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Telus Implementing Usage-Based Billing April 21; Already Raised Broadband Rates in Feb.

Phillip Dampier April 3, 2014 Canada, Internet Overcharging, Telus No Comments

Telus is notifying customers in Prince George, B.C. and surrounding areas it will begin imposing usage-based billing for Internet service effective April 21.

Despite claims that implementing usage-based charges will save customers money, nearly every Telus broadband user is already paying a higher bill because of a rate increase announced in late January.

logoTelus

telus data allowance

Telus’ usage allowances range from 15GB a month for High Speed Lite users to 400GB for Telus Internet 50 users. Telus is also imposing a scaled overlimit fee system based on the total amount of excess usage. Customers face a $5 overlimit fee for up to 50GB of overuse to a maximum of $75 for 350GB and above. A typical customer with a 150GB usage allowance using 250GB would pay the usual $55/month broadband charge plus a $25 overlimit penalty, raising the price of service to $80.

Starting in June, Telus will introduce an Unlimited Internet Usage option (price not disclosed) for any of their Internet plans.

overlimit fees

Telus wants to fence in "data hogs" with "fairness."

Telus wants to fence in “data hogs” with “fairness.”

“It’s fair that people pay for how much they use, as you would with any other service,” Telus explained. “Our goal is to offer customers a broad spectrum of plans that meet everyone’s needs, and to get customers on the right plan for them.

“Someone who uses their basic Internet service for a bit of email, Skyping with the grandkids, and sharing photos shouldn’t pay as much as someone who games and downloads hundreds of gigabytes of videos every month,” Telus added.

Of course, every customer is already paying more after Telus raised its broadband rates on Feb. 26.

“The cost of managing, expanding and improving our network continues to rise,” Telus explained. “We’re doing our best to keep rate increases as moderate as possible, while still offering great services, flexibility and good value.”

So effectively no customer is actually saving any money with Telus’ usage-based billing. They are actually paying more today and could potentially pay much more when overlimit fees take effect later this month.

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Comcast Hotspot Wi-Fi Usage Will Be Tied Back to Customer’s Broadband Account

xfinity wifiComcast customers using the company’s growing network of Wi-Fi network hotspots will have their usage tracked to their broadband accounts, opening the door for Comcast to count wireless use against a customer’s future monthly usage allowance.

As part of a press release announcing that more than 300,000 Comcast hotspots are now available in New England, the cable company added that it is preparing to activate its Xfinity Wi-Fi Neighborhood Hotspots in the region, allowing other Comcast customers to share your Comcast Internet service over a separate Wi-Fi channel provided by your gateway. But it noted customers will need to log-in first, permitting Comcast to measure just how much of the wireless service you are using:

wifi hotXfinity WiFi Neighborhood Hotspots – In June of last year, Comcast announced its plans to create millions of WiFi access points for its customers through a neighborhood hotspot initiative. Comcast is the first major ISP in the country to deploy this innovative technology. This new initiative gives customers with Xfinity Wireless Gateways an additional “xfinitywifi” signal (or SSID) in their home that is completely separate and distinct from the private and secure home WiFi signal. Offered at no additional cost, the additional WiFi signal will allow visiting Xfinity Internet subscribers instant, easy access to fast and reliable WiFi without the need to share the home’s private network password and without an impact to the home subscriber’s speed. And since visitors sign in with their own Xfinity credentials, their usage and activities are tied back to their own accounts, not the homeowner’s.

 

Comcast is testing the reimplementation of a usage cap – now set at 300GB a month – in several cities in the southern U.S. Wireless usage could eventually also be counted against that cap.

Many of Comcast’s primary outdoor hotspots are in larger cities, such as Greater Boston. Most of the one million total hotspots Comcast hopes to activate are located in residential customers’ homes using Comcast’s Wireless Gateway.

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Time Warner Cable, Comcast Crash, Burn in Consumer Reports’ 2014 Ratings

consumer reportsDespite claims of improved customer service and better broadband, Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s customer satisfaction scores are in near-free fall in the latest Consumer Reports National Research Center’s survey of consumers about their experiences with television and Internet services.

Although never popular with customers, both cable operators plummeted in the 2014 Consumer Reports ratings — Time Warner Cable is now only marginally above the perennial consumer disaster that is Mediacom. Comcast performs only slightly better.

In the view of Consumers Union, this provides ample evidence that two wrongs never make a right.

“Both Comcast and Time Warner Cable rank very poorly with consumers when it comes to value for the money and have earned low ratings for customer support,” said Delara Derakhshani.  “A merger combining these two huge companies would give Comcast even greater control over the cable and broadband Internet markets, leading to higher prices, fewer choices, and worse customer service for consumers.”

