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Bell Expands Fiber to the Home Service to Oshawa, Ont.

Bell today announced it will spend $100 million dollars to expand its all-fiber network to 60,000 homes and businesses in Oshawa, Ont.

The Bell Fibe upgrade will bring gigabit upload and download speed to the community, located east of Toronto. It is part of Bell’s larger plan to upgrade 1.3 million homes and businesses across the GTA/905 region around Toronto to fuel southern Ontario’s digital economy.

Earlier this month, Bell launched its all-fiber network in the city of Toronto, which reaches more than one million residents around Canada’s largest city.

“We welcome Bell’s investment in Oshawa to provide our residents, businesses and visitors with access to truly world-class Internet connectivity,” said Oshawa Mayor John Henry. “High-speed networks are a primary driver of growth and innovation, supporting Oshawa’s status as a Smart City and our 5 key areas of economic growth – advanced manufacturing, energy generation, health and biosciences, multimodal transportation and logistics, and information technologies.”

Bell’s network is currently capable of delivering up to 40 Gbps broadband speed, and is infinitely upgradable to even faster speeds in the future. Residents will be able to subscribe to the new service beginning this fall. New customers will pay $79.95 a month for gigabit speeds for the first year, $149.95 a month after that. A $59.95 installation fee also applies.

Bell’s fiber network now extends across more than 240,000 kilometers and is Canada’s largest fiber network. Bell provides fiber broadband in four Atlantic provinces, Québec, Ontario and Manitoba, serving 9.2 million customers over its older fiber-to-the-neighborhood network (similar to AT&T U-verse) and over 3.7 million fiber to the home subscribers — a number expected to exceed 4.5 million by the end of this year.

Oshawa will join several other “all-fiber” cities across Canada, which include St. John’s, Gander, Summerside, Charlottetown, Halifax, Sydney, Moncton and Fredericton — all in Atlantic Canada, Québec City, Trois-Rivières, Saint-Jérôme and Gatineau in Québec, Cornwall, Kingston, Toronto, North Bay and Sudbury in Ontario, and Steinbach and The Pas in Manitoba. Bell unveiled its major Montréal all-fiber project in 2017 and other major new centers getting Bell Fibe to the home will be announced later this year.

Rochester Philanthropist Tom Golisano Acquiring Greenlight Networks

Golisano

Rochester billionaire and philanthropist Thomas Golisano is seeking expedited regulatory approval from New York’s Public Service Commission to acquire Rochester-based Greenlight Networks, LLC, a fiber to the home network provider for an undisclosed sum.

Greenlight Networks has been slowly overbuilding Charter/Spectrum and Frontier Communications’ service areas in eastern Monroe County since 2012, offering subscribers gigabit internet access. But time may be running short for Greenlight’s competitive broadband speed advantage. Charter Communications is reportedly planning to introduce gigabit service as early as April 25th throughout upstate New York, except for Buffalo.

The urgency of the transaction’s approval is clear in the companies’ filing with state officials requesting an expedited review and approval of the transaction.

“Greenlight’s […] need for working capital and the optimization of capital structure required for long-term success in the competitive telecommunications industry are matters for urgent consideration,” the application states. “Greenlight seeks Commission approval in order to avoid unnecessary delays in the completion of its network expansion projects and in order to secure valuable, committed, outside investors who share Greenlight’s vision and believe in its ability to execute on its plan.”

Greenlight’s success is likely dependent on its ability to rapidly expand its fiber optic network before its biggest competitor, Charter’s Spectrum, capitalizes on its forthcoming ability to match Greenlight’s download speeds. Greenlight receives praise from subscribers lucky enough to live in a neighborhood reached by its network. But residents also report frustration over the slow pace of the company’s fiber network expansion, particularly in suburbs west of the Genesee River that bisects the city of Rochester.

Golisano’s Grand Oaks LLC of Pittsford, N.Y. promises customers the acquisition will not result in any changes in Greenlight’s rates or its terms and conditions.

The petition claims the acquisition is in the public interest because it will offer Greenlight much-needed additional capital to accelerate deployment of its fiber network inside Rochester and beyond. Greenlight’s website suggests the company is considering expansion into the New York State cities of Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, Syracuse, and the Finger Lakes Region. In Connecticut, the company is considering serving Bridgeport, Danbury, Hartford, New Haven, and Stamford (the corporate home of Frontier Communications). Grand Oak also promises to grow jobs at Greenlight and increase operational efficiency at the company.

