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Telus Raises Usage Allowances and Speeds; Anti-Usage Billing Movement Scores Victory

As political pressure over Usage Based Billing continues to keep providers from gravitating towards more stringent Internet Overcharging schemes, western Canadians are enjoying significant victories as providers relax usage caps and increase speeds for broadband service.

Weeks after Shaw Communications announced new packages with increased usage allowances and a few unlimited use plans, Telus has now followed Shaw’s lead and doubled usage caps on many of its Internet plans, slashed overlimit fees by more than half for some, and plans to increase upload speeds for one of its premium plans:

Among the major changes are dramatically increased usage allowances and the reduction of overlimit fees.

Telus customers receive their service from the phone company in various flavors of DSL.  Some older suburban and rural areas still receive speeds averaging 3Mbps, but those lucky enough to be served by VDSL can comfortably achieve the company’s fastest broadband speeds.  The increased usage allowances are welcome news, even if Telus has never strictly enforced any of them:

  • High Speed Turbo 25 increased to 500GB, was 250GB;
  • High Speed Turbo increased to 250GB, was 125GB;
  • High Speed increased to 150GB, was 75GB;
  • High Speed Lite increased to 30GB, was 13GB;
  • The overlimit fee for High Speed Lite has been reduced from $5/GB to $2/GB;
  • Unofficial reports suggest upload speed for Turbo 25 is being increased from 2Mbps to 3Mbps, to be rolled out gradually.
Sheep - Courtesy: kidicarus222

Is Telus following Shaw's lead?

The reduction in the overlimit fee for High Speed Lite was predictable in light of recent political events.  It is difficult to sustain the argument that overlimit fees and usage caps are priced to control network congestion when the lightest users face the most draconian limits and penalty fees.

But unlike their cable competitor Shaw Communications, Telus has not seen fit to offer customers a truly unlimited plan, which presents a problem for some.

“Telus needs to remember they cannot win a speed race with Shaw so they should be lowering prices, taking the usage caps off, and competing with something they can actually win — delivering customers the unlimited service they want at a reasonable price,” says Stop the Cap! reader Abel from Burnaby, B.C.

Separately, Telus also quietly introduced a rate increase for basic home telephone service.  What used to be $21 a month is now $25, an increase of four dollars.

The dramatic plan changes underway in western Canada come in response to political pressure and consumer ire against Usage Based Billing (UBB).  Bell, which provides much of Canada with wholesale broadband access, was seeking to force independent providers to abandon unlimited, flat rate pricing in favor of ubiquitous UBB.  The provocation brought a half million Canadians to sign a petition against metering broadband.

For eastern Canada, thus far little has changed as Bell, Rogers, and Videotron continue with business as usual.

Providers Big and Small Can Deliver 1Gbps Broadband At a Fair Price – Why Can’t Yours?

The employees of Sonic.net, a California ISP that threatens to expose the chasm between the cost of providing broadband and the profits reaped from it.

It doesn’t take trillions of dollars to offer world class broadband service in America.  Companies large and small are building gigabit broadband networks to reach customers at prices your local phone or cable company would charge at least $1,000 a month or more to receive, if you consider many charge around $100 a month for 100Mbps.  Now, 700 families in California are going to be offered 1,000Mbps service for just $69.99 per month — including a phone line.

Sonic.net has been in the ISP business for more than 15 years, selling DSL service to California customers at prices that offer value for money.  Most recently, Sonic has been pitching bonded DSL service offering speeds upwards of 40Mbps for the same price it plans to sell its new Fusion gigabit fiber broadband.  For customers who don’t need that much speed, Sonic recently reduced the price for its 20Mbps service to $39.95 per month (including phone line.)

For those in the Sebastopol area lucky enough to qualify for fiber service, Sonic promises unlimited access and an exceptional online experience.

Sonic’s qualifications to run the project are not in question, considering Google selected the company to operate and support the trial fiber-to-the-home network the search giant is building at Stanford University.

Google itself is building an extensive fiber to the home network to serve Kansas City residents and businesses, and promises service at a profitable, but reasonable price.  So has Sonic.net CEO Dane Jasper, whose written views on the state of American broadband explains his personal drive to make Internet access better and faster, without ripping people off with Internet Overcharging schemes or unjustified high monthly prices.

Jasper recognizes much of North America is trapped in a broadband duopoly that delivers all of the benefits to investors, while leaving the continent saddled with slow and overpriced service.  Nine months ago Jasper explained the business model to Benoit Felten, a Yankee Group broadband analyst:

During the construction of this network we have given a lot of thought… to the business model in the US, and how we could do things in a different and more interesting way. The natural model when you have a simple duopoly capturing the majority of the market is segmentation: maximize ARPU [average revenue per user] by artificially limiting service in order to drive additional monthly spending. But fundamentally this is the wrong model for a service provider like us, and we have looked to Europe for inspiration. The model pioneered by Iliad under the Free brand is a better fit, both for us and for our customers.

As the marginal cost of providing more bandwidth or less, and providing [phone service] or not are both minimal, we have adopted a simple flat rate model instead of the more typical US model of “$5 more goes faster”… I believe that removing the artificial limits on speed, and including home phone with the product are both very exciting.

It’s exciting to customers as well, most who give the company nearly five star reviews for excellence, without five-star pricing.  An added bonus: Jasper occasionally responds to customer service inquiries himself.

Reviewing Sonic.net’s blogs and website shows off a company that loves the business it’s in.  If a switch 100 miles away has a problem that interferes with Sonic’s service, you will promptly read about it on the company’s technical blog.

There are houses for sale in Sebastopol, Calif., if you want affordable gigabit broadband.

Jasper’s frustration with the enormous corporate-owned ISPs that dominate the country (and Washington) was on full display in a blog entry in March, answering a question about why American broadband is lagging behind:

[…] In 2003 and 2004, the then Republican led FCC reversed course [on policies guaranteeing a level playing field for broadband], removing shared access to essential fiber infrastructure for competitive carriers and codifying instead a policy of exclusive use and “multi-modal competition”.

