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Verizon Wireless to Acquire Central California’s Golden State Cellular

golden_state_cellular_logo_2The cell phone provider serving Yosemite National Park and the surrounding California counties of Tuolumne, Calav­eras, Amador, Alpine and Mari­posa has been acquired by Verizon Wireless.

The independent Golden State Cellular provides cell service in rural areas of the Mother Lode and cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia, largely bypassed by larger carriers since 1989.

Verizon had maintained a minority interest in the cellular company for several years and provided roaming service for the company outside of its home areas.

GSC operates as a partnership between several regional independent telephone companies.

Verizon would provide funding for 4G LTE upgrades and potentially expand coverage in tourist areas around the region.

The acquisition is awaiting FCC approval.

 

 

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Google Fiber Threat Cited in Cincinnati Bell’s Decision to Sell Wireless Division to Verizon Wireless

cincinnati bellCincinnati Bell threw in the towel on its wireless mobile business Monday when it decided to sell its wireless spectrum licenses, network, and 340,000 customers for $210 million to its larger rival Verizon Wireless.

While most analysts say the transaction is the inevitable outcome of a wireless industry now dedicated to consolidation, at least one analyst said the threat of Google Fiber eventually entering the Cincinnati market may have also contributed to the decision to sell.

The future of Cincinnati Bell’s wireless division had been questioned for more than a year, ever since the arrival of the company’s newest CEO Ted Torbeck in January 2013. Cincinnati Bell, one of the last independent holdouts of the Bell System breakup that have not been reabsorbed by AT&T or Verizon, had struggled since Torbeck’s predecessor made some bad bets on acquisitions, including an investment in microwave communications provider Broadwing that left the company with more than $2 billion in debt in 2004. Another $526 million acquisition of data center Cyrus One left the company further in debt.

Torbeck

Torbeck

Torbeck promised a frank evaluation of Cincinnati Bell’s operations last year and keeping its declining wireless division no longer made sense with Torbeck’s focus on replacing the company’s aging copper wire network with fiber optics.

For years, Cincinnati Bell’s biggest competitor has been Time Warner Cable, which has taken away many of its landline customers. Cincinnati Bell’s mobile phone division was created to protect its core business, picking up wireless subscribers as customers dropped their landlines. But the cable company’s bundled service packages made landline service much less expensive than sticking with the phone company, and many wireless customers prefer a national wireless phone company offering better coverage and a wider selection of devices.

Rampant wireless industry consolidation has concentrated most of the cell phone market in the hands of AT&T and Verizon Wireless, giving those two companies access to the most advanced and hottest devices while regional carriers made do offering customers less capable smartphones. Its competitors’ march towards 4G LTE network upgrades also challenged Cincinnati Bell with costly capital investments in a 4G HSPA+ network that Torbeck recently decided no longer made economic sense.

Cincinnati Bell’s wireless revenue for 2013 was $202 million, a decrease of 17 percent from 2012. The company also lost 58,000 subscribers last year, an unsustainable drop that showed few signs of stopping.

610px-Verizon-Wireless-Logo_svg“Our business has been in decline for five or six years,” Torbeck told the Cincinnati Business Courier. “This is absolutely the right time to make this deal. It was probably the highest value we could get at this point in time.”

Torbeck believes Cincinnati Bell’s best chance for a future lies with with fiber optics, capable of delivering phone service along with a robust broadband and television offering that can effectively compete with Time Warner Cable.

“We’ve got to grow market share in Cincinnati and fiber optics is the way to do it,” Torbeck said in 2013. ”We have about 25 percent of the city covered and we think from a financial perspective we can get to 65 or 70 percent so we’ve got significant growth opportunity there.”

fiopticsLast year, Cincinnati Bell had passed 184,000 homes with fiber optics – a 28 percent market share. But only 52,000 homes subscribed to Fioptics — Cincinnati Bell’s fiber brand. Time Warner Cable had managed to keep many of its wavering 446,000 customers loyal to the cable company with aggressive discounting and customer retention offers. But now that many of those discounts have since expired, Torbeck wants to reach 650,000-700,000 homes in its service area covering southwestern Ohio and northern Kentucky and convince 50% of those customers to switch to fiber optics.

