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Surprise: Some Alabama Customers Unhappy About AT&T’s Experiment Ending Landline Service

att-logo-221x300AT&T customers in Carbon Hill, Ala. received an unwelcome surprise in their mailbox recently when AT&T informed them they will be part of an experiment ending traditional landline service in favor of a Voice over IP or wireless alternative.

Affected customers are involuntary participants in what AT&T calls an “exciting opportunity for our customers and for our company,” but many residents want no part of it.

The Wall Street Journal reports Carbon Hill city clerk Janice Pendley says some people in the former mining town are not pleased.

“Some of them like their landline, and they like it just the way it is,” she says.

AT&T’s experiment will force new and existing customers to switch to its more-expensive U-verse broadband platform, use a mobile phone, or a home landline replacement that works over AT&T’s cellular network. The FCC has granted AT&T permission to impose its experimental plan to end traditional landline service in two communities where regulatory protections for landline customers are weak to non-existent — Alabama’s Carbon Hill and Delray Beach, Fla.

Carbon Hill is a small town of around 880 households in extreme western Walker County. It is the kind of rural town AT&T would likely never consider for a U-verse upgrade. AT&T embarked on a second major push to extend U-verse into more communities last year, but also indicated it would strongly advocate for a wireless replacement for its landline network in the rest of its service areas. Because Carbon Hill is an experiment, AT&T will offer U-verse to at least part of the community regardless of the usual financial Return on Investment requirements AT&T usually imposes on its U-verse expansion efforts.

carbon hillAT&T is pushing forward despite the fact it  has no idea how it will offer service to at least 4% of isolated Carbon Hill residents not scheduled to be provided U-verse and not within an AT&T wireless coverage area. There are also no guarantees customers will be able to correctly reach 911, although AT&T says the technology “supports 911 functionality.” Serious questions among consumer advocates remain about whether the replacement technology will support burglar alarms, pacemakers and even systems used by air-traffic controllers.

The difficulties service Carbon Hill relate to its rural makeup and income profile. In Delray Beach, it is all about customer demographics. Half of the city is home to residents over 65 years old — the group most likely to prefer their existing landline service. Many are likely to be unhappy about a transition to new technology that will not work in the event of power interruptions, will require the installation of new equipment, or will be tied to a wireless platform that some say reduces the intelligibility of telephone conversations and often introduces audio artifacts like echo, background noise, and dropouts.

In both cities, customers only offered wireless-based service will no longer have access to DSL or wired broadband service of any kind. The wireless alternative from AT&T comes at a high cost and a low usage allowance.

The benefits to AT&T are unquestionable, however. The company will win almost universal deregulation as a Voice over IP or wireless telephone provider. Legacy regulations on customer service requirements, pricing, and obligations to provide affordable phone service to any customer that requests it are swept away by the new technologies. Competitors are also worried AT&T will be able to walk away from regulations governing open and fair access to AT&T’s network.

ip4carbon hillThe Wall Street Journal reports:

The all-Internet protocol “transition holds many promises for consumers, but losing access to affordable voice and broadband services cannot be part of that bargain,” wrote Angie Kronenberg, general counsel of Comptel, in a letter to the FCC last month on behalf of the small-carrier trade group, several companies and public-interest groups.

AARP said it believes AT&T’s plan has “numerous problems.” The technology might not be reliable enough or fail when calling 911 in an emergency, the advocacy group for seniors told regulators in its comment letter. The FCC is reviewing hundreds of comments received in response to AT&T’s request.

EarthLink piggybacks on the “incumbents as little as economically possible” and has laid nearly 30,000 miles of fiber-optic cables throughout the U.S. to help it reach more than a million customers, says Rolla Huff, a former EarthLink chief executive. Still, the company needs access to the connections built by AT&T and Verizon into buildings.

Telecom carriers such as Windstream in Little Rock, Ark., and sellers of broadband data services like EarthLink and XO Communications LLC, of Herndon, Va., have had the right to buy last-mile access at regulated prices since the last major overhaul of federal telecom laws in 1996.

tw telecomIf AT&T ends its traditional network, those competing service providers will have to negotiate with AT&T for access at whatever price AT&T elects to charge.

A preview of what is likely to happen has already been experienced by TW Telecom, an independent firm selling phone and Internet services to businesses over more than 30,000 miles of fiber lines. But that fiber network means nothing if a customer’s last mile connection is handled by a local phone company no longer subject to regulated pricing and access rules.

In Tampa, where Verizon has deployed FiOS as an unregulated replacement for its older, regulated copper-based network, TW Telecom learned first hand what this could ultimately mean:

Rochester Telephone Corporation was born in 1921 after a merger between the Rochester Telephonic Exchange, a branch of the Bell Company of Buffalo and locally-owned independent Rochester Telephone Company, which was not allowed to use Bell's long distance network.

Rochester Telephone Corporation was born in 1921 after a merger between the Rochester Telephonic Exchange, a branch of the Bell Company of Buffalo and locally owned independent Rochester Telephone Company, which was not allowed to use Bell’s long distance network.

TW Telecom approached Verizon in 2012 to seek last-mile access to a Tampa, Fla., building being converted into a bank from a restaurant. Verizon had installed only FiOS at the building.

