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Senate Approves Resolution 52-47 to Nullify Net Neutrality Rollback

Phillip Dampier May 16, 2018 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

The Senate approved a resolution on a largely party line vote Wednesday that sends a symbolic message to the FCC it erred when it voted to repeal net neutrality.

The final vote pitted all 49 Democrats against all but three Senate Republicans to condemn the FCC’s decision to rollback the rules, scheduled to take effect in June. The three Republicans that joined the Democrats in favor of preserving net neutrality were Susan Collins from Maine, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, and John Kennedy from Louisiana — the latter two a surprise.

“Today is a monumental day,” said Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) during debate over the resolution. “Today we show the American people who sides with them, and who sides with the powerful special interests and corporate donors who are thriving under this administration.”

The measure faces a much tougher fight in the Republican-dominated House, where it may have trouble even coming up for a vote.

Using the Congressional Review Act, a law that permits Congress to revisit — and reject — decisions by federal agencies within 60 “session days” of their approval, Democrats drew a clear line in favor of net neutrality, which may become an issue in the midterm elections if the Republican-controlled House refuses to bring the measure up for a vote. If the measure passes the House, it will require the signature of President Trump to take effect. That may be unlikely, considering the president once claimed net neutrality was a plot by the Obama Administration to gain control of the internet.

Kennedy explained his vote in favor of net neutrality as an issue of trust.

“You either trust your cable company or you don’t,” Kennedy explained. “If you trust your cable company, you won’t like my vote. Under the 2017 order, a cable company can censor, throttle, or employ fast lanes so long as it discloses. The response from the other side of that is, well, just switch cable companies. But 22% of Louisianans and 19% of all Americans have access to only one internet service provider that can provide the minimum FCC mandated speed. So what are they going to do?”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai reiterated his belief net neutrality protections were not needed and would deter investment by cable and telephone companies in their networks, a claim hotly disputed by consumer groups that point to evidence investment rose even after net neutrality took effect.

The issue of keeping the internet free and open remains bipartisan, with wide percentages of Republicans and Democrats in favor of net neutrality. That may put Senate Republicans who voted against the measure and are up for re-election on the hot seat this fall.

NPR:

This issue doesn’t cut along clean party lines, said Steven Kull, who runs the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland and has studied public attitudes on net neutrality. The program’s research has found that majorities of Americans support government-mandated net neutrality protections.

“People are on the Internet a lot and it’s a big part of their daily experience and the prospect that it will be changed in some fundamental way is disturbing to quite a lot of them,” Kull said.

Fear is a great motivator for voters. Senate Democrats believe their resolution that put every Democrat on record in support of net neutrality — and most Republicans on record against it — can turn what was once considered a wonk issue, into a wedge issue this November. “People underestimate the passion of Internet voters, at their peril. They are mad, and they want to know what they can do, and this vote will make things crystal clear,” he said.

Frontier Employees Gripe About Deteriorating Conditions, Disappointed Customers

A growing number of Frontier Communications employees are sharing their dissatisfaction working at a phone company that continues its decline with nearly $2 billion in losses and more than a half-million customers departing in 2017.

Workers describe a deteriorating workplace with increasingly hostile and disappointed customers that want to take their business elsewhere, and employees that are increasingly frustrated and predict the company is headed towards bankruptcy.

“This is a company in a long-term decline, which is good and bad for workers and customers,” said ‘Geoff,’ a Frontier employee in California who wished to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. “It’s good because you know there is still some time left in case of a miraculous turnaround, but bad because like a glider slowly descending toward the ground, it is inevitably going to land or crash at some point in the not-too-distant future.”

Geoff was formerly employed by Verizon Communications before Frontier completed an acquisition of Verizon’s landline, fiber, and wireline networks in California in 2016. Now he’s employed full-time as a network engineer for Frontier.

“The trouble started almost immediately, because Verizon’s methodical, if not bureaucratic way of doing business was replaced with Frontier’s never ending chaos,” Geoff told Stop the Cap! “We were warned by techs in Connecticut, Indiana and West Virginia that Frontier’s management was very uneven, changes direction on various executive whims, and is very disconnected from mainline workers, and boy were they right.”

