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Verizon Preparing to Sell $15 Billion in Cell Tower/Wired Assets – Tex., Calif., and Fla., Landlines Likely for Sale

Phillip Dampier February 3, 2015 Consumer News, Verizon 1 Comment
Verizon's landline coverage map.

Verizon’s landline coverage map.

Verizon is working on a sale of its cellphone towers and a portion of its landline assets in a series of deals that could fetch the company more than $15 billion, according to a breaking report in the Wall Street Journal.

The company is looking to raise cash to pay down debt incurred when it bought out Vodafone’s 45% share of its wireless unit and to cover $10.4 billion in wireless licenses the company just won in a government auction last week.

The most likely targets in a landline sale are Verizon territories outside of the northeast.

Verizon has already dumped its landline assets in Hawaii (sold to Hawaiian Telcom), northern New England (sold to FairPoint Communications), West Virginia and many smaller city and suburban territories acquired from GTE (all sold to Frontier).

In its 2010 sale to Frontier, Verizon retained assets in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, central Texas and Southern California regions. But now all three states are prime targets for a sale. Likely buyers include Frontier Communications, which already has a major presence in Florida including a national call center, and CenturyLink, which acquired Qwest and has a large service area in the southwest and western United States. Frontier remains the most likely buyer, having aggressively expanded its landline network in legacy AT&T (Connecticut) and Verizon service areas.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam has shown little interest in maintaining Verizon’s wired assets or growing FiOS and has been willing to sell off major parts of Verizon’s landline network to continue prioritizing Verizon Wireless. McAdam led Verizon Wireless from 2006-2010, before being named CEO of Verizon Communications.

Verizon-logoHe foreshadowed the forthcoming landline sale in January when he told an investor conference he was willing to make significant cuts to Verizon’s wired networks.

“There are certain assets on the wireline side that we think would be better off in somebody else’s hands so we can focus our energy in a little bit more narrow geography,” he said at the time.

Verizon is also expected to follow AT&T’s lead in selling off much of its cell tower portfolio. It will lease access to the towers it sells.

Verizon maintains FiOS networks in Texas, California, and Florida, but that is not expected to deter the company from selling its landline assets. Frontier acquired Verizon FiOS properties in the 2010 sale in both the Pacific Northwest and Indiana. Those services operate under the Frontier FiOS banner today.

Stop Paying Regular Price for HBO and Cinemax; Cancel and Rebuy for $10/Month

2000px-HBO_logo.svgAre you still paying $15+ for HBO and $13+ for Cinemax? Stop.

Most major cable television providers are slashing the price for both premium movie channels to protect subscriber numbers from the April introduction of HBO’s standalone video streaming service, likely to be called HBO Go.

Most analysts expect the on-demand service will cost $15 a month for one or both co-owned networks. With Time Warner Cable recently raising the price of HBO to $16.99 a month, the company may have priced itself out of the market.

“Why would I waste my time with HBO from Time Warner Cable when I will be able to get HBO Go for $2 less a month and won’t have to buy their larded-up cable television package,” asks Watertown, N.Y. resident Jeff Kates. “Their greed will cost them when they lose more subscribers than they gain in revenue from the rate hike.”

Comcast has already seen the writing on the wall and this year cut its regular pricing for HBO from $18.95 to $15 — matching the likely price of standalone HBO Go.

In an effort to lock in customer loyalty and avoid accelerating cord-cutting, many major pay television providers are putting one or both Time Warner (Entertainment)-owned networks on sale for much of 2015. These prices are available to any new premium cable subscriber. If your provider will not switch your current subscription to the new promotional rate, cancel one or both channels for a few days (or threaten to cancel service altogether) and then resubscribe at the discounted price.

Here are the current offers:

  • AT&T U-verse: Bundles HBO and a year of Amazon Prime service with a package of mostly local over the air channels for around $40-50 a month depending on the promotion;
  • Charter Cable: Charter’s Triple Play Silver package bundles HBO, Cinemax, Showtime/Movie Channel premium channels into the television package at no extra charge;
  • Comcast: Offers HBO for online sign ups at $10 a month for a year. Comcast attempts to limit the offer to customers who have not subscribed to HBO for the last 120 days, but this condition is usually waived if you threaten to cancel service and switch to a phone or satellite company;
  • Cox: Stingier than others, Cox is offering discounts for just six months, but gives you quantity discounts. Buy 1 premium channel at $10/mo, two channels for $15, three for $20 or four networks for $25 a month. Your choices include HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz;
  • Time Warner Cable: Now has a sale running for $9.99/mo HBO and the same rate for Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz when ordered online. Current non-premium customers can upgrade from the My Account portal. Current premium channel customers will have to call Time Warner and argue for the discount or cancel HBO and quickly resubscribe;
  • Verizon: Also offers HBO and others at $9.99/mo for the first year.

