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Verizon’s Curious Allies, Employees Urge N.J. Regulators to Forget About FiOS Fiber Expansion

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still dead.

New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities has heard from hundreds of New Jersey residents about a settlement proposal that would let Verizon off the hook for failing to keep a commitment to provide high-speed broadband service statewide no later than 2010.

Curiously, hundreds of those comments were identical e-mails originating from AOL, Hotmail, MSN and Yahoo mail accounts urging the state to show lenience to Verizon — to forgive and forget the company’s broken promises. No mailing addresses were included. But the attached names and e-mail addresses were enough for Stop the Cap! to discover many of those submitting comments used non-working e-mail addresses or claimed their names were submitted without their knowledge or permission. Many others were actually employed by Verizon or were retirees.

“The proposed stipulation is fair and balanced and under your guidance, will build on the success that the Board and Verizon have achieved in making the Garden State one of the most wired broadband states in the country,” writes David Gudino, who doesn’t disclose in his correspondence with the BPU that his name is included in a list of attorneys working for Verizon Wireless.

“I would like to declare my support for the proposed stipulation between your Board Staff and Verizon as it relates to Opportunity New Jersey,” says another on behalf of an organization getting contributions from Verizon. “The stipulation will help ensure continued deployment of advanced communications services. Access to these services will not only benefit New Jersey’s businesses and nonprofits, but consumers of all ages as well.”

new-jerseyBy “advanced communications services,” the letter’s signers should know very well that means more 4G LTE wireless broadband with stingy usage caps and high prices, not more FiOS fiber to the home service.

What proved especially surprising was finding so many customers claiming to be happy with Verizon’s broadband performance in New Jersey who are still relying on AOL dial-up accounts. Stop the Cap! contacted a random 150 signers of the identical letters by using their attached e-mail addresses, which are part of the public record. We asked the writers to expand on their views about Verizon’s performance in New Jersey, whether they were satisfied with their current Internet provider, whether they have broadband service, and where they learned about this issue.

Remarkably, 35 of the e-mail addresses turned out to be invalid, so we contacted an extra 35 and 12 of those e-mail addresses were invalid as well. We found this unsettling because the only identifying information attached to the pro-Verizon correspondence was a name and e-mail address. We couldn’t be sure the authors were New Jersey residents much less real people.

We received 18 replies. Several were Verizon retirees asked to sign letters of support for Verizon. Another five had no idea what we were talking about and denied they submitted any views, pro or con, about Verizon. Three of those were Comcast customers that said goodbye to Verizon more than a decade earlier. Many others were associated with groups that happen to receive financial support from Verizon. Several  had no broadband access and were using dial-up.

Stop the Cap! did not receive a single reply from any person ready to articulate informed views about the terms of the settlement offer. They were simply asked to lend their names and e-mail addresses to Verizon’s campaign and had never seen the settlement proposal or heard much about it.

bpuJudith Stoma’s family has worked for Verizon/NJ Bell since 1958. She’s 71 years old today and she supports Verizon, at least in its efforts to “lead the way with N.J. at the forefront of technology.” Abdicating on FiOS expansion in favor of the same old DSL service Verizon proposes in its settlement seems to run contrary to that goal.

In several other instances, some of Verizon’s “supporters” actually used a space provided in the form letter to vent their frustration with Verizon!

Michael DeNude was irritated he never got FiOS: “We live in Riverdale and have not benefited by any upgrade.”

Paula Thomas was annoyed that Verizon outsources its workforce: “Verizon already outsources their telephone [operator] service. They should also guarantee that U.S. Citizens are given preference in the ‘job growth’ they ensure will happen.”

William Barlen thinks it’s a shame the current state of broadband in the U.S. is lacking: “It is sad that we have dropped behind over 50 countries on broadband speed and deployment. If you do not support this work exactly what are you doing?”

Paul Minenna is concerned that without FiOS broadband, speedier Internet access is not forthcoming: “Please make sure that you keep NJ moving forward with top-notch technology access. This is not the time to slow down Internet access.”

John Zilg’s letter is the same as nearly every other in support of Verizon, until he was given the opportunity to include his own remarks, which are completely contrary to everything else in the letter: “It is critical to continue supporting what has already been put into place. I urge you to not change direction.”