This concreted our unique US duopoly: cable versus telco, the two broadband choices that most Americans have today.

In exchange for a truly competitive market, the US received promises of widespread deployment. And, to some degree this has worked. Unfettered by significant competition or price pressure, broadband in at least in its most basic form can now be delivered to most homes in America, albeit at a comparatively high cost to the consumer.

What was given up in exchange for this far-reaching but mediocre pablum was true competition and innovation.

Elsewhere in the world, regulatory bodies followed the lead of the US Congress and separated essential copper and fiber infrastructure from the services and providers who used them, and the result has been amazing. In Asia and Europe, Gigabit services are becoming common, and the price paid by consumers per megabit is a tiny fraction of what we pay here at home.

I won’t deny the innovation that has occurred in the telco/cable duopoly. They’ve got TV, Internet and telephone bundles designed to serve up prime time network shows in over-saturated HD glory, with comparatively middling Internet speeds, all offered with teaser rates and terms that would baffle an economics professor. The clear value of the bundle is to baffle, and pity the consumer who wants to shed a component. At least during the intro periods, it’s often cheaper to take the whole package than just a component or two.

For cable companies, the entrenched interest in the television entertainment portion creates a clear conflict: why should they offer an uncapped broadband connection that can deliver enough video entertainment to allow consumers to cut the TV cord? And if you do drop the TV, up goes the price for even this slow and capped Internet connection, so you pay more either way. And now that telcos have gotten into the television business too, their interest in slowing the pace of increasing broadband speed is aligned as well.

This has yielded a competitive truce in America.

In a slow tide, back and forth, cable delivers a slightly better product, then telco slightly better again, all at the highest possible cost. It is iterative, not innovative, and Americans deserve more. After all, we invented the Internet, right?

Among the giant phone and cable companies providing broadband today are a growing number of innovation outliers — companies challenging the prevailing views that Americans don’t need or want fiber-fast speeds (not at the prices some providers charge), that there is no economic justification for the capital spending required to construct fiber networks when incremental upgrades can suffice (the Wall Street view), or that the best way to drive increased revenue from a maturing broadband market is to throw away today’s flat rate pricing model and establish a guaranteed growth fund collecting tolls on Internet traffic that is sure to rise in the days ahead (Time Warner Cable’s CEO).

Google cannot understand why 1Gbps broadband “doesn’t work” in the United States and intends to construct its own network to prove otherwise.  EPB, a municipal utility in Chattanooga, Tenn. sells gigabit broadband, in their words, because they can.  The concept of a provider offering the fruits of their innovation, even if they aren’t certain how to price or sell the service, is a remarkable and refreshing change from the usual obsession with nickle-and-dime “extras” for add-on features or not selling service that your marketing department does not understand or find useful.

It also exposes the indefensible gap between the cost of providing the service and the price paid to receive it.

Thanks to Stop the Cap! reader Mark for sharing news about Sonic.net’s fiber network.

Cloud Storage Hype Meets Internet Overcharging Realities As ISPs Feel Threatened (Again)

Phillip Dampier

This week, the tech community has been buzzing over new entrants in the world of cloud computing.  Apple’s iCloud in particular has sparked enormous media coverage as the company plans to encourage customers to access all of their favorite content over their broadband connection.  Apple is also moving towards online distribution of many of its software products, including the forthcoming OS X Lion operating system, suggesting consumers can pass up traditional physical media like CD-ROMs or DVDs.

Cloud storage theoretically allows you to store your entire music, video and photo collection online for easy access from any device.  Watching the 20-somethings buzz about 100GB+ secure file lockers and the end of traditional file storage as we know it has been amusing, but these people need to get their heads out of the clouds.  Unless they become politically involved in America’s broadband debate, it is not going to happen the way they hope it will.

Tech entrepreneur?  Meet broadband provider reality check: the Internet Overcharging usage cap and “excessive use” pricing scheme.

While Steve Jobs was introducing iCloud, broadband providers and their industry friends have been ruminating over the impact all of this new traffic will have on their broadband networks.  In an homage to former AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre’s “you can’t use my pipes for free,” the drumbeat for implementing “control measures” for cloud computing and video traffic has been amplified several times over by certain providers, Wall Street analysts, and their trade press and equipment supplier lackeys.

One alarmed provider pondered the impact of iCloud in terms of their past experience with iTunes, which also spiked traffic when it was first released.  Others balk at the notion of consumers using broadband platforms to move entire libraries of content back and forth, especially on wireless networks.  The only sigh of relief detected?  Apple won’t start iCloud with video content — just music, at least at first.

The enemies list

The biggest targets — the companies that get a lot of pushback from providers for using “their networks” to earn millions for themselves are Google, Netflix, Amazon and Apple.  Each of them are rapidly moving into the online entertainment business, threatening to provoke more cable TV cord-cutting.  Netflix is now responsible for 30 percent of online traffic during primetime hours, a fact that some use as an accusation — as if Netflix should be held to account for its own success. Amazon has opened its own cloud based music storage and is also increasingly getting into online video content streaming.  Apple has a novel approach at handling its forthcoming iCloud music feature which should save hours in uploading, but the company is also moving towards online distribution of a growing proportion of its software, including the huge bug fixes and upgrades that will easily exceed a gigabyte if you own several Apple products.

Google is a frequent Washington target and honestly delivers the only truly effective corporate pushback to anti-consumer broadband pricing some providers have contemplated.  In fact, Google is putting its money where its mouth is building a gigabit network larger providers repeatedly scoff at as unnecessary, too costly, and too complicated.

