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Sprint’s New Plans: Putting Lipstick on a Pig and Enraging Your Soon-to-Be Ex-Customers

tmobileIf this is the best Sprint’s Marcelo Claure can do, Softbank needs to keep shopping for another CEO.

Claure’s decision to deep-six the appallingly stupid Framily Plan was a no-brainer. Sprint’s own customer service agents barely understood the multi-level marketing scheme it actually was, and I never saw much value in alienating friends and family by cajoling them to use the atrociously bad Sprint network. Neither did Sprint employees who loudly cheered its upcoming demise.

Even Claure trashed Sprint’s network performance and upgrade program as glacier-slow and highly disruptive to customers who find nearby cell sites here today, gone tomorrow, and maybe back again someday when network upgrades have been finished. Unlike AT&T or Verizon where a cell tower outage might cut a few bars of signal strength, when a Sprint cell tower drops, it’s roaming time. It is not uncommon for residents along Lake Ontario’s shorelines in the United States to find their phones preferring to roam on Canadian networks (especially Rogers) to avoid Sprint.

Claure’s commitment to cut prices while cruelly excluding your current customer base from getting any of those savings is a sure-fire way to accelerate their departure… mostly to T-Mobile. John Legere is waiting with open arms.

Sprint doesn’t need to just cut prices, it needs to butcher them, and fast. Sprint’s loyal customers have been promised a lot since the company unveiled its Network Vision upgrade plan during the French Revolution of 1789. The Bastille might still be standing today had Sprint slapped a working 4G LTE antenna on top of it. But alas, let them suffer with Sprint 3G, declared Dan Hesse, on a network so bad that throttled customers in heavy-use prison actually saw their speeds rise. Some customers in western New York simply turn Sprint 3G data off to save the battery.

When Sprint 4G LTE finally did arrive in western New York (illogically first in rural communities like the stiflingly-dull town of Dansville), many barely noticed because Sprint’s backhaul connection between the cell tower and Sprint’s data network often stayed the same — congested and slow.

Although T-Mobile’s coverage is not that different from Sprint, its network upgrades are.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere has confidently pushed Sprint around over its newest plan, but if it does start to eat into T-Mobile’s business, Legere will no doubt respond with some new plans of his own. For current Sprint customers, T-Mobile is definitely the upgrade Sprint has promised for at least five years, and should be considered at contract renewal time. But current Verizon and AT&T customers paying Cadillac pricing should not be expected to switch to Sprint after recalling dropped calls in a store, home or in an emergency on Sprint’s less robust network. They are very unlikely to change carriers no matter what shade of lipstick Sprint applies to its plans.

Claure has the right idea — slash prices and actually deliver on promises of a better network going forward, but those commitments deserve to apply to both existing and new customers. So far Claure has managed to inflict only superficial wounds. The price cuts must go much deeper to attract business from customers of the larger carriers willing to compromise for the right price and upgrades have to be real and delivered immediately.

Sprint still doesn’t understand it cannot charge Honda Accord prices on a Chevy Spark network. Until they do, T-Mobile is likely to continue taking them to school.

 

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Verizon Wireless Closing Unlimited Data Plan Upgrade Loopholes; The Latest Party Ends 8/24

610px-Verizon-Wireless-Logo_svgVerizon Wireless is closing several loopholes that customers have used to acquire new subsidized, on-contract smartphones and keep their unlimited data plans intact for an extra two years.

Since Verizon Wireless stopped enrolling customers in unlimited use data plans in 2012, current customers have been able to hang on to their unlimited use plans with the understanding they will not be entitled to subsidized upgrades or new lines with unlimited data. Despite that, Verizon still aggressively pursues unlimited data customers at almost every contact encouraging them to ditch their unlimited plan in favor of much more profitable Family Share plans, which feature usage-based billing tiers that customers will need to regularly upgrade to stay ahead of increasing data usage trends.

A study from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners showing Verizon has successfully convinced all but 22% of their customers to dump their unlimited plans. Those still hanging on guard their unmetered plans zealously. Some have even managed to find loopholes that let them keep unlimited data while getting subsidized device upgrades. But Verizon has caught on and is slowly closing the loopholes, increasing restrictions on unlimited data plan customers.

The Loopholes

One of the newer loopholes is a type of subsidized upgrade through Best Buy. A number of careful steps are required to win the upgrade without changing your data plan, and there are several side effects explained exhaustively on the Slickdeals website. If you try, read the instructions very carefully or you could lose your unlimited plan. The upgrade has been successful for many who have kept their unlimited packages, signed a new two-year contract exempting them from Verizon Wireless’ 4G speed throttle, and getting a new device at a subsidized discount. it won’t be easy to tell when this loophole is closed, and you might have to fight to win back your unlimited data package if it is removed from your account.

Another loophole involves shifting upgrades around on your current family plan. As different family members become eligible for device upgrades, it is possible to an upgrade to an existing number with an unlimited data plan without losing that feature. This is the most popular loophole at the moment and the one Verizon Wireless wants to kill the most.

