.

Revenge-seeking Republicans spent more than two hours this morning grilling the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Thomas Wheeler, in the first of five Congressional hearings on the agency to be held over the next two weeks.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, accused the FCC of a lack of transparency regarding the recent release of Net Neutrality rules that universally ban paid fast lanes and revenue-based traffic management. Republicans accused the Obama Administration of secretly pressuring Wheeler to adopt strong Open Internet protections.

“The lack of transparency surrounding the open Internet rule-making process raises a lot of questions,” said Chaffetz.

Chaffetz, most of his Republican colleagues, and many large telecom companies object to the Net Neutrality rules and suggest Wheeler’s rumored original lighter-touch “hybrid approach” was swamped by White House objections and replaced with a much stronger Open Internet policy framed around Title II reclassification of broadband as a telecommunications service at the urging of the administration.

Chaffetz dismissed comments from four million Americans writing the FCC in favor of Net Neutrality claiming the writers did not recommend Title II reclassification of broadband, despite the fact many suggested exactly that.

To bolster Republican arguments that President Obama exercised undue influence on an independent agency, Chaffetz’s committee selectively released portions of now-unredacted email exchanges between Wheeler, agency officials, Congress, and the White House. It also included a partial e-mail exchange involving AT&T’s top lobbyist, Jim Cicconi, who is evidently on a first-name basis with some of the FCC’s highest officials, including Wheeler’s senior counselor, Philip Verveer.

In response to a November 10 news release featuring comments from FCC chairman Wheeler in response to President Barack Obama’s statements of support for strong Net Neutrality, Cicconi sent a concerned email to Wheeler’s office the Republicans chose not to disclose. But they did include Verveer’s response:

Jim,

We’re trying to schedule a conversation about this morning’s developments for some time this afternoon. I hope we’re able to connect.

Phil

In response to that, Cicconi fired off this quick response from his iPad:

I hope so too.

Now I at least understand why you pushed the hybrid.

This is awful. And bad for any semblance of agency independence too.

Too many people saw Zients going in to meet with Tom last week.

verveer

Cicconi is referring to Jeff Zients, a White House economic adviser, who met with Wheeler on Nov. 6. In Cicconi’s mind, and by extension the Republicans at today’s House hearing, that meeting represented “undue pressure from the White House.”

Republicans also attempted to prove the FCC and the White House closely collaborated on a rollout of Net Neutrality using an email from an irritated Wheeler to his senior staff shortly after his driveway was blocked by Net Neutrality activists:

FYI, Isn’t it interesting:

  1. The day of the demonstration just happens to be the day folks take action at my house.
  2. The video of [President Obama] just happens to end up on the same message as the video from [the president].
  3. The White House sends this email to their supporter list asking “pass this on to anyone who cares about saving the Internet.”

Hmmm….

wheeler demo

chaffetz

Chaffetz

But Wheeler’s message suggests he was never aware of the White House’s campaign to bolster Net Neutrality, much less a part of it.

A third email from then Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office revealed the senator was no fan of Title II reclassification of broadband to protect Net Neutrality. David Krone, Reid’s chief of staff, lectured Wheeler about keeping strong Net Neutrality off the table because it creates “problems for us.”

In May 2014, chairman Wheeler announced his plans for a hybrid approach to Net Neutrality that would likely combine bans on censorship with permission for Internet providers to set up paid fast lanes for content producers like Netflix.

Initial media reports of Wheeler’s intentions sparked a major backlash against the proposal among Net Neutrality advocates.

In a May 15, 2014 email exchange with Wheeler, Krone attempted to buck up Wheeler and his “third way” Net Neutrality plan once in the morning before it was announced and later that evening after the proposal took heavy fire in the press.

9:26 am (Krone to Wheeler)

Good luck today.

Not sure how things have landed but I trust you to make it work. Please shout if you need anything.

Spoke again with the [White House] and told them to back off Title II. Went through once again the problems it creates for us.

6:15pm (Krone to Wheeler)

Too funny. I literally just watched your remarks from this morning. Spot on. Thank you!!!

P.S. Zients was definitely reacting to press reports. Or, should I say, overreacting. My main point to the [White House] is how can you declare today that regulations written in the 1930’s will work fine for 2014 technology. Let Tom do his job and this will be fine.

reid

Another email exchange between Wheeler and John Podesta, counselor to the president, referenced a New York Times story that signaled Wheeler was backpedaling on Net Neutrality, a story later proven inaccurate.

podesta

At this morning’s hearing, Wheeler pushed back against the Republican accusations.