Satellite services are expected to change their pricing on premium channels sometime this month.

Verizon Cutting Wireline Broadband Investments: Still No FiOS Expansion, Less Money for Wired Networks

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon Communications signaled today it plans further cuts in investments for its wireline network, which includes traditional copper-based telephone service and DSL as well as its fiber-optic network FiOS.

“We will spend more CapEx in the wireless side and we will continue to curtail CapEx on the wireline side,” Verizon’s chief financial officer Fran Shammo told investors this morning. “Some of that is because we are getting to the end of our committed build around FiOS.”

Instead of expanding its FiOS fiber to the home network to new areas, Verizon is trying to increase its customer base in areas previously wired. It is less costly to reconnect homes previously wired for FiOS compared with installing fiber where copper wiring still exists.

Verizon continues to lose traditional landline customers, so the company is increasingly dependent on FiOS to boost wired revenue. The fiber network now accounts for 77% of Verizon’s residential wireline revenue.

Wherever FiOS exists, it has taken a significant number of customers away from cable competitors. FiOS Internet has now achieved 41.1% market penetration, with 6.6 million customers, up 544,000 from last year. Of those, the majority want broadband speeds they were not getting from the cable company. At the end of 2014, 59% of FiOS Internet customers subscribe to broadband speeds above 50Mbps, up from 46% at the end of 2013.

Verizon-logoDespite the success of FiOS, Verizon’s senior management continues to devote more attention to its highly profitable Verizon Wireless division, spending an even larger proportion of its total capital investments on wireless services.

In 2014, Verizon spent $17.2 billion on capital expenditures, an increase of 3.5% over 2013. But only $5.8 billion was spent on maintaining and upgrading Verizon’s landline and FiOS networks, down 7.7% over 2013. Verizon Wireless in contrast was given $10.5 billion to spend in 2014. The company is using that money to add network density to its increasingly congested 4G LTE network. In many cities, Verizon Wireless is activating its idle AWS spectrum to share the traffic load and is accelerating deployment of small cell technology and in-building microcells to deal with dense traffic found in a relatively small geographic area — such as in sports stadiums, office buildings, shopping centers, etc.

Verizon Wireless is branding its network expansion “XLTE,” which sounds to the uninitiated like the next generation LTE network. It isn’t. “XLTE” simply refers to areas where expanded LTE bandwidth has been activated. Unfortunately, many Verizon Wireless devices made before 2014 will not benefit, unable to access the extra frequencies XLTE uses.

With Verizon increasing the dividend it pays shareholders, the company is also cutting costs in both its wired and wireless divisions:

  • Verizon Wireless’ 3G data network will see a growing amount of its available spectrum reassigned to 4G data, which is less costly to offer on a per megabyte basis. As Verizon pushes more 4G-capable devices into the market, 3G usage has declined. But the reduced spectrum could lead to speed slowdowns in areas where 3G usage remains constant or does not decline as quickly as Verizon expects;
  • Verizon will push more customers to use “self-service” customer care options instead of walking into a Verizon store or calling customer service;
  • The company will continue to move towards decommissioning its copper wire network, especially in FiOS areas. Existing landline customers are being encouraged to switch to FiOS fiber, even if they have only landline service. Copper maintenance costs are higher than taking care of fiber optic wiring;
  • Verizon has accelerated the closing down of many central switching offices left over from the landline era. As the company sells the buildings and property that used to serve its network, Verizon’s property tax bill decreases;
  • Verizon will continue cutting its employee headcount. Shammo told investors in December, Verizon Communications cut an extra 2,300 employees that took care of its wired networks.

Still Waiting for FiOS in New York City? Your Landlord Might Be to Blame… Or Verizon

Phillip Dampier January 13, 2015 Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon 2 Comments

keep outVerizon Communications has stepped up efforts in New York City to get intransigent landlords to let the company into their buildings to bring FiOS fiber optics to tenants, even as some property managers accuse Verizon of ignoring earlier requests to get the service.

