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Keeping Providers Honest: FCC to Announce New Crowdsourced Mobile Broadband Speed Test

fcc_appAre you getting the mobile broadband speeds your provider advertises for its whiz-bang 4G network? How do you know which carrier really delivers?

The Federal Communications Commission is hoping you can help them find out with a free Android app to be unveiled on Thursday.

The FCC has successfully used volunteer crowdsourcing before to keep wired Internet Service Providers honest through its “TestMyISP” speed measurement project for home broadband connections. When the first results were announced, an embarrassingly bad rating for Cablevision forced the cable company to quickly beef up its broadband infrastructure to match the speeds it promised customers.

Now the FCC’s new chairman Tom Wheeler hopes a similar effort will help the federal agency understand whether the promises wireless carriers make to customers are actually being kept.

With wireless broadband gaining in prominence, the FCC wants to do a better job monitoring a service most Americans use in some form while on-the-go. If providers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless are caught dramatically underperforming in coverage and speed, the agency may take that into account as part of its mission of regulatory oversight.

Consumers will also benefit from having an unbiased source that can offer regular analyses on the speed and performance of each carrier — useful information to have before being locked into a two-year contract.

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint are among the carriers agreeing to take part in the speed test project.

The FCC Speed Test app will initially be available for Android smartphones. There are no details about the release date of an Apple iOS version of the app, but the FCC’s Mobile Broadband Speed Test home page shows links (not yet active) for both versions of the app.

N.Y. Regulator Rules Details About Verizon’s Landline Network Are Not Confidential Company Secrets

Verizon gets out the black marker to redact information in declares "confidential."

Verizon gets out the black marker to redact information it considers “confidential.”

The New York Public Service Commission Monday rejected most of Verizon’s request to keep secret the state of its landline network and details about the company’s plans to distribute Voice Link as an optional wireless landline replacement in the state.

Nearly two months after Verizon announced it was abandoning its original plan to replace defective landlines on Fire Island with Voice Link, Verizon is bristling over a Freedom Of Information Law (FOIL) request from consumer advocates and a union for disclosure of reports filed with the PSC regarding Verizon’s network and its upkeep — information the company considers confidential trade secrets. To underline that belief, Verizon provided the PSC with edited versions of documents it filed with the state considered suitable for public disclosure, one consisting of 330 pages of blanket redactions except for the page headings and page numbers.

“[These discovery requests] are designed solely to advance the Communications Workers of America’s self-serving efforts to prevent Verizon from offering its Voice Link product, even on an optional basis, and to investigate the relationship between Verizon and Verizon Wireless — matters that are beyond the scope of this or any other pending Commission proceeding,” wrote Verizon deputy general counsel Joseph A. Post. “On September 11, 2013, Verizon announced that it had decided to build out a fiber-to-the-premises (“FTTP”) network on western Fire Island, and targeted Memorial Day 2014 for the completion of construction and the general availability of services over the new network.”

The PSC disagreed with Post, ruling the majority of documents labeled “confidential” by Verizon were, in fact, not.

“[...] The information claimed by Verizon to be trade secrets or confidential commercial information does not warrant an exception from disclosure and its request for continued protection from disclosure is denied,” ruled Donna M. Giliberto, assistant counsel & records access officer at the Department of Public Service.

Verizon has until Nov. 14 to file an appeal.

Common Cause New York, the Communications Workers of America-Region 1, Consumers Union, the Fire Island Association, and Richard Brodsky used New York’s public disclosure laws to collectively request documents shedding light on their suspicion Verizon has systematically allowed its landline facilities to deteriorate to the point a wireless landline substitute becomes a rational substitute. They also suspect Verizon diverted funds intended for its landline network to more profitable Verizon Wireless.

“In spite of its obligations under New York law, in spite of the investment by ratepayers in the FIOS wireline system, in spite of the needs and expectations of the people, businesses and economy of the state, Verizon is intending to and has begun to shut down its wireline system,” declared the groups.

