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Verizon Abandoning Copper Network in Multiple Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic Cities

Phillip Dampier September 21, 2017 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon No Comments

Verizon Communications will decommission its existing copper wire facilities in multiple markets in Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia starting in 2018.

In a series of requests filed with the Federal Communications Commission, Verizon is asking to compel customers to switch service to Verizon’s FiOS optical fiber network or find another provider. While Verizon’s fiber network has a better reliability record than Verizon’s deteriorating copper facilities, some residential customers may be compelled to pay more for FiOS service than they used to pay for landline and DSL service over Verizon’s copper network. Their phone service may also no longer work in the event of a power failure.

“We will offer the service at a special rate for customers who migrate from copper to fiber as a result of the retirement of our copper facilities,” Verizon said, but the company did not guarantee that rate would not reset to regular priced FiOS service down the road.

Businesses may also have to invest in technology upgrades to switch to fiber optic service when Verizon pulls the plug on copper-delivered services.

The wire centers (central offices) where copper decommissioning is planned are disclosed in these company documents (click on links below to see if you are affected):

DELAWARE

MARYLAND

MASSACHUSETTS

NEW JERSEY

NEW YORK

PENNSYLVANIA

RHODE ISLAND

VIRGINIA

 

Even Frontier Hints Without Major Broadband Upgrades, It’s Dead

Phillip Dampier September 18, 2017 Consumer News, Frontier 6 Comments

Frontier Communications spent $2 billion in 2014 to purchase AT&T’s Connecticut wireline business, believing it could make a fortune selling internet and cable television service to wealthy Nutmeg State residents over a network AT&T upgraded to fiber-to-the-neighborhood service several years earlier.

But thanks to a combination of management incompetence, cord-cutting, and Frontier’s competitors, the phone company’s dreams have turned bad in Connecticut, where the company lost hundreds of millions in the last three years along with at least 22% of its customers in the state. As a result, Frontier has turned a business that made AT&T $1.3 billion four years ago into one that earned Frontier $901.9 million last year.

Hartford Business notes Frontier’s biggest challenge is holding on to customers once they disconnect their landline service. In Connecticut between 2014 and 2016, Frontier lost 154,000 landline customers in the state, leaving just under 522,000 remaining landline customers. That is way down from the 675,000 customers AT&T had just before it sold the service area to Frontier. AT&T struggled with a similar problem, having more than one million landline customers in 2011, according to numbers from Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURA). What made AT&T different is its investment in U-verse — AT&T’s answer to the challenge of lost landline customers. AT&T invested in a new fiber to the neighborhood network to boost broadband speeds and sell television service, giving departing landline customers a reason to continue doing business with AT&T.

For millions of Frontier Communications customers in its “legacy service areas” — owned and operated by Frontier for years, if not decades, those upgrades have been slow to come, if they have come at all. As a result, dropping Frontier service in favor of a wireless or cable company is not a difficult decision for many customers, and cable operators report significant growth where their only competition is DSL service from Verizon or Frontier.

Frontier’s own executives admit broadband upgrades are essential if Frontier is to survive the challenges of landline disconnects.

Customers are increasingly taking a pass on landline service.

“It’s a surprise to no one that we have voiceline declines in Connecticut,” Mark Nielsen, Frontier’s general counsel and executive vice president told the business newspaper. “The challenge is to build our internet and video business so as to offset the declines in voice. We are very committed to the Connecticut operation, we see great potential in it.”

That commitment is coming in the form of internet speed upgrades. Frontier’s primary competitors in the state are cable operators Comcast, Charter, and Cox, some offering speeds as high as a gigabit. Frontier is trying to compete by introducing speeds at or greater than 100Mbps, but so far only in a few parts of the state.

According to Nielsen, Frontier’s profitability is less important to investors than maintaining positive cash flow, which means assuring more money is coming into the operation than going out.

“Cash is what’s available to make investments to return capital to shareholders,” Nielsen said.