While millions in venture capital funds new online innovations, only a miniscule amount of money is being spent to counter the lobbying major providers are doing in Washington to redefine the broadband revolution in their terms, complete with usage pricing that bears no relation to cost, arbitrary usage limits, and ongoing lack of true competition.

Online innovation is grand, but allowing providers to strangle it with Internet Overcharging schemes guarantees to end the party real fast.

Individually, none of the new cloud services are likely to blow out usage caps in excess of 100GB, but in combination they certainly could.  Anyone using online file backup, cloud storage of video and large music collections, uses Netflix or other online streaming services, and spends lots of time on the web will easily approach the limits some providers have established.  That doesn’t even include large software updates.  Unless you have an unlimited usage plan on the wireless side, don’t even think about using most of these services with AT&T’s 2GB monthly wireless usage cap.

Glenn Britt: The Internet is a utility which is why we can keep raising the price.

In the handful of countries with ubiquitous Internet Overcharging, little of this will pose a problem — companies won’t launch cloud computing services in markets where usage caps will effectively keep customers from using them.

That is why it is critical for some of America’s largest technology companies to get on board the fight against Internet Overcharging, and demand Washington recognize broadband as a utility service that should be wide open and usage cap free.  The evidence is right in front of you.  Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt recognizes the fact broadband is an essential part of our lives today, which is why he is confident enough to keep raising the price and charging even more in the future.  It’s not about “network congestion,” “building the next generation of broadband,” or “pricing fairness.”  Stop the Cap! started at ground zero for Time Warner Cable’s 2009 version of “pricing fairness” — $150 a month for an unlimited use broadband account that likely cost major providers less than $10 a month to provide.  It’s about pure, naked profiteering, unchecked by free market competition in today’s broadband duopoly.

Unless a company like Google can vastly expand its own broadband rollouts, it is increasingly apparent to me (and many others), we may have to move towards an entirely different model for broadband in the United States — one built on the premise of the Interstate Highway System.  One advanced, publicly-owned fiber network open to all providers on which telecommunications services can travel to homes and businesses from coast to coast.

Nobody says private companies shouldn’t be able to compete, but every day more evidence arrives they will never be inclined to deliver the next generation of service that other countries around the world are starting to take for granted.  They will instead protect their current business models at all costs, even if that means throwing America’s broadband innovation revolution under the bus.

CNN takes a look at what makes Apple’s iCloud service different from competitors from Google and Amazon.  (5 minutes)

CNN talks with the folks at Dropbox about their cloud file storage system.  (3 minutes)


Pervasive Wireless Usage Caps Drive Users to Free Wi-Fi Alternatives, Other Carriers

Phillip Dampier June 8, 2011 Internet Overcharging, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Pervasive Wireless Usage Caps Drive Users to Free Wi-Fi Alternatives, Other Carriers

The more wireless carriers try to impose punitive usage caps on their customers, the more they will shop elsewhere for wireless service or turn to free Wi-Fi alternatives.  Those are the results of an important new report from Devicescape, a Wi-Fi advocate and software creator that allows for seamless Wi-Fi connections.

At the very top of the findings of the latest quarterly report: consumers overwhelmingly continue to despise usage caps and other Internet Overcharging schemes.  At least 73 percent suggest they will take their business elsewhere if their provider cancels their unlimited usage data plan, with 80 percent making changes in how they consume wireless data — especially moving usage to free Wi-Fi networks and off 3G/4G networks.

Almost 90 percent of smartphone users already connect to Wi-Fi at home and on the road, with 64 percent using Wi-Fi hotspots at work and in shops and restaurants at least once a day.

The report also makes it clear consumers want a hassle-free Wi-Fi experience.  It should be free and open access, with no annoying PIN codes or passwords.

Wi-Fi is quickly becoming an expectation more than a treat, and businesses and communities that don’t provide it will increasingly be judged negatively by some consumers.  An even greater negative reaction can be expected from those who treat Wi-Fi access as a profit center.  Customers don’t like paying extra for access at hotels, restaurants, or while browsing around shopping malls or business centers.  Forget about annoying login or customer agreement screens as well.

While many consumers claim they will switch wireless carriers over usage caps, in reality few are currently doing so for several reasons:

  1. The alternative providers still offering unlimited use plans are perceived as having lower quality coverage areas (eg. Sprint);
  2. Most major carriers have grandfathered their sizable base of “unlimited plan” devotees, allowing them to retain the popular plans even as they discontinue them for new customers;
  3. Customers ultimately have few choices for unlimited service.

Where customers are stuck with a usage-capped data plan, they economize wherever possible.  In particular, many rely on Wi-Fi service instead of the wireless service provided by their wireless provider.

Ironically, that’s fine with many carriers, especially AT&T, which has been promoting efforts to offload as much 3G traffic as possible onto local Wi-Fi hotspots instead.

Toronto Waterfront Getting 10Gbps Broadband: 100/100Mbps Service for $60 a Month, No Caps

An artist rendering of Don River Park, part of the mixed-use spaces that hallmark the Toronto Waterfront revitalization project.

About seven years ago, Rochester’s Fast Ferry offered daily service between Rochester, N.Y. and Toronto’s Waterfront.  Tens of millions of dollars later, the Rochester Ferry Company discovered that nobody in southern Ontario was that interested in a shortcut to Rochester, many locals found driving to Canada’s largest city faster, more convenient, and cheaper, and the point of arrival on the Canadian side was hardly a draw — situated in a rundown, seedy industrial wasteland.

By the end of 2006, the ferry was sold and sent on its way to Morocco, the CBC got a barely used International Marine Passenger Terminal (built for the Rochester ferry) to use as a set location for its TV crime drama The Border, and the rundown waterfront was well-embarked on a major reconstruction effort.

This week, Toronto’s Waterfront learned it was getting a broadband makeover as well, with the forthcoming launch of insanely fast 10/10Gbps fiber broadband for business and 100/100Mbps for condo dwellers along the East Bayfront and West Don Lands.