Verizon said no, telling TW Telecom to build its own connection or pay Verizon thousands of dollars to do the job. TW Telecom declined to pay and lost the customer’s business.

“When it happens, it’s devastating,” says Kristie Ince, who oversees regulatory policy at TW Telecom. Similar snarls have cost the company at least six customers since then. Other carriers say they have had similar clashes.

In Illinois, Sprint’s business phone network has run into a barricade manned by AT&T. Sprint needs AT&T to interconnect calls placed on Sprint’s network intended for AT&T’s customers. The two companies cannot agree on an asking price under the deregulation scheme so Sprint converts its Voice over IP calls to older technology still subject to regulation just so calls will successfully reach AT&T’s customers. AT&T promptly converts those calls back to Voice over IP technology as it completes them.

AT&T said it has “no duty” to connect its Internet protocol traffic with Sprint’s.

If the FCC keeps IP-based traffic deregulated, if and when the old landline network is decommissioned, AT&T will have the last word on access, potentially putting competitors out of business.

Our great-great grandparents experienced similar problems in the early days of telephone service, when high rates from the local Bell telephone subsidiary provoked local competition. But Bell companies routinely refused to handle calls placed on competitors’ networks, forcing customers to maintain a telephone line with both companies to reach every subscriber. Additionally, only Bell-owned providers had access to the long distance network – a competitive disadvantage to competing startups.

Regulatory changes, a handful of mergers and the eventual establishment of the well-regulated Bell System eventually solved problems which threaten to return if AT&T has its way.

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Google Fiber Threat Cited in Cincinnati Bell’s Decision to Sell Wireless Division to Verizon Wireless

cincinnati bellCincinnati Bell threw in the towel on its wireless mobile business Monday when it decided to sell its wireless spectrum licenses, network, and 340,000 customers for $210 million to its larger rival Verizon Wireless.

While most analysts say the transaction is the inevitable outcome of a wireless industry now dedicated to consolidation, at least one analyst said the threat of Google Fiber eventually entering the Cincinnati market may have also contributed to the decision to sell.

The future of Cincinnati Bell’s wireless division had been questioned for more than a year, ever since the arrival of the company’s newest CEO Ted Torbeck in January 2013. Cincinnati Bell, one of the last independent holdouts of the Bell System breakup that have not been reabsorbed by AT&T or Verizon, had struggled since Torbeck’s predecessor made some bad bets on acquisitions, including an investment in microwave communications provider Broadwing that left the company with more than $2 billion in debt in 2004. Another $526 million acquisition of data center Cyrus One left the company further in debt.

Torbeck

Torbeck

Torbeck promised a frank evaluation of Cincinnati Bell’s operations last year and keeping its declining wireless division no longer made sense with Torbeck’s focus on replacing the company’s aging copper wire network with fiber optics.

For years, Cincinnati Bell’s biggest competitor has been Time Warner Cable, which has taken away many of its landline customers. Cincinnati Bell’s mobile phone division was created to protect its core business, picking up wireless subscribers as customers dropped their landlines. But the cable company’s bundled service packages made landline service much less expensive than sticking with the phone company, and many wireless customers prefer a national wireless phone company offering better coverage and a wider selection of devices.

Rampant wireless industry consolidation has concentrated most of the cell phone market in the hands of AT&T and Verizon Wireless, giving those two companies access to the most advanced and hottest devices while regional carriers made do offering customers less capable smartphones. Its competitors’ march towards 4G LTE network upgrades also challenged Cincinnati Bell with costly capital investments in a 4G HSPA+ network that Torbeck recently decided no longer made economic sense.

Cincinnati Bell’s wireless revenue for 2013 was $202 million, a decrease of 17 percent from 2012. The company also lost 58,000 subscribers last year, an unsustainable drop that showed few signs of stopping.

610px-Verizon-Wireless-Logo_svg“Our business has been in decline for five or six years,” Torbeck told the Cincinnati Business Courier. “This is absolutely the right time to make this deal. It was probably the highest value we could get at this point in time.”

Torbeck believes Cincinnati Bell’s best chance for a future lies with with fiber optics, capable of delivering phone service along with a robust broadband and television offering that can effectively compete with Time Warner Cable.

“We’ve got to grow market share in Cincinnati and fiber optics is the way to do it,” Torbeck said in 2013. ”We have about 25 percent of the city covered and we think from a financial perspective we can get to 65 or 70 percent so we’ve got significant growth opportunity there.”

fiopticsLast year, Cincinnati Bell had passed 184,000 homes with fiber optics – a 28 percent market share. But only 52,000 homes subscribed to Fioptics — Cincinnati Bell’s fiber brand. Time Warner Cable had managed to keep many of its wavering 446,000 customers loyal to the cable company with aggressive discounting and customer retention offers. But now that many of those discounts have since expired, Torbeck wants to reach 650,000-700,000 homes in its service area covering southwestern Ohio and northern Kentucky and convince 50% of those customers to switch to fiber optics.

Torbeck isn’t interested in limiting his business to just greater Cincinnati either.

“At some point in time, we’d like to expand regionally into Indianapolis, Columbus,” Torbeck said. “Louisville is another opportunity. But that’s probably a little down the road. From a fiber standpoint, we could look at acquisitions and get into metro fiber. These are things we’re looking at, but these are things that are down the road. We got a lot of room for growth just here in Cincinnati.”