“There were no secret instructions from the White House,” Wheeler said. “I did not, as CEO of an independent agency, feel obligated to follow the president’s recommendation.”

C-SPAN carried this morning’s hearing with FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler appearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (2 hours, 41 minutes)

FCC Releases Final Net Neutrality Rules (and the Endless Republican Dissent)

Phillip Dampier March 12, 2015 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

FCC-15-24A1

The Federal Communications Commission this morning released its final order detailing the agency’s official Net Neutrality rules intended to protect and preserve a free and open Internet.

The 400-page document includes footnoted, plain language explanations and arguments in favor of the new regulations as well as the rules of the road for Internet Service Providers, details about how to complain about alleged violators, and lengthy objections from the two Republican commissioners who oppose the new net policies.

Despite the exposition and dissent (and the Wall Street Journal editorial page calling the document a “blobfish,” the Net Neutrality rules and supplementary definitions are around 450 words long:

A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.

A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service, or use of a non-harmful device, subject to reasonable network management.

A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not engage in paid prioritization.

“Paid prioritization” refers to the management of a broadband provider’s network to directly or indirectly favor some traffic over other traffic, including through use of techniques such as traffic shaping, prioritization, resource reservation, or other forms of preferential traffic management, either (a) in exchange for consideration (monetary or otherwise) from a third party, or (b) to benefit an affiliated entity.

Any person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage (i) end users’ ability to select, access, and use broadband Internet access service or the lawful Internet content, applications, services, or devices of their choice, or (ii) edge providers’ ability to make lawful content, applications, services, or devices available to end users. Reasonable network management shall not be considered a violation of this rule.

A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services sufficient for consumers to make informed choices regarding use of such services and for content, application, service, and device providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings.

A mass-market retail service by wire or radio that provides the capability to transmit data to and receive data from all or substantially all Internet endpoints, including any capabilities that are incidental to and enable the operation of the communications service, but excluding dial-up Internet access service. This term also encompasses any service that the Commission finds to be providing a functional equivalent of the service described in the previous sentence, or that is used to evade the protections set forth in this Part.

A network management practice is a practice that has a primarily technical network management justification, but does not include other business practices. A network management practice is reasonable if it is primarily used for and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service.

In brief, the new rules forbid providers from fiddling with your Internet traffic for the purposes of speeding up their preferred partners while slowing down everyone else for economic motivations. It does allow providers to engage in reasonable “network management” as long as those management techniques apply equally to all content of a specific type. For instance, Comcast cannot slow down Netflix while speeding up its own affiliated online streaming services.

FCC Releases Final Net Neutrality Rules and Debunks Industry Critics in Fact/Fiction News Release

Phillip Dampier March 12, 2015 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

As part of the Federal Communications Commission’s release of final Net Neutrality regulations, the FCC included this “Fact/Fiction” news release intending to debunk industry (and political) opposition to Net Neutrality.

fccThe Open Internet Order: Preserving and Protecting the Internet for All Americans

The Commission has released the full and final text of the Open Internet Order, which will preserve and protect the Internet as a platform for innovation, expression and economic growth. An Open Internet means consumers can go where they want, when they want. It means innovators can develop products and services without asking for permission. It means consumers will demand more and better broadband as they enjoy new Internet services, applications and content.

Protecting Consumers, Providing Certainty for Innovators and Investors
Before the Commission adopted this Order, there were no rules preventing broadband providers from conduct that would threaten the Open Internet.  This Order implements bright line rules to ban blocking, throttling and paid prioritization (or “fast lanes”) and, for the first time, the rules fully apply to mobile.

Open Internet rules are grounded in the strongest possible legal foundation by relying on multiple sources of authority, including Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. However, as part of this Order, the Commission refrains (or “forbears”) from enforcing provisions of Title II that are not relevant to modern broadband service.  Together, Title II and Section 706 support clear rules of the road, providing the certainty needed by innovators and investors, and the competitive choices and freedom demanded by consumers.

Separating Fact from Fiction
The Order uses every tool in the Commission’s toolbox to make sure the Internet stays fair, fast and open for all Americans, while ensuring investment and innovation can flourish. We encourage the public to read the Order, which reflects the input of millions of Americans and allows everyone to separate myths from fact, such as:

Myth: This is utility-style regulation.