Best of all, Beanfield Metroconnect, the parent company responsible for constructing the network, promises no Internet Overcharging schemes for residents and businesses… forever.  No usage caps, no throttled broadband speeds, no overlimit fees.  Pricing is more than attractive — it’s downright cheap for Toronto:  $60 a month for unlimited 100/100Mbps broadband, $30 a month for television service, and as low as $14.95 for phone service.  Bundle all three and knock another 15 percent off the price.  The provider is even throwing in free Wi-Fi, which promises to be ubiquitous across the Waterfront.

The project will leapfrog this Toronto neighborhood into one of the fastest broadband communities in the world.

Toronto Waterfront Fiber Broadband Coverage Map

“Having this sort of capacity available to residents will allow for a whole new world of applications we haven’t even conceived of yet,” said chief executive Dan Armstrong.

The rest of Toronto, in comparison, will be stuck in a broadband swamp courtesy of Rogers Cable and Bell, where average speeds hover around 5Mbps, with nasty usage caps and overlimit fee schemes from both providers.  DSL service in the city is notoriously slow and expensive, as Bell milks decades-old copper wire infrastructure long in need of replacement.

The public-private broadband project is a welcome addition for an urban renewal effort that has been criticized at times for overspending. Created in 2001, Waterfront Toronto has a 25-year mandate to transform 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of brownfield lands on the waterfront into a combination of business and residential mixed-use communities and public spaces.  At least $30 billion in taxpayer funds have been earmarked for the renewal project, although project managers say no taxpayer dollars will be spent on the broadband project.

Waterfront Toronto’s efforts have been recognized as bringing Toronto’s first “Intelligent Community” to the city with the construction of the open access fiber network.

Still, the public corporation has its critics.  Earlier this spring Toronto city councilman Doug Ford called the urban renewal project a boondoggle.  Other conflicts rage with the Toronto Transit Commission and the mayor’s office over other redevelopment projects.  But the revitalization project’s broadband initiative has significant support, especially among knowledge workers that could eventually become residents… and paying customers.

The 21st century broadband project is also likely to bring broadband envy across the entire GTA, who will wonder why service from the cable and phone companies is so much slower and more expensive.

For broadband enthusiasts, Toronto’s broadband future looks much brighter than yesterday’s failed ferry service, which proves once again that regardless of the technology — slow, expensive, and inconvenient service will never attract much interest from the value-conscious public.

Canada’s digital networks are some of the slowest in the world, running between one hundred to a thousand times slower than other countries in the developed world. In this episode of “Our Digital Future – The Need for High-Speed,” Bill Hutchison, Executive Director of Intelligent Communities for Waterfront Toronto describes the sorry state of Canada’s digital infrastructure, stressing the need for major investments in advanced broadband networks.  (4 minutes)

Time Warner’s Glenn Britt: The Marie Antoinette of Cable – Rate Hikes, Metered Internet In Your Future

More than halfway into Glenn Britt’s appearance last week at a Wall Street-sponsored investor event, the head of the nation’s second largest cable company candidly admitted years of price hiking is finally driving a growing segment of America’s hard-pressed middle class out of the market:

“There is a segment of our economy that should be of concern.  We have a bifurcating economy where people who are college educated and like everybody in this room are doing okay.  For that segment, pay TV [pricing] is fine.  There is another group of people who are sort of falling out of the middle class.  For some of those people, pay TV is too expensive.”

That’s a remarkable admission from a cable company that has consistently raised prices for its products well in excess of inflation for at least a decade, and judging from the rest of his comments, there is plenty more of the same on the way.

Britt is nearing his 10th anniversary as CEO of what is now Time Warner Cable, formerly a division of AOL/Time-Warner.  In the past decade, the company he oversees has undergone a transformation in its business model. In 2001, digital cable was all the rage, delivering the 500-channel television universe at the cost of rapidly increasing cable bills.  Cable broadband was just coming back from the dot.com crash, with many Americans still mystified by the concept of “www” and whether a web address had a “/” or a “\” in it.

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt tells Wall Street investors at the Sanford Bernstein conference the company is using their customers’ addiction to high speed broadband as leverage for rate increases — three in the last three years. Britt’s world view for Internet Overcharging schemes like consumption billing are reinforced in a room where ordinary customers aren’t invited and the Wall Street types in attendance dream about the enormous profits such pricing would bring. June 1, 2011. (6 minutes)
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Today, broadband is threatening to become the cable industry’s most important product — one that Americans will crawl through broken glass to buy.  In larger cities, the competitive war between DSL and cable broadband has been settled and DSL lost.  That has brought Time Warner a steady stream of customers departing their local phone company and bringing their telecommunications business with them.  Even during the economic downturn, Britt notes, one of the last products people will agree to give up is their broadband Internet access.

“Broadband is becoming more and more central to people’s lives,” Britt said. “It is becoming our primary product. People are telling us that if they were down to their last dollar, they’d drop broadband last.”

Britt openly tells investors Time Warner Cable will take that last dollar, and many more.

“We are able to raise prices,” Britt notes. “As broadband becomes a utility, you can charge more.  So after a dozen years of not raising prices for broadband service, for the last three years we have been raising prices.”

Britt notes the company is also enjoying increased average revenue per customer as many upgrade their broadband service to higher speed tiers which deliver higher revenue to the cable operator.

But as the market for broadband matures, the next level of profits could come from so-called “consumption pricing,” which could make yesterday’s rate increases look like a miniscule price adjustment.  In 2009, Time Warner Cable sought to test new broadband pricing that would have tripled the cost of unlimited broadband from $50 a month to an astonishing $150 a month.  A firestorm of protests for this level of Internet Overcharging temporarily killed the prospect of OPEC-like profits, unsettling some Wall Street investors and analysts, many who refuse to let the dream die.