Torbeck isn’t interested in limiting his business to just greater Cincinnati either.

“At some point in time, we’d like to expand regionally into Indianapolis, Columbus,” Torbeck said. “Louisville is another opportunity. But that’s probably a little down the road. From a fiber standpoint, we could look at acquisitions and get into metro fiber. These are things we’re looking at, but these are things that are down the road. We got a lot of room for growth just here in Cincinnati.”

But financial analysts warned Cincinnati Bell’s enormous debt load limits the company’s potential to invest in expansion. Torbeck’s decision to sell off the company’s wireless unit is another step in reducing that debt and further investing in fiber optics expansion.

google fiberThe company’s unique position as the last remaining independent phone company that still bears the name of the telephone’s inventor may make the company a target for a takeover before Torbeck’s vision is realized. One analyst thinks Cincinnati Bell would be a natural target for Google, which has a recent record of repurposing fiber networks built by other companies as a cost-saving measure to further deploy Google Fiber.

“They are a small and cheap company with the infrastructure that Google could use,” said Brian Nichols. “My theory is that Google will buy undervalued companies like Cincy Bell to save on the mounting costs of buildouts, which could top $30 billion,“ Nichols wrote in an email to WCPO-TV.

Google did exactly that in Provo, Utah, acquiring struggling iProvo from the city government for $1 in return for agreeing to expand the fiber network to more homes.

Cincinnati’s local phone company would sell for considerably more than that, but it would still prove affordable for Google, which has a market value of $361 billion, about 470 times that of Cincinnati Bell.

cincCincinnati Bell has already spent about $300 million on Fioptics and plans to spend an extra $80 million this year on expansion. Before the network is complete, the phone company is likely to spend as much as $600 million on fiber upgrades. But the payoff has been higher revenue — $100 million last year alone, and a stabilizing business model that has reduced losses from landline cord-cutting. Telecom analyst Nicholas Puncer offers support for the investment, something rare for most Wall Street advisers.

“It’s a reasonable strategy,” Puncer said. “There’s only going to be more data going through networks in the future, not less. The way we consume content is going to be a lot different 10 years from now than it is today. This is their effort to be on the right side of that, giving people more options to receive that content.”

But if Google Fiber comes to town, it may not be enough.

“Google has an unprecedented luxury,” Nichols said in his email to WCPO. “They are [attaching] fiber to existing poles owned by AT&T (and other telecom companies), and then targeting areas where consumers agree for service before the network is even built. Given this demand, and its mere ability to operate in such a manner, I do think Cincinnati Bell will have major problems once that day comes (likely sooner rather than later). In fact, I don’t think they stand a chance of competing against Google.”

Cincinnati Bell said it will continue to offer wireless service for customers for the next 8 to 12 months. The company will notify customers with further details regarding transition assistance around the time of the closing, which is expected to be in the second half of 2014.

It was not immediately clear on Monday if the sale will impact jobs. Cincinnati Bell Wireless employs about 175 people, including retail store employees.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WKRC Cincinnati Cincinnati Bell selling wireless spectrum to Verizon 4-8-14.flv

WKRC in Cincinnati reports on what the sale of Cincinnati Bell Wireless to Verizon Wireless means for customers. (1:24)

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Non-Profit Supporters of N.J.-Verizon Broadband Settlement Have a Relationship With Verizon

TeleTruthVerizon has been upset with the tone and accuracy of many New Jersey residents who have written the state’s Board of Public Utilities urging them to reject a settlement offer than would allow Verizon to walk away from its commitment to deliver high-speed broadband to 100% of the state.

While calling many of its opponents misinformed about the company’s original commitments, a Verizon spokesperson targeted a particularly nasty response to one of its strongest critics — Teletruth’s Bruce Kushnick, who has accused Verizon of breaking its promises in New Jersey and substituting outdated DSL and expensive, usage-capped 4G wireless broadband as a broadband equivalent.

Northwest, central and southern New Jersey all lack solid broadband coverage. (Map: Connecting NJ)

Northwest, central and southern New Jersey all lack solid broadband coverage. (Map: Connecting NJ)

Kushnick has argued that Verizon has cooked the books, diverting funds that should have been spent on FiOS expansion into its more profitable wireless subsidiary Verizon Wireless instead. He wants New Jersey to conduct a thorough investigation of Verizon’s financial reporting and learn why the company has reneged on a broadband commitment that originally promised a minimum of 45/45Mbps high-speed broadband for 100% of the state by 2010 in return for rate deregulation and tax breaks. Verizon got the deregulation and tax breaks but much of the state is still waiting for the faster broadband it was promised.