But financial analysts warned Cincinnati Bell’s enormous debt load limits the company’s potential to invest in expansion. Torbeck’s decision to sell off the company’s wireless unit is another step in reducing that debt and further investing in fiber optics expansion.

google fiberThe company’s unique position as the last remaining independent phone company that still bears the name of the telephone’s inventor may make the company a target for a takeover before Torbeck’s vision is realized. One analyst thinks Cincinnati Bell would be a natural target for Google, which has a recent record of repurposing fiber networks built by other companies as a cost-saving measure to further deploy Google Fiber.

“They are a small and cheap company with the infrastructure that Google could use,” said Brian Nichols. “My theory is that Google will buy undervalued companies like Cincy Bell to save on the mounting costs of buildouts, which could top $30 billion,“ Nichols wrote in an email to WCPO-TV.

Google did exactly that in Provo, Utah, acquiring struggling iProvo from the city government for $1 in return for agreeing to expand the fiber network to more homes.

Cincinnati’s local phone company would sell for considerably more than that, but it would still prove affordable for Google, which has a market value of $361 billion, about 470 times that of Cincinnati Bell.

cincCincinnati Bell has already spent about $300 million on Fioptics and plans to spend an extra $80 million this year on expansion. Before the network is complete, the phone company is likely to spend as much as $600 million on fiber upgrades. But the payoff has been higher revenue — $100 million last year alone, and a stabilizing business model that has reduced losses from landline cord-cutting. Telecom analyst Nicholas Puncer offers support for the investment, something rare for most Wall Street advisers.

“It’s a reasonable strategy,” Puncer said. “There’s only going to be more data going through networks in the future, not less. The way we consume content is going to be a lot different 10 years from now than it is today. This is their effort to be on the right side of that, giving people more options to receive that content.”

But if Google Fiber comes to town, it may not be enough.

“Google has an unprecedented luxury,” Nichols said in his email to WCPO. “They are [attaching] fiber to existing poles owned by AT&T (and other telecom companies), and then targeting areas where consumers agree for service before the network is even built. Given this demand, and its mere ability to operate in such a manner, I do think Cincinnati Bell will have major problems once that day comes (likely sooner rather than later). In fact, I don’t think they stand a chance of competing against Google.”

Cincinnati Bell said it will continue to offer wireless service for customers for the next 8 to 12 months. The company will notify customers with further details regarding transition assistance around the time of the closing, which is expected to be in the second half of 2014.

It was not immediately clear on Monday if the sale will impact jobs. Cincinnati Bell Wireless employs about 175 people, including retail store employees.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WKRC Cincinnati Cincinnati Bell selling wireless spectrum to Verizon 4-8-14.flv

WKRC in Cincinnati reports on what the sale of Cincinnati Bell Wireless to Verizon Wireless means for customers. (1:24)

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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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New Jersey’s Fiber Ripoff: Verizon Walks Away from Fiber Upgrades Customers Already Paid For

Bait and switch broadband

Bait and switch broadband

Since 1991, Verizon telephone customers in New Jersey have paid at least $15 billion in surcharges for a promised high-speed broadband network that would reach every home in the state by 2010. But now critics charge Verizon diverted much of that money to shareholder dividend payouts and building infrastructure for its highly profitable wireless network, leaving almost half the state with slow speed DSL or no broadband at all.

In the early 1990s, Verizon’s predecessor — Bell Atlantic — launched “Opportunity New Jersey,” a plan promising the state it would have the first 100% fiber telecommunications network in the country. In return, the company enjoyed more than two decades of generous tax breaks and collected various surcharges from customers to finance network construction. But a review of Verizon’s promises vs. reality suggest the company has reneged on the deal it signed with the state back when Bill Clinton was beginning his first term as president.

Verizon promised at least 75 percent of New Jersey would have a fiber service by 1996 offering 384 television channels and 45/45Mbps broadband service for $40 a month. The network would be open to competitors and be deployed without regard to income or its potential customer base.

The state suspected trouble as far back as 1997, when the Division of the Ratepayer Advocate with the New Jersey Board of Regulatory Commissioners blasted the company’s progress five years into the project:

Bell Atlantic-New Jersey (BA-NJ) has over-earned, underspent and inequitably deployed advanced telecommunications technology to business customers, while largely neglecting schools and libraries, low-income and residential ratepayers and consumers in Urban Enterprise Zones as well as urban and rural areas.

Verizon's wired success story

By 2006, New Jersey was being introduced to FiOS, which some believed was part of Verizon’s commitment to the state. But a decade after Verizon’s target dates, customers were still waiting for FiOS video service, the maximum broadband speeds offered at that point were 30/5Mbps and the cost of the package ranged from $180-200 a month. Most of Verizon’s FiOS deployments were in the northern half of the state, leaving southern New Jersey with few, if any service improvements.

Despite Verizon’s repeated failures to meet its target dates, that same year New Jersey made life even easier for the phone company by passing a statewide video franchise law allowing Verizon to bypass negotiating with each town and city regarding its video services and instead run FiOS TV as it pleases anywhere in the state. The company argued a statewide video franchise would allow for more rapid deployment of Verizon’s fiber network. In reality, the company was falling further and further behind. By 2013, when Verizon sought renewal of its statewide franchise, Verizon only offered FiOS TV to 352 of the 526 communities hoping for service. At least 174 communities still waiting for FiOS are likely never going to get the fiber service, despite paying Verizon’s surcharges for more than 20 years. Verizon suspended its FiOS expansion project more than two years ago.

