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New Verizon FiOS Gigabit Customers Get Xbox Live Gold and Free Online Game

Phillip Dampier April 11, 2018 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Verizon No Comments

To promote its gigabit speed offering, Verizon Communications has introduced a new offer targeting online gamers that offers a free, one-year subscription to Xbox Live Gold and a choice of Sea of Thieves or Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds for free when signing up for Verizon FiOS Gigabit Connection (940/880 Mbps) service at a special promotional price of $79.99 for one year.

Extremely high-speed internet service is often not as important for online gamers as latency, but Verizon is clearly targeting game-loving millennials with this standalone internet-only offer. It is also avoiding some of the usual hurdles that can drive some away, especially by waiving the budget-straining $99.99 setup fee. But some of Verizon’s usual fine print and gotchas still apply:

  • Offer valid for new residential internet customers only.
  • Customers must sign up for this promotion online.
  • Customers are billed at the non-promotional, regular price and receive bill credits on their bill to cut the cost to $79.99. After one year, those bill credits end and you pay the regular price.
  • A $10/mo router charge applies, along with unspecified “other fees, taxes, and equipment charges.”
  • Customers must agree to paperless billing and autopay with a ACH debit to a checking account or bank debit card only.
  • Credit approval is required. Those who don’t pass muster may require a refundable deposit.

Other important terms:

  • Must maintain your Verizon FiOS Gigabit Connection service for at least 60 days after installation, with no past-due balance, or promotion will be canceled.
  • You must redeem your Xbox Live and chosen game codes within 90 days of delivery or they may expire and will not be replaced.
  • The offer is valid from April 5 to May 4, 2018.

Once your service is installed, you will need to wait for your first Verizon bill. Within 24 hours after Verizon receives full payment of your first FiOS bill, you will receive an e-mail with a code for a one-year membership to Xbox Live Gold and a second code for a digital download of the game you chose during your order. This email will include a link to the Microsoft Live website where you can follow the required steps to activate your membership and download your game.

If you already have an Xbox Live Gold membership, the supplied code will extend your current membership by an additional 12 months. It must be redeemed by December 31, 2018. If you already own the game you chose during your FiOS order, you will not be able to redeem the game code through your Xbox Live account or exchange it for an equivalent cash value. However, you can gift  the code to a friend or family member. But be sure to have them activate it within 90 days.

Troubled Frontier Suspends Shareholder Dividend, Loses $1.01 Billion in the Last Quarter

Phillip Dampier February 27, 2018 Consumer News, Frontier, Rural Broadband 2 Comments

Despite the massive amount of extra money from the Trump Administration’s corporate tax cuts generating huge revenue spikes for America’s telecom companies, Frontier Communications disappointed investors with today’s news it was suspending its quarterly cash dividend to shareholders after reporting a net loss of $1.03 billion on revenue of $2.2 billion during the fourth quarter of 2017, despite a $830 million tax benefit resulting from the reduction in federal tax rates.

Frontier saw revenue declines across almost every product category: Data and Internet services, $939 million (down 7.3%); Voice services, $687 million (down 11.2%); Video services, $310 million (down 15.1%), but the company slightly improved its churn rate (customers coming and going) to 1.83% for Frontier Legacy service areas (areas not acquired from Verizon or AT&T) and 2.22% for customers in California, Texas, and Florida acquired from Verizon (compared with 1.92% and 2.33% respectively in the third quarter of 2017).

The losses are attributable to:

  • Frontier DSL is not competitive with cable broadband in most Frontier Legacy service areas. Cable companies continue to steal customers away with better value broadband packages at much faster speeds;
  • Frontier FiOS delivers much better internet speeds, but customers in former Verizon service areas are upset about poor customer service and on-time repair visits and billing errors;
  • Frontier landline customers have been disconnecting for years, especially in copper-only service areas.
  • Frontier FiOS TV customers are getting better pricing and promotional deals from competing cable and satellite providers, or are cutting the cord entirely.

The average Frontier Legacy customer pays $65.11 a month. Customers with Frontier FiOS in California, Texas, and Florida pay an average of $107.35 a month.

Despite the anemic results, Frontier CEO Daniel McCarthy was optimistic.

“Our fourth quarter results highlight the ongoing progress on our key initiatives to improve customer retention, enhance the customer experience, and align our cost structure,” McCarthy said in a press release. “We are pleased with continued improvement in subscriber trends and churn in our California, Texas and Florida (CTF) markets, and the continued operating efficiencies achieved in the fourth quarter.”