Among the biggest proponents of this kind of metered pricing is, in fact, Sanford Bernstein — the sponsor of the conference.  So it came as no surprise Britt faced additional browbeating in the hour-long interview to reintroduce these pricing schemes.  After all, Britt is told, AT&T has implemented a usage cap and Cable One has (what the interviewer calls) a “quite interesting” pricing model — delivering the smallest usage caps to customers with the highest speed tiers.  So when will Time Warner follow suit?

Once again, Britt said he’s a true believer in consumption billing and thinks the industry will move in that direction, but refused to give an exact timetable.  “Consumption billing” goes beyond traditional usage caps by establishing a combination of a flat monthly service fee, and additional charges for the amount of data you use.  Time Warner’s original proposal limited consumption to 40GB per month at today’s broadband prices, but added an overlimit fee of $1-2 for each additional gigabyte.

The strangest part of the hour was Britt’s defense of usage pricing with an impromptu discussion with his wife the evening before about the pricing models of public transit in European capitals (they’ve no doubt visited), and metropolitan New York City.

Britt shared that in the finest cities of Old Europe, bus and train travelers paid different rates based on how far they traveled within the city.  In New York, his wife noted, one price gets you access to any point in the city on the subway.  

How fair is that?

Aside from the hilariously unlikely scenario either Britt or his wife have stepped foot on a New York City public bus or subway train in the last decade, his rendition of “consumption billing is fairer”-reasoning fell flat because it argues a false equivalence between the cost to move data and the expenses of a public transit system.  Remember, Time Warner is the cable company that pitches unlimited long distance calling on the one platform that most closely resembles broadband — telephone service.

“People want us to invest more to keep up with the traffic,” Britt argued.  “People who use it should pay less — people who want to spend eight hours a day watching video online is fine with me, but they should pay more than somebody who reads e-mail once a week.”

This is the same Glenn Britt who just minutes earlier confessed the cable company has been raising prices on all of its broadband customers for three years in a row because they can.  Earlier attempts at consumption billing saved nobody a penny.  Light users were given a paltry usage allowance that could be largely consumed by downloads of security patches and software updates, after which a very punitive overlimit fee kicked in.  Besides, Time Warner Cable already sells a “lite” usage plan today that has few takers.  Most consumers want, and are willing to pay for a standard, flat rate broadband account.  That’s the account Britt and his Wall Street cheerleaders want to get rid of come hell or high water.

Britt is asked whether pay television is getting too expensive for the hard-pressed middle class. For many consumers, it is, which is why the company is developing its “welfare” tier called TV Essentials — a sampling of cable networks with plenty of holes in the lineup to remind subscribers what they are missing if they make do with this less expensive package. June 1, 2011. (3 minutes)
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Throughout the hour long interview, Britt’s read of the hard-pressed common American family comes across as more than a little hollow — more like hopelessly out of touch.  One part Marie “Let Them Eat Cake” Antoinette and one-part “we’ll throw a bone to some and raise prices on the rest,” Britt is content lecturing consumers — discouraging them from crazy ideas like “a-la-carte” cable pricing and reasonably priced broadband.

The Wall Street crowd loved every minute, and the friendly echo chamber atmosphere made Britt feel more than welcome at the conference.  While Time Warner Cable’s CEO spent more than a hour talking to Wall Street, he has no time to actually sit down and talk with his customers — the ones that want nothing to do with his Internet pricing schemes.  Indeed, at one point Sanford Bernstein’s host dismisses customers as “people who want everything for free,” a contention Britt partly agreed with.

Have another piece of cake.

If you are still wealthy enough to buy an iPad and are enjoying Time Warner Cable’s free streaming app, watch out. It may not be free for long. As Britt partially admits, Time Warner Cable is using the online video service as a “Trojan Horse” to get subscribers hooked on their online video, before they attach a price tag to the service. June 1, 2011. (3 minutes)
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And what about all of this much-ballyhooed “investment” in tomorrow’s broadband networks?

Britt confesses the cable company is spending less than ever on system upgrades and capital construction projects.  Why?  The company forecasts its demand and growth five years out and budgets accordingly.  The current target is to spend just 15 percent of revenue on such projects, and based on budget planning, there is no urgent need to upgrade Time Warner’s broadband networks to keep up with demand.  In fact, it was all smiles when Britt revealed one of the company’s biggest expenses — the costly set top box — may not be a permanent part of America’s cable future after all.  Britt offered there was a good chance capital spending might even decline further in the future.

Britt suggests the next generation of television sets will deliver the same functionality as today’s set top box at a cost paid by the consumer.  Time Warner’s slow march to all digital cable means the need for wholesale upgrades of cable systems is over for perhaps a generation.  And with an IP-based cable delivery platform, software upgrades and improvements can be made without paying the high asking price charged by today’s handful of set top manufacturers.

In fact, outside of programming costs, Britt doesn’t see any long term challenges to years of good times for investors. Even minor competition from the telephone companies, who generally charge prices very similar to what Time Warner Cable charges, pose no big threat.

His biggest nightmare?  A check on the industry’s near-unfettered power by Washington regulators.  Despite Britt’s claims the cable industry is already well-regulated, in fact it is not.  Since 1996, cable companies can charge whatever they choose for standard cable, phone and Internet service.  Consumption billing, which will almost certainly be seen as gouging by consumers, may trigger an unwelcome intrusion by Congress, especially if the industry continues to cause a drag on America’s broadband ranking, already waning.

For investors, the glory days of huge rate hikes for cable television are likely behind us, Britt warns.  But have no fear: for the generally well-heeled and barely-hanging-on there is plenty of room for more rate increases on broadband — and meters, too.