Golisano is well-known in Rochester as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and civic leader. Golisano founded Paychex, a leading national payroll service provider in 1971. After his retirement in 2004, Golisano has been actively involved in local civic causes and advocates for policies promoting improvement in the economy of western New York State.

The application is likely to be approved, but not soon enough to combat Charter Communications’ accelerated broadband upgrades across New York State. By early summer, Spectrum customers across New York State will receive 200 Mbps Standard service, 400 Mbps Ultra service, or 940 Mbps (nearly gigabit) Gigabit service from the cable operator at prices ranging from $65-125 a month. In contrast, Greenlight currently offers customers 100 Mbps for $50, 500 Mbps for $75, or 1,000 Mbps for $100 a month.

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.

Altice USA: 90% of Our New Customers Want Broadband Speeds 100+ Mbps

Cablevision customers get very attractive promotions in the highly competitive northeastern United States, while Suddenlink customers in more rural areas pay more.

The majority of Cablevision and Suddenlink broadband customers want speeds of 100 Mbps or greater from the Altice-owned cable operators, and average monthly data usage by those customers is now reaching 200 GB per month.

Those statistics were part of a quarterly financial results presentation by Altice USA executives about how the company is doing in the United States.

Altice’s cable holdings include Cablevision, serving a generally affluent customer base in and around the New York City area where Verizon FiOS is its biggest competitor, and Suddenlink, which serves in less competitive markets where local economies are often challenged and phone company DSL still has a significant presence.

Regardless of whether customers receive broadband from Cablevision or Suddenlink, Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei made it clear consumers want faster internet service and are consuming exponentially more data than ever before.

Goei said Altice will continue to increase internet speeds over its existing hybrid fiber-coax network (HFC) even as it builds out its fiber to the home replacement network in some areas. At least 95% of Cablevision customers can now subscribe to 400 Mbps broadband on the company’s legacy HFC network. Around 72% of Suddenlink customers can get similar speeds today. Gigabit speed is available to 29% of Altice USA customers.

Goei said 90% of new Cablevision and Suddenlink customers now choose internet plans featuring 100 Mbps or faster broadband. The average data use of those customers “is now reaching about 200 GB” per month, Goei reported. For customers on HFC systems, Goei said the maximum speed Altice’s implementation of DOCSIS 3 can support is around 600 Mbps, depending on how many customers are sharing the connection. As customers transition to fiber service in the northeast, faster speeds are planned. In fact, Goei wants Cablevision to offer speeds even faster than Verizon FiOS, its chief competitor.

“In terms of the speed capabilities, we’ll have the ability to do higher speeds than the competition,” Goei said.

Altice USA’s fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) deployment is “well underway” in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, with plans to connect several hundred thousand customers to the new network starting later this year. Goei told investors Altice was accelerating the rollout this year with the hope of further reducing network and customer operation costs related to servicing the older coaxial network.

Cablevision and Suddenlink will gradually be rebranded as Altice, and the company has begun familiarizing customers with the new brand name in various ways, including the rollout of its new deluxe set-top box, called Altice One.

“This is our new entertainment platform with an all in one box, including TV, internet, Wi-Fi, integrated apps such as Netflix and a voice activated remote control,” said Goei. “The service includes an improved Wi-Fi experience […] as many TV boxes double up as Wi-Fi repeaters around the home. This is a key part of our strategy of enhancing the customer experience and we’ll have the capacity for ongoing upgrades and the addition of new apps as they become available.”

But that new platform comes at a cost. Currently, Cablevision customers can pay as much as $10 for each set-top box and $5 for a cable modem. Altice One is regularly priced at $25 a month — $10 more for a customer that has one television set-top box and cable modem. That makes Altice’s box among the most costly in the cable industry. The company is trying to hide the cost of its box by bundling it into promotions targeting price sensitive new customers.

In fact, the cost of service is increasingly becoming a factor, especially for Suddenlink customers. Over the last two years, Altice has been “harmonizing” Suddenlink’s rate plans, which used to be set based on the technical capabilities and performance of each cable system. Goei said Suddenlink comprised “five or six different customer bases” — each served by cable systems with different capabilities and rate plans. In the last two years, Suddenlink customers have been introduced to new rate plans, and some are paying considerably higher rates than before, especially for equipment and surcharges.

“All of that activity was probably more than we ever wanted to or anticipated as harmonizing all the different variables is not that easy,” Goei said. “And so we made a very concerted effort to not implement a usual or industry like price increase at the end of 2017, given all the various changes that happened over both customer bases as we harmonized them.” But Goei added the reprieve from rate hikes won’t last forever, promising a “rate event” strategy sometime this year, different from rate changes in past years.