But McCarthy rattled investors with news Frontier’s board of directors had voted to suspend the company’s dividend payout to shareholders, one of the key reasons investors buy Frontier common stock. Frontier intends to use the $250 million it would have handed shareholders to pay down the company’s massive debts.

In 2018, Frontier will pay more in interest on its outstanding debt ($1.5 billion) than it will spend on network upgrades and other capital expenditures ($1.0 billion to $1.15 billion). Most of the company’s debt comes from Frontier’s aggressive history of acquisitions, buying landline service areas from Verizon and AT&T.

Despite predictions by Frontier’s executives that its $10+ billion acquisition of Verizon service areas in California, Texas and Florida would deliver dramatically better results for Frontier and its shareholders, a botched transition and ongoing complaints about poor customer service and billing errors alienated Frontier’s adopted customers. Many canceled service and have no plans to return.

With Frontier’s financial condition concerning some financial analysts, Frontier is considering selling off its newest service areas to raise money.

Wall Street Uneasy About Future 5G Broadband Competition; Ponders Idea of 5G Monopolies

Super monopoly?

Some Wall Street analysts are pondering ideas on how to limit forthcoming 5G wireless home broadband, suggesting providers might want to set up local monopolies, keeping competition to a minimum and profits to a maximum.

Verizon’s presentation at its annual Analyst Day meeting drew little praise from analysts and investors in attendance, “landing like a thud” to quote one person at the event.

The issue concerning Wall Street is what impact 5G wireless broadband will have on the internet access marketplace, which is currently a comfortable monopoly or duopoly in most American cities. That may radically change if the country’s four wireless companies each launch their own 5G services, designed to replace wired home broadband services from the cable and phone companies.

This week Verizon formally announced Sacramento would be the first city in the country to get its forthcoming 5G service, with an additional four of five unnamed cities to follow sometime next year.

Verizon will advertise 1,000Mbps service that will be “priced competitively” with current internet providers in the market. But Verizon intends to market itself as “a premium provider,” which means pricing is likely to be higher than one might expect. Verizon claims they intend to roll out 5G service to 30 million households — 25-30% of the country, making Verizon a prominent provider of fixed wireless home broadband service.

But analysts panned Verizon’s presentation for raising more questions than the company was prepared to answer. Barron’s shared the views of several analysts who were underwhelmed.

Notably, Craig Moffett from Moffett-Nathanson was particularly concerned about how to rate 5G service for his investor clients, and more importantly to them, how to forecast revenue and profit.

Moffett

The biggest problem for Moffett is the prospect of additional competition, and what that will do to each current (and future) provider’s share of customers and its revenue. If every major wireless carrier enters the 5G home broadband business, that will raise the prospective number of ISPs available to consumers to six or more — four wireless carriers competing with the phone and cable company. That is potentially very dangerous to big profits, especially if a competitive price war emerges.

“Let’s assume that AT&T is just as aggressive about this opportunity as Verizon,” Moffett told his investor clients. “Will they enter the same markets as Verizon, or different ones? […] If multiple players enter each market, all targeting the same 25-30% [where 5G service will be sold]. Well, what then? Let’s suppose the 30% market share estimate is right. Wouldn’t it be now shared among two, three, or even four [5G fixed wireless broadband] providers?”

Moffett gently proposes a concept where this profit-bruising competition can be abated by following the cable television model — companies agree to stay out of each others’ markets, giving consumers a choice of just one 5G provider in each city instead of four.

“There’s a completely different future where each operator targets different markets […] Let’s say that AT&T decides to skip Sacramento. After all, Verizon will have gotten there first,” Moffett suggests. “If the required share of the [fixed wireless] market is close to Verizon’s estimated 30%, then there is only room for one provider. So AT&T decides to do Stockton, about 40 miles to the south. Verizon would then skip Stockton, but might do Modesto, twenty miles further south… and then AT&T would then skip Modesto and instead target Fresno… unless Sprint or T-Mobile got there first.”

But Moffett is thinking even further ahead, by suggesting wireless carriers might be able to stop spending billions on building and expanding their competing 4G LTE networks when they could all share a single provider’s network in each city. That idea could work if providers agreed to creating local monopolies.

“That would create a truly bizarre market dynamic that is almost unimaginable today, where each operator ‘owned’ different cities, not just for [5G] but also for 4G LTE. If this kind of patchwork were to come to pass, the only viable solution might then be for companies to reciprocally wholesale their networks. You can use mine in Modesto if I can use yours in Fresno. To state the obvious, there is almost no imaginable path to that kind of an outcome today.”

