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Sticker Shock for Time Warner Customers: A Review of Comcast’s Rates & Packages

comcast twcShould a deal to merge Time Warner Cable with Comcast be approved by regulators, Time Warner Cable customers can expect a number of changes to their cable, Internet, and phone service because of Comcast’s much more involved rate plans¹.

Customers should expect to pay significantly higher prices for a package comparable to what Time Warner Cable offers today, especially for cable television.

Broadband speeds will be faster with Comcast, but also likely usage-capped at 300GB a month, with overlimit fees applied to “heavy users.”

A sample Comcast bill

A sample Comcast bill

Customers may also be surprised to discover Comcast levies a number of ancillary fees that Time Warner does not, especially for various tasks completed by a Comcast customer service representative.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable have very different operating philosophies. Comcast is quickly moving customers to all-digital cable television service, so those Time Warner customers without set-top boxes or CableCARDs should be ready for a rapid transition to all-digital TV. Time Warner Cable, in comparison, has moved slowly towards digital service and uses a stop-gap technology that delivers some digital channels to neighborhoods only when being watched as a bandwidth conservation measure. Comcast will likely scrap that technology in favor of an all-out drive to switch to digital service.

Comcast’s television packages are very different from what TWC customers are used to buying. Time Warner customers can expect significant channel losses with Comcast’s nearest equivalent basic cable service. If you enjoy a lot of sports or old movies, Comcast will make you spend nearly $20 more on a higher-cost tier to get back the networks that Time Warner used to bundle as part of their basic cable service. But Comcast makes adding “whole home” DVR service look a lot more affordable than the $30+ unbundled fee Time Warner Cable has traditionally charged for the equipment and service.

In general Time Warner Cable customers should expect a higher bill for cable television, unless they want to downgrade service (for which Comcast also charges a service fee).

Broadband service from Comcast is also very different from what Time Warner Cable has offered. Most TWC customers now get 15/1Mbps service. Most Comcast customers get 25/5 or 50/15Mbps service. However, TWC doesn’t force usage caps on customers and Comcast is systematically reimposing them on theirs city by city, usually 300GB a month. The tradeoff with Comcast is faster advertised speed that comes usage-limited vs. slower speeds you can use as much as you want. Comcast also charges the highest modem rental fees in the country — now $8 a month in most places. Customers can and should buy their own modems. Those Time Warner Cable customers who already have better double-check to make certain Comcast will still support that equipment.

Phone service isn’t much different between the two companies, so we’re not covering it here.

Television Packages

Comcast offers a bigger variety of television packages than Time Warner Cable. Comcast likes to bundle premium channels into some of their higher end packages. Time Warner Cable’s prefers an a-la-carte approach with HBO and other similar networks.

tvComcast customers start with Limited Basic service, comparable to Time Warner Cable’s Broadcast Basic package. It primarily features over the air local television stations and often runs under $10 a month. Effective this year, there is also a $1.50/month Broadcast TV surcharge applicable to all cable TV customers.

A new concept for Time Warner Cable customers is Comcast’s Digital Economy package that includes Limited Basic, Digital Economy channels, and a standard definition cable box and remote. Consider this barely promoted tier the economy bare bones basic cable package. In addition to local channels, Digital Economy offers a lineup of home shopping channels, CNN, HSN, Cartoon Network, Lifetime, History, A&E, E!, Comedy Central, Spike TV, USA Network, Fox News Channel, The Weather Channel, Food Network, Animal Planet, TLN, BET, TV Guide Network, Discovery Channel, Comcast Network, CSPAN, EWTN, Jewelry Television, and Music Choice. This package is $40 a month, although promotions may cut the cost. For some, this may be more than enough.

But most Comcast cable TV customers choose the Digital Starter package that also includes Limited Basic, Expanded Basic, MoviePlex, and Music Choice. The lineup includes just over 80 channels. This $69.95 package is still smaller than what Time Warner Cable offers its digital cable customers, leaving out networks including Cloo, CNBC World, Al Jazeera America, Discovery Fit & Health, Disney XD, DIY, a range of ESPN’s extra networks, EWTN, Fine Living, Fox Business News, Great American Country, IFC, Investigation Discovery, Lifetime Real Women, Military Channel, MLB, most of MTV’s extra networks, NBA, National Geographic Channel, NFL Network, NHL Network, most of Nickelodeon’s extra networks, OWN, Oxygen, Sundance, Turner Classic Movies, The Science Channel, and VH1′s extra networks. There are other channels left out of the lineup as well. But Digital Starter customers do get the full lineup of Encore movie channels, for which TWC charges extra. However, sports and old movie fans will be dismayed to find so many sports networks and Turner Classic Movies excluded. Comcast customers have to pay more to get them back in the lineup.

Those who can’t live without sports networks and TCM, among other networks noted above, will have to pay for Comcast’s 150+ channel Digital Preferred package. This tier brings back the cable channels you used to get with Time Warner Cable (plus Encore), but it costs an extra $17.95 a month. Check your current Time Warner Cable TV bill. Compare it against Comcast’s total combined charge of $87.89 a month for a comparable lineup. How much is your cable TV bill going to increase after Comcast takes over?

special reportFor those who want even more, Comcast offers Digital Premier, with more than 190 channels. This package includes Digital Preferred, HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax and Comcast’s Sports Entertainment Package. It adds an extra $57.45 a month on top of the $69.95 Digital Starter package. That is $127.40 a month just for television service.

