Home » online video » Recent Articles:

Telcos Intentionally Cut Rural Broadband Investments Hoping for Taxpayer Subsidies

AT&T: Using taxpayer and ratepayer dollars to subsidize 4G LTE upgrades for its customers.

With taxpayer subsidies on the horizon, phone companies cut back investing their own money on rural broadband expansion hoping taxpayers would cover funding themselves.

That is the conclusion of Dave Burstein, a long-standing and well-respected industry observer and publisher of Net Policy News. Burstein is concerned the unintentional consequence of Obama and Trump Administration rural broadband funding programs has been fewer homes connected than what some carriers would have managed on their own without government subsidies.

“Since 2009, carrier investment in broadband in rural areas has gone down drastically,” Burstein wrote.

As a result, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to spend $4.53 billion from a public-financed Mobility Fund over the next decade to advance 4G LTE service, primarily in rural areas that would not be served in the absence of government support. Burstein suspects much of that money could end up being unnecessarily wasted.

“Under current plans, most of the money is likely to go where telcos would build [4G] without a subsidy, [or will be used to] buy obsolete technology, or give the telcos two or three times what the job should cost,” Burstein wrote. “Any spending on wireless except where towers or backhaul is unavailable should be assumed wasteful until proven otherwise.  Realistic costs need to be developed and subsidies allocated on that basis.”

AT&T’s rural fixed wireless expansion program, funded substantially by U.S. taxpayers and ratepayers, is a case in point. AT&T is receiving almost $428 million a year in public funds to extend wireless access to 1.1 million customers in 18 states, the FCC says. Much of that investment is claimed to be spent retrofitting and upgrading existing cell towers to support 4G LTE service. But AT&T claims 98% of its customers already have access to 4G LTE service — more than any other carrier in the country, so AT&T is actually spending the money to bolster its existing 4G LTE network, something more likely to benefit its cell customers, not a few thousand fixed wireless customers.

(Source: AT&T)

“An AT&T exec in California said communities didn’t need to worry about the impact of the CAF-funded project, since it was almost all going to be on existing towers,” Burstein wrote, allaying fears among members of the public that money would be spent on lots of new cell towers. “I don’t know what loophole AT&T is using to get the money, but it’s a pretty safe guess they would have upgraded most of them without the government paying. 4G service now reaches all but 3-5 million of the 110-126 million U.S. households. Probably half [of the less than five million] targeted would soon be served without a subsidy – if the telcos knew no subsidy was likely. Before spending a penny on subsidies, the FCC needs to do a thorough assessment of what would be built without government money.”

Burstein

Wireless executives were delighted when the U.S. government in 2009 committed to spending $7 billion in taxpayer funds on broadband stimulus funding as part of a full-scale economic stimulus program to combat the Great Recession.

“Both George Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 had promised to bring affordable broadband to all Americans,” Burstein noted. “The clamor to reach these last few million was so loud, telcos became confident the government would pay for it if they just stopped their own investment. They aren’t stupid and refused to spend their own money. Before 2009 and the expected huge stimulus program, most telcos expanded their networks each year, based on available capital funds.”

Burstein believes some phone companies became better experts at milking government money to pay for needed network upgrades than frugally spending public funds on rural broadband expansion. As a result, after eight years and massive spending, Burstein notes fewer than two million of the “unserved” six million homes were reached by wireline or wireless broadband service when the funding ran out.

Under Chairman Pai’s latest round of rural broadband funding, Burstein believes much of this new money is also at risk of being wasted.

“[Pai] needs to dig into the details of what he’s proposing,” Burstein wrote. “Nearly all cells with decent backhaul will be upgraded to 4G; Verizon and AT&T have already reached 98% of homes. Government money should go to building towers and backhaul where that’s missing, not filling in network holes the carriers would likely cover.”

Rural advocacy groups have been frustrated for years watching rural telephone companies deliver piecemeal upgrades and service expansion, often to only a few hundred customers at any one time. When they learn how much was spent to extend broadband service to a relatively few number of customers, they are confused because companies often spend much less when they budget and pay for projects on their own without government subsidies.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing rural broadband initiatives in New York.