Fact: The Order takes a modernized approach to Title II, tailored for the 21st Century

There is no “utility-style” regulation. The Order bars the kinds of tariffing, rate regulation, unbundling requirements and administrative burdens that are the hallmarks of traditional utility regulation. No broadband provider will need to get the FCC’s approval before offering any price, product or plan. (paragraphs 37-38, 417, 451-452, 497-505)

Myth: The FCC plans to set broadband rates and regulate retail prices in response to consumer complaints.

Fact: The Order doesn’t regulate retail broadband rates.

Old-style telephone regulation required companies to file tariffs with the FCC and await regulatory review before they could bring new products to markets – such an approval process does not exist and is not permitted under this Order. Broadband providers will be able to adjust retail rates without Commission approval and without having to wait even a minute. (paragraphs 37, 451-452, 497-505)

Much has been made of the Section 201(b) authority in Title II under which the Commission may hear complaints and respond to conduct that violates our Open Internet rules. The claim is made that it will be a back-door form of rate regulation. This exact same authority has existed for wireless voice service since 1993 and has never produced rate regulation. (paragraphs 38, 409-410, 421-423)

Myth: This will increase consumers’ broadband bills and/or raise taxes.

Fact: The Order doesn’t impose new taxes or fees or otherwise increase prices.

Nothing in the Order imposes or authorizes new taxes or fees.  In fact, the Internet Tax Freedom Act currently bans state and local taxes on broadband access regardless of how the FCC classifies it.  With respect to Universal Service, the Order does not impose mandatory contribution assessments, but simply allows a current, separate proceeding on how to reform universal service contributions to proceed.  (paragraphs 37, 57-58, 430-433, 488-491)

Myth: This is a plan to regulate the Internet and let the government take over the Internet.

Fact: The Order doesn’t regulate Internet content, applications or services or how the Internet operates, its routing or its addressing.

The Order does not regulate the Internet. It applies to broadband providers – the companies that connect people’s homes to the public Internet.  In other words, the Order protects consumers’ and innovators’ “last-mile” access to what’s on the Internet—the applications, content or services that ride on it and the devices that attach to it.  It means consumers can go where they want, when they want and it means innovators can develop products and services without asking for permission.  (paragraphs 25-26, 186-193,336-340,382)

Myth: This proposal means the FCC will get to decide which service plan you can choose.

Fact: The Order doesn’t limit consumers’ choices or ban broadband data plans.

There is no approval requirement before retail plans, prices or services can be offered to consumers. Broadband providers will continue to be able to offer new competitive services and rates. This means that when a broadband provider wants to add a faster tier of service at a new price, for instance, it is free to do so. Similarly, a broadband provider is free to change pricing without approval. What providers can’t do is engage in behavior that threatens the Open Internet. (paragraphs 139, 144, 151-153)

Myth: This will embolden authoritarian states to tighten their grip on the Internet.

Fact: The Open Internet rules ensure the Internet continues to be a powerful platform for free expression, innovation and economic growth.

This Order does not regulate the operation of the Internet nor does it endorse governmental control of the way people use the Internet. This Order is a strong statement that no one – government or corporation – should interfere with the user’s right of free and open access to the Internet.  In order to encourage other governments to establish policies to protect the free exchange of ideas on an open, unrestricted Internet, we must first protect those values at home.  (paragraphs 76-77)

Myth: This will stifle innovation in new areas of Internet connectivity like connected cars or tele-health.

Fact: The Order doesn’t regulate the class of IP-based services that do not connect to the public Internet.

The Order does not regulate data services that do not go over the public Internet —sometimes called “specialized services” or “managed services” and described in the Order as “non-BIAS (Broadband Internet Access Service) services”. Consumers who buy these services don’t get, and don’t expect to get, access to all points on the Internet. Examples can include: VoIP from a cable system, VoLTE from a mobile operator, a dedicated heart-monitoring service, e-readers, connected cars, and other innovative data services we cannot imagine today. (paragraphs 35, 207-213)

Myth: This will lead to slower broadband speeds and reduced investment in broadband deployment.

Fact: The Order doesn’t reduce broadband investment or slow broadband speeds.