On at least 13 occasions in December, Verizon has filed petitions with the New York Public Service Commission requesting help to gain entry to a total of 476 buildings in the city after claiming to receive either no response from building management or active resistance to Verizon bringing FiOS to their tenants.

In an effort to stay compliant with its franchise agreement with the City of New York, Alyson Siegal, area manager for FiOS Franchise Assurance – New York City, has written a lot of letters lately:

Dear Property Owner/Manager:

I have been advised by Verizon New York Inc.’s (“Verizon”) NYC FiOS Real Estate Department of the difficulty Verizon has encountered in attempting to install and/or attach its FiOS facilities at [your property].

Our records indicate that you have not responded to our previous correspondence, that you have conditioned Verizon’s access on unreasonable terms and conditions or that you have denied Verizon access to the Property. The purpose of this letter is to restate our need to gain access to your Property.

By way of background, Verizon is attempting to gain access to your building because we have received a request for FiOS service(s) from a tenant(s) in your building and/or a resident(s) on your block, and our access to your Property is necessary to provide cable television services to those tenants and/or residents. We are very excited about the opportunity to provide world-class voice, data and video services to you and the area residents using a fiber based network to deliver these services at unprecedented speeds and capacities. Your cooperation in allowing Verizon access to your Property will enable your tenants and/or other residents on your block to receive the services they want in a timely manner.

Building owners don't want a repeat of this kind of FiOS installation.

Building owners don’t want a repeat of this kind of FiOS installation.

In a few earlier cases, some landlords refused entry without special financial compensation or gifts like free service for life. Others have unilaterally decided their tenants are happy enough being served by Time Warner Cable and don’t need a competitor. But a significant number claim the problem is with Verizon itself.

Hamdi Nezaj, who owns several buildings in Bronx, last summer refused entry to workers seeking to install FiOS, complaining Verizon performed shoddy work.

“On three properties that I own, the installation of FiOS was done recklessly,” complained Nezaj. “They never came back to fix the holes that were drilled, fix the boxes they installed and put molding on their respective wires. I am not interested once again in having Verizon drill holes and butcher my buildings.”

Several building owners responded to Verizon’s complaints indicating the phone company itself was responsible for dropping the ball on FiOS installation and were stunned the company was resorting to legal tactics to force entry.

Arthur Leeds from Leeds Associates LLC reports one of his properties has been waiting for Verizon to install FiOS since April 2014.

This customer found Verizon installing its FiOS cables up and down his doorways.

This customer found Verizon installing its FiOS cables up and down his doorways.

“We have responded every time we were asked for access most specifically to Thomas Miller, the FiOS franchise manager in NYC, and to Alyson Seigal (sic) another Verizon manager either by phone or via certified mail but all of our responses to them were ignored,” wrote Leeds. “Further we are well aware of the law and are certainly interested in supplying our tenants with alternatives to RCN and Time Warner Cable. However we do have a right to know how and with what materials Verizon intends to install their equipment in our building, [a request that] seems to stall any response on your part or that of your contractors.”

Amy Ward, an attorney representing the interests of 200 East 87”’ Street Associates, LP, has Leeds beat. She told the PSC Verizon first sought to install FiOS in the building in 2012, but Verizon kept stalling. When Verizon formally sought permission yet again in September 2014, a building representative asked for a delay because of “multiple intrusive projects occurring at and planned for the property.” No response to that request was forthcoming from Verizon until the December demand for entry was received.

Brian Loftman, property manager of the @The Aspen New York, wrote the PSC he was not happy to hear from Verizon’s legal team either.

Many building owners want Verizon to install crown molding that can effectively hide cables.

Many building owners want Verizon to install crown molding like this that can effectively hide cables.

“I am appalled that Mr. Richard C. Fipphen, assistant general counsel for Verizon has contacted you stating that we have not complied with their request to give access to the property,” wrote Loftman.

Loftman included a copy of correspondence he sent to Ms. Siegal, claiming she is impossible to reach.

“I am writing to you because after several attempts to reach you via phone at 888 364 3467 it has been impossible,” wrote Loftman. “I find it hard to believe that you being in the telecommunications business that even your voicemail is full and I cannot leave a message on the number you provided us to contact your office.”