Time Warner customers looking for a DVR will probably be mystified by the way Comcast charges for DVR service. Comcast markets “whole house” DVR service much more aggressively than TWC. This service, dubbed AnyRoom, lets customers watch recorded shows on any set-top box-equipped television in the home, along with managing recordings. DVR service with Comcast costs an extra $8-10 a month, but Comcast also charges an “HD Technology Fee” of $9.95 a month to enable “whole house” service. Many higher end bundled packages incorporate the DVR service into the package, along with the Technology Fee.

At regular prices, a Comcast triple play customer should expect to pay $141.99 for the most bare bones TV, phone, and broadband package, $154.99 for the most popular package without premium channels, and $164.99 a month for a bundle that brings along a similar lineup to what TWC offers, along with Starz. Comcast’s nearest equivalent to Time Warner Cable’s $200 Signature Home service costs $239.99 a month and offers no better Internet speeds than what “regular” customers get.

Internet Plans

comcast-splash-internetComcast does offer faster Internet service than what Time Warner Cable has sold for the last 3-4 years, but it will likely come with a usage cap of 300GB per month, with overlimit fees applied to those who exceed their allowance. Internet-only customers are going to find higher prices for broadband service than what Time Warner Cable charges. Comcast prefers bundled service customers, and deters cord-cutters with extremely high Internet-only pricing.

Comcast’s Internet Tiers (The first price is for Internet-only service followed by the price, when different, for customers subscribing to more than broadband)

  • Economy: 1.5Mbps/384kb (N/A)
  • Economy Plus: 3Mbps/768kbps ($39.95 $29.95)
  • Performance Starter: 6/1Mbps ($49.95)
  • Performance: 25/5Mbps ($64.95 $51.95)
  • Blast: 50/15Mbps ($74.95 $61.95)
  • Extreme 105: 105/20Mbps ($114.95 $99.95)

Modem fees are extra unless you buy your own equipment.

Other Comcast Fees You Better Know About

fine printComcast charges a number of extra fees and surcharges that raise customer bills without affecting Comcast’s advertised prices. The ones we have not already covered are included below. Among our favorites: Comcast charging $20 to hound you at your front door for a past due payment, charging shipping/handling and other fees for “self-install” kits that save Comcast money not having to dispatch a technician to your home, installation -and- activation fees for extra outlets, and that $249 “go away” service charge for their 105Mbps broadband tier. It is important to note not everyone will pay these fees and promotions often waive some of them. Customer service representatives will also drop some of them when asked, and may remove them from your bill if you complain loudly enough.

Ancillary Service Fees You May Encounter

  • Reactivation fees: Shut off for non-payment or vacation? Comcast charges $5 to reactivate Internet service, $5 to reactivate a phone line, and $1.99 to turn back on your cable television;
  • Field Collection Charge: If Comcast sends someone to your residence to collect a past due balance or pick up unreturned equipment, there is a $20 charge per visit;
  • Returned Payment Fee: $20 per returned payment;
  • Late Fee: 5% of your account balance;
  • Name Change Fee: $1.99;
  • Pay by Phone Convenience Fee: Making a payment by phone with a customer care representative will cost $5.99 per payment;
  • Copy of Bill: For bill statement copy requested by phone or in person, there is a $5 charge per bill;
  • Unreturned/Damaged Equipment: Charged at the suggested manufacturer’s replacement cost.

Common Equipment Fees

  • Signal Amplifier: $35/each
  • Self-Install Kit Convenience Fee: $40
  • Self-Install Kit Shipping & Handling: $9.95 (Standard Delivery)
  • Self-Install Kit Shipping & Handling: $29.95 (Priority Mail)
  • Remote Control Replacement by Mail (Separate Shipping): $5.95/each
  • other chargesVoice/Data Modem (Used for customers with phone and Internet service): $8/mo²
  • Wireless Gateway (Provides Wi-Fi service): $8/mo²
  • Cienna 3931 Modem & Netgear Wireless Router: $19.95/mo
  • Wireless Adapter (each, one-time charge): $30.00
  • Limited Basic Only Service Converter: $1/mo
  • Digital Converter: $2.50/mo
  • Remote Control: $0.18/mo
  • HD Digital Converter (Limited Basic Only): $2.20/mo
  • Digital Adapter (Limited Basic Only): $0.50/mo each
  • CableCARD: 1st card is free, each additional is $1/mo
  • Customer-Owned Video Equipment Credit: $2.50/mo

Installation and Service Calls (May vary with promotions)