It is easily apparent that among the letters in support of Verizon, more than a few were not at all informed about what they were signing, and in many cases actually held completely different views when someone took the time to inquire in more detail. We are also very concerned about the number of invalid e-mail addresses attached to letters that carried no mailing address. On an issue of this importance, it is disturbing to not be certain those communications represent the legitimate views of actual New Jersey residents.

These factors must be taken into consideration as the Board of Public Utilities ponders the public input.

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New Jersey’s Fiber Ripoff: Verizon Walks Away from Fiber Upgrades Customers Already Paid For

Bait and switch broadband

Bait and switch broadband

Since 1991, Verizon telephone customers in New Jersey have paid at least $15 billion in surcharges for a promised high-speed broadband network that would reach every home in the state by 2010. But now critics charge Verizon diverted much of that money to shareholder dividend payouts and building infrastructure for its highly profitable wireless network, leaving almost half the state with slow speed DSL or no broadband at all.

In the early 1990s, Verizon’s predecessor — Bell Atlantic — launched “Opportunity New Jersey,” a plan promising the state it would have the first 100% fiber telecommunications network in the country. In return, the company enjoyed more than two decades of generous tax breaks and collected various surcharges from customers to finance network construction. But a review of Verizon’s promises vs. reality suggest the company has reneged on the deal it signed with the state back when Bill Clinton was beginning his first term as president.

Verizon promised at least 75 percent of New Jersey would have a fiber service by 1996 offering 384 television channels and 45/45Mbps broadband service for $40 a month. The network would be open to competitors and be deployed without regard to income or its potential customer base.

The state suspected trouble as far back as 1997, when the Division of the Ratepayer Advocate with the New Jersey Board of Regulatory Commissioners blasted the company’s progress five years into the project:

Bell Atlantic-New Jersey (BA-NJ) has over-earned, underspent and inequitably deployed advanced telecommunications technology to business customers, while largely neglecting schools and libraries, low-income and residential ratepayers and consumers in Urban Enterprise Zones as well as urban and rural areas.

Verizon's wired success story

By 2006, New Jersey was being introduced to FiOS, which some believed was part of Verizon’s commitment to the state. But a decade after Verizon’s target dates, customers were still waiting for FiOS video service, the maximum broadband speeds offered at that point were 30/5Mbps and the cost of the package ranged from $180-200 a month. Most of Verizon’s FiOS deployments were in the northern half of the state, leaving southern New Jersey with few, if any service improvements.

Despite Verizon’s repeated failures to meet its target dates, that same year New Jersey made life even easier for the phone company by passing a statewide video franchise law allowing Verizon to bypass negotiating with each town and city regarding its video services and instead run FiOS TV as it pleases anywhere in the state. The company argued a statewide video franchise would allow for more rapid deployment of Verizon’s fiber network. In reality, the company was falling further and further behind. By 2013, when Verizon sought renewal of its statewide franchise, Verizon only offered FiOS TV to 352 of the 526 communities hoping for service. At least 174 communities still waiting for FiOS are likely never going to get the fiber service, despite paying Verizon’s surcharges for more than 20 years. Verizon suspended its FiOS expansion project more than two years ago.

Bait and Switch Broadband

From promises of a cutting edge fiber future to good-enough DSL....

From promises of a cutting edge fiber future to good-enough DSL.

Despite early commitments of providing New Jersey with advanced fiber broadband speeds unheard of elsewhere in the country in the 1990s, Verizon changed its tune when it became clear the company wanted to prioritize investment in its more lucrative wireless network. Instead of a commitment of 45/45Mbps, providing basic DSL broadband at any speed was now seen as adequate. Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski told both Newsweek and the Inquirer the company never promised a statewide deployment of FiOS.

“Nobody knew what FiOS was 20 years ago,” Gierczynski said. “It wasn’t until 2004 when FiOS came on the scene.”

Forget about that commitment for 45/45Mbps speed as well.

“It didn’t say a minimum of 45mbps,” Gierczynski said, “it just says ‘up to’.”

That means DSL service will be a part of southern New Jersey for the near future. Customers unimpressed with the 5Mbps DSL service they get from Verizon can always pay substantially more for access to Verizon Wireless’ usage capped LTE 4G network that Gierczynski believes can be used to download movies.