Loftman also questioned Siegal’s claims that Verizon has “world-class voice, data, and video services.”

“Has it improved since the last time our phones were out or the DSL went down for almost a week?” he asked.

Loftman’s previous experience with Verizon’s installation crews was not a positive one. He only learned after signing up for the service at another building he manages that Verizon intended to use visible basic plastic molding throughout the building’s hallways to hide FiOS wiring. Other property managers shared aesthetic objections to Verizon’s plans, requesting wiring be installed behind more visually attractive crown molding or run through ceiling ducts.

Part of New York State’s Public Service law covers the installation of cable television facilities, which also covers Verizon FiOS:

§228. Landlord-tenant relationship

1. No landlord shall:

(a) interfere with the installation of cable television facilities upon his property or premises, except that a landlord may require:

(1) that the installation of cable television facilities conform to such reasonable conditions are necessary to protect the safety, functioning and appearance of the premises, and the convenience and well being of other tenants;
(2) that the cable television company or the tenant or a combination thereof bear the entire cost of the installation, operation or removal of such facilities; and
(3) that the cable television company agree to indemnify the landlord for any damage caused by the installation, operation or removal of such facilities.

§898.1 Prohibition

Except as provided in section 898.2 of this Part, no landlord shall demand or accept any payment from any cable television company in exchange for permitting cable television service or facilities on or within said landlord’s property or premises.

§898.2 Just Compensation

Every landlord shall be entitled to the payment of just compensation for property taken by a cable television company for the installation of cable television service or facilities. The amount of just compensation shall be determined by the commission in accordance with section 228 (1)(b) of the Public Service Law upon application by the landlord pursuant to section 898.5 of this Part.

J.D. Power & Associates Tie Vote! Hemorrhagic Fever vs. Comcast vs. Time Warner Cable

jd powerLove can be a fickle thing.

Take Comcast’s affair with J.D. Power & Associates, for example. In Comcast’s filings with regulators, it is very proud that J.D. Power cited Comcast for the most improvement of any cable operator scored by the survey firm. Comcast touted the fact it had managed to increase its TV satisfaction score by a whopping 92 points and Internet satisfaction was up a respectable 77 points. (Comcast didn’t mention the fact J.D. Power rates companies on a 1,000 point scale or that it took the cable company four years to eke out those improvements.)

Last month, J.D. Power issued its latest ranking of telecommunications companies and… well, the love is gone.

If customer alienation was an Olympic event, J.D. Power awarded tie gold medals to both Comcast and Time Warner Cable for their Kafkaesque race to the bottom.

The survey of customer satisfaction largely found only dissatisfaction everywhere in the country J.D. Power looked. While Comcast likes to cite its “customer-oopsies-gone-viral” blunders as “isolated incidents,” J.D. Power finds them epidemic nationwide.

skunkThe highest rating across television and broadband categories achieved by either cable company was ‘Meh.’ J.D. Power diplomatically scored both cable companies on a scale that started with “among the best” as simply “the rest.” Customers in the west were the most charitable, those in the south and eastern U.S. indicated they were worked to their last nerve.

“The ability to provide a high-quality experience with all wireline services is paramount as performance and reliability is the most critical driver of overall satisfaction,” said Kirk Parsons, senior director of telecommunications, in a statement.

Having competition available from a high-scoring provider also demonstrates what is possible when a company actually tries to care about customer service. In the same regions Comcast fared about as popular as hemorrhagic fever, WOW! Cable and Verizon FiOS easily took top honors. Even AT&T U-verse scored far higher than either cable company, primarily because AT&T offers very aggressive promotional packages that include a lot for a comparatively low price.

Other cable and smaller phone companies didn’t do particularly well either. Frontier and CenturyLink both earned dismal scores and Charter Cable only managed modest improvement. The two satellite television companies did fine in customer satisfaction for television service, but it was the two biggest phone companies that managed the best scores for Internet service. Among cable operators, only independents like WOW! (and to a lesser extent Cox) did well in the survey.

If J.D. Power is the arbiter of good service Comcast seems to claim it to be, the ratings company just sent a very clear message that when it comes to merging Comcast and Time Warner Cable, anything multiplied by zero is still zero.

J.D. Power ranking (Image courtesy: Reviewed.com)

J.D. Power ranking (Image courtesy: Reviewed.com)

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