Now Verizon wants the state to approve a settlement that will redefine its commitment from 45/45Mbps to 4Mbps DSL or wireless 4G broadband.

Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski said criticisms about the company’s performance in New Jersey are “way off base.” He said there never was any commitment to deploy FiOS across all of New Jersey because FiOS did not exist at the time of the original agreement.

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

What about the 45/45Mbps speed commitment?

“[The agreement] didn’t say a minimum of 45Mbps,” Gierczynski said, “it just says ‘up to’.”

Gierczynski particularly bristled over Kushnick’s ongoing criticisms of Verizon.

“For nearly two decades, he has made the same, tired baseless allegations over and over again about Verizon and its predecessor companies — not only in New Jersey but in other states as well,” Gierczynski told The Record in an email. ”His specious arguments are devoid of fact, relying on misinformation and myths to prop up his claims. This filing is no different.”

With more than 1,000 comments on file with the BPU, Verizon invited the regulator to dismiss critics that demanded Verizon live up to its original commitments:

“The vast majority of comments opposing the Stipulation that have been posted by the Board to date were submitted via a standard form letter generated by the New Jersey State AFLCIO with the subject line “Tell Verizon to Live Up to the Opportunity New Jersey Agreement.”

“Other comments opposing the Stipulation offer inaccurate claims about what was contemplated by Opportunity New Jersey or what is in the Stipulation.”

AFL-CIO Letters:  These letters opposing the Stipulation appear less convincing when the locations of senders are examined— More than 25 are from people located outside of New Jersey and some appear to be from municipalities not in Verizon’s service territory. “

Verizon did not bother to mention the circulation of a pro-Verizon form letter that was submitted by hundreds of people, many Verizon employees and retirees, as reported last week by Stop the Cap!

Two of those letters were signed by Paul A. Sullivan, Verizon’s regional president of consumer and mass business markets in New Jersey and Tracy Reed, a Verizon manager… in Atlanta. Neither identified themselves as Verizon management.

Further concerns were raised by Kushnick when he found that the people and businesses Verizon touts as supporting Verizon’s position all have some relationship with Verizon:

  • New Jersey Technology Council — Board member,  Douglas Schoenberger, VP, Public Policy, Verizon NJ, Inc
  • The Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce — Donnett Barnett Verley, Director of Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility, for Verizon New Jersey.  “I am responsible for Verizon’s philanthropic and community outreach efforts throughout the state. I serve as an active board member of …the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce.”
  • Greater Paterson Chamber of Commerce — “Hi. I’m Rick Ricca, Director – External Affairs. I am responsible for the company’s relationship and interaction with municipal and county governments… I also serve on… Greater Paterson Chamber of Commerce.”
  • The Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey (“CIANJ”), Member of the Board, Sam Delgado V.P. Community & Stakeholder Affairs Verizon
  • Greater Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce — “Verizon, a telecommunication company received the Member-to-Member Award for its important contribution to Elizabeth’s business.”
  •  Cooper’s Ferry Partnership —Verizon is on the Board of Directors. “The organization’s operational budget is currently divided into three main categories: board membership… investments from these valued partners that has allowed CFP to grow its mission and expand throughout the city of Camden.”
  • Puerto Rican Association for Human Development —“Verizon Presents $20,000 to PRAHD”
  • Latino Institute  — Our Partners and Funders, Verizon
  • Gudino, David Joseph — Associate General Counsel, Verizon Wireless
  • NJ SHARES —“Verizon New Jersey partners with NJ SHARES for Communications Lifeline outreach and enrollment efforts.”

“In fact, it’s hard to identify any legitimate group that supports the Verizon stipulation and is not funded by Verizon,” said Kushnick.

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Usage Billing Money Maker: Wireless Carriers Will Earn More Than $100 Billion On Data Plans This Year

U.S. wireless carriers are on track to earn more than $100 billion this year from usage-based billing plans for mobile data, the first country in the world to break the symbolic $100 billion mark in data revenue.