In effect, ratepayers that wrote checks to pay artificially higher phone bills to help subsidize a promised 100% fiber optic future have instead funneled working capital to Verizon Wireless’ network expansion and helped enrich shareholders with generous dividend payouts.

Opportunity New Jersey Verizon: Christie Administration Proposes Letting Verizon Off the Hook Permanently

Gov. Christie

Gov. Christie

Most victims of costly bait and switch schemes get angry and demand justice. In New Jersey, the Christie Administration believes Verizon is the victim of unreasonable expectations and has proposed a sweetheart deal to both let the company off the hook and keep the surcharges it collected from New Jersey ratepayers for the last 21 years.

While the rest of the country clamors for better broadband, Governor Christie’s State Commission, his Attorney General’s Office and the state Consumer Rate Counsel believe that basic DSL is good enough, and making life difficult for Verizon by insisting it live up to its part of a mutual agreement just isn’t very nice.

All eyes were on incoming president of the Board of Public Utilities Dianne Solomon, wife of close Christie associate Lee Solomon. The BPU has direct authority over Verizon’s compliance with its promises to the state. But Dianne’s only apparent experience is as an official with the United States Tennis Association. Critics immediately pounced on the odd nomination, accusing the governor of using the BPU as a lucrative parking lot for political patronage. Three of the four current commissioners are all politically connected and their experience navigating telecommunications law is questionable.

Instead of demanding that Verizon be held to its commitment to the state, government officials are bending over backwards to let Verizon walk away from its promises forever.

A stipulation proposal would allow the company to shred its commitment to upgrade New Jersey with fiber optics. Instead, Verizon gets permission to discontinue service if you have any other option for service — including cable or wireless. Not only would this stipulation eliminate any hope bypassed communities have to eventually get Verizon FiOS, it would also let Verizon scrap its rural landline network and kill DSL, forcing customers to its lucrative wireless broadband product instead.

Solomon

Solomon

The agreement also eliminates any commitment Verizon had to deliver fiber-fast speeds. Instead, Verizon will be considered in good standing if it matches the slowest speed on offer from Verizon DSL.

“Broadband is defined as delivering any technology including Verizon’s 4G wireless, fiber, copper or cable, data transmission service at speeds no less than the minimum speed of Verizon New Jersey’s Digital Subscriber line (DSL) that is provided by Verizon New Jersey today.”

New Jersey customers can file comments about the proposed agreement until March 24, 2014 with the Board of Public Utilities.

We have found a good sample letter you should edit to make your own. You can e-mail the secretary directly and/or send your message to the general e-mail address: [email protected] (be sure to include “Verizon New Jersey, Docket No. TO12020155″ on the Subject line):

New Jersey Board of Public Utilities
Kristi Izzo, Secretary
44 South Clinton Avenue, 9th Floor
P.O. Box 350 Trenton, NJ 08625-0350

Email: [email protected]

Re: In the Matter of Verizon New Jersey, Inc. Docket# TO 12020155

Dear Secretary Izzo:

I want to alert you to an urgent matter pending before the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. Pursuant to a 1993 law called Opportunity New Jersey, Verizon NJ was obligated to upgrade New Jersey’s “copper wire” network by 2010. To fund the Opportunity New Jersey expansion, Verizon NJ was permitted to collect excess charges from their customers and received lucrative tax breaks from the State. These charges and tax breaks began in the 1990s and are still being collected today.

Verizon failed to meet its timeframe requirements under the Opportunity New Jersey agreement to New Jersey residents. As a result of Verizon’s failures, on March 12, 2012, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities initiated a legal action against Verizon NJ. The Board and Verizon NJ have now entered into a proposed settlement agreement which I believe is inadequate and not in the best interests of myself and other New Jersey residents who have paid for this service that was not fully delivered.

I oppose the Board’s proposed settlement agreement and demand that The Board of Public Utilities hold Verizon to the original Opportunity New Jersey agreement which requires Verizon to expand broadband services to every customer in the State. The proposed settlement has the potential of costing myself and other residents even more money than I have already paid for the last 21 years. The Board of Public Utilities should not allow Verizon to flagrantly disregard the stipulations which are the framework for the charges and tax breaks that Verizon has enjoyed for 21 years.

I am asking the Board of Public Utilities to be my advocate and investigate where our dollars were spent and to require Verizon to give me what I was originally promised under Opportunity New Jersey agreement of 1993.