These ratings reflect Internet service only.

These ratings reflect Internet service only.

Comcast ranked 15th among 17 television service providers included in the ratings and earned particularly low marks from consumers for value for the money and customer support.  Time Warner ranked 16th overall for television service with particularly low ratings for value, reliability, and phone/online customer support.

Another ratings collapse for Comcast and Time Warner Cable

Another ratings collapse for Comcast and Time Warner Cable

Comcast and Time Warner Cable were mediocre on overall satisfaction with Internet service.  Both companies received especially poor marks for value and low ratings for phone/online customer support.

“In an industry with a terrible track record with consumers, these two companies are among the worst when it comes to providing good value for the money,” said Derakhshani.  “The FCC and Department of Justice should stand with consumers and oppose this merger.”

For as long as Stop the Cap! has published, Mediacom has always achieved bottom of the barrel ratings, with satellite fraudband provider HughesNet — the choice of the truly desperate — scoring dead last for Internet service. We’re accustomed to seeing the usual bottom-raters like Frontier (DSL), Windstream (DSL), and FairPoint (DSL) on the south end of the list. But now both Comcast and Time Warner Cable have moved into the same seedy neighborhood of expensive and lousy service. Comcast couldn’t even beat the ratings for Verizon’s DSL service, which is now barely marketed at all. Time Warner Cable scored lower than CenturyLink’s DSL.

Breathing an ever-so-slight sigh of relief this year is Charter Communications, which used to compete with Mediacom for customer raspberries. It ‘rocketed up’ to 18th place.

If you want top-notch broadband service, you need to remember only one word: fiber. It’s the magical optical cable phone and cable companies keep claiming they have but largely don’t (except for Verizon and Cincinnati Bell, among a select few). If you have fiber to the home broadband, you are very happy again this year. If you are served by an independent cable company that threw away the book on customer abuse, you are relieved. Topping the ratings again this year among all cable operators is WOW!, which has a legendary reputation for customer service. Wave/Astound is in second place. Verizon and Frontier FiOS customers stay pleased, and even those signed up with Bright House Networks and Suddenlink report improved service.

Ratings are based on responses from 81,848 Consumer Reports readers. Once again they plainly expose Americans are not happy with their telecom options. The average cost of home communications measured by the Mintel Group is now $154 a month — $1,848 a year. That’s more expensive than the average homeowner’s clothing, furniture or electricity budget. The same issues driving the bad ratings last year are still there in 2014: shoveling TV channels at customers they don’t want or need, imposing sneaky new fees along with broad-based rate increases every year, low value for money, and customer service departments staffed by the Don’t Care Bears.

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UPDATED: Comcast Wants Some Broadband Customers to Rent Comcast-Issued Cable Modems

Phillip Dampier March 25, 2014 Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 15 Comments
Comcast's gateway

Comcast’s gateway

Some customers are angry and frustrated to learn Comcast has stopped “officially” allowing the use of customer-owned cable modems for its 105Mbps “Extreme” service, insisting subscribers rent a company-supplied gateway for $8 a month.

“Only Comcast issued equipment ensures that the specifications are always met and are not altered intentionally or unintentionally,” reads a technical bulletin issued by the cable company issued Feb. 26.

The new policy was discovered by a Comcast customer in Virginia having trouble with his broadband service. He was using his customer-owned Zoom 5341J — equipment on Comcast’s approved modem list.

“[A Comcast executive customer service representative] insisted that list is incorrect and I must rent a modem from them to receive the correct speeds on [the] Extreme 105 package,” writes ExoticFish on the Broadband Reports’ Comcast forum.

The bulletin, identified as ID TLK1043 and intended for the use of Comcast employees, explains:

Document ID TLK1043; Published February 26, 2014

Overview

Extreme 105 is the latest Comcast DOCSIS 3.0 XFINITY speed product, which provides extreme and unbelievable Internet speeds for customers. The product provides:

  • 105Mbps download speed
  • 20Mbps upload speed

Affected Areas

National.

Some of the Talking Points are not applicable for the Central Division.

Comcast-LogoImpact to Comcast

The Premium Installation fee for Extreme 105 is $249. Extreme 105 is installed by 105Mbps trained technicians. The Comcast Technician will:

  • Conduct an in-depth analysis of the customer network.
  • Ensure that the customer’s home and equipment are prepared to support the speeds included in the Extreme 105 service.
  • Perform a node health check on the day of installation and also on a daily basis after installation.

Impact to Customer

Extreme 105 targets:

  • Hard-core gamers
  • Users with several computers in their house
  • Users who upload and share multimedia files

Media Inquiries

Any media inquiries should be directed to the local market media team.