Geoff and his team, responsible for managing Verizon’s FiOS fiber network in Southern California, were split up after Frontier took over and put under severe budget restraints, which have grown tighter and tighter as Frontier’s economic condition deteriorates.

“Under good leadership, cost cutting can be an effective way to deal with wasteful, creeping spending that sometimes happens at large companies when budgets still reflect the priorities of several years ago, but Frontier just wants costs cut willy-nilly, including investments that actually save the company a lot of money, time, and frustration,” said Geoff. “Those cuts are also responsible for the deteriorating infrastructure and increasing failures customers are experiencing.”

“As a network engineer, I can see each day what Frontier’s network looks like and I talk to many other engineers at this company who are seeing much the same thing in their areas,” Geoff said. “If you live in an area where Verizon upgraded its network to fiber before selling it to Frontier, you will probably experience the least number of service problems, although the company’s billing systems are still troublesome. If you live in what Frontier calls its legacy (copper) markets, it’s a real mess and things are not getting better near fast enough, and customers are going elsewhere.”

Geoff’s views are shared by a growing number of hostile employee reviews being left on websites like Glassdoor. When cumulatively examined, those reviews show common points of complaint:

  • Customers are treated to aggressive sales tactics, offered products and services they cannot use, while rushed off the phone when reporting service problems.
  • Management is out of touch with employees and issue directives for new policies and services that cannot be easily managed from antiquated software and systems still in use at the company.
  • Because company is performing poorly, managers can be very protective of their employee teams and attempt to keep them independent and insulated from management chaos. New employees perceive this as ‘cliquish’ and they often do not do well when assigned to one of those teams, as they are viewed with suspicion.
  • Major cuts in training budgets have left employees with inadequate knowledge of Frontier’s own systems. In sales, this results in customers being sold plans they cannot actually get in their areas, incomplete orders, misrepresentation of pricing and product information, and customer trouble tickets being accidentally erased or left incomplete. Constant process changes are expected to be implemented by employees not trained to implement or manage them.
  • No significant upgrades are coming, but employees are trained to tell customers to be patient for better service that is unlikely to be forthcoming.

Many employees share the view, “we’re all in the same boat, except that boat is sinking.”

The Better Business Bureau offers this advisory about Frontier Communications, which received a grade of “F” from the consumer organization.

“Sally,” who works at a Frontier internet support call center, tells Stop the Cap! she has noticed customers are getting increasingly hostile towards the company.

“The frustration level is enormous for customers and those of us tasked to help them,” Sally said. “Frontier markets itself as a solutions company and we sell a lot of ‘Peace of Mind’ support services for technology products, including our own, but sometimes the only answer to a problem has to come from the company investing in its facilities and not making excuses for why things are not working.”

Sally explains many Frontier customers do not have much experience troubleshooting technology problems.

“Most of my calls come from our rural customers who don’t have a choice in internet providers or are from lower and fixed income customers that cannot afford the cable company’s prices for internet access,” Sally said. “They know what they want to do with their internet connections but call us when they can’t seem to do it, whether that is sending email or watching video or using an internet video calling application to see their grandkids. You can only imagine what they feel when we tell them their DSL connection is unstable or their speed is too slow to support the application they want to use. We end up disappointing a lot of people because the internet and technology is moving much faster than Frontier is and our network just cannot keep up.”

Sally has been on the receiving end of profanity and a lot of slammed down phones, but there is little she can do.

“We can send a repair crew out but considering some of our lines are decades old, there isn’t much they can do about it,” Sally said. “This is a problem only management can solve and they’ve been distracted trying to deal with shareholders, acquisitions, and if you don’t mind me saying, being very preoccupied with their performance bonuses. We always know when another bad quarter is coming because of last-minute directives from top management designed to really push sales and hold on to customers to limit the damage. That is also around the time they start taking perks away from us in various cost-cutting plans. My co-workers are starting to leave because they don’t feel valued and do not want to work for a company in a long-term decline.”

“It seems like Frontier has just given up trying to compete with cable companies for internet services and now just sells internet to rural customers it can reach with the help of government subsidies,” adds Geoff. “It’s easy to do business with customers who don’t have any other choice for internet access.”