  • Installation fee for one product: $32
  • Installation fee for two products: $80
  • Installation fee for three products: $90
  • In-Home Service Call: $32.10
  • Service Charge for Custom Installation Work: $33.20/hr
  • Installation fee for additional outlets: $13.35/ea at time of new customer visit, $32.15/ea for existing customers
  • Activation fee for additional outlets: $5.60/ea for new customers, $22.05/ea for existing customers
  • Relocation fee for additional outlets: $13.60/ea for new customers, $28.55/ea for existing customers
  • VCR/DVD Connection Charge: $7.90 for new customers, $16.35 for existing customers
  • Upgrade/Downgrade Service Fee (no in-home visit required): $1.99 per instance
  • Upgrade/Downgrade Service Fee (in-home visit required): $26.30 per instance of an upgrade, $12.05 per instance of a downgrade
  • payment centerUpgrade Standard Definition DVR or HD DVR Service: $26.30

Broadband-Specific Installation/Service Charges

  • Additional IP Address (first): $4.95/mo
  • Additional IP Addresses (second and/or third) $9.00/mo each
  • Professional Internet Installation: $99.95
  • Wireless Networking On-Site Professional Set-up (up to 4 devices per trip): $49.95
  • Wireless Networking On-Site Professional Set-Up (extra trips): $99.95/ea
  • Wireless Networking On-Site Professional Set-Up (each additional device over 4): $29.95/ea
  • Broadband-related In-Home Service Visit: $40/per trip
  • Extreme 105Mbps Broadband Professional Installation/Activation Surcharge: $249.00

¹The rates and services quoted in this piece were taken from Comcast’s current rate card for Cambridge, Mass. Rates and services may vary slightly in other markets. The rate card was effective June 2013.
²Comcast charges $7 a month for their modem rental in certain other markets.

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France, Germany Want to Build Internet Alternative to Avoid NSA/U.S. Wiretapping

Phillip Dampier February 17, 2014 Public Policy & Gov't No Comments
The Great Wall of Euronet?

The Great Wall of Euronet?

France and Germany are pondering the launch of an alternative Internet to keep European data from passing through the United States, subject to eavesdropping from U.S. intelligence including the National Security Agency.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, whose own cell phone was reportedly monitored by U.S. security officials, suggests the new Euronet could avoid U.S. networks and servers and keep sensitive e-mail and other communications away from American eavesdropping.

Speaking on her weekly podcast on Saturday, Merkel said Germany had been in discussion with France over the idea, and an official at French President François Hollande’s office confirmed to the Reuters news agency that the idea of a European communications network was a positive development and Paris agreed with Merkel’s proposal.

Merkel is also upset that Internet giants like Facebook and Google could base much of their operations in countries were data protection laws are lax, even while carrying out business in countries where data privacy laws are strong.

Merkel

Merkel

“We’ve got to do more for data protection in Europe, there’s no doubt about it,” Merkel said. “Above all, we’ll talk about European providers that offer security for our citizens, so that one shouldn’t have to send e-mails and other information across the Atlantic. Rather, one could build up a communication network inside Europe.”

However, it is unclear whether a European communications network would be effective in stopping the NSA and other surveillance organizations from accessing private data.

In an interview with German broadcaster ARD earlier this year, former American contractor Edward Snowden said that attempts to create a walled-off version of the Internet would do little to stop the NSA.

“The NSA goes where the data is,” Snowden said. “If the NSA can pull text messages out of telecommunication networks in China, they can probably manage to get Facebook messages out of Germany.”

Snowden’s revelations have created serious tension between the United States and its European allies over data privacy. Last week, lawmakers in the European Parliament threatened to scuttle a trade pact over the issue.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Merkel to Step Up Call for EU Internet 2-17-14.flv

Bloomberg reports Germany and France may decide to build a new European Internet, walled off from U.S. networks that allow America to engage in surveillance of private e-mail and other communications. (2:18)

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More Hackery on Broadband Regulation from the AT&T-Funded Progressive Policy Institute

Phillip "Follow the Money" Dampier

Phillip “Follow the Money” Dampier

“In the 1990s, U.S. policymakers faced critical choices about who should build the Internet, how it should be governed, and to what extent it should be regulated and taxed. For the most part, they chose wisely to open a regulated telecommunications market to competition, stimulate private investment in broadband and digital technologies, and democratize access.” — Will Marshall, guest columnist

Is competition in Internet access robust enough for you? Has your provider been sufficiently stimulated to invest in the latest broadband technologies to keep America at the top of broadband speed and availability rankings? Is Net Neutrality the law of the land or the latest victim of a Verizon lawsuit to overturn the concept of democratizing access to online content?

I’m not certain what country Will Marshall lives in, but for most Americans, Internet access is provided by a duopoly of providers that must be dragged kicking and screaming to upgrade their networks without jacking up prices and limiting usage.

Marshall is president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute, a so-called “third way” group inspired by centrist Democrats led by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Unlike traditional liberals suspicious of corporate agendas, these Democrats were friendly to big business and welcomed the largess of corporate cash to keep them competitive in election races. It was under this atmosphere that Clinton signed the bought-and-paid-for 1996 Telecom Act, ghostwritten by lobbyists for big broadcasters, phone and cable companies, and other big media interests. Long on rhetoric about self-governing, free market competition but short on specifics, the ’96 law transformed the media landscape in ways that still impact us today.

ppiMedia ownership laws were relaxed, allowing massive buyouts of radio stations under a handful of giant corporations like Clear Channel, which promptly dispensed with large numbers of employees that provided locally produced programming. In their place, we now get cookie-cutter radio that sounds the same from Maine to Oregon. Television stations eagerly began lobbying for a similar framework for relaxing ownership limits in their business. Phone companies won their own freedoms from regulation, including largely toothless broadband regulations that allowed Internet providers to declare victory regardless of how good or bad broadband has gotten in the United States.