Q&A

Some of the Frequently Asked Questions and their responses are as below:

Why do I need to use Comcast issued equipment?
Only certified Comcast equipment delivers the ensured service speed attached to the customer’s account.

Comcast allows customers to use their own equipment for all your other Internet packages, why not Extreme 105?
Generally customers can use their own equipment and configure it as they see fit. But for Extreme 105, the configuration must be done and maintained at certain specifications. Only Comcast issued equipment ensures that the specifications are always met and are not altered intentionally or unintentionally.

But I have a DOCSIS 3.0 Modem and N Router, why do I need your versions?
Comcast installs equipment which have gone through extensive network certification process of Comcast and which have been proven in both laboratory and live network tests. This ensures that the equipment performs consistently and delivers the subscribed speed and services.

Does the $249 installation fee include installation of a wireless router?
Yes, the installation fee includes the installation of Comcast owned wireless router.

Why is there a premium installation fee for Extreme 105?
Extreme 105 is a premier Internet product by Comcast and the premium installation fee guarantees a speed of 105Mbps. A Comcast Certified Installation Technician performs additional tests which are not performed during installation of other premier internet service.

Is the premium installation fee refundable if I disconnect the service in 30, 60, 90 days?
The installation fee is non-refundable.

With Comcast reportedly preparing to boost speeds for its customers in the near future, those signed up for Comcast’s 50Mbps “Blast” tier could soon see speed upgrades to 105Mbps. That might expose those customers to the same mandatory rental charge.

The Virginia customer never realized Comcast changed its policies until he had service problems. It was then that a senior representative insisted the customer switch to Comcast’s rented gateway device if he wanted his service fixed. Other customers still using customer-owned equipment and subscribed to 105Mbps service may continue to fly under the radar for some time and there does not seem to be any national effort to contact customers about their equipment.

Some speculate Comcast’s new policy might also relate to the company’s intention to expand its Wi-Fi network relying on Comcast customers with gateway devices to serve as hotspots. That would likely require the use of Comcast’s own gateway to be successful.

Updated: 3/26/14 — 12:17pm ET — Karl Bode at Broadband Reports got an answer back to his inquiry about this issue and a Comcast rep tells him the service tech handing out the above-referenced memo is not correct:

The painful spelling and grammar errors in the last bit of the supposed company memo seemed a little off, so I reached out to Comcast for comment. The long and short of it is: no, this is not official company policy.

“We’re going to have someone try to reach out to the forum poster to follow up, but the short of it is there is no policy change,” Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas tells me. “Customers can buy or rent modems. Here is our approved devices list.”

Karl adds: “I’m still trying to ferret out why exactly this install technician was trying to push strange and unofficial company policy, and how and why he was using an incorrect and grammatically mangled memo to justify the behavior.”

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Denial of Service Attack on One Mass. Customer Brings Verizon FiOS to Its Knees for Many

Phillip Dampier March 24, 2014 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Verizon 3 Comments
A denial of service attack often directs compromised computers to join in the attack, bringing an enormous amount of simultaneous traffic to a single, targeted user. The result is usually very slow or no Internet service.

A denial of service attack often directs compromised computers to join in the attack, bringing an enormous amount of simultaneous traffic to a single, targeted user. The result is usually very slow or no Internet service. (Image courtesy: Cisco)

For nearly a month, Verizon FiOS customers in Westborough and Northborough, Mass. have experienced frequent slowdowns and outages of their Internet and telephone service that Verizon now admits have been traced to a denial-of-service attack on a single residential customer in Westborough.

“Someone deliberately flooded that customer with an overwhelming amount of traffic that rendered their Internet service inoperable,” Verizon spokesman Philip G. Santoro told The Telegram. “When that happened, it caused Internet service to periodically slow down for other customers in Westborough,” he wrote. “We are working to restore service to normal as soon as possible. DOS attacks are all too common today among customers of all Internet providers. It’s important to remind Internet users to keep their firewalls operating and to keep their security software current.”

When the newspaper first reached Santoro for comment, he claimed there wwere no widespread outages reported, but angry customers disagreed on the community’s Facebook page and six filed complaints with the state’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.

The outages have been a problem as far back as Feb. 26, growing more frequent in number since March 3. Business customers were also affected.

“It happened around 3 o’clock, every day,” said Allen Falcon, chief executive officer for Cumulus Global, a cloud computing company in Westborough. “Sometimes it was a few minutes, sometimes 45 minutes to an hour.” A few times, the interruptions occurred in the morning, just after 9 a.m., he said.

westboroughWhen the attacks began, they not only affected the company’s Internet connection, but also its business phone service.

Verizon’s first solution was to replace FiOS routers, which proved ineffective.