But that represents a conflict for Frontier, because many shareholders are attracted to the stock’s long history of returning money to shareholders in the form of dividend payouts. If Frontier has to invest more of its capital on upgrades and network upkeep, that can result in a dividend cut, which usually causes the share price to decline, sometimes dramatically. If Frontier can manage to invest less and cut costs, that frees up more money that can be paid to investors.

For the past several years, Frontier’s business plan has been to avoid spending large sums on network upgrades. But the company was willing to spend handsomely to acquire more customers from a three-state deal with Verizon that cost $10.5 billion. Frontier’s acquisition of Verizon landline customers in Florida, California, and Texas made sense for many shareholders because it would dramatically increase the number of customers served by Frontier, and that in turn would boost revenue and cash flow, from which Frontier’s dividend to shareholders would be paid. Frontier acquired a fiber rich, FiOS service area in all three states, which automatically meant the company would not need to undertake its own significant and costly upgrades.

But Frontier did have to transfer its newest customers from Verizon’s systems to those operated by Frontier. If a company spends enough time and money to protect customer data during such “flash cutovers,” they are usually successful. A company that attempts it without careful planning causes service to be disrupted, sometimes for weeks, which is exactly what happened after Frontier switched customers in the three states to its systems. Customers have never forgotten, and have left every quarter since the deal was first announced.

Financial analysts see where this is headed.

“Each and every quarter their revenues decline, and each and every quarter their customer totals decline,” David Burks, a financial analyst at Hilliard Lyons, told the newspaper. He called Frontier a company that is struggling. He added Frontier needs to stem revenue erosion. He downgraded Frontier’s stock last month after the company reported a second-quarter net loss of $662 million. He could not ignore what he called “disturbing trends,” such as an 11.5 percent year-over-year decline in total customers across Frontier’s entire operation.

 

To win new customers Frontier must improve its network with upgrades that will cost the company billions — spending that is certain to affect Frontier’s shareholder dividend. Even if it does spend money to upgrade, some analysts are wondering whether it is too late.

“The time to play catch up has passed, given the time to market advantage that cable has, and we expect continued pressures from cable as DOCSIS 3.1 steps up the speed advantage that cable already enjoys,” wrote Jeffries in a a report written about by FierceTelecom. “In our view, it is far too late for the ILECs to ramp spend to compete, particularly given high leverage and the significant cost required to expeditiously play catch up.”

7.6 Million Floridians Without Internet/Phone Service After Hurricane Irma

Phillip Dampier September 12, 2017 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

At least 7,597,945 Floridians are without cable, broadband and phone service after Hurricane Irma left large sections of Florida without power or wired telecommunications service.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, service providers have self-reported multiple large outages including 911 service, cell towers, cable service, and radio and television services. In many cases, the outages are directly tied to power interruptions, and many expect service will resume soon after Florida utilities get electricity service back up and running.

Telephone

Providers report 390 central switching offices are non functioning across Florida at this time. These offices handle landline calls and wired broadband from AT&T and Frontier Communications, among other telephone companies. Where physical damage from wind or water has occurred, it could take weeks or months before those offices are fully restored, but temporary provisions for restoring basic phone service are likely to be in place within days.

There are also significant 911 outages across Florida:

No 911 Service, Calls Going Unanswered: Big Cypress Indian Reservation, Collier County EOC, Ft. Myers Police Department, Glades County Sheriff, Glades County Sheriff Back Up, Hardee County Back Up, Hendry County Sheriff, Highlands County Sheriff, Lee County Emergency Dispatch Center EOC, Naples PD, Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Department, Homestead Air Force, Marathon SO, and Ocean Reef.

911 Service With No Automatic Caller Location Information (ALI): Hardee County Sheriff and Lee County Sheriff

Re-routed with ALI: Atlantic Beach PD, Belle Glade PD, Indian River SO, Manalapan PD, Miami Beach PD, Neptune Beach PD, and St. Augustine PD

Re-routed without ALI: 4 Clewiston Police Department, Desoto County Sheriff, Lee County Backup, and Sanibel Police Department

Potential Outage: The Broward County South Region 911 Center lost power as of 9/10/17 at 2:28PM EDT. We do not know if 911 calls are being rerouted.

