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Judge Set to Hear N.Y. v. Charter Internet Speed Suit Forced to Recuse; He’s a Subscriber

Judge Engelmayer

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will have to wait to bring his lawsuit claiming Charter/Spectrum is ripping off New York consumers with false speed claims until the courts can find a judge that isn’t a Charter/Spectrum subscriber.

U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer recused himself from hearing the case in state court Wednesday because he has a conflict of interest – he’s a Charter/Spectrum customer and could receive monetary damages if the cable company is found culpable.

“I am obligated to recuse,” Judge Engelmayer said, while also apologizing for not doing so earlier. As a former Time Warner Cable customer, he was unfamiliar with the Spectrum brand and only recently realized Charter Communications had acquired Time Warner Cable. “I can barely use a toaster. I have no idea what internet service I subscribe to.”

Charter Communications is trying to get the case heard in a presumably more friendly venue – federal court, and the case is on hold until Schneiderman completes his argument to have the case heard by a New York court. Charter argues that Schneiderman should not be allowed to bring enforcement actions under state law in state courts just because he is dissatisfied with the performance of the FCC.

The New York Attorney General brought the action after allegedly finding extensive evidence Time Warner Cable was not delivering the internet speeds the company promised in its advertising and in some cases left customers with equipment incapable of supporting the higher speeds customers purchased.

If Schneiderman can successfully keep the case in New York, the courts will have to find a judge with Verizon FiOS or no internet at all — a tall order in a state where Charter/Spectrum’s service area covers Buffalo to Manhattan and all points in-between.

Frontier CEO Blames Employees for Company’s Poor Performance; Bonuses Cut, Investigations Begin

The second half of 2016 shows losses in broadband and television customers.

Frontier Communications CEO is blaming employees for the company’s deteriorating financial condition and operating performance and has allegedly dropped bonuses and merit pay increases for lower-level employees.

Sources inside Frontier Communications tell Stop the Cap! Frontier CEO Dan McCarthy notified employees in email on March 2 — one week before employees were expecting to receive their annual bonus — the company would no longer be providing bonus compensation for “lower banded management employees.”

“He implied that he too was affected but I highly doubt that is the case,” one source tells us. “We weren’t notified via a ‘Town Hall’, no conference call, no face to face with our managers, only a cowardly e-mail sent from behind a desk thousands of miles away. Keep in mind that people use that to pay house taxes, medical bills, pay off other bills, pay college tuition, etc, and a week before we were slated to get it we’re told that it isn’t coming.”

McCarthy has been on the hot seat with Wall Street for weeks after reporting yet another quarter where many of Frontier’s most profitable customers are fleeing faster than the company can replace them with new ones. McCarthy also told investors that many of Frontier’s losses in the last quarter were due to the company finally disconnecting service and writing off customers who haven’t paid their Frontier phone bills for as long as a year in acquired former Verizon territories in Florida, Texas, and California.

McCarthy

“There was certainly no suggestion that the big acquisition would pay off in the company’s Q4 earning report when subscriber counts, average revenue per residential user, and quarter-over-quarter revenue all fell,” wrote Daniel B. Kline of TMFDankline. “That has been the pattern in all three quarters since the Verizon deal closed, and while McCarthy has done an excellent job controlling expenses, his excuses for the drop in subscribers have started to sound a bit hollow.”

That effort to “control expenses” may be coming at the expense of customers that Frontier is depending on to stay in business.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman last month announced the state was reviewing Frontier’s performance in western New York. A Rochester television station has aired more than a half-dozen stories about deteriorating service quality at Frontier since last summer. After airing the first few stories, the station was inundated with hundreds of complaints about Frontier’s spotty broadband and phone service.

News10NBC (WHEC-TV) reported it can take weeks for a Frontier technician to show up on a service call. Customer service is no help and customers are not getting the services they paid to receive.

Frontier was also implicated last month in knocking a Rochester area radio station off the air. After the company first blamed the radio station’s equipment for the problem, Frontier eventually admitted its own “old infrastructure” was responsible for outages that interrupted broadcasts for hours at a time.

Frontier’s stock continues its descent.

Schneiderman has been focused on keeping New York’s ISPs honest about their speed claims and performance, but service reliability is also increasingly an issue, especially after high winds in a recent storm in western New York left nearly half of the Rochester metro area without essential utilities for several days. Infrastructure upkeep, particularly aging utility poles, is now under investigation by the state’s Public Service Commission. Early evidence revealed local utilities may have underinvested in pole maintenance for years due to cost cutting. Some utility poles in western New York are well over 50 years old, originally placed in the 1950s and 1960s. Hundreds failed in the high winds.