Bait and Switch Broadband

From promises of a cutting edge fiber future to good-enough DSL....

From promises of a cutting edge fiber future to good-enough DSL.

Despite early commitments of providing New Jersey with advanced fiber broadband speeds unheard of elsewhere in the country in the 1990s, Verizon changed its tune when it became clear the company wanted to prioritize investment in its more lucrative wireless network. Instead of a commitment of 45/45Mbps, providing basic DSL broadband at any speed was now seen as adequate. Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski told both Newsweek and the Inquirer the company never promised a statewide deployment of FiOS.

“Nobody knew what FiOS was 20 years ago,” Gierczynski said. “It wasn’t until 2004 when FiOS came on the scene.”

Forget about that commitment for 45/45Mbps speed as well.

“It didn’t say a minimum of 45mbps,” Gierczynski said, “it just says ‘up to’.”

That means DSL service will be a part of southern New Jersey for the near future. Customers unimpressed with the 5Mbps DSL service they get from Verizon can always pay substantially more for access to Verizon Wireless’ usage capped LTE 4G network that Gierczynski believes can be used to download movies.

In effect, ratepayers that wrote checks to pay artificially higher phone bills to help subsidize a promised 100% fiber optic future have instead funneled working capital to Verizon Wireless’ network expansion and helped enrich shareholders with generous dividend payouts.

Opportunity New Jersey Verizon: Christie Administration Proposes Letting Verizon Off the Hook Permanently

Gov. Christie

Gov. Christie

Most victims of costly bait and switch schemes get angry and demand justice. In New Jersey, the Christie Administration believes Verizon is the victim of unreasonable expectations and has proposed a sweetheart deal to both let the company off the hook and keep the surcharges it collected from New Jersey ratepayers for the last 21 years.

While the rest of the country clamors for better broadband, Governor Christie’s State Commission, his Attorney General’s Office and the state Consumer Rate Counsel believe that basic DSL is good enough, and making life difficult for Verizon by insisting it live up to its part of a mutual agreement just isn’t very nice.

All eyes were on incoming president of the Board of Public Utilities Dianne Solomon, wife of close Christie associate Lee Solomon. The BPU has direct authority over Verizon’s compliance with its promises to the state. But Dianne’s only apparent experience is as an official with the United States Tennis Association. Critics immediately pounced on the odd nomination, accusing the governor of using the BPU as a lucrative parking lot for political patronage. Three of the four current commissioners are all politically connected and their experience navigating telecommunications law is questionable.

Instead of demanding that Verizon be held to its commitment to the state, government officials are bending over backwards to let Verizon walk away from its promises forever.

A stipulation proposal would allow the company to shred its commitment to upgrade New Jersey with fiber optics. Instead, Verizon gets permission to discontinue service if you have any other option for service — including cable or wireless. Not only would this stipulation eliminate any hope bypassed communities have to eventually get Verizon FiOS, it would also let Verizon scrap its rural landline network and kill DSL, forcing customers to its lucrative wireless broadband product instead.

Solomon

Solomon

The agreement also eliminates any commitment Verizon had to deliver fiber-fast speeds. Instead, Verizon will be considered in good standing if it matches the slowest speed on offer from Verizon DSL.

“Broadband is defined as delivering any technology including Verizon’s 4G wireless, fiber, copper or cable, data transmission service at speeds no less than the minimum speed of Verizon New Jersey’s Digital Subscriber line (DSL) that is provided by Verizon New Jersey today.”

New Jersey customers can file comments about the proposed agreement until March 24, 2014 with the Board of Public Utilities.

We have found a good sample letter you should edit to make your own. You can e-mail the secretary directly and/or send your message to the general e-mail address: [email protected] (be sure to include “Verizon New Jersey, Docket No. TO12020155″ on the Subject line):

New Jersey Board of Public Utilities
Kristi Izzo, Secretary
44 South Clinton Avenue, 9th Floor
P.O. Box 350 Trenton, NJ 08625-0350

Email: [email protected]

Re: In the Matter of Verizon New Jersey, Inc. Docket# TO 12020155

Dear Secretary Izzo:

I want to alert you to an urgent matter pending before the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. Pursuant to a 1993 law called Opportunity New Jersey, Verizon NJ was obligated to upgrade New Jersey’s “copper wire” network by 2010. To fund the Opportunity New Jersey expansion, Verizon NJ was permitted to collect excess charges from their customers and received lucrative tax breaks from the State. These charges and tax breaks began in the 1990s and are still being collected today.

Verizon failed to meet its timeframe requirements under the Opportunity New Jersey agreement to New Jersey residents. As a result of Verizon’s failures, on March 12, 2012, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities initiated a legal action against Verizon NJ. The Board and Verizon NJ have now entered into a proposed settlement agreement which I believe is inadequate and not in the best interests of myself and other New Jersey residents who have paid for this service that was not fully delivered.