Wireless Service

Overall, 27.4% of cell sites in the disaster area of Florida are out of service. The worst outages are in:

  • Collier County: 160 of 212 cell sites are down. (75.5%)
  • Hendry County: 31 out of 46 cell sites are down. (67.4%)
  • Highlands County: 42 out of 80 cell sites are down. (52.5%)
  • Lee County: 186 out of 343 cell sites are down. (54.2%)
  • Miami-Dade County: 739 out of 1,435 cell sites down. (51.5%)
  • Monroe County: 87 out of 108 cell sites down. (80.6%)

Broadcasting

There are two television stations out of service in Florida: WVFW and WZVN. There are 26 radio stations off the air: W227CP, W300CL, W222AW, WROK, WAOA-FM, WHKR, WLZR, WIOD, WOLZ, WINZ, WBTT, WCKT, WRUM, WQOL, WZZR, WSWN, WOTW, WMFQ, WXUS, WYCG, WEAT, WTIR, WMYR, WCNZ, and W294AN.

Telecom Companies Prepare for Hurricane Irma

AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile are sending technicians to hundreds of cell sites across Florida to top off fuel generators, test back up batteries, and protect facilities from Hurricane Irma’s anticipated storm surge and associated flooding.

“Customers rely on us, especially during major storms,” said Joe York, AT&T Florida president. “That’s why we practice readiness drills and simulations throughout the year. We do all we can to have our networks prepared when severe weather strikes. We’ve worked for the past few days to position equipment and crews to respond to the storm. We’re closely linked with Florida public officials in their storm response efforts. With a storm of this size, we may have some outages. But if service goes down, we’ll do all we can to get it back up as fast as possible.”

With landfall possible along the Florida coast or inland, Verizon pointed out that in Florida, since last hurricane season, it has densified its network with 4G, fortified coverage along evacuation routes, put cell sites equipment on stilts and installed new systems in hospitals, government and emergency facilities, and high-traffic public areas.

“The country is only beginning to wrestle with recovery efforts from Harvey, and already, residents of Florida and the Caribbean are bracing for another potentially devastating storm in Hurricane Irma,” said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. “During times like these, the cost of staying connected to friends and loved ones should be the last thing on anyone’s mind, and we want to do what we can to support our customers across impacted areas.”

Hurricane Irma’s impact on Puerto Rico.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless are positioning portable cell tower trailers just outside of areas anticipated to take the brunt of the hurricane. AT&T in particular has a lot to prove as its network now includes FirstNet — a public private wireless broadband network for emergency responders that also depends on AT&T’s wireless networks. States are still in the process of opting in to AT&T’s FirstNet. The company has more than 700 pieces of emergency cellular equipment, including Cell on Wheels, Cell on Light Trucks, portable trailers and generators, and even the possibility of deploying Cells on Wings — airborne cell towers that can restore cell service in areas where roads are inaccessible because of floods.

Wireline companies are also positioning repair crews in the region to bring service back online. Other technicians are checking on emergency generator and battery backup power, particularly for maintaining landline service.

“Our team is working to prepare for extreme weather and will be there for our business and residential customers to quickly and safely restore any affected network services,” reports Frontier Communications, which provides service in former Verizon landline service areas.

The phone company is reminding landline customers that not all phones will operate during a power outage, but that does not mean Frontier’s landline network is down.

“Customers who rely on cordless phones should consider plugging a traditional corded phone directly into the wall. In the event of a commercial power outage, corded phones on the copper network will still operate; cordless ones will not,” the company says. “If commercial power is unavailable, generators and batteries in Frontier’s central offices serve as a backup. Phone lines generally will have enough power in them to use a corded phone. For customers using FiOS phone services, the battery backup will supply voice service for up to eight hours.”

The company also warns customers to watch out for damaged utility lines after the storm is over.

“Stay far away from any downed cables or power lines. Contact Frontier at 800-921-8102 (business) or 800-921-8101 (residential) to report any fallen telephone poles or cables.”