Many involved took note of Stop the Cap!’s report in July 2012 that warned then-CEO Lowell McAdam had plans to decommission a substantial part of Verizon’s copper landline network, especially in rural areas, where it intended to replace it with wireless service:

Verizon-logo“In [...] areas that are more rural and more sparsely populated, we have got [a wireless 4G] LTE built that will handle all of those services and so we are going to cut the copper off there,” McAdam said. “We are going to do it over wireless. So I am going to be really shrinking the amount of copper we have out there and then I can focus the investment on that to improve the performance of it. The vision that I have is we are going into the copper plant areas and every place we have FiOS, we are going to kill the copper. We are going to just take it out of service and we are going to move those services onto FiOS. We have got parallel networks in way too many places now, so that is a pot of gold in my view.”

Some consumer groups suspect Fire Island represented an opportunity to test regulators’ tolerance for a transition away from copper landlines in high cost service areas. As Stop the Cap! reported this summer, New Yorkers soundly rejected Verizon Voice Link, with more than 1,700 letters opposing the wireless service and none in favor on record at the PSC.

In early September, a well-placed source in Albany told Stop the Cap! Verizon’s request to substitute Voice Link where it was no longer economically feasible to maintain landline infrastructure was headed for rejection after a constant stream of complaints arrived from affected customers. Verizon suddenly withdrew its proposal on Sept. 11 and announced it would bring FiOS fiber optics to Fire Island instead.

Although Verizon now insists it will only offer Voice Link as an optional service for New York residents going forward, public interest groups still believe Verizon has allowed its landline network to deteriorate to unacceptable levels.

Verizon originally claimed 40% of its facilities on Fire Island were damaged beyond repair when they were assessed after Hurricane Sandy. But residents claim some of that damage existed before the storm struck last October. Some fear Verizon is engaged in a self-fulfilling prophecy, allowing its unprofitable copper wire facilities to fall apart and then point to the sorry state of the network as their principle argument in favor of a switch to wireless service.

Herding money, resources, and customers to Verizon Wireless

Herding money, resources, and customers away from landlines to Verizon Wireless

“In fact, the vast majority of defective lines are a consequence of the failure and refusal of Verizon to maintain and repair the system over time,” the groups assert. “The Commission must make a factual determination of the cause of the 40% defect allegation as part of this proceeding. If, as asserted herein and elsewhere, the evidence shows a pattern of inadequate repair, maintenance and capital investment, the Commission can not and should not approve any loss of wireline service to any customer, as matters of law and sound policy.”

“We assert that Verizon has systematically misallocated costs thereby distorting the extent to which the wireline system has suffered losses, if any. [...] It is fair to say that substantial losses in the landline system are repeatedly used by the Commission and the Company as a justification for rate increases and regulatory decisions affecting the scope, cost, adequacy and nature of telephone service provided to customers of Verizon NY.”

Verizon would seem to confirm as much.

In 2012, Verizon’s chief financial officer Fran Shammo told investors the company was diverting some of the costs of Verizon Wireless’ upgrades by booking them on Verizon’s landline construction budget.

“The fact of the matter is wireline capital — and I won’t get the number but it’s pretty substantial — is being spent on the wireline side of the house to support the wireless growth,” said Shammo. “So the IP backbone, the data transmission, fiber to the cell, that is all on the wireline books but it’s all being built for [Verizon Wireless].”

Funds diverted for Verizon Wireless’ highly profitable business were unavailable to spend on Verizon’s copper wire network or expansion of FiOS. In 2011, Verizon diverted money to deploying fiber optics to 1,848 Verizon Wireless cell towers in the state. In 2012, Verizon deployed fiber to an extra 867 cell tower sites in New York and Connecticut. Public interest groups assert the costs for these fiber to the cell tower builds were effectively paid by Verizon’s landline and FiOS customers, not Verizon Wireless customers.

lightningSince 2003, Verizon has been subject to special attention from the New York Public Service Commission because of an excessive number of subscriber complaints about poor service. As early as a decade ago, the PSC found Verizon’s workforce reductions and declining investment in its landline network were largely responsible for deteriorating service. Each month since, Verizon must file reports on service failures and its plans to fix them.