"Tina, bring me the axe!"

“Tina, bring me the axe!”

Verizon Takes the Axe to Loopholes, Discounts, and Finance Plans for Unlimited Data Customers

Verizon has declared a virtual war on their grandfathered unlimited data plan customers, and has gradually tightened the noose:

  1. Verizon Wireless will begin throttling 4G/LTE speeds of off-contract, unlimited data plan customers deemed heavy users who consume more than 4.7GB of data per month beginning this fall;
  2. On July 13, Verizon Wireless quietly terminated its Device Payment Plan for unlimited data customers seeking to finance the cost of an unsubsidized device upgrade over 12-20 months. Instead, customers must enroll in Verizon Edge to get a phone with little cash upfront and monthly payments. One of the conditions of the Edge program is forfeiting your unlimited data plan;
  3. Verizon will no longer allow customers with unlimited data plans to transfer an available device upgrade from another line on the account to get a subsidized device upgrade while keeping their unlimited data plan.

In the past, some customers who love upgrading devices a lot either grabbed other family members’ device upgrade offers or opened up extra lines on the account. For each additional $9.99 a month basic line, a customer could qualify for a new subsidized device with a two-year contract, initially attaching a basic 2GB $30/month data plan they can immediately drop when the phone is switched to a line with unlimited data. Some customers have even maintained two or three unused phantom lines just so they can upgrade their phone every 10 months or so.

Beginning Aug. 24, Verizon will close that loophole by forcing customers to keep a data package associated with every subsidized device on their account for the length of the contract. This means customers must pay at least $30 for a 2GB data package, plus the usual $9.99 a month fee for service over the next two years for each line with a smartphone attached, regardless of what number it gets associated with.

According to information received by Droid Life, Verizon believes that when it “gives customers a discount on the retail price of a smartphone, we expect them to pay for data services and keep the smartphone activated for two years. This change closes the loopholes which allowed customers to activate/upgrade a smartphone and immediately revert back to a basic phone, resulting in a discontinued smartphone with no associated data plan.”

This may explain why Verizon Wireless is so gung-ho about getting me to switch to their "money-saving" Family Share Plan. In fact, it's a Family Theft plan -- nearly three times more expensive with a data cap that will force even more upgrades at a higher cost in the future.

Here’s an offer I’d like to refuse: This may explain why Verizon Wireless is so gung-ho about getting customers to switch to their “money-saving” Family Share Plan. In fact, it’s a Family Theft plan — nearly three times more expensive with a data cap that will force even more upgrades at a higher cost in the future.

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Comcast/Time Warner: We Dare You to Compare – ‘Our Regular Retail Prices Are a Secret’

psctest

One of the most difficult questions you can ask a customer service representative of either Comcast or Time Warner Cable is what their regular price is for service. As a Buffalo News reporter discovered in August 2013, Time Warner Cable refused repeated attempts to ascertain the non-promotional price of its broadband service.[1]

merger benefitsMaking a direct comparison between the prices charged by Comcast and those of Time Warner Cable require unnecessary perseverance made even more difficult by the fact Comcast only serves a tiny portion of New York State.

Both companies offer promotional deals to new customers as well as those threatening to cancel service, but those prices fluctuate wildly and eventually expire.

Time Warner Cable has made it even more difficult this year by completely eliminating the most popular plans from its retail price list: bundled service packages known in the industry as “double-play” (two services) or “triple play” (three services).[2]

A Time Warner Cable spokesman told the Los Angeles Times the company is required by regulators to provide pricing information for only some of its fees, and Internet rates are not one of them.[3] This year, Time Warner kept the size of its broadband rate hikes to itself. It is much the same for Comcast.

Both cable companies make a point of telling the news media that these prices, including installation, reflect the “rack rates” and that “most customers will pay less […] after cutting a deal for their programming package.”

ratehike1In 2011, Time Warner Cable raised some of its “rack rates” by up to 51.1 percent.[4]

That makes a rate comparison for television service difficult because the retail rates often do not reflect reality. But beyond rates, regulators need to understand Comcast television packages are very different from what Time Warner Cable customers are used to finding.[5] While Time Warner Cable bundles the vast majority of networks into a Standard TV package, Comcast offers a more extensive variety of packages. While at first glance this may seem to allow customers to better customize a package to meet their needs, Comcast has also taken care to break some of the most popular networks out of lower-cost packages and force customers to choose cable television packages costing much more to get them back.[6]

Sports fans and those who enjoy networks like Turner Classic Movies will have to pay Comcast $87.89 a month for its “Digital Preferred,” package[7], just to get back channels already included in the standard Time Warner Cable TV packages we are familiar with in New York.

At regular prices, a Comcast triple play customer should expect to pay $147.49 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.[8] 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 Preferred Plus customers get.