I oppose the Board’s proposed settlement agreement and demand that The Board of Public Utilities hold Verizon to the original Opportunity New Jersey agreement which requires Verizon to expand broadband services to every customer in the State. The proposed settlement has the potential of costing myself and other residents even more money than I have already paid for the last 21 years. The Board of Public Utilities should not allow Verizon to flagrantly disregard the stipulations which are the framework for the charges and tax breaks that Verizon has enjoyed for 21 years.

I am asking the Board of Public Utilities to be my advocate and investigate where our dollars were spent and to require Verizon to give me what I was originally promised under Opportunity New Jersey agreement of 1993.

Sincerely,

[Your Name, Address, Phone Number]

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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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Most Cutting Edge Gigabit Broadband Networks are Community-Owned

Greenlight announces gigabit service for Wilson, N.C.

Greenlight announces gigabit service for Wilson, N.C.

Claims from critics that government-owned Internet Service Providers would bring ineptly managed, behind-the-times broadband are belied by the reality on the ground.

Network World highlighted several cities offering consumers and/or businesses gigabit broadband service from publicly owned Internet providers. All of them stand alone with no commercial competitor willing or able to compete on speed. In fact, most of the communities offering their own Internet service do so because incumbent cable and phone companies showed no interest in upgrading or expanding their services or offer them at prohibitive prices. For many of the towns involved, the only way to get 21st century broadband was to build it themselves.

Cable companies like Time Warner Cable scoff at the need for superfast broadband speeds, claiming customers are not interested in gigabit Internet. After the Federal Communications Commission issued a challenge for every state in the U.S. to reach 1Gbps Internet speeds in at least one community by 2015, then chief financial officer Irene Esteves said 1,000Mbps service was unnecessary and the cable company wouldn’t offer it because there was little demand for it.

While Esteves was telling reporters gigabit speeds were irrelevant, Time Warner Cable’s lobbyists were working behind the scenes to make sure none of their community-owned competitors offered it either, cajoling state officials to pass legislation that would effectively ban publicly owned broadband competition. Time Warner, along with other cable and phone companies evidently feel so threatened, they have successfully helped enact such bans into law in 20 states.

The record is clear. The best chance your community has of getting gigabit speeds is to rally your local government or municipal utility to offer the service you are not getting from the local cable/phone duopoly anytime soon.

Chanute, Kansas

The city of Chanute, Kan. is fighting back against incumbent phone and cable companies trying to ban municipal-owned ISPs in the state.

The city of Chanute, Kan. is fighting back against incumbent phone and cable companies trying to ban municipal-owned ISPs in the state.

With just 9,000 residents barely served by AT&T and the routinely awful Cable ONE, Chanute knew if it wanted 21st century broadband, it was unlikely to get it from the local phone and cable company. Chanute has owned a municipal fiber network since 1984 and has been in the Internet provider business since 2005. Now the city is working towards a fiber to the home network for residents while AT&T is lobbying Washington regulators to let the company scrap rural landline and DSL service across Kansas and other states.

The city is taking a stand against the latest effort to ban community broadband networks in Kansas. It’s a rough fight because Kansas lobbyists get to write and introduce corporate-written telecom bills in the legislature without even the pretext of the proposed legislation originating from someone actually elected to office. SB 304, temporarily withdrawn for “tweaking,” shreds the concept of home rule — allowing local communities to decide what works best for them. Instead, AT&T, Cable ONE, Comcast, Cox, and other telecom companies will get to make that decision on your behalf if the bill re-emerges in the legislature and passes later this year.

“We’re taking a leadership position to do something about it. I’d hate to sit here and keep bashing AT&T and Cable One. They don’t care. All they care about is paying dividends back to their stockholders,” Chanute’s utility director Larry Gates told Network World. “My feeling – this is mine, it’s probably not the city’s, but it’s mine – is I wouldn’t care if we ever made a dime on this network, as long as it would pay for itself. If it could increase and do the things with education, health, safety, and economic development – man, that’s a win. That’s a huge win.”

Chattanooga, Tennessee

The "headquarters" of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance is in the basement of this building in suburban Washington. It's a pretty small alliance funded by mysterious "private" donors.

The “headquarters” of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance is in the basement of this building in suburban Washington.

EPB Broadband is the best argument community broadband advocates have to counter Big Telecom propaganda that community-owned broadband is a failure waiting to happen. EPB has received national acclaim by delivering gigabit broadband to consumers and businesses that Chattanoogans can’t get from AT&T and Comcast. EPB is Chattanooga’s municipally owned electric utility and originally laid fiber to power its Smart Meter project to better manage its electric system. With near infinite capacity, why not share that network with the community?

EPB routinely embarrasses its competition by offering highly rated local customer service and support instead of forcing customers to deal with offshore call centers rife with language barriers. Customer ratings of AT&T and Comcast are dismal — rock bottom in fact — but that isn’t the case for EPB, embraced by the local community and now helping to foster the region’s high-tech economic development.

Santa Monica, California

Santa Monica City Net does not serve residential customers, but a lot of locals probably wish it did. Greater Los Angeles has been carved up between bottom-rated Charter Communications and never-loved Time Warner Cable. Time Warner customers in LA will soon get access to 100Mbps broadband. Businesses in downtown Santa Monica can already get broadband from City Net at speeds up to 10Gbps.