More openness leads to more consumer demand for more and better broadband. It’s that simple. No price regulation means consumer revenues for ISPs should be the same the day after the Order takes effect as they were the day before. It is these revenues that provide the stimulus for investment. History proves that investment will not be affected. For instance, in addition to the $270 billion invested in wireless voice service in the years in which it was the prime driver of mobile traffic (through 2009), wireline DSL was regulated as a common-carrier service until 2005—including a period in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s that saw the highest levels of wireline broadband infrastructure investment ever. (paragraphs 39, 412-414, 421-425)

More recently, Verizon spent $4.74 billion in 2008 for licenses to C-block spectrum governed by FCC open access regulations and since then has invested tens of billions of dollars deploying mobile services.  And just this year, Sprint, T-Mobile, Google Fiber, Frontier Communications, COMPTEL and NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association have all said that applying Title II to broadband services won’t harm investment.  Finally, the recent AWS auction, conducted under the prospect of Title II regulation, generated bids (net of bidding credits) of more than $41 billion—further demonstrating that robust investment is not inconsistent with a modern, light-touch Title II regime. (paragraphs 339-40, 416, 423)

Myth: The new transparency rules add up to a new form of regulation.

Fact: Clear disclosure requirements benefit both consumers and industry.

The enhanced transparency requirements, which build on the existing transparency rule, will do a better job of ensuring that consumers know the price and performance of their Internet connections. They also benefit broadband providers and Internet content, application, and service providers by removing unnecessary uncertainties that affect the quality of their services.  That’s not regulation, that’s efficient common-sense consumer protection. (paragraphs 23-24, 154-185)

Myth:  The general conduct standard will chill innovation.

Fact: This is not new ground.  The Commission also adopted a general conduct standard in 2010 and investment flourished.

There has always been a “just and reasonable” standard for telecommunications services – and investment has flourished. Since 2005, the Commission has made plain its intent to take action to preserve the Open Internet – and broadband services and investment have continued grow. Of specific significance, the 2010 Open Internet Order applied such a general conduct standard that was in force until 2014. In the three years that the 2010 Open Internet rules were in effect, broadband capital expenditures increased from $64 billion in 2009 to $75 billion in 2013. The standard adopted in the Order is tailored to the open Internet harms the Commission has identified.  It focuses on whether the broadband provider is using its gatekeeper status in ways that unreasonably affect consumers’ and edge providers’ ability to use the Internet to communicate with each other.  (paragraphs 2-4, 20-22, 133-153)

Independent Cable Companies Declare Runaway Programming Costs an Impediment to Broadband Expansion

acaThe deck is stacked against independent cable operators fighting to stay competitive in a marketplace obsessed with consolidation and volume discounts on cable programming. The excessive costs paid by small, often family owned cable operators have now become so great, they are impeding broadband upgrades and expansion, according to the American Cable Association.

The ACA represents small and medium cable operators that live in a different world than Comcast and Time Warner Cable. For years, these smaller, usually rural operators have been at a disadvantage negotiating with cable programmers for reasonable programming rates. The largest cable operators win the best volume discounts, often offset by higher rates for the smaller cable companies that are typical of ACA’s membership roster.

With the FCC now enforcing Section 706 of its mandate requiring the Commission to advance the cause of competitive and ubiquitous broadband, the ACA has gotten creative in comments urging the FCC to crack down on the kinds of unfair programming contracts that force small operators to spend an ever-increasing amount of their budgets on cable television networks instead of broadband expansion.

Video margins are dropping, which means smaller operators have less to invest in broadband.

Video margins are dropping, which means smaller operators have less to invest in broadband. (Chart: SNL/Kagan)

“It has become evident that the increasing prices video programmers and broadcasters charge multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) can act as a drag on broadband deployment,” said ACA president Matt Polka. “If these prices continue their upward spiral, existing providers of both broadband and MVPD services and new entrants will be deterred from expanding their broadband networks or otherwise undertaking new builds.”

Removing barriers to investment is one of the requirements the FCC is supposed to enforce under Section 706 and it has recently shown a willingness to do that by overturning Tennessee and North Carolina laws restricting the growth of municipal broadband. The ACA now wants to learn if the FCC will give small cable operators some relief as well.

The ACA argues that broadband providers must offer consumers video along with broadband and voice services, yet they face ever-increasing video programming costs that squeeze margins.  As a result, smaller triple play providers’ ability to achieve a sufficient return on investment for deploying broadband, particularly in new areas, is quickly diminishing.

The trade group wants the FCC to reform program-access rules to guarantee fairer treatment for smaller cable operators who depend on group buying power through buying co-ops like the National Cable Television Cooperative. The ACA also wants a prohibition on programmers yanking their signals in the middle of retransmission consent contract negotiations. The ability to pull a signal off a cable system gives programmers an unfair negotiating advantage according to the ACA.

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