[1]http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region-whats-the-big-secret-about-pricing-20130805
[2]http://www.timewarnercable.com/en/support/account-and-billing/topics/retail-rates.html
[3]http://articles.latimes.com/2014/mar/17/business/la-fi-lazarus-20140318
[4]http://articles.latimes.com/2011/dec/27/business/la-fi-lazarus-20111227
[5]http://www.timewarnercable.com/en/tv/digital-cable-tv.html
[6]http://www.comcast.com/Corporate/Learn/DigitalCable/digitalcable.html
[7]http://www.comcast.com/Corporate/Learn/DigitalCable/TVChannelLineUp.html
[8]http://www.comcast.com/shop/deals-dealfinder
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Surprise Bid for T-Mobile USA from Iliad’s Free Mobile Has Wireless Competitors, Wall Street Unnerved

french revolutionThe French Revolution in wireless could be spreading across the United States if Paris-based Iliad is successful in its surprise $15 billion bid to acquire T-Mobile USA (right out from under Sprint and Japan-based Softbank). Wall Street hopes it isn’t true.

If you named one wireless carrier in the world guaranteed to provoke groans, sweat, and Excedrin headaches from powerful wireless industry executives living high on 40%+ annual margins, Iliad and its notorious Free Mobile would be the chief provocateur. Initially dismissed as an irrelevant upstart (much like T-Mobile itself) when it announced service on a less-robust network in 2012, as soon as Free Mobile announced its groundbreaking prices, panic was rife in the boardrooms and executive suites of competitors Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom, who couldn’t slash their own prices fast enough.

As one wireless executive in Paris put it, when Free Mobile launched, “the tsunami hit.”

In short order, Free Mobile has taken nearly five million of their competitors’ very profitable customers in France, mostly from its vicious price-cutting that results in rates half that of any other competitor.

Orange and other carriers promptly announced slashed shareholder dividend payouts and implemented cost-saving measures after being forced to cut pricing.

American wireless executives visiting Europe were aghast at the prices charged by the French upstart, suggesting they were reckless and would eliminate necessary investment in upgrades. Although France has been behind the United States in launching 4G service upgrades, French customer satisfaction with their wireless service is higher than in the U.S., and Free Mobile has the lowest customer loss (churn) rate of any carrier in France.

Iliad’s reputation as a nasty competitor is fine with self-made billionaire CEO Xavier Niel, who has become extremely wealthy selling cutting edge, yet affordable, telecommunications products without losing touch of his more modest roots. But he is reviled by most of his competitors for disrupting the comfortable wireless service business models his competitors have maintained for years. Niel has thrown marketing bombs into every sector of the French telecom market, ruthlessly cutting prices for customers while relying on in-house innovations to keep costs low.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Euronews Telecoms turmoil in France 2012.mp4

Euronews reported on the turmoil Iliad caused incumbent wireless carriers when it forced them to respond with major price-cuts to stay competitive. (0:44)

freemobileFree’s customer care center is run on Ubuntu-based, inexpensive notebook and desktop computers. Free’s wired broadband, television, and phone service is powered by set-top boxes and network devices custom-developed inside Iliad to keep costs down. Its creative spirit has been compared to Google, much to the chagrin of its “business by the book” competitors.

“It’s not done like this,” is a common refrain heard when Free Mobile announces more price cuts, an easing of usage caps, or completely free add-ons.

Today, a typical Free Mobile customer pays $26.75US a month for wireless service which includes:

  • Unlimited calls to France and 100 other destinations, including the U.S., Canada, China, and all French overseas departments (eg. Guadeloupe, Tahiti, Mayotte, etc.);
  • Unlimited SMS/text messages;
  • Unlimited MMS messages to French numbers;
  • 20GB of 4G access before the speed throttle kicks in;
  • Unlimited free Wi-Fi on Free’s extensive Wi-Fi network.

A Free Mobile customer that also subscribes to Free’s wired broadband or television service gets an even bigger discount. Their monthly wireless bill for the same features? $21.40US a month.

Niel said the reason he has not brought the Free Mobile brand to the United States is because the wireless industry here is highly anti-competitive. The fact T-Mobile USA is now up for sale represents ‘the opportunity of a lifetime,’ a “one-time opportunity to enter the world’s-largest telecoms market,” a person familiar with the matter said prior to the announcement.

“The competitive landscape in the U.S. is a lot less aggressive than what we are used to in France,” added Niel. “There is enormous potential. It is almost too good to be true.”

A number of Wall Street analysts who prefer the current business model of high cost/high profits are keeping their fingers crossed the Iliad offer is just a pipe dream. Some, including analysts on Bloomberg TV, dismissed Niel as a former pornographer and suggested “for the guppies, it is whale season,” a reference to Iliad’s small size relative to T-Mobile USA.

“To say this is surprising is something of an understatement; it is one of the most bizarre bits of potential M&A we have ever witnessed in the sector,” said analysts from Espirito Santo in a note to investors.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Who Is T-Mobiles New French Suitor 8-1-14.flv

Some on Wall Street are mocking the deal as a guppy hoping to swallow a whale. T-Mobile is considerably larger than Iliad, says CNBC. “It’s preposterous. Who put them up to it?” (6:18)

“Iliad is about a third of the size of T-Mobile US, and we don’t think there would be synergies from the deal,” said Jonathan Chaplin, an analyst at New Street Research, in a note. “It would be tough to finance without Xavier Neil relinquishing control. Sprint and anyone else with synergies should be able to outbid them.”

Should Free Mobile enter the United States, its cutthroat pricing would make CEO John Legere’s “bad wireless boy” campaign to make T-Mobile the “uncarrier” quaint in comparison. Every wireless carrier in the U.S. could be forced to cut rates by one-third or more to stay competitive should Niel adopt a similar business model for Free Mobile in the U.S. market.

Some worry that Softbank’s bid to merge Sprint and T-Mobile together has just become even less likely with the possibility of a new player in the U.S. market, competing against three other carriers, not two as the Softbank deal proposes.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Sprint Deal with T-Mobile Has Little Chance 8-1-14.flv

CNBC spoke with Nik Stanojevic, equity analyst at Brewin Dolphin, who was surprised Iliad threw in a bid for T-Mobile, but believes Softbank/Sprint’s deal to acquire T-Mobile has very little chance getting by regulators. (2:40)

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Frontier Introduces Pay-As-You-Go No Contract DSL in Michigan, Ohio, and Washington

Phillip Dampier July 31, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, Frontier No Comments
frontier 7550

NETGEAR 7550 Wi-Fi Router

Frontier has also introduced a “pay as you go” broadband plan, selling prepaid, up to 6/1Mbps DSL service (speeds not guaranteed) to customers on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to its customers in Michigan, Ohio, and Washington without a term contract or credit check. The cost to get started is substantial, designed to discourage current broadband customers from considering a switch to a prepaid plan.

If Frontier is not offering a promotion waiving equipment and installation fees, customers must buy Frontier’s Welcome Kit ($39.99) which includes:

  • NETGEAR 7550 Wi-Fi Router
  • Power Cord
  • Ethernet Cable
  • Phone Cord
  • 3 In-Line Filters
  • Installation Guide

Customers who need Frontier to handle the installation or clear up any line problems will need to pay a $99.99 installation fee.

Those capable of managing the installation themselves will have to pay a $19.99 activation fee.

Three different plans are available:

  • 1 day = $9.99
  • 7 days = $24.99
  • 30 days = $39.99

Frontier says the plans are perfect for seasonal residents, but it also penalizes those who take a break during the off-season. Once service is inactive for more than 60 days, a $34.99 reactivation fee applies to switch it back on.

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Your Unlimited, Off-Contract Verizon Wireless Web Experience Will Be “Optimized” (Throttled) Oct. 1

throttleVerizon Wireless’ ongoing campaign to get rid of its grandfathered unlimited data customers continues this week with news the carrier will begin throttling speeds of off-contract customers still hanging on to their uncapped data plans starting Oct 1.

Verizon doesn’t call the enforcement of speed reductions a “throttle,” but rather “Network Optimization”:

Verizon Wireless strives to provide its customers with the best wireless experience when using our network. In 2011, Verizon Wireless launched Network Optimization, which slows the data speeds of its unlimited data subscribers with 3G devices who are in the top 5% of data users when they connect to a cell site experiencing high demand.

Effective October 1, Verizon Wireless will expand its existing Network Optimization policy to include its unlimited data subscribers using 4G LTE devices who have fulfilled their minimum contract term. Based on your plan and recent data usage, one or more lines on your account may experience a reduction in data speeds when connected to a cell site experiencing high demand. Customers on MORE Everything or other usage-based data plans are not subject to Network Optimization. For more information about our Network Optimization, please refer to www.verizonwireless.com/networkoptimization.

Verizon Wireless customers on the company’s 3G network have been subject to speed throttling for several years if Verizon deems them a “heavy user,” but the company’s 4G LTE network avoided the speed noose until now. Customers who find themselves subjected to Verizon’s speed limiter report it is a very unpleasant experience.

610px-Verizon-Wireless-Logo_svg“My phone has been throttled and is now essentially unusable for the very things it is marketed for,” reports one customer sentenced by Verizon’s “Network Optimization.”  “I can send texts, emails, and view basic websites but any sort of streaming is now out of the question for the remainder of the billing cycle and possibly the next cycle as well.”

The throttle effectively limits speeds to well under 300kbps, and in most urban areas where cell tower usage is higher, punished customers have to live with speeds of around 50kbps — the same as dial-up.

Verizon’s logic and consistency about its “Network Optimization” faced customer scrutiny as well.

“This is not about equal opportunity bandwidth, it’s about Verizon realizing they can increase their revenue stream, otherwise, wouldn’t those tiered folks be getting throttled as well if they ‘abused’ and used ‘inordinate’ amounts of data?  Oh no, of course not, Verizon just bills them more.  This scenario is as ridiculous as charging $20/month for text messaging, which, by the way, is also data.”

What makes you speed-throttling-worthy? According to Droid Life, which broke the story, anyone using more than 4.7GB of data per month on a busy cell tower is likely to end up on a speed diet.

Verizon claims its “Network Optimization” is designed to protect the usage experience among all of its customers, and suggests the speed reductions will only occur when a heavy user is connected to a “high demand” cell site.

“Once you leave that site and attach to a new cell site without high demand, your speeds return to normal,” claims Verizon. “Other carriers often throttle you no matter what throughout the end of a billing cycle.”

But Verizon’s gesture isn’t as generous as it first suggests.

Once a customer is suspected of being a data hog and forced to endure Verizon’s speed throttle, they can stay in Verizon’s speed prison for up to 60 days after being sentenced. The result is dramatically reduced data speeds when a customer happens to travel through a busy cell site area, regardless of whether they are using a lot of data at the time or not.

Network congestion problems may be a result of too many customers connected to a single cell site at any one time, several customers concurrently engaged in high bandwidth traffic exchanges through a cell site, or Verizon’s inadequate capacity to meet even the reasonable needs of its wireless customers.

But regardless of the cause, only one group will be punished for their usage-excess: unlimited data plan customers who are now mostly off-contract (Verizon requires most customers signing a contract renewal that includes equipment discounts to migrate off their unlimited plan, which stopped being sold to new customers in June, 2012.)

Customers can get out of speed jail permanently simply by agreeing to give up their unlimited data plan. Then they can use (and abuse) Verizon’s limited wireless bandwidth, whether it slows every other customer down or not.

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Omitted from AT&T’s GigaPower Fiber to the Press Release: 1Gbps for 1%, <100Mbps for 99%

Phillip Dampier July 24, 2014 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News No Comments
Notice the word "may"

AT&T’s Fiber Fairy Tale

Holding your breath waiting for AT&T’s GigaPower 1Gbps U-verse upgrade to arrive in a town near you is hazardous to your health.

Despite a blizzard of press releases promoting the forthcoming arrival of gigabit Internet access from AT&T, the fine print reveals as little as one percent of some communities will actually get the upgrades.

In Winston-Salem, N.C., city officials cannot even get a firm commitment from AT&T that it will deliver the faster service to the 63 businesses the city chose as early candidates for the fiber upgrade.

In June, the city and AT&T signed an agreement for gigabit broadband expansion using AT&T’s GigaPower U-verse platform. But AT&T largely gets to decide where, when and even if it will invest in upgraded service. The city did not impose many conditions beyond a requirement that AT&T provide up to 20 free Internet connections to community sites with a one-time installation cost of $300 to $500. Another 20 connections would be provided to small to mid-size businesses, with no obligation to buy services.

In response, AT&T said it would only commit to reviewing the city’s list and “make an effort to serve the proposed locations if they are in the vicinity of where service will be available.”

If those locations fall outside of AT&T’s plans, no gigabit fiber.

A significant indicator of the true extent of AT&T’s expansion plans is whether the company is allocating capital spending commensurate with the costs of running fiber optic cable to individual homes and businesses. So far, AT&T has not. With no obligation to deliver the service AT&T is implying it will offer, the company is free to wire a handful of technology parks, businesses, and new housing developments and claim to have met its commitment, despite the fact 99 percent of area residents have no access to the faster speeds.

For the benefit of low-income residents who lack affordable Internet access, AT&T also promised it would offer some lower-speed Internet connections in a limited number of apartment complexes in low-income areas.
Here are the sites nominated by the city of Winston-Salem for AT&T gigabit broadband. AT&T’s response: ‘Maybe.’

Community sites: Aids Care Service; Boys & Girls Clubs at New Walkertown Road and Reynolds Park; Brown & Douglas Neighborhood Center; Russell Recreation Center; Liberty CDC; Community Care Center; ElBuen Pastor; Forsyth Technical Community College’s Woodruff Center; Gateway YWCA; Knollwood Baptist Church; Little Creek Neighborhood Center; Malloy/Jordan East Winston Heritage Center; MLK Jr. Center; Reynolda Branch library; S.G. Atkins CDC; SciWorks; Sedge Garden Center; Shepherd’s Center; South Fork Center; Southside Library; United Metropolitan Church; Winston Lake YMCA.

Small- to mid-size businesses: Bellomy Research; Campus Partners; Carolina Liquid Chemistries Corp.; Center for Design Innovation; CML Microcircuits (USA); Computer Credit Inc.; Computing Solutions Group Inc.; COR365 Innovation Solutions; Dairy Fresh Inc.; DataChambers LLC; Davenport Transportation Consulting; Debbie’s Staffing Service; Eastridge Technology Inc.; Exhibit Works; Flywheel; IMG College; Interact 911; KeraNetics LLC; Key Services Inc.; Kings Plaza; MissionMode; Ocular Systems; Odigia; OnceLogix LLC; Out of Our Minds Animation Studios Inc.; Page’s Sporting Goods; PhoneTree; Piedmont Propulsion; Segmented Marketing Solutions Inc.; Small Footprint Inc.; SolidSpace LLC; Special Event Services; Sunrise Technologies Inc.; The Clearing House Payment Center; Triad Semiconductor; TrueLook; Voyss Solutions; Washington Perk site at Washington Park; West 3rd Street Media; West End Mill Works.

Source: City of Winston-Salem

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New York City Comptroller Unimpressed With Comcast/Time Warner Cable Merger

one mbps

“Hey look, is that the Verizon FiOS truck?”

New York City comptroller Scott Stringer is lukewarm at best about the idea of Comcast taking over for Time Warner Cable. In a letter to the New York Public Service Commission released today, Stringer says the deal needs major changes before it comes close to serving the public interest.

“As New York City residents know all too well, our city is stuck in an Internet stone age, at least when compared to other municipalities across the country and around the world,” Stringer wrote. “According to a study by the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, New Yorkers not only endure slower Internet service than similar cities in other parts of the world, but they also pay higher prices for that substandard service. Tokyo residents enjoy speeds that are eight times faster than New York City’s, for a lower price. And Hong Kong residents enjoy speeds that are 20 times faster, for the equivalent price.”

Stringer should visit upstate New York some time. While the Big Apple is moving to a Verizon FiOS and Time Warner Cable Maxx or Cablevision/Optimum future, upstate New York is, in comparison, Raquel Welch-prehistoric, especially if your only choice is Verizon “No, We Won’t Expand DSL to Your House,” or Frontier “3.1Mbps is Plenty” Communications. If New York City’s speeds are slow, upstate New York speeds are glacial.

“The latest data from the FCC shows that, as of June 30, 2013, over 40 percent of connections in New York State are below 3Mbps,” Springer added.

Come for the Finger Lakes, but don’t stay for the broadband.

Should the merger be approved, Comcast would be obligated to comply with the existing franchise agreement between Time Warner Cable and the City of New York. However, in order for the proposed merger to truly be in the public interest, Comcast must have a more detailed plan to address these ongoing challenges and to further close the digital divide that leaves so many low-income New Yorkers cut off from the information superhighway. To date, Comcast’s efforts to close the digital divide have focused on its “Internet Essentials” program, which was launched in 2012.iii The program offers a 5 megabit/second connection for $9.95/month (plus tax) to families matching all of the following criteria:

• Located within an area where Comcast offers Internet service
• Have at least one child eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program
• Have not subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days
• Does not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment

While the aim of the program is laudatory, its slow speed, limited eligibility, and inadequate outreach have kept high-quality connectivity beyond the reach of millions of low-income Americans. Not only are the eligibility rules for Internet Essentials far too narrow, but the company has done a poor job of signing up those who do meet the criteria. In fact, only 300,000 (12 percent) of eligible households nationwide have actually signed up since the program was launched in 2011.

It is critical that the PSC not only press Comcast to significantly expand the reach of Internet Essentials, but also that it engage in appropriate oversight to ensure that the company is meeting its commitments to low-income residents of the Empire State.

Phillip "Comcast isn't the answer to the problem, it's the problem itself" Dampier

Phillip “Comcast isn’t the answer, it’s the problem” Dampier

In fact, the best way New York can protect its low-income residents is to keep Comcast out of the state. Time Warner Cable offers everyday $14.99 Internet access to anyone who wants it as long as they want it. No complicated pre-qualification conditions, annoying forms, or gotcha terms and conditions.

When a representative from the PSC asked a Comcast representative if the company would keep Time Warner’s discount Internet offer, a non-answer answer was the response. That usually means the answer is no.

“We have seen how telecommunications companies will promise to expand access as a condition of a merger, only to shirk their commitments once the merger has been approved,” Springer complained. “For instance, as part of its 2006 purchase of BellSouth, AT&T told Congress that it would work to provide customers ‘greater access and more choices for broadband, no matter where they live or work.’ However, later reports found that the FCC relied on the companies themselves to report their own merger compliance and did not conduct independent audits to verify their claims.”

Big Telecom promises are like getting commitments from a cheating spouse. Never trust… do verify or throw them out. Comcast still has not met all the conditions it promised to meet after its recent merger with NBCUniversal, according to Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).

Stringer also blasted Comcast for its Net Neutrality roughhousing:

While the FCC has not declared internet providers to be “common carriers”, state law has effectively done so within the Empire State. Under 16 NYCRR Part 605, a common carrier is defined as “a corporation that holds itself out to provide service to the public for hire to provide conduit services including voice, data, or video by electrical, electronic, electromagnetic or photonic means.”

Importantly, the law requires these carriers to “provide publicly offered conduit services on demand to any similarly situated user on substantially similar terms, subject to the availability of facilities and capacity.”

In recent months, Comcast has shown that it is willing to sacrifice net neutrality in order to squeeze additional payment out of content providers, such as Netflix. As shown in the chart below, Netflix download speeds on the Comcast network deteriorated rapidly prior to an agreement whereby Netflix now pays Comcast for preferential access.

speed changes

concast careConsumers have a legitimate fear that if access to fiber-optic networks is eventually for sale to the highest bidder, then not only will it stifle the entrepreneurial energy unleashed by the democratizing forces of the Internet, but will also potentially lead to higher prices for consumers in accessing content. Under that scenario, consumers are hit twice—first by paying for Internet access to their home and second by paying for certain content providers’ preferred access.

Internet neutrality has been a core principle of the web since its founding and the PSC must examine whether Comcast’s recent deal with Netflix is a sign that the company is eroding this principle in a manner that conflicts with the public interest.

Stringer may not realize Comcast also has an end run around Net Neutrality in the form of usage caps that will deter customers from accessing competitors’ content if it could put them over their monthly usage allowance and subject to penalty rates. Comcast could voluntarily agree to Net Neutrality and still win by slapping usage limits on all of their broadband customers. Either causes great harm for competitors like Netflix.

“I urge the Commission to hold Comcast to that burden and to ensure that the merger is in the best interest of the approximately 2.6 million Time Warner Cable subscribers in New York State and many more for whom quality, affordable Internet access remains unavailable,” Stringer writes. “And I urge Comcast to view this as an opportunity to do the right thing by introducing itself to the New York market as a company that values equitable access and understands that its product—the fourth utility of the modern age—must be available to all New Yorkers.”

If Comcast’s existing enormous customer base has already voted them the Worst Company in America, it is unlikely Comcast will turn on a dime for the benefit of New York.

The best way to ensure quality, affordable Internet access in New York is to keep Comcast out of New York.

No cable company has ever resolved the rural broadband problem. Their for-profit business model depends on a Return on Investment formula that prohibits expanding service into unprofitable service areas.

These rural service problems remain pervasive in Comcast areas as well, and always have since the company took over for AT&T Cable in the early 2000s. Little has changed over the last dozen years and little will change in the next dozen if we depend entirely on companies like Comcast to handle the rural broadband problem.

A more thoughtful solution is encouraging the development of community co-ops and similar broadband enterprises that need not answer to shareholders and strict ROI formulas.

In the meantime, for the good of all New York, let’s keep Comcast south (and north) of the border, thank you very much.

 

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Free Speed Upgrades, 3000th Customer for North Carolina’s Community-Owned Fibrant

fibrant speedSalisbury’s community-owned fiber network has tripled its subscriber base in three years, signing up its 3,000th customer in the community of 33,000 and is already turning a profit.

Fibrant, despite facing intense opposition from corporate-backed, conservative special interest groups with financial ties to its competitors and a state law passed at the behest of Time Warner Cable that limits its future growth opportunities, has proven very successful delivering improved Internet access to a community that received the back of Time Warner’s hand when it requested service upgrades.

Salisbury invested $33 million to install more than 250 miles of fiber in and around the community and began hooking up customers to its all-fiber network in late 2010. By the following summer, 1,200 customers signed up. Today, Fibrant serves more than 3,000 homes in the community.

WCNC-TV in Charlotte reports Fibrant is likely to break even this year after losing $4.1 million the year before — a loss Fibrant attributes to normal start-up costs faced by almost every new business.

Dale Gibson has been thrilled to be a Fibrant customer since the beginning and is even happier now that Fibrant offers gigabit speeds.

“Generally, when an Internet service provider gives a speed, it represents bandwidth, or a theoretical ‘best effort’ speed, not the ‘throughput,’ or actual speed,” Gibson told the Salisbury Post. “My speed tests are consistently above 900Mbps.”

In 2013, Fibrant raised the speed of its entry-level broadband package to 20/20Mbps for no extra charge. In the coming week, Fibrant’s basic broadband customers will be getting another free upgrade to 50/50Mbps.

Customers who want even faster speeds are also getting them for no extra charge:

  • 30/30Mbps customers will see their speed raised to 75/75Mbps;
  • 50/50Mbps customers get a free speed increase to 100/100Mbps;
  • 100/100Mbps customers get the best upgrade of all: 1,000/1,000Mbps service at no extra cost.

Fibrant’s competitions cannot come close. AT&T U-verse still tops out at around 24Mbps in this part of North Carolina and caps its customers to 250GB of usage a month. Time Warner Cable’s best speed remains 50/5Mbps at a price higher than what Fibrant charges for 100/100Mbps.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee, but mostly AT&T and Comcast)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee, but mostly AT&T and Comcast)

Fibrant has also improved its video packages, with new features like a whole house DVR, more channels, and more HD. Customers who don’t want networks shoveled at them can buy a basic cable TV package from Fibrant for $37 a month. Those who want more can upgrade to several different packages offering a maximum of over 450 TV channels and 50 music channels.

Customers in nearby communities who want the kind of competition Fibrant delivers will have to wait a long time to get it. Time Warner Cable, with the support of the Republican state legislature, successfully introduced and eventually passed the cable company-drafted measure to essentially ban community broadband in the state. FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler promised to consider eliminating these state corporate protectionism laws, provoking a hostile response in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican with heavy backing from telecommunications giants AT&T and Comcast, introduced a measure for the benefit of large phone and cable companies that would override any effort by the FCC to increase competition by eliminating anti-competitive restrictions on public broadband.

“Blackburn’s positions line up very well with the cable and telephone companies that give a lot of money to her campaigns,” said Christopher Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “In this case, Blackburn is doing what it takes to benefit the cable and telephone companies rather than the United States, which needs more choices, faster speeds, and lower prices. The argument that Blackburn puts forth [for passage of her measure] is not coherent. It’s just politics.”

Republicans in the House responded anyway, passing her measure 223-200. Just two Democrats voted in favor. The bill is not expected to pass the Senate and would almost certainly face a presidential veto.

New York Democrat Jose Serrano relished the ideological irony of House Republicans forced to twist their positions to accommodate AT&T.

“Whatever happened to localism or local control?,” asked Serrano. “This amendment means the federal government will tell every local citizen, mayor, and county council member that they may not act in their own best interests. Any such amendment is an attack on the rights of individual citizens speaking through their local leaders to determine if their broadband needs are being met.”

As community-owned providers in North Carolina found out, Big Telecom money often speaks louder than ideological consistency.

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Major Verizon FiOS Speed Upgrade: Upstream Speed Now Equals Downstream

Phillip Dampier July 21, 2014 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon No Comments

faster fiosVerizon Communications today announced its FiOS Internet customers will be getting free speed upgrades that match upload and download speeds — the only provider in FiOS markets to offer speed equality.

Verizon will start transitioning qualifying current residential customers to higher upload speeds for free throughout the coming months, but we can help get you higher on the upgrade list if you keep reading. Later this year, existing and new FiOS small-business customers also will receive this upgrade.

“Faster upload speeds means better sharing experiences,” said Mike Ritter, Verizon’s chief marketing officer for consumer and mass business. “All Internet sharing – whether videos, large photo files or gaming – starts with uploading. FiOS all-fiber-optic technology offers a unique opportunity to enhance our customers’ Internet experience on a mass scale by increasing our upload speeds to equal to our industry-leading download speeds. As the Internet of Things becomes a reality, equal download and upload speeds will become essential.”

Verizon’s upgrade also lets the company point out a shortcoming of most of its cable competitors, upstream speeds lag far behind downstream speeds. Many cable operators still only offer no better than 5Mbps upload speeds, even while offering 50, 100, or 150Mbps for downloads.

Verizon says it noticed upload activity has been on the increase for some time, and with the upstream speed upgrades, it expects double the upload activity it sees today by 2016.

“Verizon’s decision to give every FiOS Internet customer upload speeds that mirror its industry-leading download speeds is a step forward for U.S. digital consumers – and unique among the major U.S. broadband Internet providers,” said Matt Davis, program director of consumer multiplay and broadband services research for IDC. “Because the upgrade is free, it delivers tremendous value to FiOS subscribers and strongly positions Verizon to meet the growing demand for upstream Internet speed.”

Verizon FiOS also lacks usage caps or consumption billing, giving customers a worry-free Internet experience that does not carry the risk of surprise charges on a future bill.

Here are Verizon’s new speed tiers:

140720_BenefitsofFast_432x315

  • 15/5Mbps is now 15/15Mbps
  • 25/5Mbps is now 25/25Mbps
  • 50/25Mbps is now 50/50Mbps
  • 75/35Mbps is now 75/75Mbps
  • 150/65Mbps is now 150/150Mbps
  • 300/65Mbps is now 300/300Mbps
  • 500/100Mbps is now 500/500Mbps

The free speed upgrades will begin with customers enrolled in Verizon’s My Rewards+ program. You can get on the upgrade list today by enrolling in the rewards program on the My Rewards+ websiteMy Rewards+ is Verizon’s free loyalty program that rewards customers for paying a bill online, renting or buying videos on demand, or in recognition of a birthday, service anniversary or other event. My Rewards+ members can use earned points for Visa Prepaid Cards or other gift cards good at participating merchants such as Starbucks Coffee, L.L. Bean, Panera Bread, Target, Amazon, Dunkin’ Donuts, Staples and others. Customers can also choose to donate their rewards to a charity of their choice.

Verizon is running several promotions (until 9/20/2014) for new customers who want in on the new FiOS speeds. The most popular Triple Play promotion is their 25/25Mbps Internet service, which also includes Preferred HD TV and nationwide home phone service (equipment rental required). This includes a two-year price guarantee for $89.99 per month when ordered online and $99.99 per month otherwise (not including equipment charges, taxes and fees). In addition, new customers can receive a free LG G Pad 8.3 LTE or up to $200 off any other tablet available from Verizon Wireless if they are willing to take out a new, two-year service agreement. This part of the promotion is less attractive to us because the offer requires the tablet be activated on the Verizon Wireless network, which means ongoing charges.

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