The reason providers have not attempted this kind of “one provider” model in the past is because former FCC commissioners would have never supported the idea of retiring wireless competition and creating a cable monopoly-like model for wireless service. But things have changed dramatically with the advent of Chairman Ajit Pai, who potentially could be sold on the idea of granting local monopolies on the theory it will “speed 5G deployment” to a large number of different cities. Just as independent wireless providers lease access on the four largest carriers today (MVNO agreements), AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint could sell wholesale access to their networks to each other, allowing massive cost savings, which may or may not be passed on to customers.

But it would also bring an end to network redundancy, create capacity problems, and require every carrier to be certain their networks were interoperable with other wireless companies. The federal government’s emergency first responder program also increasingly depends on a wireless network AT&T is building that would give them first priority access to wireless services. How that would work in a city “designated” to get service from Verizon is unclear.

Restricting competition would protect profits and sharing networks would slash expenses. But such prospects were not enough to assuage Wall Street’s insatiable hunger for maximum profits. That is why analysts were unimpressed with Verizon’s presentation, which “lacked the financials” — precise numbers that explain how much the network will cost, how quickly it will be paid off, and how much revenue it can earn for investors.

A small cell attached to a light pole.

Verizon did sell investors on the idea 5G will put an end to having to wire fiber optics to every home. The service will also keep costs to a minimum by selling retail activation kits customers will install themselves — avoiding expensive truck rolls. Billing and account activation will also be self-service.

Verizon also announced a new compact 4G/5G combined antenna, which means 5G service can be supplied through existing macro/small cell 4G equipment. Verizon will be able to supplement that network by adding new 5G nodes where it becomes necessary.

Investor expectations are that 5G will cost substantially less than fiber to the home service, will not cost massive amounts of new investment dollars to deploy in addition to maintaining existing 4G services, will not substantially undercut existing providers, and will allow Verizon to market 21st century broadband speeds to its customers bypassed for FiOS fiber service. It will also threaten rural phone companies, where customers could easily replace slow speed DSL in favor of what Verizon claims will be “gigabit wireless.”

Despite that, Instinet’s Jeffrey Kvaal was not wowed by Verizon’s look to the future.

“Verizon’s initial fixed wireless implementation seems clunky and it withheld its pricing strategy,” Kvaal told his clients. He believes fixed wireless broadband will cost Verizon an enormous amount of money he feels would be better spent on Verizon’s mobile network. “Verizon glossed over 5-10x LTE upgrades that are already offering ~100Mbps of fully mobile service at current prices to current phones without line of sight. A better 5G story might be to free up sufficient LTE capacity to boost the unlimited cap from 25GB to 100GB for, say, a $25 premium. The ‘cut the cord’ concept was successful in voice, in video, and should be in broadband.”

Frontier: Nothing to See Here; 3rd Quarter Results Cause Share Price to Plummet to New Low

Phillip Dampier November 1, 2017 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Frontier No Comments

Frontier’s stock has reached the lowest level of the year after another disappointing earnings report.

Frontier Communications turned in lackluster numbers for the third quarter of 2017, resulting in a wide selloff of Frontier’s stock, driving it to the lowest level it has seen in a year.

Investors are reacting to news the company missed earnings estimates once again, and many are losing confidence in Frontier’s CEO Daniel McCarthy, who has promised better results for more than a year. Frontier is rare among broadband providers, losing customers in virtually every segment of its business, including in its acquired FiOS service areas.

Frontier’s stock has lost more than 80% of its marketplace value so far this year — a stunning decline for a company selling broadband service in many areas where it maintains a monopoly.

McCarthy once again made a commitment his efforts will “stabilize” customer losses, but spent most of his time trying to reassure investors on a Tuesday conference call that those stabilization efforts will primarily target areas where Frontier sells FiOS fiber to the home service. Customer churn continues to be a problem, with many customers leaving either because the company alienated them or dramatically raised their rates after a discounted promotion expires. Either way, many of those customers switch back to a cable provider. McCarthy claimed Frontier plans to adjust promotional pricing to soften the blow of a steep rate hike after a promotion expires.

McCarthy said almost nothing about Frontier’s legacy service areas, where Frontier still sells copper-based DSL service. Some of the company’s biggest losses have been in areas where it cannot compete effectively with cable broadband. McCarthy offered to enhance customer retention efforts and increase marketing to reduce losses, but there are no indications Frontier plans to spend significantly on major network upgrades in these areas anytime soon.

Frontier declared an unexpected dividend of $0.60 a share, which some analysts consider excessive and represents a “red flag atop this toxic value destroyer.”

One analyst remarked, “I’m not buying it; Frontier is a business in free fall.”