Burstein is currently suspicious about the $200 million approved in subsidy funding to extend rural broadband in parts of upstate New York. Burstein notes Pai is factually wrong about his claim that the hundreds of millions set aside for New York would be spent on “unserved areas of rural New York.”

“Most of that money will not go to unserved areas,” Burstein reports. “Some grants are going to politically connected groups. I’ve read the rules and the approved proposals. The amounts look excessive based on the limited public details.”

Telephone companies have become skilled negotiators when it comes to wiring their rural service areas. Most want more money than the government has previously been willing to offer to help them meet their Return On Investment expectations. Burstein noted that under normal circumstances, a government program offering a 25% subsidy to extend rural broadband into areas considered unprofitable to serve would be enough in most cases to get approval from rural phone companies like CenturyLink and Frontier Communications. But many phone companies, including AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest (now a part of CenturyLink) did not even file applications to participate in early funding rounds. Qwest’s lack of interest was especially problematic, because the former Baby Bell served the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain regions where some of the worst broadband accessibility problems persisted.

Burstein claims Jonathan Adelstein, then Rural Utilities Administrator, had to double his subsidy offer to get Qwest’s attention with a 50% subsidy.

Rural backhaul connectivity is often provided by fiber optic cabling.

“Qwest refused, demanding 75%,” Burstein noted. “That was probably twice the amount necessary and Adelstein rightly refused. They knew the government had few ways to reach those unserved without paying whatever the telcos demanded. A few years later, Qwest is part of Centurylink. Many of those lines are now upgrading under [public] Connect America Funds with what amounts to a greater than 100% subsidy.”

Net Neutrality appeared to have no impact on telephone company investment decisions, even in rural areas. The investment cuts followed a trend that began even before President Barack Obama took office. Wireless carriers slash investments in rural areas when management is confident the government is motivated to step in and offer taxpayer dollars to expand rural broadband service. When those funds do become available, a significant percentage of the money isn’t spent on constructing new infrastructure to extend the reach of wired and wireless networks into unserved rural areas. Instead, it pays for expanding existing infrastructure that may coincidentally reach some rural customers, but is still primarily used by existing cellular customers.

“In many extreme rural areas, only the local telco has the ability to deliver broadband at a reasonable cost,” noted Burstein. “You need to have affordable backhaul and a local staff for repairs. Because the ‘unserved’ are in very small clusters, often less than 100 homes, it’s usually impractical for a new entrant to bring in a backhaul connection.”

Instead, AT&T is attempting to fill some of the gaps with fixed wireless service from existing cell towers. While good news for customers without access to cable or DSL broadband but do have adequate cellular coverage to subscribe to AT&T’s Fixed Wireless service, that is not much help for those in deeply rural areas where AT&T isn’t investing in additional cell towers to extend coverage. In effect, AT&T enjoys a win-win for itself — adding taxpayer-funded capacity to their existing 4G LTE networks at the same time it markets data-cap free access to its bandwidth-heavy online video services like DirecTV Now. That frees up capital and reduces costs for AT&T’s investors. But it also alienates AT&T’s competitors that recognize the additional network capacity available to AT&T also allows it to offer steep discounts on its DirecTV Now service exclusively for its own wireless customers.

Wall Street Analyst on TV Network Fees: “Companies Are Not Supposed to Make That Kind of Money”

Phillip Dampier July 26, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

A Wall Street media analyst called today’s television model of high returns and relentless rate increases passed on to pay television customers unsustainable.

Sanford Bernstein media analyst Todd Juenger told attendees of The Independent Show (courtesy: Multichannel News) in Indianapolis that media companies expecting to profit from linear TV’s increased advertising revenue and retransmission or carriage consent fees are going to get slapped in the face soon as consumers revolt.

Juenger, like BTIG’s Rich Greenfield, is becoming increasingly pessimistic about today’s costly bundled-TV model. Juenger warns high revenue and profit expectations are only going to accelerate the growth of disruptive technologies like on-demand, online video.

Juenger notes cable and television networks never seem satisfied with the massive amounts of revenue they are already earning, and keep seeking ways to raise prices further. The TV business, Juenger notes, already enjoys some of the highest profit margins of any U.S. business in modern history.

“This is a very, very rare thing,” Juenger said. “Companies are not supposed to make that kind of money.”