Once again, Britt unintentionally admits the truth: Time Warner Cable does not have a broadband congestion problem that requires an Internet Overcharging scheme to solve. In fact, he admits the cable company is spending less than ever on network upgrades for residential subscribers, and expects that trend to continue. He’s also avoiding overpaying for merger and acquisition opportunities. June 1, 2011. (6 minutes)
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New Zealand’s Broadband Future Hangs on International Capacity Issues

Phillip Dampier May 31, 2011 Broadband Speed, Competition, Internet Overcharging, Public Policy & Gov't, Video Comments Off on New Zealand’s Broadband Future Hangs on International Capacity Issues

Southern Cross has the monopoly for international fiber connections between New Zealand and the rest of the world.

Three companies — Telecom New Zealand, Verizon, and Optus jointly own the single underseas fiber network that connects New Zealand with the rest of the world.  Unless a second underseas fiber provider provides competition, the monopoly control on international connectivity may guarantee New Zealand an ultra fast fiber broadband network for domestic use, but leave consumers heavily usage-capped and subjected to monopoly price-gouging for international traffic.  Those are the claims of Sam Morgan, a venture capitalist and philanthropist who advises Pacific Fibre, the company that wants to bring that second underseas fiber cable to New Zealand.

American and Canadian providers routinely point to Australia and New Zealand as examples of countries with usage-caps firmly in place, arguing this provides justification to do likewise in North America.  But usage caps in the South Pacific are a product of international capacity shortages — a problem not found in either the United States or Canada, so their claims have no merit.

Morgan explores the implications of a second fiber cable reaching New Zealand — the imminent removal of the hated Internet Overcharging schemes.  The clip comes courtesy of TV New Zealand.  (17 minutes)

AT&T Action Plan: Strategies to Avoid Being Overcharged by AT&T’s Overlimit Fees

Stop the Cap! reader Cal believes AT&T cannot be reasoned with about Internet Overcharging until you threaten to cancel.

While a significant number of customers have already pulled the plug on AT&T DSL and U-verse service over their recently-introduced Internet Overcharging schemes, some are telling Stop the Cap! they have no plans to actually disconnect service until AT&T threatens to charge them overlimit fees.

For some AT&T customers, there is no suitable alternative to the phone company.  Rural customers without a cable provider, or those who are faced with two bad choices — AT&T or Charter Communications — say they are going to test AT&T’s resolve to actually overbill them.

Cal is an AT&T customer is Missouri.  His alternative?  Charter Cable, which has an Internet Overcharging scheme of its own and delivers what he calls “third world service” in his community.  Given a choice, he intends to stay with AT&T as long as possible, pulling the plug only after his third warning of exceeding the phone company’s new broadband usage limits.  He thinks AT&T’s customer service won’t ultimately let it come to that.

“My sister works for an AT&T call center where she lives, and there was some training on the subject of handling the company’s usage caps,” Cal reports. “Get the right representative or supervisor and they can make virtually anything go away with a few keystrokes, especially if you are prepared to cancel your service over the issue.  While they may not cancel the caps, they very well may credit back any overcharges.”

Cal says his family does not intend to change their usage habits one bit.  He’ll change providers before he rations his Internet usage.

“I maintain control over our Internet access here, they don’t and sure as hell won’t,” he said.  “We do not do illegal downloads and we don’t allow torrenting or anything else that can get my kids into trouble, but we do use a Roku box and watch Netflix instead of buying pay movie channels with programming not suitable for my family to watch.”

Cal says his five children are home-schooled, which makes daily Internet access an essential part of the education process.  Many companies that provide home-schooling materials increasingly require a broadband connection.  While not as bandwidth hungry as Netflix video streaming, with five children in the home, usage adds up fast.

“It is not hard to do 260GB of usage a month, which puts us just over their U-verse limit, and I’ll be damned if I am going to pay AT&T another $10 for 10GB over,” Cal says.  “This is another reason why the Obama Administration is no better than the last one — they are all masters of big corporations who will rob us blind and use the money to pay off Congress to look the other way.”

Cal used to be a Charter Cable customer, but left when that company implemented its own Internet Overcharging scheme.

“I told Charter with their lousy service they were lucky I was a customer, but after putting usage limits on, I left,” he reports.

Cal’s neighbor thinks he has an even better way to battle AT&T.

“My neighbor will cancel service under his name and sign up under his wife’s and bounce between them whenever AT&T threatens to send him a bigger bill; he has already been doing that for years back and forth between AT&T and Charter on new customer deals,” Cal says.

Cal, and many other readers touching base with us, believe AT&T is not very responsive to customer complaints unless customers threaten to cancel service, and they believe AT&T will only change its mind when shareholders see the usage limits as counterproductive.

“AT&T can buy enough people in Washington to make street protests irrelevant, but their shareholders sure won’t like it when they see customers and revenue dropping,” Cal notes.  “If you can’t get cable, you are stuck with AT&T, so you have to keep the pressure on — file complaints with the Better Business Bureau, the FCC, and Congress.  Make them spend more money defending their policy than they earn from its proceeds.”

Canada’s Conservatives Win Federal Elections; May Push Change in Telecom Policies

Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Canada went to the polls last week and managed to deliver a predictable majority for incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party.  Even Americans ignorant of Canadian politics knew as much, but more than a few with an interest in the country’s telecommunications future were stunned to watch some long-standing parties get handed their hats and ushered out the door into the political wilderness (for at least a few years anyway).

The former mighty Liberal Party — the one that always saw themselves as Canada’s Natural Governing Party, succumbed to an embarrassing election failure.  Leader Michael Ignatieff not only oversaw the loss of more than 40 Liberal seats in the House of Commons, he couldn’t even manage to hold his own, losing his Toronto-area seat in Etobicoke-Lakeshore.  The centrist party won just short of 19 percent of the popular vote.  That’s a long fall for the party of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who won three successive majority governments in 1993, 1997 and 2000.  Much of the party’s strong support in Ontario collapsed, with seats swiped by Conservative and NDP candidates.  The centrist era is evidently over for now.