Frontier’s track record of blaming others for their own problems has not been well-received by employees.

“Maggie Wilderotter [former CEO of Frontier Communications] was bad but McCarthy’s leadership is erratic and catastrophic,” shares another Frontier middle management employee wishing to stay anonymous. “McCarthy was defending the regional management autonomy approach as a unique strength for Frontier last summer, now he’s declared that is inefficient and is centralizing management decisions at corporate headquarters. He was selling Wall Street on Frontier’s IPTV project in 2016 by promoting expanded service territories. Now that project is on hold and there are signs Frontier is pulling back on meaningful and long overdue broadband speed upgrades. He recently announced he was reorganizing residential and commercial sales units, something our competitors did long ago and will only disrupt things at Frontier even more. Poor customer service was the result of “on-shoring” our call centers? Not exactly. Poor training and inadequate support have left our call center employees unable to properly handle customer concerns. He also consistently downplayed how nightmarish the Verizon conversion was for our new customers in Florida, Texas, and California. It was bad planning, bad vision, and poor execution and the buck stops with our CEO.”

Another source tells us:

“We worked 60-80 weeks, late nights, weekends, countless hours away from our families to push forward with projects that were horrible for our customers and senior leadership was told to get the job done regardless any way they could. We worked through the AT&T and Verizon conversions. We performed as employees of Frontier. Who did not perform? Those making these horrible financial and planning decisions that caused major outages to former Verizon customers when they finally cut over. Some problems were so severe that many customers decided to leave.”

Frontier insiders tell us the company is on a mission to slash expenses across the board to turn in better financial results that can protect the company’s dividend payout to shareholders and, in turn, executive pay and bonuses. The company is reportedly considering allowing more employees to work from home to cut facilities costs, utilities, and maintenance expenses.

“There have been numerous resignations over this and morale is at an all-time low within the company,” a source tells us.

One of the employees sharing the latest developments reports he has turned in his resignation this month and accepted a position in middle management at the area’s cable competitor Charter Communications.

“I figure I should follow so many of our customers to a company that isn’t great, but at least makes an effort delivering what it promises.”

Frontier’s Problems Afflict Hundreds of Customers in Western N.Y.

WHEC-TV Rochester has been following problems with Frontier Communications since last summer. Until the acquisition of former Verizon customers in Texas, Florida, and California, the Rochester, N.Y. metropolitan area was considered Frontier’s largest legacy city service area. But just like in smaller rural communities, service problems have plagued Frontier, with complaints rolling in about slow or non-existent broadband, landline outages, poor billing and customer service practices, and service calls that take weeks before anyone shows up.

WHEC-TV Rochester began covering problems with Frontier on Aug. 22, 2016 with an investigation into internet woes at a Geneseo insurance agency. (2:21)

One day later (Aug. 23, 2016) complaints from other Frontier customers poured into WHEC-TV’s newsroom because of outages and bad service. (2:54)

In September, 2016 WHEC-TV was back with another story from frustrated and angry customers who can’t get suitable service from Frontier Communications, but found a $200 early termination fee on their bills when they tried to cancel. Now the Attorney General is getting involved. (3:18)

In late December, WHEC reported it had asked the N.Y. Public Service Commission to start an investigation into Frontier Communications over its broadband service. (2:20)

In February, when N.Y. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman came to town to discuss the honesty of ISP speed claims, WHEC reporter Jennifer Lewke instead questioned him about the hundreds of complaints the station had received about Frontier Communications. (3:03)

About one week after the Attorney General visited Rochester, WHEC reported Frontier Communications’ “old and outdated” equipment was directly responsible for taking a local radio station off the air for hours at a time. (1:10)

Several days after a windstorm in the Rochester area took away power to nearly half the metropolitan area, WHEC reports residents are frustrated waiting for cable and phone service to be restored. An investigation into utility infrastructure is now underway. (3:17)

Verizon’s Broken Promise to Wire All of NYC With FiOS Results in Lawsuit

Two years after Verizon promised its FiOS fiber to the home service would be available to every resident of New York City, the city sued Verizon Communications on Monday, alleging Verizon failed to meet its commitment.

The 19-page lawsuit, filed in New York’s Supreme Court, contrasts the city’s interpretation of Verizon’s commitments laid out in a 2008 franchise agreement against Verizon’s claim it has met its obligations. Central to the case is the city’s claim tens of thousands of New Yorkers cannot get FiOS service from Verizon, even though Verizon’s fiber network may be running down the street.