Sincerely,

[Your Name, Address, Phone Number]

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Your Online Privacy — Invaded; AT&T and Verizon Among List of Offenders

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBS The Data Brokers -- Selling your personal information 3-9-14.flv

This weekend, 60 Minutes profiled how marketing companies invade your privacy, track your personal life and locations, and sell the lucrative information with little notice to you to third parties. Among the offenders are AT&T and Verizon, which both have special divisions devoted to pitching your personal details to advertisers of all kinds. Although they claim the information they sell does not include your real identity, third-party marketers make a living putting this kind of “aggregate” information together with other data to discover your name and address. At least with AT&T and Verizon, there are easy ways to opt out. (13:56)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBS How to defend your privacy online 3-9-14.flv

Looking to protect your privacy? 60 Minutes Overtime provides some advice and some examples of the lengths you’d have to go to be completely “off the grid.” (5:52)

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Verizon: Prioritization and Compensation for Certain Traffic is the Future of the Internet

McAdam

McAdam

The head of Verizon believes two concepts will become Internet reality in the short-term future:

  1. Those that use a lot of Internet bandwidth should pay more to transport that content;
  2. The “intelligent” Internet should prioritize the delivery of certain traffic over other traffic.

Welcome to a country without the benefit of Net Neutrality/Open Internet protection. A successful lawsuit brought by Verizon to toss out the Federal Communications Commission’s somewhat informal protections has given Verizon carte blanche to go ahead with its vision of your Internet future.

Lowell McAdam, Verizon’s CEO, answered questions on Tuesday at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, attended by Wall Street investors and analysts.

McAdam believes groups trying to whip Net Neutrality into a major issue are misguided and uninformed about how companies manage their online networks.

“The carriers make money by transporting a lot of data,” McAdam said. “And spending a lot of time manipulating this, that accusation is by people that don’t really know how you manage a network like this. You don’t want to get into that sort of ‘gameplaying.’”

netneutralityMcAdam believes there is nothing wrong with prioritizing some Internet traffic over others, and he believes that future is already becoming a reality.

“If you have got an intelligent transportation system, or you have got an intelligent healthcare system, you are going to need to prioritize traffic,” said McAdam. “You want to make sure that if somebody is going to have a heart attack, that gets to the head of the line, ahead of a grade schooler that is coming home to do their homework in the afternoon or watch TV. So I think that is coming to realization.”

But McAdam also spoke about the need for those generating heavy Internet traffic to financially compensate Internet Service Providers, resulting in better service for content producers like Netflix — not considered ‘priority traffic’ otherwise.

“You saw the Netflix-Comcast deal this week which I think — or a couple weeks ago — which is smart because it positions them farther out into the network, so they are not congesting the core of the Internet,” said McAdam. “And there is some compensation going back and forth, so they recognize those that use a lot of bandwidth should contribute to that.”

McAdam reported to investors he had spoken personally with FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who seems to be taking an even more informal approach to Net Neutrality than his predecessor Julius Genachowski did.

Verizon's machine-to-machine program is likely to be a major earner for the company.

Verizon’s machine-to-machine program is likely to be a major earner for the company.

“In my discussions with Tom Wheeler, the Chairman, he has made it very clear that he will take decisive action if he sees bad behavior,” McAdam said, without elaborating on what might constitute ‘bad behavior.’ “I think that is great; great for everybody to see that. And I think that is what we would like to see him do, is have a general set of rules that covers all the players: the Netflixes, the Microsofts, the Apples, the Googles, and certainly the Comcasts and the Verizons. But the only thing to do is not — you can’t just regulate the carriers. They’re not the only players in making sure the net is healthy. And I think we all want to make sure that investment continues in the Internet and that customers get great service.”

Verizon has already reported success monetizing wireless broadband usage that has helped deliver growing revenue and profits at the country’s largest carrier. Now McAdam intends to monetize machine-to-machine communications that exchange information over Verizon’s network.

McAdam believes within 3-4 years Americans will have between five and ten different devices enabled on wireless networks like Verizon’s in their cars, homes, and personal electronics. For that, McAdam expects Verizon will earn between $0.25 a month for the average home medical monitor up to $50 a month for the car. Verizon is even testing wireless-enabled parking lots that can direct cars to empty parking spaces.