In September alone, Verizon reported significant failures in service in rural areas upstate, almost entirely due to the weather:

  • Heuvelton: A summer filled with significant thunderstorms resulted in downed poles and service disruptions. Verizon reported the central office serving the community was in jeopardy in June. By mid-July, 7% of customers reported major problems with their landline service.
  • Amber: Nearly 11% of customers were without acceptable service in May because a 100-pair cable serving many of the community’s 274 customers was failing.
  • Chittenango: Nearly 9% of the community’s 1,059 landline customers had significant problems with service because Verizon’s central office switching system in the exchange was failing.
  • Sharon Springs: Almost 11% of Verizon’s customers in this small rural office of 417 lines were knocked out of service in July.
  • Elenburg Dept.: More than 8% of Verizon’s 324 lines in this rural Adirondack community were out of service, usually as a result of a thunderstorm passing through.
  • Hartford: When it rains hard in this Adirondack community, landline service fails for a substantial number of customers. In September, 2.43 inches of rain left 12.4% of customers with dysfunctional landline service.
  • Valley Falls: Nearly one-third of Valley Falls’ 722 landlines were out of service in September after lightning hit several Verizon telephone cables. Problems only worsened towards the end of the month.
  • Kendall: Almost 9% of Verizon customers in the Rochester suburb of Kendall were without service after a rain and wind storm. When a cold front moves through the community, landlines service is threatened.
  • Bolivar: More than 20% of customers lost service July 19th after heavy rain, winds, and power outages hit.
  • Cherry Valley: Verizon blamed seasonal service outages in Cherry Valley on farmers that dig up or damage buried telephone cables. More than 7% of customers were knocked out by harvested phone lines in July.
  • Edmeston: More rain, more service outages for the 801 landlines in this small community in area code 607. More than 13.5% of customers called in with complaints in July. Verizon blamed heavy rain.
  • Clinton Corners: Service failures come after nearly every heavy rainfall due to multiple pair cable failures in the aging infrastructure. More than 9% of customers reported problems in June, 13.2% in July, 8.2% in August, and 12.5% in September.

Verizon’s landline trouble reports disproportionately come from rural communities, exactly those Verizon’s former CEO proposed to serve by wireless. Weather-related failures are often the result of deteriorating infrastructure that results in outages, especially when moisture penetrates aging cables. Rural communities are also the least-likely to be provided fiber service, exposing customers to a larger percentage of the same copper wiring critics charge Verizon is allowing to deteriorate.

AT&T, Verizon Among the Biggest ‘Pay to Play’ Campaign Contributors and Lobbying Spenders

lobbyist-cashAT&T and Verizon are among the biggest tech company spenders in Washington, paying millions every quarter to lobby federal and state lawmakers on how they can make life easier for the telecom giants.

AT&T increased their lobbying budget by a whopping 23 percent in the third quarter, easily beating year over year spending of $3.5 million in the third quarter of 2012. In just three months this year, AT&T spent $4.3 million lobbying lawmakers on regulatory relief, retiring the rural landline network, reform of cell tower placement policies, and trying to keep the FCC from gaining new oversight powers.

Verizon Communications had lobbying costs of $3.09 million last year at this time. This year, it reduced that amount by two percent, spending $3.04 million. But Verizon Wireless upped its political spending by 19 percent, from $1.1 to $1.2 million. Taken together, Verizon spent a collective $4.24 million on lobbying in the last three months. Verizon lobbied on some of the same issues AT&T did.

In contrast Google spent $3.4 million, Facebook spent $1.4 million, and Microsoft spent $2.2 million.

“Once again the lobbying disclosures demonstrate the sad truth about the state of our democracy,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “When the government is open for business, policymaking is all about who has the cash and is willing throw it around.”

USA Today reported Verizon has also once again achieved a 0% effective tax rate during the past 12 months, which means any owed taxes will be offset by a variety of accounting tricks:

A big reason that Verizon’s effective tax rate is so low, coming in at a negative 4.8%, is largely due to accounting. The company’s sped-up depreciation, severance and pension costs are large credits that contribute to pushing the company’s taxes down, says Jonathan Schildkraut of Evercore. But there’s also a distortion caused by the company’s 55% interest in Verizon Wireless. Vodafone, which owns 45% of Verizon Wireless, pays taxes on its share, but the entire profit is reported on income. Adjusting for this, Verizon’s effective tax rate is closer to 30%, the company says. Verizon is buying Vodafone’s stake, which will eliminate the issue in the future. Similarly, real estate investment trusts have low effective tax rates because they pass profit to shareholders, who then pay the taxes.