Analyst Chetan Sharma reports Verizon Wireless and AT&T are statistically the largest recipients of revenue earned from metering data usage. For the first time in 2013, mobile data revenue surpassed voice revenue in the U.S., making data usage the most lucrative product available from wireless carriers.

A graph from the Economist published last year explains the runaway revenue growth at U.S. wireless carriers. The lack of significant competition has allowed U.S. companies to charge an average of $85 a month for data plans, which are nearly always bundled into compulsory packages of unlimited voice calling and texting. In contrast, customers in China pay just $24 for data plans. In the United Kingdom, the average charge is $9 a month.

mobile-data-prices-chart-2Sharma said the only disruption to this revenue growth in the United States comes from T-Mobile USA, which has recently cut prices on its service plans, forcing AT&T and Verizon Wireless to react with moderate price cutting. But with the significant disparity in market share between AT&T and Verizon vs. T-Mobile, neither larger carrier is expected to take a significant hit to their bottom lines without a mass exodus to the country’s fourth largest provider.

Softbank, the Japanese company that now controls Sprint, has launched a lobbying effort to secure permission to acquire T-Mobile and merge it into the Sprint network. But with reports showing T-Mobile’s willingness to disrupt the wireless market, regulators are likely to be reluctant to remove that competition from the playing field.

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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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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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More Hackery on Broadband Regulation from the AT&T-Funded Progressive Policy Institute

Phillip "Follow the Money" Dampier

Phillip “Follow the Money” Dampier

“In the 1990s, U.S. policymakers faced critical choices about who should build the Internet, how it should be governed, and to what extent it should be regulated and taxed. For the most part, they chose wisely to open a regulated telecommunications market to competition, stimulate private investment in broadband and digital technologies, and democratize access.” — Will Marshall, guest columnist

Is competition in Internet access robust enough for you? Has your provider been sufficiently stimulated to invest in the latest broadband technologies to keep America at the top of broadband speed and availability rankings? Is Net Neutrality the law of the land or the latest victim of a Verizon lawsuit to overturn the concept of democratizing access to online content?

I’m not certain what country Will Marshall lives in, but for most Americans, Internet access is provided by a duopoly of providers that must be dragged kicking and screaming to upgrade their networks without jacking up prices and limiting usage.

Marshall is president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute, a so-called “third way” group inspired by centrist Democrats led by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Unlike traditional liberals suspicious of corporate agendas, these Democrats were friendly to big business and welcomed the largess of corporate cash to keep them competitive in election races. It was under this atmosphere that Clinton signed the bought-and-paid-for 1996 Telecom Act, ghostwritten by lobbyists for big broadcasters, phone and cable companies, and other big media interests. Long on rhetoric about self-governing, free market competition but short on specifics, the ’96 law transformed the media landscape in ways that still impact us today.

ppiMedia ownership laws were relaxed, allowing massive buyouts of radio stations under a handful of giant corporations like Clear Channel, which promptly dispensed with large numbers of employees that provided locally produced programming. In their place, we now get cookie-cutter radio that sounds the same from Maine to Oregon. Television stations eagerly began lobbying for a similar framework for relaxing ownership limits in their business. Phone companies won their own freedoms from regulation, including largely toothless broadband regulations that allowed Internet providers to declare victory regardless of how good or bad broadband has gotten in the United States.

Marshall’s views appeared in a guest column this week in The Orlando Sentinel, which is open to publishing opinion pieces from writers hailing from Washington, D.C., without bothering to offer readers with some full disclosure.

Marshall

Marshall

While Marshall’s opinions may be his own, readers should be aware that PPI would likely not exist without its corporate sponsors — among them AT&T, hardly a disinterested player in the telecommunications policy debate.

Marshall’s column suggests competition is doing a great job at keeping prices low and allows you – the consumer – to decide which technologies and services thrive. There must be another reason my Time Warner Cable bill keeps increasing and my choice for broadband technology — fiber optics — is nowhere in sight. I don’t have a choice of Verizon FiOS, in part because phone and cable companies maintain fiefdoms where other phone and cable companies don’t dare to tread. That leaves me with one other option: Frontier Communications, which is still encouraging me to sign up for their 3.1Mbps DSL.