“Verizon must face the consequences for breaking the trust of 8.5 million New Yorkers,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. He added that, “It’s 2017 and we’re done waiting. No corporation — no matter how large or powerful — can break a promise to New Yorkers and get away with it.”

A 2015 audit conducted by the city and testimony given in public hearings confirmed Verizon had failed to wire every building for service, despite what the city believed was Verizon’s promise to do so.

Verizon defended its actions, claiming it had met its obligations to New York City by providing FiOS fiber-to-the-home infrastructure throughout the five boroughs. The problem, according to Verizon, is intransigent building owners that have obstructed Verizon’s entry to get service to tenants. Verizon’s defense does come with some evidence. The company has filed numerous complaints with New York’s Public Service Commission to gain entry to properties in the city that have either ignored Verizon’s efforts to wire their buildings or actively opposed it.

Some landlords claimed no tenants in their building wanted Verizon FiOS and the telephone company wasn’t welcome. Others accused Verizon installers of damaging buildings or performing shoddy work and sought assurances Verizon will meet the building owner’s installation standards. Some live-in building managers have even demanded kickbacks or free service in return for entry. New York State law gives Verizon a right of entry and the company has followed legal channels to eventually gain admittance.

Difficulties with landlords alone cannot account for many other instances where willing customers were told service was not available. In some cases, even city officials seeking FiOS were themselves told repeatedly it was unavailable.

Verizon’s defense is likely to come down to a single industry phrase — “homes passed.”

The former Bloomberg Administration signed an agreement with Verizon that committed Verizon to wire its fiber network citywide. Verizon interpreted the contract to mean installing fiber infrastructure that passes every major property in New York, but not wiring every property for the service. The current de Blasio administration argues the contract means Verizon should be able to reach every customer that wants FiOS service within 7-14 days of receiving an order.

Verizon’s lawyer indirectly conceded Verizon has not made the service available to every household that might want the service.

In a letter sent last week to Anne M. Roest, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Craig Silliman, Verizon’s general counsel, wrote:

“[…]We now pass all households in the city and can provide service to over 2.2 million households within seven to 14 days of receiving a service request.”

According to data from Baruch College, New York City had 3,129,147 households as of 2015, leaving at least 900,000 households unaccounted for.

Verizon’s fiber network may run down the street of each of those homes, but the lawsuit contends Verizon has been unwilling or unable to wire them for service.

“Although Verizon claims it ‘passed’ all residential premises, Verizon still does not accept orders from all city residents,” the city audit concluded. “In fact, it still informs residents that service is ‘unavailable’ at an address if their network has not been created on the block.”

The city and several consumer and civic groups have implored Verizon to ‘speed it up’ for the last two years but contend Verizon’s response has been inadequate, which led to the lawsuit.

McConville

Common Cause New York has been pushing for more FiOS service for years and reports consumers are frustrated with Verizon’s inability to deliver service. They now suspect Verizon’s unwillingness to expand FiOS comes from a lack of investment to complete its fiber network.

“People continue to be very frustrated because it appears that Verizon is motivated by what will be most profitable for them — what buildings to wire and what buildings to ignore,” Common Cause New York’s executive director Susan Lerner told the New York Times. “This really is about undertaking an ambitious obligation and then deciding halfway through that it’s not worth it. We are very happy to see the city holding the vendor’s feet to the fire. This is absolutely what should be done.”

Verizon appeared frustrated for another reason, shared by company spokesman Raymond McConville.

“On a day where the city is preparing for the biggest blizzard of the season, it’s sad that the mayor’s focus is on pursuing a frivolous lawsuit,” McConville wrote in an email to the Times. “The de Blasio administration is disingenuously attempting to rewrite the terms of an agreement made with its predecessor and is acting in its own political self-interests that are completely at odds with what’s best for New Yorkers. We plan to vigorously fight the city’s allegations.”

And if that doesn’t work, McConville threatened Verizon may not seek a franchise renewal when the current one ends in three years.

New York Awards $212 Million to 26 Telecom Companies for Rural Broadband Expansion

New York State taxpayers will contribute $212 million to expand broadband to reach 89,514 homes and institutions in mostly in rural upstate communities that either lack internet access or have to endure very slow speed DSL service from the phone company. All recipients have agreed, as a condition of receiving the money, not to impose data caps on their customers.

This week, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the latest winning projects that will receive grants from a second round of funding from the New NY Broadband Program, part of the governor’s effort to achieve 100% broadband penetration in the Empire State.