Marshall’s views appeared in a guest column this week in The Orlando Sentinel, which is open to publishing opinion pieces from writers hailing from Washington, D.C., without bothering to offer readers with some full disclosure.

Marshall

Marshall

While Marshall’s opinions may be his own, readers should be aware that PPI would likely not exist without its corporate sponsors — among them AT&T, hardly a disinterested player in the telecommunications policy debate.

Marshall’s column suggests competition is doing a great job at keeping prices low and allows you – the consumer – to decide which technologies and services thrive. There must be another reason my Time Warner Cable bill keeps increasing and my choice for broadband technology — fiber optics — is nowhere in sight. I don’t have a choice of Verizon FiOS, in part because phone and cable companies maintain fiefdoms where other phone and cable companies don’t dare to tread. That leaves me with one other option: Frontier Communications, which is still encouraging me to sign up for their 3.1Mbps DSL.

“The broadband Internet also is a powerful magnet for private investment,” Marshall writes. “In 2013, telecom and tech companies topped PPI’s ranking of the companies investing the most in the U.S. economy. And America is moving at warp speed toward the ‘Internet of Everything,’ which promises to spread the productivity-raising potential of digital technology across the entire economy.”

Nothing about AT&T or the cable companies is about “warp speed.” In reality, AT&T and Verizon plan to pour their enormous profits into corporate set-asides to repurchase their own stock, pay dividends to shareholders, and continue to richly compensate their executives. It’s good to know that PPI offers rankings that place telecom companies on top. Unfortunately, those without a financial connection to AT&T are less optimistic. The U.S. continues its long slide away from broadband leadership as even developing countries in the former Eastern Bloc race ahead of us. Verizon’s biggest single investment of 2013 wasn’t in the U.S. economy — it was to spend $130 billion to buyout U.K.-based Vodafone’s 45% ownership interest in Verizon Wireless. Verizon’s customers get stalled FiOS expansion, Cadillac-priced wireless service, and a plan to ditch rural landlines and push those customers to cell service instead.

AT&T financially supports the Progressive Policy Institute

AT&T financially supports the Progressive Policy Institute

“A recent federal court decision regarding the FCC’s Open Internet Order has prompted pro-regulatory advocates from the ’90s to demand a rewrite of the legal framework that allowed today’s Internet to flourish,” Marshall writes in a section that also includes insidious NSA wiretapping and Internet censorship in Russia and China.

Marshall’s AT&T public policy agenda is showing.

Net Neutrality proponents don’t advocate an open Internet for no reason. It was AT&T’s former CEO Ed Whitacre that threw down the gauntlet declaring Google and other content providers would not be allowed to use AT&T’s pipes for free. AT&T has since patented technology that will allow it to discriminate in favor of preferred web traffic while artificially slowing down content it doesn’t like on its network.

“Pro-regulatory advocates” are not the ones advocating change — it is AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, among others, that want to monetize Internet usage and web traffic for even higher profits. Net Neutrality as law protects the Internet experience Marshall celebrates. He just can’t see past AT&T’s money to realize that.

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Is Verizon Purposely Slowing Down Netflix for FiOS Customers? Stop the Cap! Investigates

David Raphael ran into trouble using his Verizon Internet connection last month, discovering major slowdowns when accessing Amazon’s cloud-server ‘AWS,’ which in addition to serving his employer also feeds Netflix video content to customers.

“One evening I also noticed a slowdown while using our service from my house,” Raphael writes on his blog. “I realized that the one thing in common between me and [my employer] was that we both had FiOS internet service from Verizon. Since we host all of our infrastructure on Amazon’s AWS – I decided to do a little test – I grabbed a URL from AWS S3 and loaded it. 40kB/s.”

Internet slowdowns while accessing different websites is nothing new. Just ask anyone trying to watch YouTube in the early evening.

But what was different this time is that a Verizon representative seemed to openly admit the company is purposefully throttling certain web traffic, as this chat screen capture suggests:

verizon_fail
“Frankly, I was surprised he admitted to this,” Raphael writes. “I’ve since tested this almost every day for the last couple of weeks. During the day – the bandwidth is normal to AWS. However, after 4pm or so – things get slow. In my personal opinion, this is Verizon waging war against Netflix. Unfortunately, a lot of infrastructure is hosted on AWS. That means a lot of services are going to be impacted by this.”

That would certainly be the case as many large content distributors increasingly rely on cloud-based delivery services to reach subscribers over the shortest and fastest possible route. But broad-based interference with web traffic would also throw a major wrench in Verizon’s core marketing message for FiOS — its fiber-fast speed when compared against the cable competition. If subscribers notice their Netflix experience degraded to speeds that resemble dial-up, cable companies are going to get a lot of returning customers.