Customer Steve Winer from Westborough told the newspaper sending Verizon crews out with new equipment was a waste of time and money.

“I am just wondering how much time and money was wasted on this,” he wrote the newspaper in an email. “I know I spent at least a couple of hours on the phone, and others shared similar stories. But, if you add up all the shipped routers and unnecessary service calls, along with the time both of us customers and (Verizon) personnel, I am sure it really adds up, and could have been avoided if someone had simply put two and two together and posted a chronic outage which began in February.”

Verizon's wired success story

Last week, Verizon finally identified the specific customer targeted by the cyber-attack and terminated his FiOS account, which also put an end to the service-disrupting attacks.

Some customers are wondering whether Verizon has an effective plan to deal with future cyber attacks.

“It seems FiOS is very vulnerable to these attacks, which not only affects the target’s service, but that of everyone else in town,” wrote Stop the Cap! reader Steve Read, a Northborough resident. “They need a way to quickly isolate these kinds of attacks and keep them from affecting other customers’ service.”

Customers affected by the outages can contact Verizon FiOS customer service and request credit for the outages.

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Verizon: Prioritization and Compensation for Certain Traffic is the Future of the Internet

McAdam

McAdam

The head of Verizon believes two concepts will become Internet reality in the short-term future:

  1. Those that use a lot of Internet bandwidth should pay more to transport that content;
  2. The “intelligent” Internet should prioritize the delivery of certain traffic over other traffic.

Welcome to a country without the benefit of Net Neutrality/Open Internet protection. A successful lawsuit brought by Verizon to toss out the Federal Communications Commission’s somewhat informal protections has given Verizon carte blanche to go ahead with its vision of your Internet future.

Lowell McAdam, Verizon’s CEO, answered questions on Tuesday at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, attended by Wall Street investors and analysts.

McAdam believes groups trying to whip Net Neutrality into a major issue are misguided and uninformed about how companies manage their online networks.

“The carriers make money by transporting a lot of data,” McAdam said. “And spending a lot of time manipulating this, that accusation is by people that don’t really know how you manage a network like this. You don’t want to get into that sort of ‘gameplaying.’”

netneutralityMcAdam believes there is nothing wrong with prioritizing some Internet traffic over others, and he believes that future is already becoming a reality.

“If you have got an intelligent transportation system, or you have got an intelligent healthcare system, you are going to need to prioritize traffic,” said McAdam. “You want to make sure that if somebody is going to have a heart attack, that gets to the head of the line, ahead of a grade schooler that is coming home to do their homework in the afternoon or watch TV. So I think that is coming to realization.”

But McAdam also spoke about the need for those generating heavy Internet traffic to financially compensate Internet Service Providers, resulting in better service for content producers like Netflix — not considered ‘priority traffic’ otherwise.

“You saw the Netflix-Comcast deal this week which I think — or a couple weeks ago — which is smart because it positions them farther out into the network, so they are not congesting the core of the Internet,” said McAdam. “And there is some compensation going back and forth, so they recognize those that use a lot of bandwidth should contribute to that.”

McAdam reported to investors he had spoken personally with FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who seems to be taking an even more informal approach to Net Neutrality than his predecessor Julius Genachowski did.

Verizon's machine-to-machine program is likely to be a major earner for the company.

Verizon’s machine-to-machine program is likely to be a major earner for the company.

“In my discussions with Tom Wheeler, the Chairman, he has made it very clear that he will take decisive action if he sees bad behavior,” McAdam said, without elaborating on what might constitute ‘bad behavior.’ “I think that is great; great for everybody to see that. And I think that is what we would like to see him do, is have a general set of rules that covers all the players: the Netflixes, the Microsofts, the Apples, the Googles, and certainly the Comcasts and the Verizons. But the only thing to do is not — you can’t just regulate the carriers. They’re not the only players in making sure the net is healthy. And I think we all want to make sure that investment continues in the Internet and that customers get great service.”

Verizon has already reported success monetizing wireless broadband usage that has helped deliver growing revenue and profits at the country’s largest carrier. Now McAdam intends to monetize machine-to-machine communications that exchange information over Verizon’s network.

McAdam believes within 3-4 years Americans will have between five and ten different devices enabled on wireless networks like Verizon’s in their cars, homes, and personal electronics. For that, McAdam expects Verizon will earn between $0.25 a month for the average home medical monitor up to $50 a month for the car. Verizon is even testing wireless-enabled parking lots that can direct cars to empty parking spaces.

For those applications, McAdam expects to charge enough to guarantee a 50% profit margin.

“These can be very nice margin products,” McAdam told the audience of investors. “So even at $0.25 if you are doing 10 million of them and it’s 50% or better margins, those are attractive businesses for us to get into.”