For those applications, McAdam expects to charge enough to guarantee a 50% profit margin.

“These can be very nice margin products,” McAdam told the audience of investors. “So even at $0.25 if you are doing 10 million of them and it’s 50% or better margins, those are attractive businesses for us to get into.”

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Verizon Introduces 2-Yr Price Guarantee, Free Upgrade to Quantum 50/25Mbps Broadband

Phillip Dampier February 10, 2014 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon, Video 4 Comments

fiosVerizon has introduced a two-year price guarantee offer and a free broadband speed upgrade for new customers signing up for FiOS Internet, TV and voice service before April 19.

It’s the latest marketing salvo fired against Verizon’s cable competitors with the hope customers will cut cable’s cord and switch to FiOS.

All new customers will receive a two-year price guarantee with a triple play package costing as little as $89.99 a month.  The offers also include a free upgrade to FiOS Quantum 50/25Mbps Internet; FiOS TV Prime HD with more than 215 channels (more than 55 in HD); and FiOS Digital Voice home phone service with unlimited nationwide calling. As a further incentive, customers who choose a two-year agreement also receive a $250 Visa prepaid card. New customers who order online receive an extra $10 per month savings. Those ordering service from Verizon’s website will have the $49.99 activation fee waived.

Such aggressive promotions are not new for Verizon or its cable competition. The best prices are often reserved for new customers.

Former Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt reflected last fall on the competitive environment between cable and phone companies and noted loyal, long-term customers don’t typically benefit much from pricing competition.

fios triple play“The current form of competition in this entire sector is essentially focused on promotional pricing, which allows customers who jump from provider to provider to get the best deal,” said Britt.

In an effort to control customers hopping back and forth between the cable and phone company (known as ‘subscriber churn’ in the industry), Verizon’s marketing is now trying to convince customers they won’t have to shop around for a better deal over the next two years, but aren’t restricted by a contract with termination penalties either.

“We’re responding to feedback from prospective customers who told us they want to switch to FiOS for the faster speed, greater reliability and clearer images, but they struggle with the notion of signing up for a multiyear contract,” said Mike Ritter, chief marketing officer for the consumer and mass business unit of Verizon. “We’ve also heard from prospective customers that they want price assurance when they switch providers. Our offer gives new customers the peace of mind to know their base rate will not change for two years. With no contract, and a two-year price guarantee, new customers can switch to FiOS with confidence.”

Verizon also provides evidence that broadband speed does matter. At of the end of 2013, 46 percent of all Verizon FiOS customers upgraded to FiOS Quantum speeds ranging from 50/25 to 500/100Mbps. Verizon says video streaming, multiplayer gaming, and uploading photos to social media sites are all contributing to consumer demand for faster Internet speeds. FiOS broadband remains the company’s grand jewel with 6.1 million subscribers. Around 5.3 million customers are signed up for FiOS TV.

At the end of last year, Verizon had 6.1 million FiOS Internet subscribers and 5.3 million FiOS TV customers.

Verizon’s new FiOS promotions (for new customers only):

  • Online with no annual contract: $89.99 per month for two years, free FiOS Quantum 50/25Mbps upgrade for two years and a two-year price guarantee.
  • Online with a two-year agreement: $89.99 per month for two years, free FiOS Quantum 50/25Mbps upgrade for two years, two-year price guarantee and a $250 Visa prepaid card.
  • Offline order (purchased through any means other than online) with no annual contract: $99.99 per month for two years, free FiOS Quantum 50/25Mbps upgrade for two years, and a two-year price guarantee.
  • Offline order with a two-year agreement: $99.99 per month for two years, free FiOS Quantum 50/25Mbps upgrade for two years, two-year price guarantee and a $250 Visa prepaid card.

 http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Verizon FiOS Internet 2-2014.mp4

Verizon argues America needs fiber to the home service to meet the needs of the digital economy. “It’s time to take fiber optics to the last mile,” says the video. That’s fine news for 18 million households that can today buy fiber optic FiOS service, but Verizon indefinitely suspended further expansion of its fiber network in 2010. (3:30)

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Is Verizon Purposely Slowing Down Netflix for FiOS Customers? Stop the Cap! Investigates

David Raphael ran into trouble using his Verizon Internet connection last month, discovering major slowdowns when accessing Amazon’s cloud-server ‘AWS,’ which in addition to serving his employer also feeds Netflix video content to customers.