Altice is emphasizing the progress it is making boosting internet speeds at its Cablevision and Suddenlink cable systems.

What Suddenlink and Cablevision charge for service is very dependent on what the competition is offering in Altice’s various markets. Goei paradoxically noted that some of the most attractive rates go to customers living in the most affluent areas of the New York Tri-State Area because of intense competition from Verizon FiOS. Prices have remained so low historically that, in Goei’s view, “it makes it very difficult for third parties to come into these markets” and compete with attractive offers that can match Cablevision. That also explains why Cablevision customers do not deal with data caps while Suddenlink customers often do.

Goei

Conversely, in Suddenlink service areas where less capable competitors exist, prices can be higher and service is considered less affordable. As a result, financial analysts have noted Suddenlink’s broadband growth has been anemic since Altice bought the company, presumably because would-be customers cannot afford the service or have chosen a more economic package sold by the phone company, even if it less capable.

Goei promised Altice would be more “nimble” in the future about targeting pricing in different service areas, taking current conditions on the ground into account when setting rates.

In more general terms, Altice is dealing with the same challenges most cable operators are facing these days. Cord-cutting continues to result in reduced numbers of video subscribers. The company also recently endured a multi-week programming dispute with Starz that cost the company video subscribers in the Cablevision service area. The dispute eventually ended with a new multi-year affiliation agreement that allows Altice systems to carry Starz and Starz Encore networks, on-demand services, and online access for several years.

But Altice clearly sees broadband as its key product going forward, which is why the company is upgrading its Cablevision and Suddenlink systems to support faster internet speeds.

AT&T’s Contractors Burning Down, Damaging Homes in Texas Fiber Build

Phillip Dampier February 19, 2018 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video 1 Comment

Some residents in Houston and Dallas are furious at AT&T and its contractors for causing major damage to homeowners’ property, in one case burning down a Houston family home after accidentally hitting a natural gas line that resulted in a fire.

Joyce Skala’s home in Cypress was seriously damaged in a fire just before Thanksgiving 2017 and almost three months later, Skala says AT&T and its contractors won’t talk to her about the damages and who will pay for them.

“Everything you look at when you leave your house in the morning, it was gone,” Skala told KPRC News after the Nov. 14 fire. “I have not heard from a soul — not one. Not even a representative of a representative.”

The damage was not an isolated incident. KPRC noted two days later, AT&T’s contractors damaged an electric line in Shelli Moore’s yard in a different neighborhood, causing a power outage. Repairing the damage will cost her almost $2,000, and so far, Moore appears to be left holding the bill.

“That would break me,” she said. “I have no idea where I would come up with that kind of money, but we have to have lights and heat,” Moore said.

Joyce Skala’s home, destroyed by fire after an AT&T contractor hit a natural gas line (Image: KTRK)

In the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, utility workers made themselves right at home at Norma Logan’s home, using her back patio as a dining area and completely “trashing” her backyard.

Logan came home to find AT&T digging a deep trench along her back fence, damaging sections of it, as well as destroying her personal property. Then they left without a word.

“They broke many things out there,” Logan told KTVT. “They broke the fence. They broke the statue. They broke some of the things that I use to decorate the flower bed.”

A day later, the workers returned unannounced, this time with heavy equipment that continued to tear up her yard. But before getting to work, they spent a leisurely breakfast at her patio table just outside her back door. They didn’t bother to clean up after they finished.

The subcontractor responsible in these cases was NX Utilities, which has piled up a number of complaints against it since last fall. But AT&T appears to still be using the company to construct its fiber to the home network in both cities.

Contractors left evidence of their presence behind. (Image: Logan)

Anni Shugart’s Cypress home was damaged by an electric surge, and AT&T didn’t want to talk to her about the damage to her home either.

“I couldn’t get anywhere with AT&T,” Shugart said.

Shugart, like others, was left holding the bill after AT&T denied her claim, suggesting they are not responsible for the damages. They pointed her to NX Utilities, but that didn’t make much difference either so she called her insurance company, which is covering her repairs, except for the $4,500 deductible she is paying out of pocket.

“Well, I hope I’ll get it back eventually,” she said. “It’s a lot of money.”

Two days later, contractors hit another gas line. Four days after that they cut another underground power line.

“People in my neighborhood are mad at AT&T,” homeowner Pam Grossman told KPRC.

AT&T claims that it is not directly responsible for the damage, because it was caused by its third-party contractor NX Utilities. In fact, NX is just one of several layers of contractors working on AT&T’s fiber project, and in the event of a problem, the contractors are excellent at pointing fingers at one another.