The question for investors is whether or not companies paying low effective tax rates might, eventually, attract the attention to regulators. “They are slow at getting at these issues,” Yee says.

Comcast’s Missing $100 Gift Card Rebate to Switch to Verizon Wireless

rebateAre you still waiting for that $100 gift card Comcast promised to customers who signed up or upgraded service with their marketing partner Verizon Wireless?

You are not alone. Multiple complaints about missing gift cards point to a rebate form promising a gift card six to eight weeks after submission, but the rebate processor has extended that time repeatedly — first to 8-10 weeks, then 10-12 weeks, and now 16-17 weeks… and counting.

If you forgot about the rebate, you may never receive it without contacting Comcast to follow-up. Others found their rebate request rejected by the rebate processor for a variety of reasons.

Customers should have made a copy of their rebate submission to keep for their records. If your rebate still has not arrived, call Comcast at 1-866-347-2229 to escalate the matter and speed up the arrival of your missing gift card.

Although high dollar rebates for cell phones are not uncommon, a large percentage of customers eligible for the rebate never follow through with a properly completed, timely rebate submission.

In many cases, a rejection notice can be overcome by contacting the cable company’s customer service department directly. Many cable companies will credit your account for the amount of the missing rebate.

Verizon Has Only 120 Customers Willing to Use Voice Link on New Jersey’s Barrier Island

Verizon Voice Link

Verizon Voice Link

Verizon’s wireless solution for landline infrastructure damaged during last year’s Hurricane Sandy has not been a runaway success for the phone company, only attracting 120 customers on New Jersey’s barrier island.

After Hurricane Sandy damaged the telephone network on the peninsula, Verizon announced it would reinstate telephone service using Verizon Voice Link — a wireless landline replacement that works over Verizon Wireless’ network. The announcement was not well received by New Jersey residents — customers don’t want the service and after Verizon Wireless experienced a major service outage in Ocean County, N.J. in September, many don’t trust the service to be as reliable as the landlines it replaced.

Mantoloking resident Peter Flihan thinks Verizon delivered its own blow to the island, post-Sandy. Flihan has Voice Link, but after using it he says he wants his old landline back and is very unhappy with the performance of Verizon’s wireless replacement.

“They told us this was the greatest thing in the world,” Flihan told the New York Times.

But the service takes away more than it provides, argue consumer groups including the AARP. Flihan’s old landline worked during power outages, Verizon Voice Link only has two hours of backup battery talk time. Landlines reliably reach 911. Verizon is less confident about Voice Link, going out of its way to disavow any responsibility if a customer cannot reach the emergency number because of technical problems or network congestion. Data services of all kinds don’t work with Voice Link either, even the venerable old dial-up modem. Neither will fax machines, medical monitoring equipment, or home security systems.

Flihan complains Verizon’s Voice Link can’t even reliably manage the function it was designed for — making and receiving voice phone calls.

Flihan told the newspaper roughly 25 percent of the calls he makes through the landline replacement do not go through the first time he dials, or sometimes the second or third. Other times, calls are disturbed with unusual clicking sounds, static, and other voices breaking into the line.

Fire Island residents report Voice Link also misses incoming calls, refuses to ring phone lines and often sends callers straight to voice mail. Others get recordings or busy signals.

Verizon disclaims legal responsibility for failed 911 calls in its Voice Link terms and conditions.

Verizon disclaims legal responsibility for failed 911 calls in its Voice Link terms and conditions.

Verizon’s attempt to retire landlines in high cost areas has proven to be a public relations debacle for the phone company. More than 1,700 negative comments have been received by the New York Public Service Commission about Voice Link’s performance on Fire Island. Politicians also delivered repeated lashings to the phone company, claiming Verizon was abdicating its responsibilities by seeking to offer second-rate phone service.

In New Jersey, residents at least have a choice. Verizon maintains a monopoly on Fire Island, but in New Jersey it competes with Comcast, which also provides phone service.