We reached out to Verizon for comment and it turns out the company has not declared war on Netflix after all.

“We treat all traffic equally, and that has not changed,” says Verizon spokesman Jarryd Gonzales. “Many factors can affect the speed a customer’s experiences for a specific site, including, that site’s servers, the way the traffic is routed over the Internet, and other considerations.  We are looking into this specific matter, but the company representative was mistaken. We we’re going to redouble our representative education efforts on this topic.”

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AT&T U-verse Expansion Peaks This Year; Company Raked in $6.9 Billion in Profits Last Quarter

att-logo-221x300AT&T’s investment in U-verse expansion is expected to peak this year as part of its “Project VIP” effort to bring the fiber to the neighborhood service to more areas and offer faster broadband speeds to current customers.

AT&T is spending $6 billion over three years to broaden the footprint of U-verse, which now earns AT&T 57% of its total consumer revenues. In 2013, AT&T earned $13 billion in revenue from U-verse, up 28%.

AT&T’s investment in U-verse is dwarfed by the company’s efforts to benefit shareholders. In the last quarter of 2013, AT&T realized $6.9 billion in profits on revenue of $33.2 billion. For 2013, AT&T repurchased 366 million shares of its own stock for around $13 billion and paid out another $10 billion in shareholder dividends. Together, the total return for shareholders for the year was $23 billion and in the last two years AT&T achieved a new record benefiting shareholders with $45 billion in returns. In contrast, AT&T will spend just $6 billion on the current round of U-verse upgrades, with those markets left out likely pushed to wireless-only service if the company succeeds in winning approval to decommission its rural landline network.

Most of AT&T’s revenue growth is coming from its wireless business, particularly wireless data. After AT&T eliminated its flat rate plans, monetizing data usage has become very profitable — $23 billion per year and growing at 17% annually. Because increasing wireless usage forces customers to upgrade to higher cost plans offering more generous usage allowances, AT&T’s average revenue per customer increased by 3.9% — the highest in the wireless industry and the 20th consecutive quarter of customers collectively paying higher cell phone bills.

“The next steps are to make our networks even more powerful and layer on services that will drive new growth in the years ahead,” said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

AT&T is counting on even higher customer bills as the company moves forward on several revenue-enhancing initiatives:

  1. Moving an increasing number of customers away from subsidized handsets. AT&T Next allows wireless customers to get a new handset every year, but in return AT&T no longer subsidizes equipment purchases. Instead, most Next customers finance their current phone and will finance their next one, assuring AT&T of a constant revenue stream for equipment. AT&T expects to gradually move away from phone subsidies altogether;
  2. Data plans for cars are forthcoming, as auto manufacturers install wireless capability in new vehicles. Many are signing agreements with AT&T that will make it easy for current customers to add vehicles to their existing plan, but customers of other carriers may find signing up for a new plan prohibitively expensive;
  3. Internet-connected home security systems are getting a major marketing push in 2014 with advertising blitzes and other promotions. The alarm systems are connected to and use AT&T’s wireless data network;
  4. AT&T customers are being pushed to wireless data plans with much higher data allowances than they need, delivering extra profits for AT&T with no impact on its wireless network;
  5. AT&T wants to begin selling “sponsored data” services to companies willing to foot the bill for accessing preferred websites. AT&T calls it “toll-free data” but Net Neutrality advocates complain it monetizes data usage and establishes a unlevel playing field where deep pocketed companies can help customers avoid AT&T’s usage meter while others have to contend with customers worried about their data allowance.
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT Next -- Get A New Smartphone Every Year from ATT Wireless 1-2014.flv

AT&T explains its Next program, which lets customers upgrade to a new smartphone every 12 or 18 months. AT&T doesn’t tell you the plan is effectively a lease that benefits them by not having to pay a phone subsidy worth hundreds of dollars to discount a phone they will eventually refurbish and resell after you return it. AT&T Next, as intended, is an endless installment payment plan that never stops as long as you keep upgrading your phone. You also can’t leave AT&T until you pay your current phone off. (1:30)

A new way for AT&T to end phone subsidies.

A new way for AT&T to end phone subsidies.

Despite fierce competition from T-Mobile, AT&T so far has seen little impact from T-Mobile’s aggressive marketing. AT&T added 566,000 new contract customers in the last quarter and sold 1.2 million smartphones to its customer base. AT&T’s customer churn rate — the number of customers coming and going — remains very low despite T-Mobile’s latest offer to cover AT&T’s early termination fees to encourage customers to switch.

Stephenson says AT&T’s superior wireless 4G LTE network and its larger coverage area make customers think twice about taking their business to a smaller carrier.