Some companies are offering customers a break on their bills:

  • Verizon: Landline customers will not pay any long distance charges for calls to Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the Turks and Caicos Islands from Sept. 6-9. Taxes and any government surcharges applicable will still apply. Verizon Wireless customers inside the U.S. will not be charged for texts or calls originating in the U.S. to those same countries and territories for the same period.
  • T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers in affected areas of Puerto Rico:  Will get calls, texts, and unlimited data free from Sept. 6th through Sept. 8th. This free service will be available to customers in the 787 and 939 area codes.
  • Sprint: Effective today through Sept. 9, 2017, Sprint will waive call, text and data overage fees for its Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers in the U.S., the company will also waive all international call and text overage fees to the following: Anguilla, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turks and Caicos, and British Virgin Islands. For the same period, Sprint will also waive roaming voice and text overage fees for its customers in those locations. Fees will be waived during the time specified.
  • Comcast: Opening more than 137,000 XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots throughout Florida to anyone who needs them, including non-XFINITY customers, for free. For a map of XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots, which are located both indoors and outdoors in places such as shopping districts, parks and businesses, visit Xfinity.com/wifi. Once in range of a hotspot, select the “xfinitywifi” network name in the list of available hotspots and then launch a browser. Comcast internet customers can sign in with their usernames and passwords and they will be automatically connected to XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots in the future. Non-Comcast internet subscribers should visit the “Not an Xfinity Internet Customer” section on the sign-in page to get started. Non-customers will be able to renew their complimentary sessions every 2 hours through Sept. 15, 2017.

AT&T Offers These Customer Tips:

  • Keep your mobile phone battery charged. In case of a power outage, have another way to charge your phone like an extra battery, car charger or device-charging accessory. Applicable sales tax holidays are a great time to stock up on cell phone accessories.
  • Keep your mobile devices dry. The biggest threat to your device during a hurricane is water.  Keep it safe from the elements by storing it in a baggie or some other type of protective covering, like an Otterbox phone cover.
  • Have a family communications plan. Choose someone out of the area as a central contact.   Make sure all family members know who to contact if they get separated. Most importantly, practice your emergency plan in advance.
  • Program all of your emergency contact numbers and e-mail addresses into your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station and hospital, as well as your family members.
  • Forward your home number to your mobile number in the event of an evacuation. Call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office. This means you will get calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is disrupted. If the central office is not operational, services such as voicemail and call forwarding may be useful.
  • Track the storm and access weather information on your mobile device. Many homes lose power during severe weather. You can stay up to speed as a DIRECTV customer, by streaming local weather channels using the DIRECTV application on your smartphone. If you subscribe to mobile DVR, you can also stream every channel directly to your phone.
  • Camera phones provide assistance. If you have a camera phone, take, store and send photos and video clips of damage to your insurance company.
  • Use location-based technology.  Services like AT&T Navigator and AT&T FamilyMap can help you find evacuation routes or avoid traffic from downed trees or power lines. They can also track a family member’s wireless device if you get separated.
  • Limit social media activity. Keep social media activity to a minimum during and after a storm to limit network congestion and allow for emergency communications to go through.

Business Tips:

  • Set up a call-forwarding service to a backup location. Set up a single or multiple hotline number(s) for employees, their families, customers and partners so they all know about the business situation and emergency plan.
  • Back up data to the Cloud. Routinely back up files to an off-site location.
  • Outline detailed plans for evacuation and shelter-in-place. Practice these plans (employee training, etc.). Establish a backup location for your business and meeting place for all employees.
  • Assemble a crisis-management team. Coordinate efforts with neighboring businesses and building management. Disasters that affect your suppliers also affect your business. Outline a plan for supply chain continuity for business needs.