Lee Gierczynski, a Verizon spokesman, noted Verizon’s landline business suffered even before Hurricane Sandy arrived. The FiOS-less island has left Verizon with a 25 percent market share. Verizon Voice Link’s numbers are even lower. Gierczynski admitted Verizon Voice Link has only 120 (out of 540 affected customers) signed up on the island.

While Verizon has refused to invest in an upgraded network for impacted customers, Comcast issued a press release announcing major upgrades for the New Jersey shore.

ComcastJerseyadComcast upgraded 144 miles of infrastructure supporting the hardest hit communities, reopened renovated service centers with increased staffing and extended hours, increased the number of available service technicians, and provided free access to an expanded Wi-Fi network.

“We know that Hurricane Sandy complicated life for millions of people, and many of our employees and facilities were affected by the storm,” said LeAnn Talbot, senior vice president of Comcast’s Freedom Region. “We were here for the Jersey Shore during and immediately after Sandy, we have been here to support since then and will remain as a partner tomorrow and beyond as people and communities work to rebuild.”

This summer, Comcast introduced its X1 set-top platform, rolled out a new Wireless Gateway, added a home security option, and opened thousands of additional Wi-Fi hotspots across coastal New Jersey. Customers were also given a dedicated phone number to reach Comcast regarding its rebuilding efforts.

Comcast invited Verizon customers to switch to its telephone service and noted it works fine for faxing, security systems and medical devices.

mantolokingBut Mantoloking resident Christine Wilder still isn’t happy.

“I didn’t want Voice Link,” Wilder told the Asbury Park Press last summer. Wilder signed up for Comcast, but would rather have her copper landline back.

Unfortunately for Flihan and Wilder, although Fire Island residents’ loud displeasure drowned Verizon’s plans for Voice Link in New York, those affected in New Jersey are fewer in number. To date, their criticism of Voice Link has not made Verizon uncomfortable enough to change course as they have on Fire Island and bring a FiOS fiber network solution to Mantoloking and other affected boroughs.

That face “troubles” New Jersey Rate Counsel Stefanie A. Brand.

“I am not sure why New Jersey is not getting the same level of service as New York from Verizon,” Brand told the newspaper in September. “It’s not enough to simply say there is cable in Mantoloking; therefore we don’t need to meet our obligation. Why are they not willing to do it for similarly situated customers in New Jersey?”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Verizon Voice Link A Reliable Alternative 10-3-13.mp4

Verizon produced this video defending Voice Link as a reliable alternative to customers experiencing persistent problems with their landline service. (2 minutes)

Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable End Innovation Joint Venture; ‘No Longer Necessary’

comcast verizonA joint venture between Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable to explore the development of innovative new services delivered across cable and wireless networks has been terminated, according to Fran Shammo, Verizon’s chief financial officer.

Speaking on a quarterly results conference call, Shammo acknowledged the companies still have a cross-marketing agreement selling Verizon Wireless service to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers and pitching cable service inside Verizon Wireless stores. A Verizon spokesperson admitted the parties abandoned the effort to co-develop new products and services at the end of August.

Shammo pointed to Verizon’s recent buyout of Vodafone’s share in Verizon Wireless as one of the market changes that led to dissolving the partnership with the two cable companies. Shammo indicated bringing Verizon Wireless under the full control of Verizon Communications allows the company to develop, market, and distribute its own products and services across both Verizon Wireless and fiber optic FiOS platforms.

Had the joint venture continued, Verizon’s FiOS network might have suffered a competitive disadvantage, being unable to capitalize on the exclusivity of new services developed by Verizon to better compete against the two cable companies that share many Verizon service areas.

Verizon FiOS has already garnered a 39% market share with room to grow in major cities like New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington where Verizon has not yet completed its fiber optic buildout.

Time Warner Cable: AT&T, Verizon Cannot Meet Broadband Demand With 4G Wireless Technology

freewifiA new research report issued by Time Warner Cable concludes cell phone companies like AT&T and Verizon Wireless cannot meet the future data demands of customers over their 4G LTE wireless networks without punitive usage caps and high fees to deter usage, even with new spectrum becoming available for the wireless industry’s use.