Lafayette, Louisiana

LUS Fiber has had a very tough battle just getting service off the ground. Its two competitors are AT&T and Cox, and the fiber to the home provider had to work its way through legal disputes and a special election to launch service. Even to this day, corporate front groups like the Taxpayers Protection Alliance are still taking potshots at LUS and other municipal providers. TPA president David Williams refuses to identify where the money comes from to fund TPA’s operations. It’s a safe bet some of it comes from telecom companies based on the TPA’s preoccupation with broadband issues. The group always aligns itself with the interests of phone and cable companies.

Cable and phone companies that fund sock puppet groups like TPA could have spent that money to upgrade broadband service in communities like Lafayette. Instead, they cut checks to groups like the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, headquartered in a basement rental unit in suburban Washington, D.C.

Burlington, Vermont

Burlington Telecom’s troubled past is a poster child for anti-municipal broadband groups. The provider’s financial problems are often mentioned by groups fighting public broadband. To be sure, there are successes and failures in any industry and inept marketing by BT several years ago hurt its chances for success. Its competition is Comcast and FairPoint Communications, which means usage-capped cable broadband or slow speed DSL. BT sells a gigabit broadband alternative for $149.99 a month for those signing a 12-month contract. Comcast charges $115 a month for 105Mbps service — about ten times slower than BT’s offering.

Tullahoma, Tennessee

The Tennessee Telecommunications Association is appealing to the state government to keep publicly-owned broadband competitors out of their territories.

The Tennessee Telecommunications Association is appealing to the state government to keep publicly owned broadband competitors out of their territories.

LighTUBe, the telecommunications branch of the Tullahoma Utilities Board (TUB), announced its gigabit Internet offering in May 2013, says Network World. The magazine suspects the provider is interested in commercial, not residential customers.

That no doubt comes as a relief to the Tennessee Telecommunications Association, which represents the state’s independent phone companies. Last month, more than a dozen executives from those companies invaded the state capital to complain that municipal providers were threatening to invade their territories and offer unwanted competition.

“We are particularly concerned about four bills that have been introduced this session,” says Levoy Knowles, TTA’s executive director. “These bills would allow municipalities to expand beyond their current footprint and offer broadband in our service areas. If this were to happen, municipalities could cherry-pick our more populated areas, leaving the more remote, rural consumers to bear the high cost of delivering broadband to these less populated regions.”

Among the companies that want to keep uncomfortable public broadband competition out of their territories: North Central Telephone Cooperative, Loretto Telecom, Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative, Highland Telephone Cooperative, TDS Telecom, United Communications, Ben Lomand Connect, WK&T Telecommunications, Ritter Communications, Ardmore Telephone Company, and RepCom.

Bristol, Tennessee

Bristol is unique because its city limits are effectively in Tennessee and Virginia. Neither state has gotten much respect from incumbent telephone and cable companies, so BTES — the electric and telecom utility in Bristol — decided to deliver broadband service itself. The network is now being upgraded to expand 1Gbps service, and it represents an island in the broadband backwater of far eastern Tennessee and western Virginia and North Carolina.

closedCedar Falls, Iowa

Iowa has never been a hotbed for fast broadband and is the home to the largest number of independent telephone companies in the country. Cedar Falls Utilities is one of them and is trying to change the “behind the rest” image Iowa telecommunications has been stuck with for years. The municipal telecom provider has boosted broadband speeds and announced gigabit broadband last year.

Wilson, N.C.

Greenlight has been providing fiber to the home service for several years, and its presence in the middle of Time Warner Cable territory was apparently the last straw for the cable company, which began fiercely lobbying for a municipal broadband ban in North Carolina. Thanks to a massive cash dump by Koch Brothers’ ally Art Pope, the Republicans took control of the state government between 2010-2012. Many of the new legislators have an ongoing love affair with ALEC — the corporate front group — and treat its database of business-ghostwritten bills like the Library of Congress. What AT&T, CenturyLink, and Time Warner Cable want, they now get.

With a broadband ban in place, Greenlight can’t expand its territory, but it can increase its broadband speeds. Time Warner Cable tops out at 50Mbps for almost $100 a month. For $49.95 more you can get 1,000Mbps from Greenlight. Instead if competing, TWC prefers Greenlight to simply go away, and the North Carolina legislature has shown it is always ready to help.

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MassBroadband123 Fiber Network Completed; Now the Challenge of Last-Mile Funding Begins

axiamassbroadband123The Massachusetts Broadband Institute has completed construction and testing of the massive 1,200 mile fiber optic network designed to bring 21st century Internet connectivity to rural western and central Massachusetts now largely left out of the broadband revolution.

After spending $89.7 million in state and federal funds, the fiber project that started construction in 2011 has delivered a robust middle-mile network that, for now, will largely target and serve 1,400 schools, libraries, and government buildings — institutional users that have access to government broadband funding programs to pay for hookups to the fiber network. Finding the money to connect the 333,500 households and 44,000 businesses MassBroadband123 wants to reach is more difficult.