“The broadband Internet also is a powerful magnet for private investment,” Marshall writes. “In 2013, telecom and tech companies topped PPI’s ranking of the companies investing the most in the U.S. economy. And America is moving at warp speed toward the ‘Internet of Everything,’ which promises to spread the productivity-raising potential of digital technology across the entire economy.”

Nothing about AT&T or the cable companies is about “warp speed.” In reality, AT&T and Verizon plan to pour their enormous profits into corporate set-asides to repurchase their own stock, pay dividends to shareholders, and continue to richly compensate their executives. It’s good to know that PPI offers rankings that place telecom companies on top. Unfortunately, those without a financial connection to AT&T are less optimistic. The U.S. continues its long slide away from broadband leadership as even developing countries in the former Eastern Bloc race ahead of us. Verizon’s biggest single investment of 2013 wasn’t in the U.S. economy — it was to spend $130 billion to buyout U.K.-based Vodafone’s 45% ownership interest in Verizon Wireless. Verizon’s customers get stalled FiOS expansion, Cadillac-priced wireless service, and a plan to ditch rural landlines and push those customers to cell service instead.

AT&T financially supports the Progressive Policy Institute

AT&T financially supports the Progressive Policy Institute

“A recent federal court decision regarding the FCC’s Open Internet Order has prompted pro-regulatory advocates from the ’90s to demand a rewrite of the legal framework that allowed today’s Internet to flourish,” Marshall writes in a section that also includes insidious NSA wiretapping and Internet censorship in Russia and China.

Marshall’s AT&T public policy agenda is showing.

Net Neutrality proponents don’t advocate an open Internet for no reason. It was AT&T’s former CEO Ed Whitacre that threw down the gauntlet declaring Google and other content providers would not be allowed to use AT&T’s pipes for free. AT&T has since patented technology that will allow it to discriminate in favor of preferred web traffic while artificially slowing down content it doesn’t like on its network.

“Pro-regulatory advocates” are not the ones advocating change — it is AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, among others, that want to monetize Internet usage and web traffic for even higher profits. Net Neutrality as law protects the Internet experience Marshall celebrates. He just can’t see past AT&T’s money to realize that.

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AT&T Forced to Slash Prices In Face of T-Mobile’s Price War

Phillip Dampier February 3, 2014 AT&T, Competition, T-Mobile, Video, Wireless Broadband No Comments
AT&T has returned fire in a price war with T-Mobile designed to retain its customers and attract new ones.

AT&T has returned fire in a price war with T-Mobile designed to keep its customers and attract new ones.

AT&T Mobility has cut $40-100 a month off the price of plans targeting some of its most lucrative customers — families with multiple phone sharing a lot of data.

Under its newest offer announced Saturday, a family with four smartphones sharing a 10GB data allowance will see their bill cut from $200 to $160 a month effectively immediately. Any family plan customer with 10GB or higher usage allowances will also see their bill cut by $40-100 a month.

The price cut comes in response to fierce competition from T-Mobile, which has repeatedly bashed AT&T in its advertising campaigns. Now a customer with three smartphones will find AT&T’s new plan price just $5 more than what T-Mobile charges, although T-Mobile’s offer includes unlimited data.

“This is about being competitive,” said David Christopher, chief marketing officer for AT&T Mobility. “We feel we have the best network and the best value in the marketplace,” Christopher said.

AT&T is also offering a $100 bill credit for each new line added or for activating each new tablet, mobile hotspot, or AT&T’s wireless home phone service until March 31.

The contrast in pricing between AT&T, hounded by T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, which has largely ignored the price war, is striking. Verizon Wireless charges up to $125 more a month for its family plans with identical data allowances and features.

att-plan-comparison

The new offer requires no contract, and phones must be purchased at full price either up front or in installments. Existing, on-contract customers with subsidized phones will pay more.

AT&T has also stepped up customer retention efforts, handing out hundreds of dollars in service credits to some threatening to leave for T-Mobile.

Customers are receiving an average of $55 a month in service credits over the next year by tweeting complaints to AT&T’s social media team: @ATTCustomerCare and @ATT

Those on family share plans with several lines of service complaining that AT&T is charging too much and are planning to switch to T-Mobile are being offered discounts such as $70 a month in service credits for the first six months and $40 a month for the next six months after speaking to an AT&T representative arranged through Twitter.