The report, authored by Michael Calabrese of the New America Foundation, finds an answer to this problem in Wi-Fi, which can offload wireless traffic and deliver wireless service customers already prefer:

There is simply not enough exclusively licensed spectrum to meet the rapidly rising demand for wireless data, to sustain a competitive market, and to keep prices at an affordable level.

Major mobile carriers are increasingly coming to grips with this reality. The Wireless Broadband Alliance, a global industry group, reports that Wi-Fi offloading has become an industry standard as “18 of the world’s top 20 largest telcos by revenue have now publicly committed to investing in deploying their own Wi-Fi Hotspot networks.” The industry is shifting steadily toward what it calls heterogeneous networks (HetNets)—i.e., a combination of licensed and unlicensed infrastructure—in order to meet their customers’ insatiable demand for data while keeping costs down.

Alcatel-Lucent forecasts an increase of “87 times [the current] daily traffic on wireless networks” over the next five years, with 50 percent of that traffic on cellular networks “while the remaining 50 percent will be offloaded to Wi-Fi.”

Cisco’s own studies back Calabrese’s findings on consumer preference towards Wi-Fi.

twc“Given a choice, more than 80 percent of tablet, laptop, and eReader owners would either prefer Wi-Fi to mobile access, or have no preference,” Cisco concluded. “And, just over half of smartphone owners would prefer to use Wi-Fi, or are ambivalent about the two access networks.”

The Cisco surveys found users are choosing Wi-Fi over mobile connectivity for reasons of cost, “because it doesn’t impose data-usage caps or reduce their mobile data plan quotas.” But the primary reason for choosing Wi-Fi “is that respondents find it much faster than mobile networks.” And since Wi-Fi traffic travels over increasingly upgraded wireline networks, that speed differential may only increase as more and more homes, businesses and retail outlets upgrade to fiber optic or other high-speed connections of 100Mbps or more.

America’s largest wireless carriers have fallen far behind offering Wi-Fi services to customers compared to their overseas colleagues:

  • AT&T: More than 32,000 Wi-Fi hotspots are available at partnered retail businesses, restaurants, and high-traffic areas like stadiums and major tourist destinations;
  • Verizon Wireless: Verizon has an insignificant Wi-Fi presence, with a small number of unadvertised hotspots in selected venues like airports and convention centers;
  • Japan’s NTT DOCOMO: Up to 150,000 hotspots, up from only 8,400 in 2o12.
  • China Mobile: More than 2 million hotspots are up and running carrying 70 percent of the company’s data traffic.
  • France’s Free Mobile: More than 4 million residential hotspots are available through Free’s parent – Iliad.
Comcast could soon be the nation's largest Wi-Fi hotspot provider.

Comcast could soon be the nation’s largest Wi-Fi hotspot provider.

Calabrese argues it is important for the United States to set aside significant spectrum for unlicensed wireless networks like Wi-Fi to meet future wireless demands. Currently, some Republican members of Congress are opposed to significant spectrum set asides they feel could best be monetized for private use through the spectrum auction process.

It is no coincidence that Calabrese’s findings would be released by Time Warner Cable which itself is growing a Wi-Fi presence in certain cities where it provides cable service.

The wireless carriers’ collective lack of interest in an aggressive nationwide Wi-Fi deployment may have provided a strategic opening for cable operators to fill that gap with Wi-Fi networks of their own. Cable operators consider them a useful tool to retain customer loyalty — access is typically free and unlimited for current customers.

This summer, Comcast announced a “neighborhood hotspot initiative” that will turn millions of customer cable Internet connections into shared Wi-Fi hotspots using a dual-use wireless home gateway. The equipment will offer two separate Wi-Fi signals — one intended for the customer and the other open for use by any Comcast customers in the neighborhood. The cable company will provision extra bandwidth for the open Wi-Fi network to ease concerns that guest users could theoretically slow down a customer’s own Wi-Fi channel. In a relatively short period, Comcast could become the nation’s biggest Wi-Fi network offering more than 20 million hotspots hosted by the company’s own broadband customers.

Calabrese points to the future of seamless transitions between wired, wireless 4G and Wi-Fi network access without dropping calls or data connections. Many customers won’t even know the difference.