KPRC reports when the fire marshal turned up to investigate the fires, the report included claims from contractors blamed each other while holding themselves harmless.

“There was no way that his company was involved in the fire,” said the owner of Connect Links in the fire marshal’s report.

KPRC in Houston reviews the damage being done in the Houston area by AT&T’s subcontractors managing the company’s fiber buildout. (3:58)

AT&T contractor NX Utilities allegedly damaged Norma Logan’s fence in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. (Image: KTVT)

AT&T won’t say how many damage reports about it or its contractors have been filed in Houston and Dallas-Ft. Worth. But AT&T did say it was doing both cities a big favor by enabling them for gigabit fiber internet, and regrets the problems that have developed along the way.

“Our goal is to minimize impact on residents before, during and after construction and to keep them informed through a variety of means throughout the network expansion process,” AT&T said in a statement. “If construction-related issues do occur, we work quickly to resolve and restore any impacts from our work.”

The key emphasis is “our work” and AT&T feels its subcontractors are responsible for fixing their own problems.

“Whether large or small, these damages impact the public and that is not lost on us,” AT&T said. “We track damages and other issues and review performance with our contractors performing the work. As we identify poor performers, we cull those out. Damage can occur for a number of reasons, from contractor error to locates not being accurate. Before we begin a project, we talk with locating firms to provide them with some high-level visibility into where we anticipate completing work on a regular basis. Furthermore, as a part of the large project locate process, we typically provide 30-60 days’ notice versus the minimum 10 days.”

Logan discovered utility workers dug this trench in her backyard along the fence line. (Image: KTVT)

AT&T says projects of this large size and scope require careful planning and implementation, and the company has gotten significant experience managing fiber upgrades in a number of cities where it provides telephone and broadband service.

“We have dozens of supervisors and inspectors in the field to ensure our contractors are performing to our standard,” said AT&T. “We work closely with city officials to ensure our work is done in a timely and orderly fashion. Our contractors are trained to obtain proper permitting, closely follow local construction codes, and abide by rules governing rights-of-way and property easements.”

But many homeowners report they never got any advance notification about the construction work and even less often understood how it would impact on their property.

Logan said she received no notification, despite claims by NX it placed fliers on her door. But those fliers said nothing about heavy construction equipment being brought in, driven over grass and into a cramped backyard to dig. Logan was incensed as she watched equipment dig a trench several feet deep along her backyard fence line, ruining some of her lawn ornaments and damaging her fence.

A second day of empty coffee cups and fast food wrappers left on her patio table was also an unpleasant reminder of their presence.

NX later claimed they reprimanded their workers, not for the damage done to her property, but for not cleaning up their trash as they left.

The sudden arrival of heavy equipment attempting to navigate into Logan’s backyard only upset her further. (Image: KTVT)

AT&T is not the only telecom company that receives criticism for property damage while installing fiber cables. Google Fiber generated “hundreds of complaints” in the Austin area for construction mishaps, including alleged flooding from backed up storm drains that damaged multiple properties. In Charlotte, N.C., Google was accused of causing damage to water wells and allegedly struck a sanitary sewer, flooding a home with raw sewage.

Since September 2015, Charlotte city officials have cited contractors for ordinance violations more than 40 times for $21,300, data show. That included $14,200 in general violations and $6,700 for closing a portion of a right-of-way without the proper traffic control. Fines ranged from $100 to $1,800. Ansco, a contractor for AT&T, was cited the most: 17 times for $8,400. Bechtel, which does work for Google, was cited six times for $2,100, including fines that also mentioned another subcontractor.

How to protect yourself

If a company is performing work involving installation of underground cables, that carries the greatest risk of potential damage to property or other utilities. Many mishaps are caused by inaccurate maps that purport to show where other underground utilities are installed. In some areas, those maps are incomplete or wrong. In the United States, these problems are so serious that there is a nationwide free hotline – 811 – available to consumers and contractors for free on-site location flagging of where underground utilities are actually located.

AT&T is installing fiber optics in several Texas cities.

You can request your own site survey at no charge and photograph the results for your records.