Most cable networks now expect 40% annual revenue increases and a 30% return on capital, which is what causes runaway programming rate increases to be passed on year after year to consumers. Yet the quality of those networks has not significantly improved in many cases, and consumers are gradually shifting away from watching live television (and the commercials that accompany it).

Viewers, starting with younger generations, are increasingly ditching linear-live television and finding on-demand content to be more appealing. Much of that viewing isn’t taking place on the cable industry’s on-demand or TV Everywhere platform, which has become as littered with advertising as live television. Instead, viewers are drawn to original productions produced by Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, and other content platforms — often commercial-free, and on-demand network shows on platforms like Hulu.

“The whole reason for being for networks is called into question,” Juenger said.

Juenger dismisses the current industry trend of creating virtual online alternatives to cable television bundles — skinny or otherwise — for streaming online. Those efforts, like Sling TV, DirecTV Now, and PlayStation Vue still depend on linear television as their core product, and cord-cutters are showing a growing lack of interest in this model.

Cord-cutters and cord-nevers don’t want smaller, more economical bundles of cable networks delivered online, according to Juenger.

“I don’t think there is anybody who wants these products on an incremental basis,” Juenger said. “If the purpose of these services is to recapture subscribers that were lost, they’re not going to work.”

Viewers want an entirely new model, built around on-demand access to individual shows without viewing restrictions or having to pay for unwanted channels. Many are also willing to pay a little more to avoid commercials altogether.

Wall Street Analyst: Cable Monopoly Will Double Your Broadband Bill

Thought paying $65 a month for broadband service is too much? Just wait a few years when one Wall Street analyst predicts you will be paying twice that rate for internet access, all because the cable industry is gradually achieving a high-speed broadband monopoly.

Jonathan Chaplin, New Street Research analyst, predicts as a result of cord-cutting and the retreat of phone companies from offering high-speed internet service competition, the cable industry will win as much as 72.2% of the broadband market by the year 2020. With it, they also win the power to raise prices both fast and furiously.

In a note to investors, Chapin wrote the number of Americans left to sign up for broadband service for the first time has dwindled, and most of the rest of new customer additions will come at the expense of phone companies, especially those still selling nothing better than DSL.

“Our long-term penetration forecast is predicated on cable increasing its market share, given a strong network advantage in 70% of the country (this assumes that telco fiber deployment increases from 16% of the country today to close to 30% five years from now),” Chaplin wrote.

Cable companies already control 65% of the U.S. broadband market as of late last year. Chaplin points out large cable operators have largely given up on slapping usage caps and usage pricing on broadband service to replace revenue lost from TV cord-cutting, so now they are likely going to raise general broadband pricing on everyone.

“Comcast and Charter have given up on usage-based pricing for now; however, we expect them to continue annual price increases,” Chaplin said. “As the primary source of value to households shifts increasingly from pay-TV to broadband, we would expect the cable companies to reflect more of the annual rate increases they push through on their bundles to be reflected in broadband than in the past. Interestingly, Comcast is now pricing standalone broadband at $85 for their flagship product, which is a $20 premium to the rack rate bundled price.”

Chaplin himself regularly cheerleads cable operators to do exactly as he predicts: raise prices. Back in late 2015, Chaplin pestered then CEO Robert Marcus of Time Warner Cable about why TWC was avoiding data caps, and in June of that year, Chaplin sent a note to investors claiming broadband was too cheap.

“Our analysis suggests that broadband as a product is underpriced,” Chaplin wrote. new street research“Our work suggests that cable companies have room to take up broadband pricing significantly and we believe regulators should not oppose the re-pricing (it is good for competition & investment).”

“The companies will undoubtedly have to take pay-TV pricing down to help ‘fund’ the price increase for broadband, but this is a good thing for the business,” Chaplin added. “Post re-pricing, [online video] competition would cease to be a threat and the companies would grow revenue and free cash flow at a far faster rate than they would otherwise.”

Boomerang Toons Online Video on Demand Launches: $4.99/Mo or $39.99/Yr

Phillip Dampier April 11, 2017 Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Cartoon lover? Turner Broadcasting and Warner Bros. have something for you: Boomerang’s Online Video on Demand service launches today, featuring more than 5,000 cartoons from the Looney Tunes, Hanna Barbera, and MGM toon libraries.