Customers get a less charitable response in AT&T stores where some employees have dared customers to switch to T-Mobile claiming they will be unhappy with the slow data service and coverage areas. In short, no service credits or retention offers are available from in-store representatives. Customers must appeal to AT&T’s social media team to get a discount.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT New Mobile Share Value Plan for Families 2-1-14.mp4

AT&T explains the new pricing for their Family Share plans. (1:27)

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Verizon’s Latest Financial Results Reaffirm Wireless Cash Cow is King, FiOS Expansion Still Dead

Verizon-logoVerizon FiOS expansion is still dead while cash cow Verizon Wireless will continue to get the bulk of Verizon’s attention this year, according to a top executive.

Verizon chief financial officer Fran Shammo delivered the latest quarterly financial results to Wall Street analysts Tuesday and had few specifics about how the Cadillac of wireless carriers will handle increasingly meddlesome competition from T-Mobile, which has torn up the comfortably profitable mobile industry’s business plan and threatened to launch an all-out price war.

Verizon Wireless remains a major earner for Verizon, delivering nearly $18 billion in revenue and $8.3 billion in adjusted profitability during the last quarter alone. Verizon is relying on the quality of its network to keep customers from bolting to less expensive competitors. This month, T-Mobile announced it was prepared to cover the early termination penalty of AT&T customers ready to switch. It’s only a matter of time before Verizon customers are treated to a similar offer and that worried investors enough to send Verizon’s share price downwards even though the company beat analyst’s earnings estimates.

Clues about Verizon’s game plan for 2014 became clearer as Shammo took questions and outlined the company’s strategy.

Wireless Will Get Most of Verizon’s Attention

cash cowAgain this year, Verizon Wireless will get the bulk of Verizon’s attention and financial resources. Verizon Wireless finished 2013 with $81 billion in wireless revenue — up $5.2 billion from 2012 — which represents two-thirds of Verizon’s total earnings. The wireless business has delivered a profit margin of 49% or higher for five of the last seven quarters.

Where do the increased earnings and profits come from?

“Service revenue growth continued to be driven by more customers and devices, increase of data usage, and smartphone penetration,” said Shammo. “Our Share Everything Plans are doing exactly what we expected — driving device adoption and stimulating higher usage — resulting in increases in both the number of devices and revenue per account.”

Shammo said little about the spectrum shortages Verizon claimed were responsible for an end to unlimited use data plans in favor of usage-capped, consumption-based billing. On the contrary, Shammo admitted Verizon expects to grow average revenue per account and profits on the back of usage billing as customers boost wireless data usage and have to upgrade to higher-priced plans in the future. Shammo also noted the company’s restrictions on early upgrades and charging upgrade/activation fees have delivered more revenue to Verizon and deterred customers from phone upgrades, which saves Verizon money.

Verizon Wireless customer bills rose an average of 7.1 percent during the fourth quarter to more than $157 per month.

“We have seen consistent growth in this metric,” said Shammo. “For the full year, average revenue per account was up nearly $10 or 6.9%.”

Some of that increase is attributable to Verizon’s higher cost Share Everything plans, which often cost customers more than the plans they abandon.

Share Everything = a higher Verizon Wireless bill for many customers.

Share Everything = a higher Verizon Wireless bill for many customers.

“In just 18 months more than 46% of our postpaid accounts are on these plans,” said Shammo. “In 2013 we effectively doubled the number of accounts on Share Everything from 8.1 million to 16.2 million.”

In the coming year, Verizon plans to spend up to $17 billion on network maintenance and expansion, but the bulk of it will be spent on the wireless side of the business. Verizon has again cut investment in its wired networks.

Shammo noted Verizon Wireless plans to repurpose some of its 3G spectrum to 4G LTE service this year, which cuts costs for Verizon while stimulating usage which will eventually force many customers into data plan upgrades.

“If you look at a 3G usage moving to a 4G, we know that — and we have seen it in our base — as soon as you get on the 4G with video consumption and the quality of video your usage goes up,” said Shammo.