“One evening I also noticed a slowdown while using our service from my house,” Raphael writes on his blog. “I realized that the one thing in common between me and [my employer] was that we both had FiOS internet service from Verizon. Since we host all of our infrastructure on Amazon’s AWS – I decided to do a little test – I grabbed a URL from AWS S3 and loaded it. 40kB/s.”

Internet slowdowns while accessing different websites is nothing new. Just ask anyone trying to watch YouTube in the early evening.

But what was different this time is that a Verizon representative seemed to openly admit the company is purposefully throttling certain web traffic, as this chat screen capture suggests:

verizon_fail
“Frankly, I was surprised he admitted to this,” Raphael writes. “I’ve since tested this almost every day for the last couple of weeks. During the day – the bandwidth is normal to AWS. However, after 4pm or so – things get slow. In my personal opinion, this is Verizon waging war against Netflix. Unfortunately, a lot of infrastructure is hosted on AWS. That means a lot of services are going to be impacted by this.”

That would certainly be the case as many large content distributors increasingly rely on cloud-based delivery services to reach subscribers over the shortest and fastest possible route. But broad-based interference with web traffic would also throw a major wrench in Verizon’s core marketing message for FiOS — its fiber-fast speed when compared against the cable competition. If subscribers notice their Netflix experience degraded to speeds that resemble dial-up, cable companies are going to get a lot of returning customers.

We reached out to Verizon for comment and it turns out the company has not declared war on Netflix after all.

“We treat all traffic equally, and that has not changed,” says Verizon spokesman Jarryd Gonzales. “Many factors can affect the speed a customer’s experiences for a specific site, including, that site’s servers, the way the traffic is routed over the Internet, and other considerations.  We are looking into this specific matter, but the company representative was mistaken. We we’re going to redouble our representative education efforts on this topic.”

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Cable TV Cord Cutting: Myth or Reality?

Phillip Dampier February 4, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News 2 Comments

For years, cable operators have denied they have a problem.

But new evidence suggests Americans are cutting back on their cable television habit as prices continue to rise and alternatives become available.

One of the worst affected by cable cord cutters is Time Warner Cable, which has been consistently losing video customers month after month since 2009:

time-warner-cable-residential-customer-additions-000s-video-broadband_chartbuilder

Disputes with programmers and competition from satellite and telephone companies may not be enough to explain away the trend of subscriber losses. It also does not explain why Americans under 35 are increasingly unlikely to sign up for cable television at all.

Cable cord cutting -- fact or fiction?

Cable cord cutting — fact or fiction?

Nonsense, replies Bloomberg opinion columnist Matthew C. Klein:

It is tempting to think that the declining number of subscribers at the U.S.’s biggest cable-television companies is a symptom of the industry’s malaise as it slowly slides into obsolescence. Don’t buy it. The losses are accounted for in the gains by smaller and nimbler rivals.

[...] The customers who have been abandoning Comcast and Time Warner Cable in droves haven’t given up on paid TV content, however. Focusing on the travails of the biggest cable companies obscures the reality that, according to Bloomberg Industries, the total number of pay-TV subscribers is slightly higher now than it was at the end of 2008 and that there were probably more people paying for television subscriptions at the end of 2013 than at the end of 2012.

To the extent that individual company results tell us anything, it could be about where Americans are moving, or the relative quality of service offered by the various companies. In the 12 months ended Dec. 31, AT&T Inc. added 924,000 subscribers to its U-verse TV service, while Verizon Communications Inc. added 536,000 subscribers to its FiOS TV service. Since the end of 2008, the two companies best known for their wireless services have added about 8 million pay-TV subscribers — far more than Time Warner Cable and Comcast have lost.

Klein’s views mirror those of many cable industry executives who blame the economy for deteriorating cable television subscriber numbers. Many suggest multi-generational households are responsible — stay at home kids and older parents are sharing a single cable television subscription. Others claim discretionary income is squeezing some to downgrade, but not cancel, cable television service.

Klein’s accounting does not tell the entire story. Competition from telephone companies, especially AT&T’s U-verse, is not as pervasive against Time Warner Cable and Comcast as Klein suggests. In fact, Charter Communications is among the cable companies facing the biggest onslaught of competition from AT&T. U-verse has picked up many of its newest subscribers not because of a sudden urge to switch, but rather because the service has only just become available in several new markets as a result of AT&T’s expansion effort. Verizon FiOS is still slowly expanding within its current franchise areas as well. Neither Comcast or Time Warner Cable consider either service much of a serious competitive threat.