Steve Nelson, the legal/governance chair of the WiredWest Executive Committee, likens it to seeing big water mains being laid along roadways with no way to connect pipes to your house. The media may proclaim the network is complete, but in reality, there is a lot of work that remains to extend broadband service to the residents and businesses that need it most.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick recently announced funding to support some of the costs of the all-too-critical “last mile” — bringing a connection from the existing fiber network to a home or business. Out of a $900 million bond bill for technology projects, a set aside of $50 million has been reserved for broadband. The bill is waiting for action by the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. If it passes, Nelson believes it will cover about half of the estimated $100 million needed to finish the last mile and begin offering service.

open

As with many publicly funded, open access broadband networks, private providers are usually invited to participate, but in fact rarely do. Despite calls from Rep. “Smitty” Pignatelli (D-Berkshire 4th District) for Verizon and Comcast to get on board, there is no sign either company is prepared to do so. Nelson says waiting for either company to solve the last-mile problem in areas where they’ve never shown much interest before is like “Waiting for Godot.”

wiredwest“It’s time to stop talking and waiting for Comcast or Verizon,” Nelson writes. “We the people of Western Mass. have the power to solve the last mile problem ourselves. Forty-two towns have formed WiredWest, a cooperative dedicated to bringing broadband home to our citizens.”

WiredWest is seeking federal rural broadband funding designated to support rural broadband projects like the one in western Massachusetts. The co-op may even issue a bond backed by participating communities that would allow WiredWest to borrow the needed funds to wire up customers.

Nelson is calling on fellow residents to support the project’s viability by signing up for service when it becomes available. He also urges participating communities to stay united under the WiredWest regional partnership.

“The regional solution WiredWest represents is the only way to achieve the economies of scale, operational efficiencies and cost-effectiveness to make such a network feasible and sustainable,” said Nelson. “It requires a large-enough base of customers and the support from many towns joining forces. A small town going it alone and building its own network is not a viable approach to the big challenge of building and operating such complex and costly infrastructure. It’s running a sled race with just one dog.”

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Hawaiian Telcom Unleashing 500Mbps Broadband on Oahu

hawtelHawaiian Telcom is introducing fiber to the building Internet speeds of up to 500/50Mbps to residential and business customers who need the fastest Internet speeds in Hawaii.

The telephone company has managed to outmaneuver Oceanic Time Warner Cable, its chief competitor, with up to five times faster speed than the cable company’s current top-tier of 100/5Mbps.

oahu“Hawaiian Telcom’s expansive deployment of fiber optic technology is connecting Hawaii to the world with speeds never before seen in the islands,” said Eric K. Yeaman, Hawaiian Telcom’s president and CEO. “We’ve invested $125 million in our next-generation fiber network and systems and there is more to come. As a committed local company with deep roots in the islands, Hawaiian Telcom is dedicated to meeting Hawaii’s bandwidth needs today and into the future.”

HawTel has already deployed a fiber to the neighborhood network across parts of Oahu similar to AT&T’s U-verse, delivering up to 50Mbps broadband over existing home or business copper telephone wiring. To boost speeds further, the phone company will extend a fiber connection directly to any subscriber signing up for faster speeds. The available fiber tiers are 100Mbps ($95), 200Mbps ($200), or 500Mbps ($300). A wireless gateway and security software is provided at no extra charge.

Yeaman says faster speeds are increasingly important in homes where multiple Internet-enabled devices share a single broadband connection. HawTel expects to offer its enhanced broadband and television products to 240,000 Hawaiian homes when the project is complete.

Interested customers can begin signing up for the fiber to the home broadband service on March 2.

Thanks to Stop the Cap! reader Aaron for the news tip.

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Google Fiber Proposes Major Expansion, But Continues to Ignore the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic

Google has proposed expanding its gigabit fiber network to nine metropolitan areas around the United States, but none of them include cities in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast dominated by Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and Verizon FiOS.

google fiber

Altogether, the expansion project could bring fiber to the home Internet service to 34 new cities:

  • Arizona: Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe
  • California: San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto
  • Georgia: Atlanta, Avondale Estates, Brookhaven, College Park, Decatur, East Point, Hapeville, Sandy Springs, Smyrna
  • North Carolina: Charlotte, Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Garner, Morrisville, Raleigh
  • Oregon: Portland, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Gresham, Lake Oswego, Tigard
  • Tennessee: Nashville-Davidson
  • Texas: San Antonio
  • Utah: Salt Lake City

Google’s Fiber Blog:

google fiberNow that we’ve learned a lot from our Google Fiber projects in Kansas City, Austin and Provo, we want to help build more ultra-fast networks. So we’ve invited cities in nine metro areas around the U.S.—34 cities altogether—to work with us to explore what it would take to bring them Google Fiber.

We aim to provide updates by the end of the year about which cities will be getting Google Fiber. Between now and then, we’ll work closely with each city’s leaders on a joint planning process that will not only map out a Google Fiber network in detail, but also assess what unique local challenges we might face. These are such big jobs that advance planning goes a long way toward helping us stick to schedules and minimize disruption for residents.

We’re going to work on a detailed study of local factors that could affect construction, like topography (e.g., hills, flood zones), housing density and the condition of local infrastructure. Meanwhile, cities will complete a checklist of items that will help them get ready for a project of this scale and speed. For example, they’ll provide us with maps of existing conduit, water, gas and electricity lines so that we can plan where to place fiber. They’ll also help us find ways to access existing infrastructure—like utility poles—so we don’t unnecessarily dig up streets or have to put up a new pole next to an existing one.