Keeping the lines open for emergencies:

During evacuations, the storm event and its aftermath, network resources will likely be taxed. To help ensure that emergency personnel have open lines, keep these tips in mind:

  • Text messaging. During an emergency situation, text messages may go through more quickly than voice calls because they require fewer network resources. Depending on your text or data plan, additional charges may apply.
  • Be prepared for high call volume. During an emergency, many people are trying to use their phones at the same time. The increased calling volume may create network congestion, leading to “fast busy” signals on your wireless phone or a slow dial tone on your landline phone. If this happens, hang up, wait several seconds and then try the call again. This allows your original call data to clear the network before you try again.
  • Keep non-emergency calls to a minimum, and limit your calls to the most important ones. If there is severe weather, chances are many people will be attempting to place calls to loved ones, friends and business associates.

Additional information and tips for disaster preparedness can be found at www.att.com/vitalconnections.

Nearly 190,000 Without Internet, Phone Service in Southeastern Texas, Louisiana

Evacuations continue in Houston.

Nearly 190,000 cable and telephone customers in southeastern Texas and Louisiana remain without service as a result of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which is still meandering offshore in the Gulf of Mexico near the Louisiana/Texas border. Service outages are continuing to increase in number, primarily as a result of severe flooding.

As of this morning, according to the Federal Communications Commission, 364 cell sites are out of service, 4.7% of the total number of cell sites in the affected area, up from 4.1% yesterday. The counties with greater than 50% of cell sites out are Aransas (94.7%), Calhoun (74.1%), and Refugio (84.6%) in Texas. Plaquemines is the only county in Louisiana reporting any cell sites out.

To assist customers, wireless companies are offering freebies for the duration of the storm and flooding (thanks to DSL Reports for gathering the data):

  • AT&T: Offering unspecified bill credits until Sept. 1 for AT&T prepaid and postpaid customers in impacted areas for any voice, texting, or data overages.
  • Sprint: Free texting, phone calls to southeastern Texas, southwestern Louisiana until Sept. 1.
  • T-Mobile: Free texting, phone calls to southeastern Texas, southwestern Louisiana until Sept. 1.
  • Verizon Wireless: An additional free 3GB of data for customers in “qualified Texas counties” until Sept. 8.

At least 189,487 Comcast and AT&T customers are out of service, up from at least 148,565 yesterday. Landline central offices are also increasingly failing. As of today, there are 19 offices out of service (up from 11 yesterday) and 22 (up from 21) switching offices now operating on backup power. Because of the outages, Comcast has opened its XFINITY Wi-Fi network for free access to everyone in affected storm areas.

There are nine area radio stations off the air, the same number as yesterday. KJOJ-FM went back on the air, but KMKS failed in the last 24 hours. The other affected stations — all in Texas — are:

KKTX, KUNO, KPRC, KKWV, KAYK, KZFM, KKBA and KEYS.

911 services are being restored in some areas, but have gone down or are degraded in others. As of today, here is the current list:

  • 911 Service Down: Calhoun County Sheriff, Tex.
  • Rerouted 911 Without Automatic Location of Caller Information: Aransas County SO, Tex.; Bee PD, Tex.; Beeville PD, Tex.; Harris Country Neutral SO, Tex.; Jackson County SO, Tex.; Kemah PD, Tex.; Kingsville PD, Tex.; Kleberg County SO, Tex.; Mathis PD, Tex.; Port Aransas PD, Tex.; and Robstown PD, Tex.
  • Rerouted 911: Aransas Pass PD, Tex.; Gonzales County SO, Tex.; Port Lavaca, Tex.; Robstown PD, Tex.; Victoria PD, Tex.; and Wilson County SO, Tex.

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  • John: In other words, old copper will remain indefinitely or until the company goes bankrupt. Got it, Our town's copper is only 42 years old, and digitial s...
  • Bill Henderson: I have seen SNET ,SBC , AT&T , and now Frontier which could be looked at The Good , The Bad , and The Ugly and back to The Good with Frontier. Fro...
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  • LG: It is now Sept. 23rd, and the same is true. I am using a neighbor's satellite internet while my Comcast is still out. Many promises of "by 7pm if n...
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  • LG: Yes, I agree this "HD fee" is hysterical. It would be even funnier if people knew their picture is barely HD or not at all. There isn't enough bandw...
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