AT&T U-verse, the larger of the two telephone company services, has a TV penetration rate of just 21 percent of customer locations. FiOS, which serves a smaller customer base, has a 35 percent penetration rate for television. Cable remains dominant for now, even as it loses subscribers and market share.

Another way to measure cord cutting is to look at the subscriber numbers of major basic cable networks that are most likely to be a part of any channel lineup. ESPN, for example, lost around 1.5 million subscribers between September 2011 and September 2013. Most of that loss came from cord cutting or downgrades to tiers like “Broadcast Basic,” consisting mostly of local television stations. ESPN’s numbers include all pay television platforms — satellite, telco TV, and cable.

In spite of the subscriber losses, cable industry profits remain healthy. Revenue growth these days comes from broadband service and rate increases.

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Marked Down: Intel’s $1 Billion Online Cable System Technology Sold to Verizon for $200 Million

Behind the 8 ball.

Behind the 8 ball.

Intel has sold its never-launched Intel Media OnCue system, which planned to compete for cable TV viewers using online video, for a deeply discounted $200 million to Verizon Communications, according to media reports.

The would-be virtual cable competitor had initially put its technology up for sale for $1 billion but dramatically reduced its asking price to make a quick sale.

Intel proposed to launch its online competing cable system sometime this year, but pulled back after determining its business plan was untenable. The problem was programming costs — entrenched satellite, cable and phone company competitors receive substantial volume discounts off cable programming but an upstart like Intel would face much higher pricing.

The ongoing effort to establish usage caps or metering Internet usage has also been cited by other would-be competitors as a major deterrent to launch competing video ventures online which can chew up usage allowances.

Variety reports Verizon will use the Intel platform to launch a new TV Everywhere concept for its customers that will deliver the FiOS TV lineup online.

Intel also gets to solidify its working relationship with Verizon’s wireless unit.

 

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Many Retirees Losing Verizon Wireless Discounts In Ongoing Revalidation Campaign

Phillip Dampier January 20, 2014 Consumer News, Verizon, Wireless Broadband No Comments

deniedRetirees enjoying employer-based discounts on wireless service are learning they are often ineligible to continue getting a break on their Verizon Wireless bill after the phone company began auditing its discount program.

Verizon Wireless, like many wireless providers, has agreements with many companies extending discounts to workers as an employee benefit. But with millions out of work, ongoing downsizing, and early retirement, Verizon Wireless decided to start periodic audits to re-verify its wireless customers receiving discounts of 15-25% or more they may no longer be qualified to receive.

The audit is likely to earn millions in extra revenue as unqualified customers are dropped from the program.

Among the hardest hit are retirees who find they no longer qualify.

retirementVerizon Wireless blames companies for not including retirees in their employer discount program and several human resources departments blame Verizon Wireless for not giving them that option as part of the employer discount contract.

Among those losing discounts are law enforcement personnel, retirees from the U.S. Post Office, Lockheed Martin, and countless other corporations. Most federal and state government retirees also no longer qualify. A handful of large companies that have major accounts with Verizon Wireless have negotiated discounts for retirees, but they are reportedly few in number.

Most retirees discover they are about to lose their discount when Verizon Wireless auditors request they revalidate their employment in a text message or letter. Every customer getting a discount will now be periodically reverified.

“Verizon Wireless will periodically ask you to validate your current employment status to ensure we have accurate information for the company for which you work, and the discount for which you are eligible to receive,” indicates the company’s employment verification website. “It is our goal to ensure that you continue receiving a discount on eligible plans and features on your wireless service based on your employment with a company that has a business agreement with us. Verizon Wireless has agreements with a large number of companies. If you have changed employers since we last validated your employment status, you may still be eligible for a discount.”

Verizon Wireless Profits

Verizon Wireless’ Current Operational Profitability

“Verizon gives the discount because it wants to,” complained one customer. “Verizon could just as easy give that discount to every retiree if they wanted to, but Verizon chose not to.”

Critics contend Verizon can afford the discount. In one quarter last year, the company earned $20 billion in revenue from its wireless service, up 7.5 percent year over year.