While we do want to bring Fiber to every one of these cities, it might not work out for everyone. But cities who go through this process with us will be more prepared for us or any provider who wants to build a fiber network. In fact, we want to give everyone a boost in their thinking about how to bring fiber to their communities; we plan to share what we learn in these 34 cities, and in the meantime you can check out some tips in a recent guest post on the Google Fiber blog by industry expert Joanne Hovis. Stay tuned for updates, and we hope this news inspires more communities across America to take steps to get to a gig.

Google does not guarantee every community will actually get the service, and a read between the lines makes it clear that a close working relationship between Google and city officials and utilities will be essential for projects to move forward. Bureaucratic red tape could be a fiber-killer in some of these communities, as could an intransigent utility fighting to keep Google fiber off utility-owned poles.

Google continues to completely ignore the northeastern United States for fiber expansion. Analysts suggest Google will not enter areas where fiber broadband service already exists, and this region of the country is home to the largest deployment of Verizon’s FiOS. Despite the fact Verizon has canceled further expansion, and large sections of the region have little chance of seeing a fiber upgrade anytime soon, Google seems more interested in serving the middle of the country and fast growing areas including North Carolina, Georgia, Phoenix and Texas. Its choice of San Jose obviously reflects the presence of Silicon Valley.

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Verizon Introduces 2-Yr Price Guarantee, Free Upgrade to Quantum 50/25Mbps Broadband

Phillip Dampier February 10, 2014 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon, Video 4 Comments

fiosVerizon has introduced a two-year price guarantee offer and a free broadband speed upgrade for new customers signing up for FiOS Internet, TV and voice service before April 19.

It’s the latest marketing salvo fired against Verizon’s cable competitors with the hope customers will cut cable’s cord and switch to FiOS.

All new customers will receive a two-year price guarantee with a triple play package costing as little as $89.99 a month.  The offers also include a free upgrade to FiOS Quantum 50/25Mbps Internet; FiOS TV Prime HD with more than 215 channels (more than 55 in HD); and FiOS Digital Voice home phone service with unlimited nationwide calling. As a further incentive, customers who choose a two-year agreement also receive a $250 Visa prepaid card. New customers who order online receive an extra $10 per month savings. Those ordering service from Verizon’s website will have the $49.99 activation fee waived.

Such aggressive promotions are not new for Verizon or its cable competition. The best prices are often reserved for new customers.

Former Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt reflected last fall on the competitive environment between cable and phone companies and noted loyal, long-term customers don’t typically benefit much from pricing competition.

fios triple play“The current form of competition in this entire sector is essentially focused on promotional pricing, which allows customers who jump from provider to provider to get the best deal,” said Britt.

In an effort to control customers hopping back and forth between the cable and phone company (known as ‘subscriber churn’ in the industry), Verizon’s marketing is now trying to convince customers they won’t have to shop around for a better deal over the next two years, but aren’t restricted by a contract with termination penalties either.

“We’re responding to feedback from prospective customers who told us they want to switch to FiOS for the faster speed, greater reliability and clearer images, but they struggle with the notion of signing up for a multiyear contract,” said Mike Ritter, chief marketing officer for the consumer and mass business unit of Verizon. “We’ve also heard from prospective customers that they want price assurance when they switch providers. Our offer gives new customers the peace of mind to know their base rate will not change for two years. With no contract, and a two-year price guarantee, new customers can switch to FiOS with confidence.”

Verizon also provides evidence that broadband speed does matter. At of the end of 2013, 46 percent of all Verizon FiOS customers upgraded to FiOS Quantum speeds ranging from 50/25 to 500/100Mbps. Verizon says video streaming, multiplayer gaming, and uploading photos to social media sites are all contributing to consumer demand for faster Internet speeds. FiOS broadband remains the company’s grand jewel with 6.1 million subscribers. Around 5.3 million customers are signed up for FiOS TV.

At the end of last year, Verizon had 6.1 million FiOS Internet subscribers and 5.3 million FiOS TV customers.

Verizon’s new FiOS promotions (for new customers only):

  • Online with no annual contract: $89.99 per month for two years, free FiOS Quantum 50/25Mbps upgrade for two years and a two-year price guarantee.
  • Online with a two-year agreement: $89.99 per month for two years, free FiOS Quantum 50/25Mbps upgrade for two years, two-year price guarantee and a $250 Visa prepaid card.
  • Offline order (purchased through any means other than online) with no annual contract: $99.99 per month for two years, free FiOS Quantum 50/25Mbps upgrade for two years, and a two-year price guarantee.
  • Offline order with a two-year agreement: $99.99 per month for two years, free FiOS Quantum 50/25Mbps upgrade for two years, two-year price guarantee and a $250 Visa prepaid card.

 http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Verizon FiOS Internet 2-2014.mp4

Verizon argues America needs fiber to the home service to meet the needs of the digital economy. “It’s time to take fiber optics to the last mile,” says the video. That’s fine news for 18 million households that can today buy fiber optic FiOS service, but Verizon indefinitely suspended further expansion of its fiber network in 2010. (3:30)

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  • Milan in Austin: I forgot to mention that everyone should take a minute to sign the Consumers Union anti-Comcast/TWC Merger petition today. https://secure.consumers...
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