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Read Between AT&T’s Landlines: What They Don’t Say Will Cost Kentucky, Other States

Phillip "Another year, another AT&T deregulation measure" Dampier

Phillip “Another year, another AT&T deregulation measure” Dampier

It’s back.

It seems that nearly every year, AT&T and its well-compensated fan base of state legislators trot out the same old deregulation proposals that would end oversight of basic telephone service and allow AT&T (and other phone companies in Kentucky) to pull the plug on landline service wherever they feel it is no longer profitable to deliver.

This year, it’s Senate Bill 99, introduced once again by Sen. Paul “AT&T Knows Best” Hornback (R-Shelbyville). Back in 2012, Hornback disclosed AT&T largely authors these deregulation measures and he introduces them on AT&T’s behalf. In fact, he’s proud to admit it, telling the press nobody knows better than AT&T what the company needs the legislature to do for it.

“You work with the authorities in any industry to figure out what they need to move that industry forward,” Hornback said. “It’s no conflict.”

While Hornback moves AT&T forward, “his” bill will move rural Kentucky’s best chances for broadband backwards.

AT&T always pulls out all the stops when lobbying for its deregulation bills. In Kentucky, AT&T has more than 30 legislative lobbyists, including a former PSC vice chairwoman and past chairs of the state Democratic and Republican parties working on their behalf. It has spent over $100,000 in state political donations since 2007.

The chief provisions of the bill would:

  • End almost all oversight of telephone service by the Public Service Commission anywhere there are more than 15,000 people living within a telephone exchange’s service area;
  • Give Kentucky phone companies the right to disconnect urban/suburban basic landline phone service and replace it with either wireless or Voice over IP service;
  • Allow rural customers to keep landline service for now, but also permits AT&T and other companies to effectively stop investing in their rural wired networks.

yay attThis year, AT&T apparently conceded it was just too tough to convince the legislature to let them disconnect hundreds of thousands of rural Kentucky phone customers at the company’s pleasure, so this time they have permitted rural wired service to continue, with some exceptions that make life easier for AT&T.

First, the end of oversight of telephone service means customers in larger communities in Kentucky will have no recourse if their phone service doesn’t work, is billed incorrectly, is disconnected during a billing dispute, or never installed at all. The PSC has traditionally served as a last resort for customers who do not get satisfaction dealing with the local phone company directly. PSC intervention is taken very seriously by most phone companies, but the state agency will be rendered almost toothless under this bill.

Second, although existing rural phone customers would be able to keep their basic landline service (for now) under this measure, nothing prevents AT&T from marketing alternative wireless phone service to customers experiencing problems with their existing service. Verizon has attempted that in portions of upstate New York, where telephone network deterioration has led to increased complaints. In some cases, Verizon has suggested customers switch to wireless service instead of waiting for phone line repairs which may or may not solve the problem. New rural customers face the possibility of only being offered wireless or alternative phone services.

Third, provisions in the bill give AT&T and other companies wide latitude to offer wireless or Voice over IP alternatives to landline service with little recourse for customers who only later discover these alternatives don’t support faxes, medical or security alarm monitoring, dial-up Internet, credit card processing, etc.

Fourth, the bill eliminates any requirement imposed upon broadband service in existence as of July 15, 2004. In fact, the measure specifically defines both phone and broadband service as “market-based and not subject to state administrative regulation.” That basically means service will be unregulated.

AT&T's wireless home phone replacement

AT&T’s wireless home phone replacement

Here are some real world examples of where S.B. 99 could trip up consumers:

  1. An elderly Louisville couple living the summer months in Louisville discover their phone service has been switched to the U-verse platform over the winter as AT&T seeks to decommission its deteriorating landline network in the neighborhood. S.B. 99 offers customers a 30-day opt out provision upon first notification, allowing a customer dissatisfied with the alternative service the right to switch back to their landline. But this couple was in Florida during the 30-day window, did not receive the notification to opt out in time to act, and are now stuck with U-verse. Unfortunately, the home medical monitoring equipment for his pacemaker does not work with Voice over IP phone service. This couple’s recourse: None.
  2. A customer moves into a new home currently served by AT&T’s wireless home phone replacement service. The customer doesn’t like the sound quality of the service and wants a traditional landline instead. Her recourse: None.
  3. A retired couple uninterested in broadband service or television from AT&T U-verse suddenly discovers AT&T wants to raise prices on landline phone service, but offers savings if the couple agrees to sign up for U-verse. Instead of paying a $25 monthly phone bill, the couple is now being asked, on a fixed income, to pay $100 a month for services they don’t want or need. Their recourse: They can appeal to keep their landline if they meet the aforementioned deadline, but they have no recourse if AT&T raises rates for basic phone service to make its discounted bundled service package seem more attractive.