Cable Operators Talk Broadband Capacity and Upgrades

With many cable operators reporting a need to double network capacity every 18-24 months to keep up with customer traffic demands, the industry is spending time and money contemplating how to meet future needs while also finding ways to cut costs and make networks more efficient.

Top technology executives from five major cable operators answered questions (sub. req’d.) from Multichannel News about their current broadband networks and their plans for the future. Some, like Mediacom, are aggressively adopting DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband upgrades for their customers while companies like Cox and Comcast are deploying multiple solutions that use both traditional hybrid fiber-coax network technology and, on occasion, fiber-to-the-home to boost speed and performance. But at least one cable company — Charter Communications — thinks it can continue operating its existing DOCSIS 3 network without major upgrades for several years to come.

Cable Broadband Traffic Can Be Handled

“We’ve been on a pretty steady path of doubling our network capacity every 18-24 months for several years, and I don’t see anything that makes me think that will change,” said Tony Werner, president of technology and product at Comcast. “We’ve been strategically extending fiber further into our network to meet customer demand, and that effort, combined with our commitment to deploying DOCSIS 3.1 has given us a network that’s powerful, flexible, and ready for what’s next.”

J.R. Walden, senior vice president of technology at Mediacom was more aggressive.

“We have completed the removal of all the analog channels. That was the big step one,” Walden said. “Step two was to start transitioning high-speed data over to DOCSIS 3.1, so we’re not adding any more 3.0 channels, and reuse spectrum for 3.1, which is a bit more efficient. The whole company is 3.1, all the modems we’re buying since June have been 3.1, so we’ve begun that next transition.”

Walden added Mediacom is also trying to improve broadband performance by reducing the number of customers sharing the same connection.

“We average about 285 homes to 290 homes per node as an average,” he said.

Mediacom is also scrapping older technology on the TV side to open new bandwidth. The cable company is getting rid of MPEG-2-only set-top boxes so the company can transition its video lineup to MPEG-4. But even that won’t last long. Walden admits the company will then quickly start moving less-viewed channels and some premium networks to IP delivery.

Traditional cable broadband service relies on a hybrid fiber-coax network.

In its European markets, Liberty Global has adopted Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) equipment across its footprint. CCAP technology saves cable operators space and operates more efficiently, and supports future convergence of technologies that cable operators want to adopt in the future. CCAP has helped Liberty Global deal with its 45% traffic growth by making upgrades easier. The company is also using advanced features of CCAP to better balance how many customers are sharing a connection. The next step is adopting DOCSIS 3.1.

“Seventy to 80% of our plant will be DOCSIS 3.1 ready by the end of next year, giving us a path to even greater capacity expansion allowing us to continue to increase the available capacity across our access network, upstream and downstream,” said Dan Hennessy, chief architect of network architecture for Liberty.

Charter is prioritizing maximizing performance on the network it already has.

“Our priority is to constantly balance capacity against demand. It’s a never-ending quest,” said Jay Rolls, Charter’s chief technology officer. “We watch it very closely, and we’re very pragmatic about it — the volume of tools, metrics and ways to see what’s really happening, and invest accordingly, is really deepening in ways that matter.”

Is Fiber-to-the-Home in Your Future?

While some cable operators like Altice’s Cablevision are scrapping their existing hybrid fiber-coax networks in favor of fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), America’s largest cable operators are not in any hurry to follow Altice.

Comcast has expanded its fiber network closer to customers in the last few years, but sees no need to convert customers to FTTH service.

“I feel pretty strongly that the best path ahead is to leverage the existing coaxial network and DOCSIS resources to the fullest, then inch towards FTTH, over time Why? Because we can. We don’t have to build an entire network just to turn up one customer.”

The next generation of cable broadband service may depend on CCAP – technology that will cut operator costs and lay the foundation for changing the way video and other services are delivered to customers.

Cox has a 10-year Network 2.0 plan that will bring fiber closer to customers, but not directly to every home. More important to Cox is having the option to support symmetrical speeds, which means delivering upload speeds as fast as download speeds.

“We’re also thinking about the fiber investment and fiber deep as it relates to our wireless strategy, enabling some of our customers with a small cell strategy but also positioning ourselves to take advantage of that in the future, as well as thinking about fiber deep to benefit both residential and our commercial customers simultaneously,” said Kevin Hart, Cox’s executive vice president and chief product and technology officer.

Liberty/Virgin Media’s Project Lightning is bringing cable broadband and TV service to places in the UK that never had cable service before.