The author recommends the FCC think about reserving space for new unlicensed “citizens band” frequencies dedicated for public and private Wi-Fi networks:

  • The FCC should reorganize the UHF TV band to ensure the availability of at least 30 to 40MHz of unlicensed spectrum in every media market, perhaps including Channel 37 (now reserved for radio astronomy) and eliminating two dedicated channels reserved for wireless microphones;
  • Open the grossly underutilized 3.5–3.7GHz federal band for unlicensed small cell antennas delivering a ‘Citizens Broadband Service.’ This band is now mostly used for offshore naval radar, allowing both services to co-exist without mutual interference;
  • Expand unlicensed access to the 5GHz band by allocating the 5.35–5.47 and 5.85–5.925GHz bands providing contiguous, very wide channels useful for the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard that can support very high-speed wireless services.
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/XFINITY Wireless Gateway Powers Connected Home Summer 2013.flv

Comcast talks about their new X3 Wireless Gateway which is capable of providing two separate Wi-Fi networks, one for the customer and another for the neighborhood. (2 minutes)

Stolen/Lost Wireless Device? Verizon Wireless Charges California Customer Fees to Suspend/Transfer Service

They are coming.

If your smartphone goes missing or gets stolen, should you still have to pay Verizon Wireless for service you no longer have?

Verizon Wireless apparently thinks you do, even if you are beyond your two-year contract and pay month-to-month.

KGO-TV’s consumer reporter discovered Verizon Wireless dings customers coming and going.

Bonnie Mich, a Verizon Wireless customer in Healdsburg, was stunned when Verizon insisted she had to keep paying service charges on a cell phone she no longer owned.

“I said, ‘I don’t have a phone. I’m not under contract. I have no service from you. That is ridiculous,'” Mich told 7 On Your Side reporter Michael Finney. “I was angry. I didn’t think it made sense.”

Although Verizon did agree to suspend the calling plan portion of her bill for the missing phone, it wouldn’t agree to do it for free:

surchargeA charge of $15.35 was applied six days after her phone was stolen. The explanation? Verizon charges a fee when a customer service representative temporarily suspends service on a lost or stolen phone.

The following month, Mich decided to take her business to another wireless company, but Verizon Wireless was ready for that possibility. Verizon Wireless placed a block on number transfers, meaning Fich wasn’t going anywhere until Verizon was paid an extra $17.51 in service charges to remove the phone number transfer block.

Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network told KGO Verizon had no justification for charging those fees and called the situation “a total rip off.” Toney advised customers to complain directly to state regulators and demand Verizon Wireless credit the charges and/or refund the customer.

When KGO called Verizon, an apology came quickly:

“We did not meet our own standards and reiterate our apology to our customer,” Verizon said in an e-mail message to the television station, promising a refund.

Mich reports she is still waiting.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KGO San Francisco Do you have to pay the bill if your cellphone gets stolen 10-3-13.mp4

KGO in San Francisco reports a stolen or lost Verizon Wireless cell phone can be cost you more than you think. (3 minutes)

Verizon Pushing Deregulation Bill Through Mass. Legislature; Ends Universal Service, Oversight

Verizon-logoA sweeping deregulation measure sponsored by Verizon Communications would end the telephone company’s obligation to provide landline service and remove state-mandated customer quality of service standards in Massachusetts.

House Bill 2930, “An Act modernizing telephone regulation and encouraging economic growth,” introduced by Rep. Stephen L. DiNatale (D-Fitchburg) is succinct:

SECTION 1. Chapter 25C of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2010 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after section 7 thereof the following sections.

Section 8. Notwithstanding any other general or special law to the contrary, the department shall have no jurisdiction, general supervision, regulation or control over wireless service, including mobile radio telephone service, or radio utilities.

Section 9. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, subject to the provisions of section 10 of this chapter, no provision of this chapter, Chapter 25 or Chapter 159, 8 and no regulation, order or settlement or portion thereof adopted pursuant to any such provision, shall apply to any telephone company (or a common carrier offering telephone service) in any municipality for which the company or carrier certifies to the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation that there are at least two providers offering voice telephone service to retail residential customers in that municipality using any technology, including but not limited to wireless voice service and VoIP service.