Hood Harris, president of AT&T Kentucky, follows the same playback AT&T always uses when pushing these bills by framing its argument around landline telephone service regulation, which is an easy sell for cell phone-crazy customers who have not made a landline call in years:

Harris

Harris

Some of Kentucky’s laws that regulate our phones were written before cable television, cell phones, the Internet or email existed.

Because of these outdated laws, providers like AT&T must sink resources into outdated technology that could be invested in the modern broadband and wireless technology consumers want and need.

Every dollar invested in old technology is a dollar not being invested in speeding up the build out of new technology across the commonwealth.

It’s no longer the 19th century coming into your home over the old, voice-only phone network that was put in place under now-outdated laws. It’s the 21st century coming into your home over modern networks. While technology has changed dramatically for the better in just the past few years, our laws have not.

Despite what you may have heard, SB 99 will not remove landlines from rural homes or businesses.

Instead, this legislation puts those customers in charge of deciding which communications services they want and need. If you are a rural customer, for example, you may choose to join the nearly 40 percent of Kentuckians who already have moved on from landline home phones and gone only with a wireless phone, or you may choose a landline phone that’s provided over the Internet (known as Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP), or you may choose both a VoIP and a wireless service.

But you do not have to — you can keep your existing landline phone if you like. Under SB 99, the choice is yours.

It’s seems like a logical argument, until you read between the lines. Harris implies that those old-fashioned laws governing landlines you don’t have anymore are slowing down AT&T from bringing about a Broadband Renaissance for Kentucky. If AT&T only was freed from the responsibility of patching up its copper wire phone network, it could spend all of its time, money, and attention on improving cell phone service and bring broadband to everyone. Harris promises every resident will have a choice to get the service they want — wireless or wired — as long as you remember he is only talking about basic phone service, not broadband.

If your community isn't highlighted on this map, AT&T has a wireless-only future in store for you.

If your community isn’t highlighted on this map, AT&T has a wireless-only future in store for you.

Harris avoids disclosing AT&T’s true agenda. The company has freely admitted to shareholders it wants to scrap its rural wired network, now considered too costly to maintain for a diminishing number of customers. Unlike independent phone companies like Frontier, AT&T has been in no hurry to upgrade these rural customers for broadband service. AT&T has not even bothered to apply for federal broadband funding assistance to defray some of the costs of extending DSL to its rural customer base. With no possibility of buying broadband from AT&T, customers have little incentive to keep wired service if a cell phone will do. But decommissioning landline service in rural Kentucky guarantees these customers will probably never receive adequate broadband.

The "long term cost reduction" AT&T mentions above is for them, not for you.

The “long-term cost reduction” AT&T mentions above is for them, not for you.

AT&T claims it will invest the savings in a wireless broadband network for rural customers, but as any smartphone owner will attest, AT&T’s wireless service is much more expensive than traditional phone service and its data plans are stingy and very expensive. Customers who can buy DSL from AT&T pay as little as $14.99 a month for up to 150GB of usage. A wireless data plan with AT&T for a home computer or notebook starts at $50 a month and only provides 5GB of usage before customers face a $10 per gigabyte overlimit fee. Which would you prefer: paying $14.99 for 150GB of usage with AT&T DSL or $1,500 for the same amount of usage on AT&T’s wireless network?

AT&T’s claims it will expand broadband as a result of not having to spend money on its landline network are specious. In fact, regardless of whether Kentucky passes S.B. 99 or not, AT&T has already embarked on its last known U-verse expansion. Project Velocity IP (VIP) devotes $6 billion to expanding U-verse to 57 million homes, reaching 75% of customer locations by the end of 2015. For the remaining 25% of customers, mostly in rural areas, AT&T’s plan isn’t to spend more money on improved wired service. Instead, it will build out its wireless network to serve the remaining customers with its LTE wireless broadband service — the same one that costs you $1,500 a month if you use 150GB.

Wireless is a cash cow for AT&T, so even saddled with its landline network, the company still spends the bulk of its investments on the wireless side of the business. Project VIP could have devoted all its resources to bringing U-verse to a larger customer base, but it won’t. AT&T sees much fatter profits spending $14 billion now to expand its wireless 4G LTE network and collect a lot more money later from its rural Kentucky customers.

Kentucky residents who don’t have U-verse in their area by the end of 2015 are probably never going to get the service, with or without S.B. 99. So why support a measure that delivers all the benefits to AT&T and leaves you sorting through the fine print just to keep the service you have now at a reasonable price. In every other state where AT&T has won deregulation, it raises the rates with no corresponding improvement in service.