The Liberals take on telecommunications issues seemed mostly to rely on bashing whatever the Conservatives were doing.  Much of their criticism seemed to delight in Tory missteps and disorganization, particularly over what the party felt was incoherent policy direction for telecom issues.  Unfortunately, presenting a credible digital strategy alternative was not a high priority for the Liberals, and voters fretting about Internet Overcharging saw as much.  The Liberals have also taken flak for being too “establishment” and business friendly in recent years.  As a result, many former Liberal voters took their votes elsewhere.  At least Liberal Industry critic Marc Garneau survived.  He was successful at crystallizing the usage based billing (UBB) issue (and the CRTC’s failure by adopting it) in a way that consumers could easily understand.

The biggest catastrophe befell the Bloc Québécois, the separatist-motivated party in Quebec.  Outside of wins on the Gaspé Peninsula riding that covers the rural regional county municipalities of La Haute-Gaspésie, La Matapédia, Matane and La Mitis, and a few victories around Trois-Rivières, the Bloc was effectively obliterated — left with just four seats.  They had 47. That means the BQ is now too small to even count as an official party in Canada.  Observers say it was Quebec’s version of “throw the bums out,” with a very strong voter sentiment against “the establishment,” which in Quebec means the BQ.  Which Canadian party is the least establishment?  The NDP — and votes flowed in that direction.

On telecom issues, BQ members didn’t seem to appreciate Bell and Videotron’s usage-based-billing policies any more than the rest of Canada, and Bell in particular endured harsh questioning from BQ members at earlier hearings.

But the big news from the election was the sweeping realignment of Opposition to the Tories into the hands of the NDP – Canada’s social-democratic, left-wing New Democratic Party.  The NDP has championed opposition to UBB like no other party in Canada. Digital affairs critic Charlie Angus, who is a brash firebrand against corporate telecom abuse and their lackeys on the CRTC, will get an even larger platform to blast away at anti-consumer policies on offer from the telecom regulator.  Both Angus and the NDP champion Net Neutrality as well.  Two MPs from Toronto, Peggy Nash and Andrew Cash, will also bring strength to the NDP’s policy platform on copyright issues.

The NDP won most of the seats lost by the BQ in Quebec, and also won strongholds in western Ontario, northern British Columbia, Manitoba, and the Western Arctic.  In fact, NDP wins in Quebec were so frenzied, Leader Jack Layton found himself presiding over a dramatically younger caucus, including three McGill University students and a bartender in the heavily francophone riding of Berthier-Maskinonge.  That presents a problem for newly elected Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who so disbelieved she was a serious candidate, she spent the last week of the campaign running around Las Vegas.  She also doesn’t speak French.  A local station that finally reached her in Las Vegas to discuss her win had to abandon the interview when she was unable to offer coherent answers to questions in Quebec’s majority language.  Rosetta Stone is in her near future.  So is a trip to her district — Brosseau told the Trois-Rivières newspaper Le Nouvelliste she has never stepped foot in the riding before.  But she offered the people there seemed nice.

While the NDP doesn’t have a majority, they are sure to call out any Conservative telecommunications policies that appear to be anti-consumer, and turn them into media events — good news for a country whose television media often ignores telecommunications stories.  A five minute interview with Charlie Angus will surely deliver plenty of amusing soundbites for the evening news.

With the strengthened majority of the Conservative Party, it’s a safe bet Canadian telecommunications policies will no longer be stuck in neutral.  There are open questions if Tony Clement, Industry Minister will retain his portfolio or make a move elsewhere in government.  Clement has steadfastly insisted UBB is unacceptable to him and the government.  The upcoming review by the CRTC of their earlier decision is likely to give the government some time to sort things out.  The Conservatives ignored Openmedia.ca’s request for a formal position against UBB, something that does give us pause.

It will remain important for Canadian consumers to keep the pressure on the Tories to act when regulatory bodies like the CRTC fail.  The natural view of the Conservatives in to let the marketplace sort things out, but even they recognize that is an impossibility in a duopoly.  When 500,000 Canadians sign a petition against UBB, standing with big cable and phone companies would be political suicide.

What Conservatives are likely to promote is increased competition.  So far, that has not meant much, especially as consolidation continues in the broadcasting and telecommunications sector.  The Tories best answer for now is throwing doors open to foreign investment in telecommunications, especially in wireless.  That will mean relaxing foreign ownership rules which could help new cell phone entrants — Wind Mobile, Mobilicity and Public Mobile expand their competitive reach.  If the Tories adopt the new rules, even AT&T could move north of the border — but that will bring no relief to Canadians seeking an escape from Internet Overcharging schemes.  Other issues likely to come up — copyright reform legislation, royalty taxes imposed on digital devices, and piracy.

Cable One’s Ongoing Math Problem: Broadband Pricing Like a Cell Phone Data Plan

Cable One or Cellular One?

Cable One is unique among America’s top-10 large cable system owners for its nearly incomprehensible broadband usage policies, only fully disclosed to customers after they sign up for service.

The cable company, owned by the owners of the Washington Post, have been tinkering with their broadband pricing and Internet Overcharging schemes as they embark on upgrades to DOCSIS 3 broadband service.  The result: faster broadband service priced like a cell phone plan.

Currently, Cable One controls usage of their customers with a daily usage ration coupled with a speed throttle.  For customers, it means keeping track of usage, time of day, and whether you are in the over-usage doghouse with speeds cut in half.