In 2014, AT&T laid out these plans during its quarterly results conference call this week:

  • U-verse will get an expanded TV Everywhere service allowing customers to view programming on smartphones and tablets inside their home and out;
  • U-verse broadband speed enhancements should be available to at least two-thirds of customers, with speeds up to 45Mbps;
  • LTE coverage expansion targets are expected to be ahead of schedule;
  • AT&T will begin a “big effort” on network densification — adding overlapping cell towers and small cell technology in current coverage areas — to handle network congestion;
  • AT&T will focus on improving its wired and wireless networks to prioritize video delivery;
  • If approved by the government, AT&T will use its acquired Leap/Cricket brand for aggressive new no-contract plans marketed to customers with spotty credit without tainting or devaluing the AT&T brand;
  • AT&T will use its agreements with GM, Ford, Nissan, Audi, BMW, and Tesla to offer AT&T wireless connectivity in new 2015 model year vehicles.
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg ATT Latest Results Good 1-28-14.flv

Bloomberg notes AT&T’s latest financial results are ahead of analyst expectations. Despite competition from T-Mobile, AT&T’s customer defection rate is at a historic low. (2:03)

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Consolidation: Financial Sector Wants Bell Canada To Buyout Maritime’s Bell Aliant

bellCanadian investment analysts are recommending that Canada’s telecom giant Bell (BCE) should explore buying out Bell Aliant, Inc. the largest telephone company in the Maritimes, to further consolidate Canada’s telecommunications marketplace.

Bell already effectively controls the phone company serving provinces east of Quebec through its 44 percent stake in the venture. Picking up the rest through a takeover would make financial sense, said Maher Taghi, a telecom analyst at Canada’s Desjardins Securities.

The Globe and Mail reports Yaghi explained in a note to investors a buyout would boost overall free cash flow for Bell (BCE), primarily from the increased revenue paid by customers for phone, television, and Internet service.

Bell_AliantBell Aliant has been one of Canada’s most conservative telecom companies serving the country’s smallest provinces in Atlantic Canada, as well as parts of rural Ontario under the NorthernTel brand and Télébec, which serves rural Quebec.

Unlike Bell (BCE), Bell Aliant has aggressively deployed fiber to the home service in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia to stem landline losses. Bell Aliant’s FiberOP customers avoid stingy usage caps that are pervasive across the rest of Canada. Its fiber network delivers strong competition to cable operators.

Bell (BCE) is already a major player in Canadian telecommunications, both with its landline operation and Fibe — mostly a fiber-to-the-neighborhood service — wireless phone and broadband, owner of more than two dozen specialty cable networks, a satellite TV service, owner of the CTV television network, new owner of Astral Media, and a few dozen radio stations across Canada. With this level of media concentration, Bell (BCE) would have a tough time trying to buy any additional media assets, but with its current de facto control, Bell would likely have little regulatory scrutiny merging Bell Aliant into its existing operations.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bell Aliant FiberOP Intro Video 1-2014.flv

Bell Aliant’s FiberOP introductory video explains the network and its features for Atlantic Canada. (2:20)

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SaskTel Raises Prices $5 a Month, But Announces New Fiber to the Home Service for Prince Albert

SaskTel is raising prices ... and broadband speeds. (Image: CBC)

SaskTel is raising prices … and broadband speeds. (Image: CBC)

Internet access on the prairie is getting more expensive as provincial-owned phone company SaskTel notifies its Saskatchewan customers it is raising certain DSL and fiber broadband prices by $5 a month — a 14% rate hike.

Effective Feb. 1, prices for High Speed Classic DSL and fiber service will rise to at least $39.95 a month. For DSL customers, that means nearly $40 a month for 1.5Mbps service.

SaskTel, a crown corporation, is telling customers it needs the money to upgrade its network and maintain customer support.

The phone company has a bold plan to replace copper wire infrastructure with fiber to the home service in each of Saskatchewan’s nine largest communities: Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Weyburn, Estevan, Swift Current, Yorkton, North Battleford, and Prince Albert. The fiber network, dubbed infiNET, is already operational in parts of Moose Jaw and will be introduced in Prince Albert this spring.

SaskTel has a range of price points for its fiber network ranging from $39.95 a month for 2/1Mbps service to 260/30Mbps service for $139.95 a month.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/SaskTel -- Building the future with infiNET 5-30-13.mp4

Sasktel’s $800 million fiber to the home project is Canada’s most ambitious, because it will blanker urban, suburban, and near-rural customers. This video explores innovations Sasktel is finding to deal with Saskatchewan’s harsh climate, including fiber cables that stay flexible at -40 degrees and directional boring to quickly and inexpensively install underground fiber to homes. (3:28)

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Provider That Claimed Fiber Broadband Wasn’t In Demand Sells Out Every Connection in Hours

Sold Out

Sold Out

An area Britain’s telecom giant BT pronounced “not commercially viable” for a fiber broadband upgrade sold out every available connection after residents successfully campaigned BT to change its mind.

The unassuming “Cabinet 82″ in Hunslet (Middleton, north of Manchester, near South Leeds) was left off the telecom company’s fiber upgrade list because the company was convinced residents were satisfied with the DSL speeds they were getting and it wouldn’t be worth the cost to upgrade service.

Nearly 300 residents had complained about slow Internet speeds and requested a fiber upgrade for “Cabinet 82″ since 2012, initially to no avail. After relentless complaints from local residents, BT changed its mind.