Just how bad can AT&T’s wireless home phone replacement be? Just look at their disclaimers:

AT&T Wireless Home Phone is not compatible with home security systems, fax machines, medical alert and monitoring services, credit card machines, IP/PBX Phone systems, or dial-up Internet service. AT&T’s fine print on its website.

“AT&T’s wireless services are not equivalent to wireline Internet.” Wireless Customer Agreement, Section 4.1.

“WE DO NOT GUARANTEE YOU UNINTERRUPTED SERVICE OR COVERAGE. WE CANNOT ASSURE YOU THAT IF YOU PLACE A 911 CALL YOU WILL BE FOUND.” (All caps in original). Section 4.1.

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Windstream Pays $600,000 to Settle False Broadband Speed Claims in Georgia

Phillip Dampier February 26, 2014 Video, Windstream 1 Comment
Windstream delivers turtle slow Internet speeds to customers paying for fast connections.

Windstream delivers turtle slow Internet speeds to customers paying for fast connections.

Windstream broadband customers in Georgia were not imagining their turtle-slow DSL Internet speeds after all. After a year-long investigation, the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection (GOCP) this week announced a $600,000 settlement with the rural telephone company over claims it was ripping off customers by falsely advertising broadband speeds it was in no position to deliver.

“This is essentially a truth in advertising case,” says John Sours, administrator of the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection.  “What consumers thought they were getting from a major company was significantly different from what they allegedly received. People need to be able to make informed choices about buying the services they need to communicate and do business. We are confident that this settlement will ensure that will now occur here.”

A GOCP investigation found substantial evidence Windstream routinely advertised and sold certain Internet speeds to customers it should have known it could not provide and/or guarantee, especially over its deteriorating copper landline network. Customers complained they should have been sold cheaper broadband packages with Internet speeds Windstream could actually deliver.

windstreamlogoCustomers who called to complain about the poor performance of their connection received empty promises from Windstream representatives that misrepresented the time frame within which broadband speeds would improve. In some cases, customers were not told their speed issues would likely never be resolved. In rural Georgia communities, DSL broadband is often the only available option.

The GOCP also found that some of Windstream’s “Lifetime Price Guarantee bundle” advertisements falsely implied that the advertised offer included high-speed Internet packages with speeds of “up to 12 Mbps”.

Windstream was also criticized for advertising a free 6-month “Hulu Plus” subscription but did not clearly disclose that consumers who failed to cancel the subscription at or before the 6-month period would be charged membership fees every month afterwards, until the membership was cancelled.

To resolve these allegations, Windstream will pay a total of $600,000, which includes a $175,000 civil penalty, $175,000 in administrative fees and expenses, and $250,000 in cy pres restitution to be used to buy new computer equipment for the Technical College System of Georgia. Customers will receive no compensation from the settlement, but Stop the Cap! strongly recommends that affected customers insist on compensation by appealing directly to Windstream for service credits and/or a penalty-free exit from any service commitments.

gocp“Windstream … has cooperated fully throughout the inquiry by the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection,” wrote a company spokesperson in a statement. “Windstream is pleased to resolve this inquiry by entering an assurance of voluntary compliance with all applicable advertising laws. That agreement includes no finding or admission of violation by the company.”

Windstream has represented to the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection that it is in the process of investing about $14 million to upgrade its fiber-supported areas in Georgia.  The company says that 90% or more of these upgrades were completed by the end of 2013, with the remaining upgrades slated for completion by mid-2014. The company expects the upgrades to address systemic download speed issues in the areas undergoing the upgrades. It is also seeking federal funding as well as exploring other options for upgrading the Internet service for consumers who are served by network equipment supported by copper-fed wires.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WGCL Atlanta Windstream Settles False Advertising Suit 2-25-14.mp4

WGCL in Atlanta reports Windstream has agreed to settle charges they falsely advertised broadband speeds customers could never receive. The state gets $600,000, customers get nothing. (1:56)

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Unlike Here, British Broadband Customers Satisfied With Their Broadband Providers

Plusnet offers DSL and fiber broadband plans (in some areas) that offer budget-priced capped or unlimited use plans.

Plusnet offers DSL and fiber broadband plans (in some areas) that offer budget-priced capped or unlimited use plans.

While North American cable and phone broadband providers are among the most-hated companies on the continent, in the United Kingdom, customers gave generally high scores to their Internet providers.

PC Advisor partnered with Broadband Genie, an impartial, independent, and consumer-focused commercial broadband comparison service. Together they engaged an independent survey company (OnPoll) to survey 3,000 broadband users, chosen at random, in late 2013 and early 2014. They asked those users how happy they were with their ISP, tested the speed and reliability of their connections, and found out other valuable tidbits, such as how much they were paying, and for what exactly. Altogether, more than 10,000 U.K. broadband users contributed to the data that made an in-depth assessment of British broadband possible.