In Europe, Liberty Global’s “Project Lightning” network expansion initiative is building out traditional cable service in the United Kingdom. Most of the UK never adopted cable service, favoring small satellite dish service instead. Now Liberty Global is putting cable expansion on its priority list. But decades after most North Americans got cable service for the first time, today’s new buildouts are based largely on fiber optics — either fiber to the home or fiber to the neighborhood, where coaxial cable completes the journey to a customer’s home.

Charter admits the technology it will use in the future partly depends on what the competition is offering. Rolls says the company can eventually roll out DOCSIS 3.1, take fiber deeper, or offer symmetrical download/upload speeds presumably targeted towards its commercial customers. But he also suggested Charter’s existing network can continue to deliver acceptable levels of service without spending a lot on major upgrades.

“It’s a rational approach, where we’re trying to balance the needs, the available technologies, and the costs,” Rolls said. But he also suggested DOCSIS 3.1 isn’t always the answer to upgrades. “DOCSIS 3.1 has some pretty remarkable capabilities, but it’s not necessarily a hard-and-fast reason to not take fiber deeper, for instance [allowing for additional DOCSIS 3 node splits]. Different situations drive different capacity decisions.”

Walden agreed, and Mediacom customers should not expect more than DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades for the near future.

“[Fiber deep] is a bit further out, at least as a large-scale type of project,” Walden told Multichannel News. “I think fiber deep for multi-dwelling units, high-density areas and some planned higher end communities doing deeper fiber or fiber-to-the-home [is happening]. But as a wholesale [change] and going to node+0 kind of architecture, I don’t see that in the next two years.”

Are Symmetrical Speeds Important for Customers?

Verizon’s fiber to the home service FiOS uses symmetrical broadband speeds to its advantage in the marketplace.

Many fiber to the home networks offer customers identical upload and download speeds, but cable broadband was designed to favor downstream speeds over upstream. That decision was based on the premise the majority of users will receive much more traffic than they send. But as the internet evolves, some are wondering if cable broadband’s asymmetric design is now outdated and some competitors like Verizon’s FiOS fiber to the home service now use its symmetrical speed advantage as a selling point.

Cox Communications does not think most customers care, even though its network upgrades are laying the foundation to deliver symmetrical speeds.

“It’s a little but further out on the horizon,” said Hart. “The upstream growth rate is ticking up a couple of notches, but not to the tune that we would need significant additional capacity and/or a complementary need for symmetrical bandwidth. [A]t this stage, the symmetrical is a nice-to-have for residential and definitely will be a good option for our commercial customers.”

Rolls isn’t sure if symmetrical speeds are important to customers either and Charter has no specific plans to move towards upload speed upgrades.

“The world of applications and services continues to evolve, obviously, but so far we’ve been able to meet those needs with an asymmetrical topology,” Rolls said. “That said, things like real-time gaming, augmented and virtual reality, and the Internet of Things — some of those will likely drive more symmetry in the network. It remains to be seen.”

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  • Ian Littman: Counterpoint: mmWave based 5G is going to be a bear to deploy, to the point that 5G NR from T-Mo et al will likely have nationwide coverage before mmW...
  • Butch Kara: We still have Centurylink DSL (or should I say, we have it when it works) supposedly 1.5Mbps, but usually 0.6 or slower (right now around 0.2). and ha...
  • Lee: Seems I need to amend my post about the closed fiber optic loop system. Frontier Communications is not installing it. It is an expansion of the Elkhar...
  • James: In the beginning I was hopeful of Frontier a good review but I just zcan't do it.. we switched from comcrooks recently oct. '17, the phone reps screwe...
  • Lee: Change the name from Spectrum to Speculum....
  • Lee: I am in Indiana. I used my Street Atlas program to figure they are installing 6.5 miles of underground fiber optic along the roads between the two sch...
  • Bob: I have Mohu Leaf antennas on both TV's and I get the locals that way also. All I know is that as a former regular DirecTV customer, they are trying v...
  • Phillip Dampier: Institutional broadband. Frontier owns the network that taxpayers subsidize and Frontier gets to charge whatever it wants for service on that network....
  • Lee: This company is a steaming pile of dung. I noticed the work along the road by a local restaurant. Today I stopped and talked to the crew working by th...
  • Andrew: Bob is right.. but directvnow has HBO and youtube doesn't... I use OTA antenna for locals so it works out....
  • Bob: All well and good, but DirecTV Now still lacks the local Rochester channels that are included in the YouTube TV lineup....
  • FredH: Spectrum should have just paid the $1M fine.....it's chump change since they make about $300M in profit from operations every QUARTER!...

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