A newly upgraded cabinet with fiber to the neighborhood service was inaugurated earlier today and within hours, every available connection was sold, proving BT’s assumptions about customer demand for faster speeds wrong.

This is the best possible Christmas present for so many people in this previously under-served area,” Carl Thomas, a member of the Fiber for Middleton Coalition told ISPreview.co.uk. “From being able to work from home for the first time to enjoying the media-rich Internet to, in the case of a deaf family, being able to communicate with relatives via sign language over Skype this is quite literally life-changing.”

The example of Middleton has called into question the veracity of BT’s customer demand modeling scheme, a critical part of how the company decides which areas are most commercially viable for service upgrades. It turns out even in out-of-the-way suburban neighborhoods, there is tremendous demand for speeds far faster than what providers expected.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Superfast Cornwall Inside a BT fibre broadband cabinet.mp4

A short tour inside one of BT’s Fiber to the Neighborhood cabinets produced by Recombu. (1:50)

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C Spire Announces Nine Mississippi Cities as Finalists for Gigabit Broadband

C Spire has announced the nine Mississippi cities that will be finalists for the nation’s first and only statewide 1Gbps broadband fiber to the home Internet service.

The nine communities participating in the first phase of the gigabit fiber broadband initiative include: Batesville, Clinton, Corinth, Hattiesburg, Horn Lake, McComb, Quitman, Ridgeland and Starkville. These cities and towns were among 33 municipalities that submitted formal applications late last month.

Competing cities developed aggressive campaigns featuring rallies and town hall meetings, local celebrations, door-to-door canvassing, mobilization of neighborhood groups and homeowner organizations, dedicated websites, social media campaigns and even stadium and freeway billboard advertisements to get C Spire’s attention.

cspire packages

C Spire also announced pricing for its Internet and related digital television and home phone services. Pricing for 1Gbps Internet access will be $80 a month, $100 a month for combined Internet and home phone, $140 a month for Internet and digital TV and $160 a month for the entire package. C Spire Wireless customers will receive an extra $10 monthly discount on all packages.

The finalist cities were selected by a C Spire review panel that considered factors like proximity to the company’s fiber optic infrastructure, community mobilization capabilities and incentives to speed up the construction process and reduce overall costs.

“We are truly impressed with the overwhelming show of support for C Spire’s Fiber to the Home deployment and the tremendous interest and demand for making this service a reality for the residents in these communities,” said Hu Meena, president and CEO of C Spire. “The positive response we’ve received only strengthens our determination to bring 100-times-faster Internet, and the limitless possibilities that come along with it, to as many people as we can because we know that this service has the power to transform our state into a hub for technology investment and economic growth.”

The nine finalists for C Spire's gigabit broadband network.

The nine finalists for C Spire’s gigabit broadband network.

Meena said C Spire plans to continue working with the cities that were not selected in the preliminary round and will share best practices and improvements that promise to make the process easier, faster and better for later challenges.

“We want to ensure that all of our communities remain actively engaged in the process and keep the demand and excitement alive for upcoming phases,” he said.

The finalist communities will next compete to see which can pre-register the most homeowners in designated fiber neighborhoods. Those that reach their targets will get fiber service first.

As soon as neighborhoods reach their percentage goals in an individual city, C Spire plans to begin construction in those areas – so there is a possibility that work could start in more than one community at the same time, said Gregg Logan, senior vice president of C Spire Fiber.

Residents will be asked to make a $10 refundable deposit and provide credit card information when they pre-register. The website also will feature detailed, interactive maps of neighborhoods in cities showing progress each one is making toward turning their fiberhood “green” and qualifying for build out of the service.

Logan said C Spire hopes to start turning up 1 Gig service in the first C Spire Fiber neighborhoods by the middle of next year.

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Australia’s Move to Fiber-to-the-Neighborhood Service Provokes Defense of Copper Network

NBNCo is responsible for the deployment and installation of Australia's fiber to the home network.

The Australian government’s proposal to launch a nationwide fiber to the home National Broadband Network (NBN) has been scrapped by the more conservative Liberal-National Coalition that replaced the Labor government in a recent election.

As a result, the Coalition has announced initial plans to revise the NBN with a mixture of cheaper technology that can result in faster deployment of lower speed broadband at a lower cost. If implemented, fiber to the home service will only reach a minority of homes. In its place,  cable broadband may be the dominant technology where cable companies already operate. For almost everyone else, technology comparable to AT&T U-verse is the favored choice of the new government, mixing fiber-to-the-neighborhood with existing copper wires into homes..

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ABC Malcolm Turnbull moves to put Coalitions stamp on NBN Co 9-24-13.mp4

Australia’s new Communications Minister moves to put the Coalition government’s stamp on the National Broadband Network, replacing most of the promised fiber-to-the-home technology with a service comparable to AT&T U-verse. From ABC-TV (6:32)

telstraJust a year earlier Telstra, Australia’s largest phone company, was planning to decommission and scrap its copper landline network, considered “five minutes to midnight” back in 2003 by Telstra’s head of government and corporate affairs, Tony Warren. Now the country will effectively embrace copper technology once more with an incremental DSL upgrade, forfeiting speeds of up to 1,000Mbps over fiber in return for a minimum speed guarantee from the government of 24Mbps over VDSL.