Gov. Cuomo

Twenty six cable and phone companies, mostly for-profit businesses, will share awards ranging from $226,184 for Cable Communications of Willsboro to reach 558 homes in the Essex County communities of Willsboro and Essex, on the border of Lake Champlain and the state of Vermont to $47,770,970 for Armstrong Telecommunications to reach 16,545 homes in Allegany, Cattaraugus, Erie, Livingston, Steuben, and Wyoming counties in the Finger Lakes Region and Southern Tier.

“Broadband is today what electricity was nearly a century ago – essential to creating economic opportunity, driving innovation and an absolute necessity for our way of life,” Governor Cuomo said. “These awards will provide homes and businesses with access to the high-speed internet required to participate and succeed in the modern economy, and are a major step toward broadband for all in New York.”

Grant recipients provided $56,253,037 in private matching funds, with New York taxpayers picking up the remaining 75% of the total expansion cost — about $2,366 per home or business.

A separate agreement with the New York State Public Service Commission obligates Charter Communications (formerly Time Warner Cable) to embark on its own company-funded expansion program to expand service to approximately 145,000 unserved and underserved premises. Charter has identified Columbia, Erie, Jefferson, Onondaga, Oswego, and Sullivan as “Year One Priority Counties” where most upgrades will be taking place in 2017, including expansion to reach 100Mbps speeds during the first six months of this year.

The winning providers had to guarantee they would upgrade speeds to at least 100Mbps except in the “most remote areas” where 25Mbps is acceptable. Although the state targeted 50% private sector co-investment, providers ultimately came closer to the absolute minimum of 20% in matching funds. They must also guarantee that broadband service will be available to customers for no more than $60 a month to qualify for the grant. Cable Communications of Willsboro, for example, now offers 8/1Mbps for $59.95 a month. Presumably it will have to boost speeds as part of its grant award.

The grant program was also designed to favor applicants offering fiber-to-the-home or hybrid fiber/cable (HFC) technology currently favored by cable operators. DSL and fixed wireless applicants had to give evidence the governor’s need for speed would be delivered using those technologies. All applicants must also agree not to impose data caps of any kind for New York residents.

New York is a rare exception to rural broadband expansion in states that mostly rely on politicians begging and pleading with providers to expand their service areas. At best, this has delivered modest results without access to supplemental funding to achieve Return On Investment requirements private companies demand.

As New York progresses through multiple rounds of bidding, each new round becomes more challenging because of the increasing expense to reach each remaining unwired rural home, business, and farm. In the current round, the costs to wire a single home are at least four times more than what Verizon spent to extend its FiOS service to a new home or business in downstate New York.

To meet 100% penetration, some properties will require a $20,000 or more investment to extend service. Gov. Cuomo has decided that broadband should be treated as a necessary utility, not a convenience. In effect, New York wants universal service standards to be applied to broadband, regardless of cost.

All projects must be finished by the end of 2018. The Broadband Program Office is currently finalizing a Request for Proposals for the Program’s upcoming Round III, which will launch within 30 days. This round will seek to complete the goal of bringing high-speed internet access to New York’s remaining unserved and underserved communities. Round III will be paid for by the $170 million in Connect America Funds Verizon forfeit because of their lack of interest in expanding rural broadband service. New York officials successfully petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to reallocate those funds to the state to disburse to reach the remaining rural areas still without suitable internet access.