The results might stun those on the other side of the Atlantic. Unlike in Canada and the U.S., British broadband users are satisfied overall with their providers, and are enthusiastic about recommending many of them to others. Even the worst-performing provider – BE – still had a 46% recommendation rating, and the company was sold to BSkyB well over a year ago and is in the process of being merged with Sky’s broadband service.

Around 68 percent of British broadband users responding still rely primarily on various flavors of DSL for Internet service. But BT, the national telephone company, is in the process of upgrading facilities and dramatically increasing the amount of fiber optics in its network. The result is what the Brits call “Super Fast Broadband.” Back here, we call it fiber to the neighborhood service similar to AT&T’s U-verse or Bell’s Fibe. In many cases, improved service is providing speeds much closer to 25Mbps vs. the 1-6Mbps many customers used to receive. The upgrade is an important development, especially in rural Britain, often left without Internet access.

Cable broadband is much more common in North American than in the United Kingdom. While cable television became dominant here, the British favored small satellite dishes like those used by DirecTV or Dish customers. With BT dominating wired infrastructure, the government required the company to open its landline network to third-party providers. Some cable companies do exist in England, but they hold only a 12% broadband market share, even lower than fiber to the home service now at nearly 20%.

Great Britain treats broadband as a national priority, and although the current government has controversially settled for a hybrid fiber-copper network instead of delivering fiber straight to every British home, it’s a considerable improvement over what came before, especially in rural areas. Usage caps that used to dominate British broadband plans are now an option for the budget-minded. Unlimited use plans are becoming more mainstream.

With all the upgrade activity and improved service, the Brits have gotten optimistic about their broadband future. Only 12% of those surveyed loathe their broadband supplier. Another 20% were neutral about recommending their ISP, but 51% considered themselves satisfied and another 17% considered their provider top rate. Many in Britain even expect their Internet bill will decrease in 2014, and compared with North American prices, it’s often very low already.

The average price paid by customers of various British ISPs (excluding line rental)

The average price paid by customers of various British ISPs (excluding line rental)

Average speed received by customers varies depending on the technology. Virgin operates cable broadband, Plusnet uses a mix of DSL and fiber, while the slower performers are primarily ADSL.

Average speed test results per ISP (kbps)

  • Virgin: 27,266

    virgin-media-union-logo

    Was top-rated for broadband reliability.

  • Plusnet: 24,529
  • BT: 13,164
  • TalkTalk: 6,910
  • EE: 6,818
  • Demon: 6,586
  • Sky: 5,942
  • Eclipse: 5,786
  • O2: 5,642
  • Be: 5,458
  • AOL: 3,809
  • Post Office: 3,255

Overall ratings and reviews from PC Advisor found Virgin Media (cable) and Plusnet (DSL/Fiber) near tied for top ratings.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/PC Advisor Best cheapest fastest broadband UK ISPs rated 2-19-14.mp4

PC Advisor talks about this year’s British ISP review, which reveals Brits are generally satisfied with their broadband speeds and pricing. (3:51)

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Broadband Monopolies/Duopolies Against the Public Interest, Declares China

chinatelChina’s top economic planning agency is assessing a monopoly case involving two large telecom companies and will make a ruling soon as the Beijing government declares uncompetitive broadband against the interests of the people.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) began to investigate the duopoly of China Telecom and China Unicom in the broadband business two years ago. The two companies, fearing reprisals, promised to end the questionable practices that brought scores of complaints from Chinese citizens over network incompatibilities, rising prices, and slow service.

The two companies together maintain a 90 percent market share of Chinese broadband, and both could face fines up to 10 percent of their annual Internet revenues if the NDRC finds they are acting as an abusive duopoly.

The Chinese government passed strict anti-monopoly laws in 2008 and has enforced them. Beijing has been particularly concerned about price discrimination against other Internet Service Providers and relentless rate hikes, even as costs to offer the service have dropped dramatically.

The NDRC said on Wednesday that the two companies submitted evidence that suggested both had significantly raised network integration, extended the direct-link bandwidth of their backbone networks, raised broadband speeds and lowered prices.

Although the Chinese government’s free market policies have brought investment and economic change to China, the government has grown increasingly concerned about leaving vital sectors of the economy unregulated. In several instances, the result has been bad for consumers and generally reduced innovation, as handfuls of conglomerates found it easier to enforce market power, reduce investment, and raise prices. The Chinese consider the country’s online networks critical to its participation in the global digital economy, with the NDRC acting as a check against uneven playing fields and abusive business practices.

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