42% of Frontier’s Customers in Nevada are “Very Dissatisfied” With Their DSL Service

Bad results for Frontier DSL in Nevada. (Source: Elko Residential Broadband Survey)

Bad results for Frontier DSL in Nevada. (Source: Elko Residential Broadband Survey)

Only six Frontier Communications customers surveyed in Elko, Nev. gave the phone company an “A” for its DSL service, while 42% flunked Frontier for what they considered unacceptable internet service.

The Elko Broadband Action Team has surveyed residential and business customers about broadband performance and found widespread dissatisfaction with Frontier Communications over slow connections and service interruptions.

“I’m pretty disappointed in them,” said Elko councilman John Patrick Rice.

Businesses and residential customers were in close agreement with each other rating Frontier’s service, with nearly 87% complaining they endure buffering delays or slowdowns, especially when watching streaming video. When browsing web pages, nearly three-quarters of surveyed customers still found service lacking.

Among the complaints (Res)-Residential (Bus)-Business:

  • Service interruptions: 74.43% (Res)/79.69% (Bus)
  • Too slow/not receiving advertised speed: 72.16% (Res)/65.75% (Bus)
  • Price: 63.64% (Res)/37.5% (Bus)
  • Customer Service: 38.07% (Res)/45.31% (Bus)

The Nevada Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection received a steady stream of complaints about Frontier’s DSL service in the state over the past year.

Answering the survey question, “would you be interested in faster download and upload speeds at prices that are somewhat comparable to what you are paying now?” 97.87 percent of residential respondents said yes.

Frontier representatives responded to the survey results at a March 27 Elko City Council meeting.

“Frontier did recognize it could improve upstream and downstream flow and educated the council and the public on some of the issues,” Elko assistant city manager Scott Wilkinson said.

Javier Mendoza, director of public relations for Frontier’s West region, explained much of the area Frontier services in Nevada is very rural, so customers are “located many miles from the core Frontier network facilities used to provide broadband service, which makes it technologically and economically challenging to provide faster internet speeds. However, Frontier is continually evaluating and working to improve its network and has and will continue to undertake various initiatives at a customer and community level to enhance its internet services.”

Mendoza said Frontier was currently testing fixed wireless internet service to serve rural areas, but had few details about the service or when it might be available.

Frontier also noted internet traffic was up 25% in the Elko area, primarily as a result of video streaming, social media, and cloud services.

But Councilmen Reece Keener complained Frontier was underinvesting in its network, meaning the company is not well-equipped to deal with increases in demand, something Mendoza denied.

“Several areas of the network providing internet service to Elko have been and continue to be upgraded, providing enhanced service reliability, and ultimately will enable new and upgraded services,” Mendoza said.

It can’t come soon enough for students of Great Basin College, where those taking online courses using Frontier DSL have problems uploading their assignments, claimed Rice, who taught online classes at the college.

“We can get the classes out to the students, but the challenge is for students to get assignments back to the college,” Rice said in a phone interview with the Elko Daily Free Press.

Frontier also claimed improved service performance so far in 2018, up from the fourth quarter of 2017. The company claimed 98.3% of service orders met performance goals, up from 94.37% and  commitments met scored at 92 percent, up from 89.98 percent. Trouble tickets declined from 1,712 to 1,244 across Nevada, the company also claimed.

Mediacom Increasing Business Broadband Speeds

Phillip Dampier March 22, 2018 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Mediacom No Comments

Mediacom Business reports the company will be increasing broadband speeds for its commercial customers around the country beginning April 1st without a change in rates.

The new speed tiers are:

  • 10 Mbps ($69.95) customers will be upgraded to 60 Mbps
  • 20 Mbps ($129.95customers will be upgraded to 100 Mbps
  • 50 Mbps ($199.95customers will be upgraded to 300 Mbps

Mediacom undertook a three-year network upgrade project starting in 2016, spending $1 billion to increase its fiber backhaul network and boost internet speeds and network capacity for its residential and commercial customers in 22 states where Mediacom operates. Mediacom offers gigabit speed across its footprint and claims it was the first major cable company in the country to offer universal access to gigabit speed. Commercial customers pay $349.95 a month for gigabit service.

Mediacom is also perennially rated the worst cable company in the country by its subscribers, according to Consumer Reports. Many of the complaints regard Mediacom’s internet service not meeting advertised speeds and suffering from overselling — placing too many customers on a shared connection which can drastically lower speeds during peak usage times. It isn’t known how much Mediacom’s upgrades have corrected these problems. Mediacom’s primary service areas are small and mid-sized towns and cities.