Phase 2 Awardees

Awardee Projects Census Blocks Total Units State Grant Total Private Match Total Project Cost
TOTALS
54
10,378
89,514
$211,798,593
$56,253,037
$268,051,631
Altice 1 25 346 $867,281 $216,821 $1,084,102
Armstrong Telecommunications 4 1,678 16,545 $47,770,970 $12,472,577 $60,243,547
Cable Communications of Willsboro 1 11 558 $226,184 $56,546 $282,730
Castle Cable TV Television, Inc. 1 14 129 $632,559 $158,140 $790,699
Champlain Telephone Company 1 58 334 $1,362,901 $340,726 $1,703,627
Chazy and Westport Telephone Corporation 2 222 530 $2,821,185 $705,297 $3,526,482
Citizens of Hammond 1 40 382 $1,395,688 $348,923 $1,744,611
Delhi Telephone Company 1 284 818 $3,392,373 $848,094 $4,240,467
DFT Local Service Corporation 1 212 973 $4,274,536 $1,068,634 $5,343,170
DTC Cable Inc. 1 413 1,524 $4,432,209 $1,899,518 $6,331,727
Empire Telephone Corporation 3 277 1,692 $3,236,891 $809,226 $4,046,117
Fairpoint 3 2,015 10,321 $36,668,472 $9,301,930 $45,970,402
Frontier Communications 11 1,189 12,003 $29,901,354 $7,475,354 $37,376,708
Gtel Teleconnections 2 442 2,450 $5,259,217 $1,314,806 $6,574,023
Haefele TV Inc. 2 386 3,407 $5,022,332 $1,255,751 $6,278,083
Mid-Hudson Data Corp. 1 449 18,771 $849,818 $212,455 $1,062,273
Middleburgh Telephone Company (MIDTEL) 1 228 1,599 $6,831,856 $1,707,964 $8,539,820
Mohawk Networks, LLC 1 754 3,623 $6,391,157 $1,597,792 $7,988,949
MTC Cable 4 183 2,982 $6,529,775 $2,391,035 $8,920,810
New Visions Communications 1 266 3,906 $11,310,921 $2,827,731 $14,138,652
Newport Telephone Company 1 255 1,919 $9,348,940 $2,337,237 $11,686,177
Oneida County Rural Telephone 1 210 588 $3,285,885 $821,474 $4,107,359
Otsego Electric Cooperative 2 122 714 $3,935,949 $1,145,065 $5,081,014
Pattersonville Telephone Company 1 93 170 $1,188,748 $297,187 $1,485,936
Slic Network Solutions 2 121 891 $3,746,744 $937,871 $4,684,615
TDS Telecom 4 431 2,339 $11,114,648 $3,704,883 $14,819,531

Interested in Learning If Broadband is Expanding in Your Area? A complete list of community expansion projects follows:

… Continue Reading

Charter CEO Admits You May Be Sharing Your Internet Connection With 499 Neighbors

The average Charter/Spectrum customer shares their internet connection with up to 499 of their neighbors, according to an admission made today by Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge.

“Our average node size is around 500 homes,” Rutledge told investors on a morning conference call.

According to a lawsuit filed by the New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, from about 2012, Spectrum-TWC’s network across New York typically provided about 304Mbps (8 x 38Mbps channels) of bandwidth to be shared among all the subscribers in a service group. In some areas, this would mean that 300 customers in a node would have around 1Mbps of bandwidth to use if all 300 subscribers used the internet at the same time. Time Warner Cable had begun expanding bandwidth on DOCSIS nodes to 16 channels at the time Charter Communications acquired the company, giving customers shared bandwidth of about 608Mbps.

Remarkably, Rutledge’s admission suggests some Charter customers may be serviced by DOCSIS nodes even more populated than the ones in New York State that regularly failed to deliver advertised internet speeds and prompted the Attorney General to file a lawsuit against Charter.

New York’s lawsuit claimed as of February 2016, the average Time Warner Cable customer in the state shared their connection with about 340 other customers. Information obtained from Time Warner Cable found some nodes with as few as 32 subscribers while the most overcongested had as many as 621 subscribers.

Rutledge’s comments this morning suggest Charter/Spectrum customers may be sharing their connection with up to 499 of their neighbors, making them more likely to experience congestion potentially worse than experienced with Time Warner Cable. Standard internet service from Charter is also much faster than Time Warner Cable’s corresponding Standard plan — 60Mbps vs. 15Mbps, which has the potential to lead to even worse slowdowns if customers use their internet connections at the same time.

Rutledge defended the average node size by claiming Charter has a lot of fiber in its network.

“And we have the ability to take that fiber deeper,” Rutledge said. “We have the ability incrementally to take the network to a passive network and to do that at reasonably efficient capital cost through time and to do that in very targeted ways where we need the capacity. So we’re very comfortable with the extensibility of our network and the ability to put high capacity anywhere in our network.”

Rutledge said node expansions take place through a “market demand driven sort of process.”

“There are bunch of ways you can manage capacity on our network,” Rutledge explained. “We can do what are called virtual node splits. If you clear analog spectrum and go all-digital, [that can create] excess capacity in your network, and [if] you have demand to put more capacity in a node, there [are] two ways of doing it. One way is to physically split a node into a smaller node, which requires the placing of an electronic device in the field, and maybe the extension of some fiber. It depends on how the architecture of that is structured, but it’s relatively inexpensive on a grand scale capital perspective, but a lot more expensive than a digital or virtual node split. And you can do those if you have channel capacity by just recreating additional DOCSIS paths to create a virtual node essentially. And so we manage our network for the future based on the actual load on the network as opposed to some theoretical issue.”

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