Eliminating discounts, charging new service, activation, and upgrade fees, lengthening the device upgrade window, and launching new, higher-priced, bundled service plans that include services many customers don’t use have all helped the company continue to boost its earnings.

“Shame on you, Verizon,” wrote another recent retiree. “I will take my business elsewhere as soon as I can. Verizon has always been more expensive, but coverage was the best, so I stuck with them.  This is the thanks you get for being a loyal customer for many years.”

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AT&T Sells Landlines in Conn. to Frontier; U-verse TV Available to Frontier Customers Nationwide?

frontierAT&T today announced it was selling off its residential wireline network in Connecticut to Stamford-based Frontier Communications for $2 billion in a deal that includes an expanded license for U-verse TV that could eventually be available to Frontier customers nationwide.

Frontier will assume control of the Southern New England Telephone Co. (SNET), a wholly owned subsidiary of AT&T, and its 2,700 employees and 900,000 telephone lines. Included in the deal is AT&T’s U-verse network in the state and the right to expand U-verse TV into all 27 states where Frontier provides service. The deal comes three years after Frontier paid $8.6 billion in stock and cash to buy landline operations in 14 states from Verizon Communications.

In a Stop the Cap! exclusive story published last year, we reported Frontier was interested in acquiring licensing rights to the U-verse brand to potentially offer its customers a unified product suite of television, broadband, and phone service over a fiber to the neighborhood network. Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of Frontier Communications, told the Wall Street Journal the deal between AT&T and Frontier had been on the table for years waiting to be finalized. With today’s announcement, AT&T New England president Patricia Jacobs acknowledged Frontier will use the U-verse name at a secondary brand for video service. Frontier now relies on satellite reseller agreements to bundle video service into its packages for consumers.

frontier u-verseFrontier’s acquisition will give the company hands-on experience with AT&T’s U-verse network in Connecticut and offer a path to bring improved service to Frontier customers elsewhere. Company officials also acknowledged a key reason for the transaction was boosting Frontier’s lagging dividend, a critical part of its share price. By taking on nearly 1,000,000 new customers, Frontier will boost its cash flow, returning some of that new revenue in a higher dividend payout to shareholders. But the company will take on an extra $2 billion in debt to manage higher dividend payouts.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. arranged the financing for the acquisition and Frontier will likely raise about $1.9 billion from debt markets by selling bonds. Frontier already has $8.13 billion in debt on the books, much of it acquiring landlines originally owned by Verizon.

AT&T’s departure from Connecticut was no surprise to analysts. AT&T operates most of its landline network in the midwest, south, and in the state of California. The company has focused primarily on serving business customers and its wireless network in the northeast, not residential landlines. Frontier described the deal as a perfect fit for Connecticut residents, because Frontier specializes in residential phone and broadband service.

“AT&T has been trying to sell its rural wireline businesses for some time,” Gerard Hallaren, an analyst with Janco Partners Inc., told Bloomberg News. “It looks to me like Frontier cherry-picked a nice asset at a nice price from AT&T.”

att_logoSNET began operations in 1878 as the District Telephone Company of New Haven and pre-dated the Bell System. The company founded the first exchange and printed the world’s first telephone directory. It remained independent of Bell System ownership until 1998, when SBC Communications (formerly Southwestern Bell) acquired the company. In late 2005, SBC purchased AT&T and AT&T Connecticut was born.

Over the past seven years, AT&T has watched customers decline from more than two million customers to fewer than one million. AT&T introduced U-verse to improve its position in the market to mixed results. The company’s investments in fiber upgrades have not been as profitable as its wireless network, likely leading to today’s sale.

AT&T says it is not leaving Connecticut altogether. The company plans to keep business and wireless customers in the state.

Much of the proceeds from the deal will be invested by AT&T in its wireless network, mostly to help pay for 4G LTE upgrades. The rest will be spent bringing U-verse to more customers in the midwest and southern U.S.

The acquisition faces regulator approval from both the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice, likely to be forthcoming in the first half of 2014.

Frontier executives promised shareholders the deal will result in $125 million in cost savings over the next three years — code language for layoffs. Some of them are likely to be among the 2,400 workers represented by the Communications Workers of America, which has had a contentious relationship with AT&T Connecticut over job cuts in the past.

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