 

Cable One Raking It In With Rate Hikes: 47% Margin Highest in the Cable Industry

Cable One, the Phoenix-based mid-sized cable operator serving some of the poorest communities in the country is charging some of the nation’s highest prices for broadband service, raking in an unprecedented 47% margin in the fourth quarter of 2017, the highest in the cable industry.

That growth has come courtesy of CEO Julie Laulis, who has doubled down on data caps — automatically enrolling customers in higher priced plans if they exceed data caps three times in any 12-month period, raised prices, and ended most new customer and customer retention promotions in favor of ‘take it or leave it‘ pricing, especially on broadband service. Laulis has also decided to devote most of Cable One’s marketing efforts on selling broadband service, while de-emphasizing cable television. As a result, customers dissatisfied with Cable One’s lineup are encouraged to leave quietly.

Because video programming is costly to provide and broadband is relatively cheap to offer, the more the company can extract from its internet customers, the higher the profits earned. In 2011, cable television represented 49.1% of Cable One’s $779 million in revenue, with residential and commercial broadband comprising 34%. Today, 57% of Cable One’s $960 million in revenue comes from selling internet service. Cable One not only de-emphasized its video business, it also raised prices on internet service to further enhance earnings.

New customers coming to Cable One can subscribe to an entry-level broadband plan of 100 Mbps with a 300 GB monthly data cap for $55 a month. There are no discounts or promotions on this plan. But Cable One also requires customers to lease ($10.50/mo.) or buy an added-cost cable modem, raising the price higher. To prevent customers from taking advantage of promotions on higher speed products, Cable One requires customers to disconnect from service for a full year before being considered a new customer once again.

Laulis

Cable One has been able to raise prices and attach stingy usage caps to customers primarily because there are no good alternatives in the rural markets it prefers. One analyst said 77% of Cable One’s customers are in largely rural areas of Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma. But prices are clearly getting too high for some, because the company lost more video and phone customers that it gained in new broadband subscriptions during the fourth quarter of 2017.

The fact Cable One broadband is now considered by many subscribers to be “too expensive” is also reflected by the extremely anemic broadband growth at Cable One. In 2017, the company added just 1.5% to its residential broadband customer base, despite very limited competition from phone companies.

MoffettNathanson’s Craig Moffett has complained all winter that Cable One is sacrificing broadband subscriber growth in favor of profits from price increases.

“[Cable One has] the most limited broadband competition of any publicly traded operator, and they have the lowest starting penetration,” Moffett told his investors. “Should they not be growing broadband the fastest of anyone? If price elasticity is greater than anyone thinks, how long is the runway, not just for Cable One, but for any operator choosing a strategy of price increases rather than unit growth?”

Cable One is also squeezing its newest customers at its latest acquisition – NewWave, which now features pricing very similar to Cable One. It recently started to turn over past due NewWave customers to collections after going 40 days past due. Previously, it was 90 days before account holders were threatened with cancellation and collections.

For now, NewWave’s introductory offer remains: 100 Mbps High-Speed Internet is $39 for the first three months before these rates kick in:

100Mbps 150Mbps 200Mpbs 200Mpbs 200Mpbs
Monthly Price* $55 $80 $105 $130 $155
Download Speed Up To 100 150 200 200 200
Upload Speed Up To 3 5 10 10 10
Best for # of Household Devices 5 8 10 10 10
Data Plan 300GB 600GB 900GB 1200GB 1500GB
Household Needs Download files/music
Power surfing
Occasional gaming
Mulitple surfers
Serious gaming
Mulitple devices & users
Serious gaming
Mulitple devices & users
Serious gaming
Mulitple devices & users
Home Wifi Included* Included* Included* Included* Included*
Streaming Video HD Video Multiple HD Video Multiple HD Video Multiple HD Video
iTunes Downloads of 45 minute show 15.6 seconds 10.8 seconds 7.8 seconds 7.8 seconds 7.8 seconds

*Plans & pricing for new customers. Rates do not include optional modem fees of $10.50 per month. Rates subject to change. Taxes and fees not included.

 

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