The turnabout has massive implications for current providers. Telstra, which expected to see its prominence in Australian broadband diminished under Labor’s NBN is once again a rising star. The Liberal-National Coalition government appointed Telstra’s former CEO Ziggy Switkowski to run a “rebooted” Coalition NBN that critics are now calling Telstra 3.0. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull also installed three new members of the NBN’s governing board consisting of a Telstra executive, a founder of a commercial Internet Service Provider, and an ex-construction boss who left the NBN in 2011.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ABC Malcolm Turnbull Outlines NBN Review 9-24-13.mp4

ABC reports Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull asked for the resignations of the entire NBN board, one of the first steps to re-envision the NBN under the Liberal-National Coalition’s party platform. Turnbull accused the former government of setting political targets for fiber broadband and was never forthcoming about the true cost and complexity of the ambitious fiber project. (8:50)

Turnbull

Turnbull

Some Australians complain that NBN’s proposed reliance on Telstra copper is a mistake. Telstra has allowed its landline infrastructure to decline over the years and many are skeptical they will ever see faster speeds promised over wiring put in place decades earlier.

The NBN under the Liberal-National Coalition will depend heavily on two copper-based technologies to deliver speed enhancements: VDSL and vectoring. Both require short runs of well-maintained copper wiring to deliver peak performance. The longer the copper line, the worse it will perform. If that line is compromised, VDSL and vectoring are unlikely to make much difference, as AT&T has discovered in its effort to roll out faster U-verse speeds, much to the frustration of customers that cannot upgrade until AT&T invests in cleaning up its troubled copper network.

Coalition critics also warn the new government will foolishly spend less on a fiber-copper network today that will need expensive fiber upgrades tomorrow.

Turnbull isn’t happy with Australia’s mainstream media for lazy reporting on the issues.

ABC Radio reports that the Coalition’s approach to the NBN may be penny-wise, pound foolish. By the time the NBN rolls out fiber to the neighborhood and Telstra is required to invest in upgrades to its copper network to make it work, fiber to the home service could turn out to have been cheaper all along. (5:11)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

“I have to say that by and large the standard of reporting of technology and broadband by the mainstream media has been woeful,” Turnbull said. “If the Australian public are misinformed about these issues, it was in large part a consequence of the unwillingness of the mainstream media to pay any attention to what is really going on in the industry.”

The promise of giber optic broadband may prove elsuive under the new giovernment.

The promise of fiber optic broadband may prove elusive under the new government.

With much of the new NBN dependent on Telstra’s copper telephone network, Stuart Lee, Telstra’s managing director of its wholesale division, rushed to defend the suitability of the same copper network Telstra was prepared to scrap under the last government.

Lee said he was especially annoyed with critics that call Telstra’s copper networking “aging.”

“The other thing that makes me cross when I hear it, and I see it a lot in the press is the talk of the aging copper network. It’s not. It’s not an aging copper network. It’s like grandfather’s axe; it’s had five new handles and three new heads. When it breaks, we replace the broken bit. So it’s much the same as it always has been and always will be,” Lee said. “It’s just an older technology, it’s not that the asset itself has deteriorated.”

When questioned about several recent high-profile mass service disruptions Australians experienced on Telstra’s landline copper network, Lee blamed the weather, not the network.

“They correlate to weather events, and the weather events we’ve had in the last [few years] is about five to six times the previous ones, so surprise surprise there is a lot more damage,” said Lee.

The new government has charged the Labor-run NBN with inefficiency, taxpayer-funded waste, and playing politics with broadband by giving high priority to fiber upgrades in constituencies served by threatened Labor MPs. Lee added NBN Co has played loose with the facts, declaring premises “passed” by the new fiber network without allowing customers to order service on the new network. That can become a serious problem, because the NBN plan calls for customers’ existing copper phone and DSL service to be decommissioned soon after the fiber network becomes available.

The Sydney Morning Herald  compares the last Labor government's broadband policy with the new Coalition government policy.

The Sydney Morning Herald compared the last Labor government’s broadband policy with the new Coalition government policy.

iiNet’s chief technology officer, John Lindsay said that the potential for disconnecting customers from the ADSL network while they still can’t order NBN service was “madness.”

The Labor government’s NBN has also been under fire for a pricing formula that includes a usage component when setting prices. Impenetrably named the “connectivity virtual circuit” charge, or CVC, the NBN charges retail providers a monthly connection fee for each customer and a usage charge that includes a virtual data allowance originally set at 30GB. Retail providers are billed extra when customers exceed the informal allowance. Although the government promised to reduce the charges, they effectively haven’t and likely won’t until 2017.

Lindsay called the CVC an artificial tax comparable to the Labor government’s carbon tax, and represents a digital barrier to limit customer usage.

“It’s a tax on packets,” Lindsay said.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ABC NBN Copper 11-19-13.mp4

Tasmanian residents complain NBN Co’s new fiber network is claimed to be available, but actually isn’t in many neighborhoods now scheduled for disconnection from Telstra’s copper landline and DSL network. (2:17)

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