Stop the Cap! went through the sign-up procedure offered online at the Cable One website, suggesting we were new customers in the Anniston, Alabama area.  While the company is quick to disclose speeds and plan features, it takes some deep wading through an Acceptable Use Policy for new customers to unearth the company’s extensive and complicated limits on broadband usage.  The company doesn’t even like to disclose they are throttling your speeds in half as a punishment.  Instead they refer to them as ‘Standard Speeds’:

Standard & Extended Speeds: Residential

Plan Speeds Download 1.5 Mb 3.0 Mb 5.0 Mb 8.0 Mb 10.0 Mb 12.0 Mb
Upload 150 Kb 300 Kb 500 Kb 500 Kb 1000 Kb 1500 Kb
Standard Speeds Download Speed (+/-) 1500 kbps 1500 kbps 2500 kbps 4000 kbps 5000 kbps 6000 kbps
Upload Speed (+/-) 150 kbps 150 kbps 250 kbps 250 kbps 500 kbps 750 kbps
Extended Speeds Download Speed (+/-) 1500 kbps 3000 kbps 5000 kbps 8000 kbps 10000 kbps 12000 kbps
Upload Speed (+/-) 150 kbps 300 kbps 500 kbps 500 kbps 1000 kbps 1500 kbps

Standard & Extended Speeds: Business

Plan Speeds Download 5.0 Mb 10.0 Mb 12.0 Mb 15.0 Mb 20.0 Mb
Upload 1.0 Mb 1.0 Mb 1.5 Mb 2.0 Mb 2.5 Mb
Standard Speeds Download Speed (+/-) 2500 kbps 5000 kbps 6000 kbps 7500 kbps 10000 kbps
Upload Speed (+/-) 500 kbps 500 kbps 750 kbps 1000 kbps 1250 kbps
Extended Speeds Download Speed (+/-) 5000 kbps 10000 kbps 12000 kbps 15000 kbps 20000 kbps
Upload Speed (+/-) 1000 kbps 1000 kbps 1500 kbps 2000 kbps 2500 kbps

Threshold Limits: Residential

Plan Speeds 1.5 Mb Download 3.0 Mb Download 5.0 Mb Download 8.0 Mb Download 10.0 Mb Download 12.0 Mb Download
150 Kb Upload 300 Kb Upload 500 Kb Upload 500 Kb Upload 1000 Kb Upload 1500 Kb Upload
Period of Measurement No Measurement 12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
(Noon to Midnight)
12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
(Noon to Midnight)
12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
(Noon to Midnight)
12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
(Noon to Midnight)
12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
(Noon to Midnight)
Max Threshold Bytes Downstream
During Period of Measurement
N/A 1,400 MB 2,250 MB 3,600 MB 4,500 MB 11,000 MB
Max Threshold Bytes Upstream
During Period of Measurement
N/A 140 MB 225 MB 225 MB 450 MB 1,380 MB
Period at Standard Speed N/A 4 p.m to Midnight 4 p.m to Midnight 4 p.m to Midnight 4 p.m to Midnight 4 p.m to Midnight

Threshold Limits: Business

Plan Speeds 5.0 Mb Download 10.0 Mb Download 12.0 Mb Download 15.0 Mb Download 20.0 Mb Download
1.0 Mb Upload 1.0 Mb Upload 1.5 Mb Upload 2.0 Mb Upload 2.5 Mb Upload
Period of Measurement 2 p.m. – 12 a.m.
2 p.m. – 12 a.m.
2 p.m. – 12 a.m.
2 p.m. – 12 a.m.
2 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Max Threshold Bytes Downstream
During Period of Measurement
2,300 MB 6,900 MB 11,000 MB 20,700 MB 27,600 MB
Max Threshold Bytes Upstream
During Period of Measurement
460 MB 460 MB 1,380 MB 3,680 MB 4,600 MB
Period at Standard Speed 5 p.m. to Midnight 5 p.m. to Midnight 5 p.m. to Midnight 5 p.m. to Midnight 5 p.m. to Midnight

Company officials have been telling Cable One customers some of these complicated usage formulas are about to be relaxed as they introduce their new 50Mbps DOCSIS 3 broadband service.  With Cable One delivering service primarily in small cities and rural areas, the arrival of 50Mbps broadband has generated considerable excitement, until customers learned the cable company has decided to market it like a cell phone plan.

Cable One primarily serves small cities and towns in the central and northwestern United States.

“The new 50Mbps plan is downright bizarre here in Fargo, N.D.,” writes Stop the Cap! reader Paul.  “It actually costs less than their 10Mbps plan — I was quoted $45 a month for the broadband-only option, $35 if I signed a two year contract.  That actually saves me money as I currently spend just over $50 a month for their 10Mbps plan.”

But Paul learned the super fast broadband plan comes with some major strings attached.

“It is limited to 50GB of usage per month on what they are calling their ‘data plan,'” Paul shares.  “The customer service representative said it was like ordering a data plan with your wireless phone.”

Currently, the 50GB limit is the only data plan on offer, and the usage cap does not apply to usage overnight from midnight until noon the following day.  But those exceeding it at other times face a $0.50/GB overlimit fee.

Paul also says Cable One appears to be ready to dispense with the complicated speed throttle it uses on its mainstream 3-12Mbps broadband plans.  Cable One traditionally gave customers a daily usage allowance ranging from 1-11GB, after which accounts were subject to throttled speeds for the next 24 hours.

“Customers have complained about the slow speeds, throttles, and usage limits for years, if only because they couldn’t navigate all of them and Cable One’s usage measurement tool is often offline or inaccurate,” Paul writes.

“I first learned about Stop the Cap! when Cable One tried to charge some of our local residents $1,000 for cable equipment lost in a fire,” Paul says.  “Cable One has been so bad my wife was hoping Mediacom… Mediacom, would deliver us from them with a buyout.”

Cable One is an example of a cable company that has gone all out with Internet Overcharging, delivering customers an expensive and speed throttled broadband experience.

“Even though the lower price for the 50Mbps plan looks nice, it’s not if you start going over the limit,” Paul says.  “Sorry, broadband is not cell phone service.”

He is sticking with his current 10/1Mbps service plan.

Cable One representatives argue very few customers exceed any of the company’s plan limits, less than 1 percent exceeding them consistently.

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