Boomerang is now available on Desktop, iPad, iPhone, and most Android devices with more platforms including Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku, and Chromecast coming soon.

Turner, which runs the companion Boomerang cable network, pushed aside its TV-oriented website to push the new on-demand online service instead. Turner officials said they would continue to distribute the linear-TV cable network, but the company could make even more revenue in the future putting the extensive classic animation libraries of three toon powerhouse studios online and on-demand.

Some of the cartoon characters featured on Boomerang Online Video on Demand.

Boomerang says they will add new cartoons every week to keep the service fresh and interesting to subscribers.

The introductory price:

  • $4.99 per month with a 7-day free trial;
  • $39.99 for 1 year of Boomerang with a 30-day free trial

Payments can be made with a major credit card or through iTunes or Google Play Store.

 

Comcast’s NBC Preparing Launch of Subscription “All Access”-Style Streaming Service

Comcast’s NBCUniversal is laying plans to introduce a premium online video service highlighting NBC Network content and possibly various programming from the various cable channels owned by Comcast.

After watching rival CBS amass more than 1.5 million subscribers for its “All Access Pass” ($5.99, $9.99/mo for commercial-free option), Comcast’s NBC entertainment division isn’t willing to leave money on the table any longer.

The yet unnamed service is expected to compete with services like Hulu and Netflix, but will most likely be comparable to CBS’ premium subscription offering. In addition to featuring a deep library of NBC content, the service could include a significant catalog of past and present shows from cable networks like Bravo, SyFy and USA. Also to be determined is whether NBC will follow CBS’ lead and offer viewers live streaming of their local NBC station as part of the package.

The new service may not launch in the immediate future because Comcast is still observing restrictions imposed by regulators as a condition of its 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal. The rules make it difficult for Comcast to develop services comprised entirely of content it owns or controls. Federal regulators added the restriction out of concern Comcast could interfere with Hulu’s access to NBC content. Hulu is popular with cord-cutters, and is seen as a viable alternative to cable television. The last of these restrictions expire in September 2018, about the time Bloomberg News reports Comcast is likely to launch the service.

If all the major American networks decide to develop their own premium streaming services, it could have significant implications for Hulu, which combines content from its partners NBC, ABC, and FOX. If NBC pulls out of the partnership, it will be free to keep all the revenue earned from its own streaming platform, and could inspire ABC and FOX to follow.

Observers suspect this represents more evidence that broadcast networks increasingly expect viewers to pay for access to their programming, at least online.

Search This Site:

Contributions:

Recent Comments:

  • EJ: Paul you are 100% percent correct, but like I said the reason that fixed wireless is a failure is a lack of investment. You can make fixed wireless wo...
  • mike: I guess they mean like the upgrades Time Warner was in the middle of when the sale went through and Charter then dropped the ax on....
  • Taylor Langdon: I was told on the phone $69.99 was the lowest they'd go. I used online chat after that and got $64.99....
  • Paul Houle: EJ, all too often, "technology agnostic" seems to be a codeword for the same DSL and fixed wireless technologies that have (in the case of DSL...
  • EJ: Kevin S that is not a fair judgement to make. You just have to put requirements on the 25mbps which should be on all providers anyways. Simple require...
  • Kevin S: You (Bloomburg) had me in your corner in 100% support of your views and findings right up until the end...when you stated: "Bloomberg supports the FC...
  • Shaun: The same thing happened when Verizon happened, when Bell took over GTE.. GTE, was more like time warner, and was a decent company.. Bell.. another cha...
  • Shaun: Their own pricing plans proves this to be a lie. You know that the company is not going to give you "any" plan where they are going to "loose" money.....
  • L Nova: I really wish that these companies told wall street to f**k off and do what they feel is right to retain customers. Self-aggrandizing douchenozzles su...
  • Jim Jackson: Yeah when you introduce $65 billion in debt overnight that money has to come from somewhere. There is so little synergies in a cable company merger t...
  • Ronald: How long until those customers realize they get most of the good stuff with just the antenna, and decide they don't need Dish anymore?...
  • cartier repliques bijoux: cartierlovejesduas I remember travelling on the Coronation in 1938 and 1939Teo minutes stop at Newcastle on the way North and two minutes also at York...

Your Account:

%d bloggers like this: