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New Verizon FiOS Gigabit Customers Get Xbox Live Gold and Free Online Game

Phillip Dampier April 11, 2018 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Verizon No Comments

To promote its gigabit speed offering, Verizon Communications has introduced a new offer targeting online gamers that offers a free, one-year subscription to Xbox Live Gold and a choice of Sea of Thieves or Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds for free when signing up for Verizon FiOS Gigabit Connection (940/880 Mbps) service at a special promotional price of $79.99 for one year.

Extremely high-speed internet service is often not as important for online gamers as latency, but Verizon is clearly targeting game-loving millennials with this standalone internet-only offer. It is also avoiding some of the usual hurdles that can drive some away, especially by waiving the budget-straining $99.99 setup fee. But some of Verizon’s usual fine print and gotchas still apply:

  • Offer valid for new residential internet customers only.
  • Customers must sign up for this promotion online.
  • Customers are billed at the non-promotional, regular price and receive bill credits on their bill to cut the cost to $79.99. After one year, those bill credits end and you pay the regular price.
  • A $10/mo router charge applies, along with unspecified “other fees, taxes, and equipment charges.”
  • Customers must agree to paperless billing and autopay with a ACH debit to a checking account or bank debit card only.
  • Credit approval is required. Those who don’t pass muster may require a refundable deposit.

Other important terms:

  • Must maintain your Verizon FiOS Gigabit Connection service for at least 60 days after installation, with no past-due balance, or promotion will be canceled.
  • You must redeem your Xbox Live and chosen game codes within 90 days of delivery or they may expire and will not be replaced.
  • The offer is valid from April 5 to May 4, 2018.

Once your service is installed, you will need to wait for your first Verizon bill. Within 24 hours after Verizon receives full payment of your first FiOS bill, you will receive an e-mail with a code for a one-year membership to Xbox Live Gold and a second code for a digital download of the game you chose during your order. This email will include a link to the Microsoft Live website where you can follow the required steps to activate your membership and download your game.

If you already have an Xbox Live Gold membership, the supplied code will extend your current membership by an additional 12 months. It must be redeemed by December 31, 2018. If you already own the game you chose during your FiOS order, you will not be able to redeem the game code through your Xbox Live account or exchange it for an equivalent cash value. However, you can gift  the code to a friend or family member. But be sure to have them activate it within 90 days.

What New York Counties Will Get State-Subsidized Fiber Broadband from Verizon?

New York’s Broadband for All Program yesterday announced the third and final round of grant winners to expand rural internet access across the state.

Verizon Communications was the top grant recipient, winning a total of $106,642,787 in combined state, federal, and private dollars to expand internet access to 15,515 residential homes, businesses, and institutions primarily in the Capital Region, Central New York, and the North Country.

Stop the Cap! has learned these funds will be spent on fiber internet expansion, which could mean direct fiber to the home (FTTH) connections or a combination of fiber and existing copper telephone wiring (FTTN). To meet the state’s requirements, Verizon will likely have to use optical fiber as much as possible, although some advanced forms of DSL are capable of meeting minimum speed requirements.

But where exactly will Verizon start building out its network? The state’s grant program includes census block data on the exact areas where Verizon will commence upgrades or bring internet service for the first time.

By far the biggest winner of Verizon upgrades is New York’s North Country where over 1,000 Census Blocks will be wired for service.

Here is a general breakdown on where Verizon will begin working on rural broadband expansion:

Capital Region

  • 78 Census Blocks in Rensselaer County
  • 59 Census Blocks in Schenectady County
  • 132 Census Blocks in Washington County

Central New York Region

  • 196 Census Blocks in Cayuga County
  • 47 Census Blocks in Cortland County
  • 5 Census Blocks in Onondaga County

Mohawk Valley Region

  • 1 Census Block in Montgomery County

North Country Region

  • 686 Census Blocks in Clinton County
  • 203 Census Blocks in Jefferson County
  • 279 Census Blocks in St. Lawrence County

Southern Tier Region

  • 5 Census Blocks in Tompkins County

We are not well-schooled on mapping applications or integrating the data into a searchable tool or larger map (if you can, we’d love to hear from you). So for now, readers will have to search the database manually. Here are two ways to search:

Identify your Census Block ID and see if broadband improvements are coming to your area

  1. Visit this website and enter your street address.
  2. From the resulting list, click the  icon adjacent to the “Block” Geography Type, which will bring up a pop-up table containing additional information.
  3. Find the “Code” line which will show a long number like this: 1000000US300500197056002. If you Copy everything to the right of “US”, in this example 300500197056002, that represents your Census Block ID. Omit everything else (including the ‘US’).
  4. You can compare your Census Block ID number with the master list (click to download – .xlsx spreadsheet format) of New York’s third round census block winners. Just use the Search function and enter your Census Block ID number. If it matches with anything in that spreadsheet, your address is almost certainly to be serviced by Verizon (or another telecom company, as specified in the spreadsheet.)

To view coverage maps of winning Census Block IDs

  1. Download the master list (click to download – .xlsx spreadsheet format) of New York’s third round census block winners.
  2. Copy any Census Block ID listed, visit Melissa Data and paste the ID into the search box.
  3. A map of the Census Block will appear. Not all Census Blocks have homes or businesses within them and will appear undeveloped. In many cases, this means a grant winner is being given funds to develop their network to pass through one Census Block to reach other areas nearby where customers live and work.

N.Y. Governor Reneges on 100% Broadband Promise, Offers Satellite to 72k New Yorkers Instead

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

It was called “Broadband for All” — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to bring high-speed internet service to every New York State resident. But it now appears the governor will break that promise and leave more than 72,000 rural New York residents with satellite-delivered internet that does not come close to meeting the broadband speed standard and is infamous for customer frustration, slow speeds, and low data caps.

Ensuring High-Speed Internet Access for Every New Yorker

In today’s world, internet connectivity is no longer a luxury—it is a necessity. Broadband is as vital a resource as running water and electricity to New York’s communities and is absolutely critical to the future of our economy, education, and safety.

In 2015, Governor Cuomo made the largest and most ambitious state broadband investment in the nation, $500 million, to achieve statewide broadband access by 2018. 

The New NY Broadband Program sets as its goal access to speeds of 100 Mbps for all New Yorkers, with 25 Mbps acceptable in the most remote and rural areas. The cost must not exceed $60 and there is a general prohibition of data caps. This goal exceeds requirements of the FCC’s Connect America Fund program and requires that projects be completed on a more accelerated timeline.

Today, the governor announced the state grant winners to split $209.7 million in the third and final round of awards to offer 122,285 additional homes, businesses, and institutions broadband internet service.

“These latest awards through Round III of the New NY Broadband Program will close the final gap and bring high-speed broadband to all New Yorkers in every corner of the state,” the governor’s office claimed.

Except it won’t.

Tucked in among the grant award winners is a $14,889,249 grant to Hughes Network Systems, LLC, targeting 72,163 rural New Yorkers, more than half of the total number of customers to be reached in the third round. Hughes operates the HughesNet satellite internet service, a technology derisively known as “satellite fraudband” for routinely failing to meet its advertised speed claims. It’s also known as “last resort internet” because it is slow, expensive, and heavily data capped.

Complaints about HughesNet are common on websites like Consumer Affairs:

“Extreme false advertising. Over the first 30 days with HughesNet Gen5, I averaged 3 Mbps download when advertised 25 Mbps. I canceled when they couldn’t answer why I used 20 GB of data in less than 24 hours. I am a 55 year old average internet user. No streaming. No music. No videos (YouTube). DO NOT GET THIS SERVICE EVEN IF NO OTHERS ARE AVAILABLE.” — Dennis, Tazewell, Tenn. (1/25/2018)

HughesNet claims high speed internet in our region. Clearly not available here, 3 service calls, with exchange of equipment, 50 calls – recorded leaves us no choice, we demand that this contract be null/void without stealing $399 cancellation. A despicable Company, uninformed customer service, average speeds with a video; upload speed 0.62 Mbps, the download speed is 1.28 Mbps. Help!!!” — Jeffrey, Kerhonkson, NY (1/21/2018)

“Promised speeds of no less than 25 Mbps. Actual speed received was 5-9 Mbps. Unable to stream anything. Computer programs did not operate and did not update as required. We have cancelled HughesNet at great cost to us. Worst internet service ever.” — Jennifer, Hartsville, SC (1/12/2018)

Pat (last name withheld) lives 1.3 miles from the nearest Charter Communications customer in Niagara County, near Niagara Falls and is very disappointed with recent developments. Charter has quoted an installation fee of $50,000 to extend their cable service and Verizon has refused to provide DSL service, leaving Pat resorting to using an AT&T mobile data plan, which is expensive and gets throttled after using more than ~22 GB a month.

“This was a scam from Jump Street,” Pat said. “Phase 3 has 70,000 out of 120,000 homes getting satellite internet, a technology that was already available. It also gives $70 million to Verizon who declined funds in first place. Five years and $675 million later and still no internet for my kids.”

“This is a huge disappointment for us,” Pat added. “We were counting on this happening. Told numerous times it would. Now we have to debate moving, we can’t continue not having internet. My oldest son just graduated high school never having internet at home.”

“I have written and spoke with New York Broadband Program Office and it was clear to me from the beginning they didn’t understand the problems they faced, namely infrastructure costs,” said Pat. “They didn’t want to hear it. They wrongly assumed that telecoms would bid and everyone would have internet. I knew when announcements were delayed that the bids for last mile didn’t come in. Tragic really. I think they made a mistake accepting that money from the FCC. Satellite was never on the table until that happened.”

Stop the Cap! readers have told us satellite internet is the worst possible option for internet access, and many have reported better results relying on their mobile phone’s data plan. But New York’s solution for more than 70,000 of its rural citizens — many that believed the governor’s commitment of 100% coverage — is to saddle them with satellite internet access starting at $49.99 a month for a paltry 10 GB of usage per month. The top plan on offer costs $99.99 a month and is capped at 50 GB a month before a speed throttle kicks in and reduces speeds to dial-up levels. A 24-month contract is required with a very steep early cancellation penalty.

Another surprising winner is Verizon Communications, a company that originally refused to participate in rural broadband expansion efforts. Verizon will accept more than $70 million to expand its broadband service to 15,515 homes, businesses, and institutions in the Capital Region, central New York, the North Country, and Southern Tier. At press time, it is not known if Verizon will bring FiOS or DSL to these customers.

Because New York State relied on private companies to bid to cover unserved residents, it seems clear HughesNet is the default choice for those New Yorkers stranded without a telecom company bidder. Although that will allow Gov. Cuomo to claim his program reaches 99.99% of New Yorkers, the rural broadband problem remains unresolved for those who were depending the most on New York to help bring broadband to rural farms, homes in the smallest communities, and those simply unlucky enough to live in small neighborhoods deemed unprofitable to serve.

Verizon and Samsung Partner Up to Provide 5G Services, Starting in Sacramento

Verizon Communications has selected Samsung Electronics as a major supplier of the wireless company’s forthcoming 5G wireless service, launching first in Sacramento, Calif., in the second half of this year.

Samsung will be a major vendor supplying Verizon and its customers in Sacramento with 5G equipment, including wireless modems and routers. In 11 other cities where Verizon is testing 5G service, Ericsson AB, another 5G network vendor, has supplied much of the equipment. Samsung is currently a small player in the 5G networking business, but hopes to ramp up its business and cross-promote its smartphones and tablets with future 5G users.

Verizon’s wireless customers in Sacramento will be the first to receive invitations to switch their home broadband accounts away from AT&T, Frontier, Wave Broadband and Comcast — the four largest incumbent providers in the greater Sacramento area. Verizon claims its 5G service can support speeds up to 1Gbps. Verizon has been testing 5G service in 11 U.S. cities, but has kept pricing details to itself. The issue of data caps has been repeatedly raised and most industry analysts predict Verizon will usage cap its 5G service at around 200GB a month. Whether the company plans to offer an unlimited use plan is unknown.

Kim Young-ky, president of Samsung’s networks business, told the Wall Street Journal that 5G is a reality and it will be much more than just an upgrade from 4G service.

“The average U.S. consumer uses about five gigabytes of mobile data a month,” said Kim. But after 5G becomes more ubiquitous in the next few years, he believes consumers will eventually use closer to 100GB monthly on new services such as virtual or augmented reality programs—or even from driverless cars, the newspaper added.

Kim expects the first 5G capable smartphones won’t appear until sometime in 2019, leaving 5G primarily as a wireless home broadband replacement during its initial rollout.

Telecom Companies Win Huge New Tax Breaks and Falsely Promise Spending Spree

Some of America’s top telephone and cable companies will likely pay little, if any federal taxes as a result of the passage of a Republican-sponsored tax cut plan, while some may also receive generous “refunds” based on depreciation-related expenses and future investments the companies would have made with or without changes to the tax code.

For several years in the last decade, companies with significant infrastructure expenses often did not spend a penny in federal taxes thanks to generous loopholes and incentive programs designed to encourage corporations to invest in new equipment, research, and development. The new Republican-sponsored tax cut is expected to provide a windfall of tax savings for every corporation in the country, but telecom companies are expected to do especially well with a combination of a lower corporate tax rate and the GOP’s failure to fulfill a commitment to close many of the tax loopholes and incentives that were originally designed to get companies spending during the Great Recession.

No provider has promised customers lower rates as a result of the billions of additional dollars the companies are expected to keep in the bank starting next year. In fact, there are early signs that much of the anticipated windfall will be returned to shareholders in the form of increased dividend payouts and accelerated share buyback schemes that reduce the number of shares available for sale, boosting both the sale price of the stock and executive bonus compensation tied to the price performance of the stock.

Despite that, companies including AT&T and Comcast are cranking up their PR machines to get on the good side of the Trump Administration, suggesting the new tax cuts will directly benefit middle class employees at both companies.

AT&T’s capex increased $1.1 billion to $11.2 billion for the first six months of 2017 without the tax cut legislation.

AT&T announced it would pay a one-time $1,000 bonus to its workers and invest an additional $1 billion in network upgrades as a direct result of the tax cuts.

However, a closer look reveals AT&T’s commitments to boost compensation came not as a result of the tax cut but instead from nearly a year of hard negotiations with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), one of the biggest unions representing AT&T workers.

The CWA argued that AT&T needed to follow-through on the Republican Party’s promise that passage of the tax cuts would result in higher wages for the middle class.

“Republicans, including the president, said the average household would get $4,000 under this tax plan,” CWA spokesperson Candice Johnson told The Daily Beast. In November, CWA officials began to demand $4,000 raises for AT&T workers promised by the GOP. “This bonus came out of that conversation. It’s a start, and we’re going to keep holding our leaders accountable.”

Instead of $4,000 more a year for AT&T workers as a result of the tax cut bill, the union’s influence achieved a $1,000 one time bonus and an average salary bump of 10.1%. Without pressure from the union, many AT&T employees and union officials believe AT&T would have offered little, if anything to its employees as a result of the tax cut.

AT&T’s Christmas Bonus will cost the company a fraction of the amount it risks losing if its $109 billion merger deal with Time Warner, Inc., does not survive an antitrust review by the Justice Department and the courts. The Justice Department announced its opposition to the merger. The connection between AT&T’s press release, which plays into the Trump Administration’s talking points about the tax cut law, and AT&T’s need for a friendlier response to its merger deal by administration officials, was not lost on Crane’s Chicago Business:

By now, companies have learned the art of crafting the type of upbeat, largely symbolic press releases our president loves, with enough big numbers to get them on the White House’s good side. If this time around that also means some extra money in workers’ pockets, all the better. But some of these announcements come across as more gimmicky than others, and it’s not hard to wonder if there are also other motives at work.

AT&T is angling to overcome regulatory objections to its $109 billion merger with Time Warner Inc. and either way, needs to invest in the U.S. to build out its fiber-optic cable and 5G networks. Analysts estimate AT&T’s net income will be close to $14 billion this year.

AT&T’s commitment to spend up to $1 billion additional dollars next year as a direct result of the tax cut is recycled old news, critics charge, because AT&T previously announced the same $1 billion commitment in early November. Regardless, the extra spending is a small fraction of AT&T’s overall capex budget.

In 2016, at the height of so-called “investment-killing net neutrality,” AT&T exceeded its 2016 capex forecast, spending $22.9 billion — $900,000 more than it expected. In 2017, AT&T announced it expected to spend $22 billion again this year, primarily on its wireless network and wired business solutions. The other major former Baby Bell – Verizon Communications, spent $17.1 billion in 2016 and expected to spend up to $17.5 billion this year.

AT&T’s promise to spend an additional $1 billion is a token amount, especially when considering the tax cut savings likely to be won by phone companies like AT&T and Verizon. From 2008-2015, AT&T paid an effective federal tax rate of just 8.1%, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. It will pay considerably less under the Republican tax law, potentially saving the company billions. During the same period, Verizon paid absolutely zero federal taxes during many of those years, and in fact won a refund from the IRS because of network investments and depreciation-related savings. Because the GOP did not close many of the corporate loopholes the politicians initially promised would be ended, many telecom companies could once again pay little, if any federal tax, and may secure hefty refunds.

Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

Comcast’s $1,000 Christmas Bonus and $50 Billion Spending Commitment

Not to be outdone, Comcast has also promised a $1,000 one time Christmas bonus for its employees as a result of the passage of the GOP tax measure, along with a commitment to spend $50 billion on its business over the next five years:

Based on the passage of tax reform and the FCC’s action on broadband, Brian L. Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast NBCUniversal, announced that the company would award special $1,000 bonuses to more than 100,000 eligible frontline and non-executive employees. Roberts also announced that the company expects to spend well in excess of $50 billion over the next five years investing in infrastructure to radically improve and extend our broadband plant and capacity, and our television, film and theme park offerings.

Roberts

Comcast’s spending on its theme parks acquired from NBCUniversal has been especially bullish, with Roberts announcing earlier this year nearly $2 billion in spending  in 2017. In fact, Comcast’s capex spending has trended higher year after year, especially after its acquisition of NBCUniversal. In 2014, the company spent $7.2 billion on capital investments. In 2015, as net neutrality rules took effect, Comcast raised investments to $8.1 billion. In 2016, the capex budget fell slightly to $7.597 billion in 2016, but was forecast to reach $8.445 billion in 2017. Ars Technica reports that from the fourth quarter of 2016 through the third quarter of 2017, Comcast spent $9.4 billion on capital investments.

Much of that spending has been to pay for its X1 set-top box, theme park upgrades, and scaling up its broadband infrastructure to handle faster internet speeds. Earlier in 2017, Comcast also boosted its commitment to spend billions on buying back shares of its own stock, which will benefit shareholders and company executive compensation plans.

As the industry marches towards fiber upgrades and DOCSIS 3.1 deployment, Comcast’s capex forecast without the tax cuts would like come very close to Roberts’ $50 billion estimate over the next five years, assuming the company spent a reasonable average of close to $10 billion annually. Roberts said he “expects” spending at that level, but did not commit to it formally, so there is no penalty for overestimating investment numbers.

AT&T earlier noted predictions about capital investments always relate to actual need at the time and the company doesn’t spend money it does not need to spend.

“There is no reason to expect capital expenditures to increase by the same amount year after year,” AT&T said at the time. “Capital expenditures tend to be ‘lumpy.’ Providers make significant expenditures to upgrade and expand their networks in one year (e.g., perhaps because a new generation of technology has just been introduced), and then focus the next year on signing up customers and integrating those new facilities into their existing networks, and then make additional capital expenditures later, and so on.”

But there are political upsides to making no-strings-attached investment predictions anyway.

Comcast’s share repurchase program also allows the company to boost dividend payouts to shareholders.

Issuing a favorable press release that dovetails with the Trump Administration’s tax cut plan could buy Comcast goodwill from the administration as the company faces calls from Congress to extend merger deal conditions and restrictions on its 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal. Those conditions are scheduled to expire in September 2018.

Jon Brodkin notes that telecom companies frequently tie their spending plans to regulatory matters going in their favor:

When ISPs are asking the government for a specific policy change—such as the repeal of a regulation or a tax break—they are quick to claim that the desired policy will lead to more investment.

AT&T, for example, announced last month that it would invest “an additional $1 billion” if Congress passes tax reform. With the tax reform now passed by Congress, AT&T said yesterday that it will move ahead with that $1 billion increase.

But neither one of those AT&T announcements said what the exact level of investment would have been if the tax bill wasn’t passed.

And in 2010, AT&T told the FCC that capital expenditures are based on technology upgrade cycles rather than government policy. At the time, AT&T was asking the FCC for a favor—the company wanted a declaration that the wireless market is competitive, a finding that can influence how the FCC regulates wireless carriers.

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