Here is how to request a site survey:

  • Call 811 from anywhere in the country at least two days before digging and your call will automatically be routed to your local one call center. Visit the 811 service state map to see if your local one call center accepts online requests.
  • Give the operator information about how to contact you, approximately where you or a contractor will likely dig, and what type of work will be done. If you don’t know all the details, that is okay. Request a general assessment of where utilities have placed their cables on or near your property and let 811 know a contractor hired by the telecom company will be doing the work independently.
  • Utility companies who have potential facilities involved will be notified of the imminent arrival of a contractor preparing to dig on or near your property.
  • Each affected utility company will send a location team to mark the approximate location of underground utility lines. Sometimes they spray paint the location on grass or pavement in different colors reflecting the service. In other cases, they plant small plastic flags in a line where the cabling is located. This typically occurs within 2-3 working days, but some states may have different rules.  To access specific information about your state, visit the 811 state map.

Contractors are usually required by ordinance to notify you in advance of any utility work that is done on or near your property. This notice is usually in writing and can be a mailed or placed flier or a doorhanger card. Retain this notification until the work is complete. It will generally include contact information about the company doing the work and what to do in case a problem arises, and most importantly, who to contact.

Prior to the arrival of the construction crews, photograph your yard to document its current condition. Make sure to get clear photos along property lines or easements, documenting the condition of fencing, landscaping, and any pre-existing structures. If damage occurs, you will have before and after photos to show the contractor, town officials, and/or your attorney.

If possible, stay home on the day work is being done. Making your presence known will greatly reduce the chance utility workers will be careless with your personal property or how they conduct themselves. Document any suspicious or disturbing activity by taking video on your cell phone. Watch for workers attempting to access areas of your property unaffected by the work. They do not have the right to use your outdoor furniture for lounging or eating. They also do not have the right to relieve themselves in your yard.

Buried wire flags

In every case, they are responsible for reasonably restoring your property to the same condition it was in before they arrived. That means repairing ruts or reseeding disturbed portions of your lawn, repairing or replacing damaged items like fencing, lawn ornaments, buildings, and other personal property. If they damage or kill a tree, they are responsible for removing and replacing it, if it was located on your property and not in an easement (in those cases, contact your local town or city officials and ask how to proceed.)

If you discover damage to another company’s infrastructure (or public utilities), call the affected company or public utility right away. They will need to document the damage and arrange for repairs. If a utility power line is knocked down or damaged between the pole or yard pedestal and your home, some companies may require you to hire a private contractor to replace the line. You will want to notify the contractor that did the damage about the incident and begin documenting the process to receive reimbursement.

It is not your responsibility to navigate a company’s complex maze of contractors and subcontractors. Contact the telecom company doing the work and insist they identify the contractor involved and agree to liaison with you to get the matter resolved quickly to your satisfaction. They cannot walk away from their responsibility to correct damage just because they chose to hire an independent company to perform work on their behalf.

When an AT&T contractor hit a utility line, it caused a power surge damaging homeowners’ utility boxes and outside walls. (Image: KPRC)

KPRC asked Texas real estate attorney Nikolas Spencer about who is responsible in these cases according to Texas state law.

“All of them are,” he said. “If they know that this particular subcontractor is routinely causing fires at people’s houses, or even just nicking the lines themselves, that’s a repeated and dangerous situation that AT&T is on notice as happening. They’re responsible for that.”

Your municipality may be willing to share violation details about contractors performing work in your area. If you can document repeated instances of careless work or violations, that can be strong evidence to prove AT&T was aware of the situation, yet continued to use an offending contractor.

KPRC recommends hiring an attorney if severe damage is caused by a utility. For minor property damage, you may get fast results asking for a supervisor or filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or a state Attorney General’s office. Those complaints are generally forwarded to a senior customer service manager better empowered to get quick results.

Having a fiber optic upgrade is almost always a good thing, and can increase the value of your home in a sale. But for many homeowners, it has been decades since major utility construction work was done in older neighborhoods and people can forget the disruption, noise, inconvenience, and occasional damage that can be done along the way. Those best prepared in advance to fight for their interests are the most likely to win quick resolution and satisfaction from utility companies that do damage and may not have adequate resources (or interest) in correcting the problem before you give up in frustration and go away.

KTVT in Dallas reports AT&T’s fiber construction crews have damaged personal property and inconvenienced customers. (2:03)

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  • John B.: What "competitor"? In my area AT&T is currently the only other ISP and they can only provide a blazing top speed 5Mbps down at my address. And if...
  • joe: Its about time ROCHESTER gets gigabit speeds! Buffalo, Auburn and Syracuse had Verizon Fios for a long time (in certain areas of the cities) but Roche...
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  • Phillip Dampier: I realize lots of people hate Spectrum (or Comcast, or whatever cable company services a particular area.) Historically however, most people will not ...
  • Phillip Dampier: It is very unlikely Greenlight would attach infrastructure to utility poles without a permit because it is an involved and integral part of network co...
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