Verizon FiOS Expansion is Still Dead

Verizon has no plans to expand its FiOS fiber network beyond the areas where the company previously signed franchise agreements several years ago. In fact, Shammo is already reallocating money that in years past targeted FiOS expansion, shifting it to Verizon Wireless.

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead. No plans for further expansion in 2014.

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still dead. No plans for further expansion in 2014.

Shammo added Verizon will continue upgrading to fiber and decommission its copper network within existing FiOS areas, pushing customers with traditional landline service to basic FiOS phone service.

For those bypassed by FiOS, Shammo indicated it will be business as usual for Verizon, still selling DSL and phone service. But he hinted that within three years, Verizon might be open to selling off wireline customers in non-FiOS areas if a company approached Verizon with a lucrative deal. Verizon is under increased regulatory scrutiny in states like New York where there is concern Verizon is diverting resources away from deteriorating landline infrastructure in favor of its unregulated wireless network.

Shammo admitted Verizon stepped back from competing as hard as usual with cable competitors during the third quarter, believing consumers don’t want installers in their homes during the holiday season. As a result, the number of new FiOS customers was down from October-December. But with recent rate increases and voluntary upgrades, revenue remains up. With less than one million potential customers in the FiOS footprint still waiting for the fiber network to arrive, Shammo was comfortable stepping back from promotions temporarily.

Verizon FiOS has been highly successful for Verizon’s wireline division, now representing about 73% of Verizon’s consumer revenue. More than half of Verizon’s FiOS customers have upgraded to FiOS Quantum Internet speeds, starting at 50Mbps. With that kind of success, what holds Verizon back from further expanding FiOS? Verizon’s current CEO Lowell McAdam comes from a Verizon Wireless background and seems preoccupied with the wireless business. Wall Street is also firmly against Verizon increasing investment in fiber when diverting that spending to high-profit wireless can earn a much faster, more lucrative return.

Those lucky enough to have FiOS will continue to see upgrades in 2014. Chief among them is a new proprietary router that will assure Wi-Fi service in the home more closely matches the broadband speeds customers are buying, up to 100Mbps or more.

Verizon’s Intel OnCue Acquisition Doesn’t Mean Online Cable Competition is Coming

Despite a piece in GigaOM suggesting Verizon’s acquisition of Intel’s OnCue technology was all about competing head-to-head with Comcast, Shammo downplayed any expectation Verizon was about to declare war on  that cable company or anyone else:

Shammo

Shammo

As far as the OnCue acquisition, look, the focus here is really to accelerate the availability of the next-generation IP video service which we will integrate into the FiOS video service. And really what we are trying to do is differentiate this even more so with fiber to the home versus others with the TV offerings and reducing the deployment costs. And this really accelerates us from if we were trying to build IP TV versus buying the IP TV technology.

From an FiOS customer perspective, we expect the benefits that they will have more elegant search and discovery activity and cost stream ease of use. But also keep in mind, with the acquisition of Verizon Wireless and becoming 100% ownership of that we also plan to take that platform and integrate it more deeply with our Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network. So that really was the strategy behind this.

 Verizon Wireless Has Enough Spectrum for the Next 3-4 Years

Shammo told investors Verizon Wireless has plenty of wireless spectrum to meet customer needs for the next 3-4 years, but he did outline Verizon’s short-term plans on spectrum management:

As far as our portfolio, obviously we like the 700 megahertz for the coverage of the LTE that we did. AWS is our sweet spot at this point in time, which is the spectrum that we have been swapping for [with competing carriers], so we have a very efficient portfolio of spectrum and I think we have shown through the years that we are very efficient on how we use spectrum.

Keep in mind that, as I said, we will participate in the auctions because we will need more spectrum, but right now our current position is that with the AWS that we have and that we are launching in markets that you know in New York and San Francisco, Chicago we are lighting that spectrum up. It is pretty much completed in New York. We will continue to add to that, but keep in mind though too that we will also re-appropriate our 3G spectrum to 4G.

So we will take that PCS spectrum that has been running in our 3G network — as the volume of that network continues to decrease as we move more 3G phones to 4G, we will bring re-appropriate that spectrum over to the 4G LTE. So three to four years we are in very good shape from a spectrum holding position, but we will participate in the upcoming auctions.

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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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