Section 10. Nothing in sections 8 or 9 of this chapter shall be construed to affect or modify:
a. the authority of the attorney general to apply and enforce chapter 93A or other consumer protection laws of general applicability;
b. the department’s authority under sections 18B and 18H of Chapter 159, concerning enhanced 911 service, and under section 15E of Chapter 166, concerning telephone relay service;
c. the rights or obligations of any carrier under 47 U.S.C. § 251 or 47 U.S.C. § 252; or
d. the department’s authority to administer the federal Lifeline and Link-up programs or the Connect America Fund.

SECTION 2. Sections 11, 12, 12A, 13, 14 and 15 of Chapter 166 are hereby repealed.

The measure was discussed at a hearing this week before the Legislature’s Energy & Telecommunications Committee. Verizon argued its company is still regulated as if it was a monopoly, with reporting requirements and customer service mandates that do not apply to its competitors in the cable or wireless industry.

DiNatale

DiNatale

“We have to answer a customer’s call within x number of seconds,” said Verizon spokesman Phil Santoro. “If we don’t, we get penalized. No other company that provides phone service has to do that. They’re all regulations that were formed when we were a monopoly, and they haven’t been changed.”

Verizon lobbyist Joe Zukowski told the Boston Business Journal Verizon is required to respond to repair calls within a 24-hour window, something not required of its biggest competitor Comcast. Verizon has to report its annual finances and various customer metrics governing response times and outages to state regulators. Verizon also has to offer landline service anywhere in its service area across most of the state, while cable companies can pick the places they wish to serve.

DiNatale regularly supports Verizon’s legislative initiatives. In 2012, he proposed a bill to amend state law to remove the authority of the Department of Telecommunications and Cable to regulate the wireless industry, deferring instead to federal regulations that industry representatives said would level the playing field.

DiNatale suggested Massachusetts could be left behind if the legislature didn’t adopt the measure. Rep. Randy Hunt, a Sandwich Republican, asked if Massachusetts had missed out on any innovations in technology because of overregulation. Zukowski suggested a Massachusetts legislature hostile to business interests would make the company think twice about expanding its 4G LTE network in the state. By November, the bill was effectively buried in a legislative maneuver and by June 2013, Verizon announced it largely completed its 4G LTE upgrade, regardless of the bill.

DiNatale’s latest bill includes last year’s wireless oversight ban as well as forbidding the Department of Telecommunications and Cable from regulating Verizon in any part of the state where at least one provider of any kind offers competitive service.

Despite DiNatale’s attempt to ban state regulation of wireless service,  Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), argued at Tuesday’s hearing for (S 1617), “The Cellphone User’s Bill of Rights,” that would require clearly published prices and service policies, monitors the quality of cell service in the state, and limits all cell contracts to 12 months.

“Many people don’t have landline phones anymore. However, as wireless subscribership increases, so do complaints about the contracts and services,” Spilka told the committee.

Zukowski suggested that rural areas will still be covered by regulation where Verizon maintains a monopoly. But the legislation eliminates regulation from any part of the state where even one competitor promises to provide service. AT&T Mobility alone would give Verizon an effective way out of regulatory oversight, because AT&T claims it already provides solid service to the majority of the state.

AT&T Mobility claims its competing cell service is available across virtually the entire state of Massachusetts.

AT&T Mobility claims its competing cell service is available across almost the entire state of Massachusetts. The areas boxed in red are the only significant parts of the state without claimed coverage by AT&T.

There are only about three dozen or so towns in the state with no cable voice service, and even fewer with significant sections that have no cell phone service, all in the sparsely populated rural central and western parts of the state.

Other key components of this and another bill Verizon is supporting this term:

  • Verizon would end its commitment to provide universal service in the state. Under the terms of the bill, Verizon could also justify ceasing rural landline service and offer an alternative such as Voice Link, a wireless landline replacement not subject to state oversight;
  • Verizon would not have to report finances and customer service metrics and would no longer have to meet mandated customer service standards;
  • State authority to compel reliable E911 service without any charge to the calling party and mandates regarding service for the disabled are weakened or eliminated;
  • Elimination of a requirement providing Verizon customers with 10 free directory assistance calls per month, unless the customer is certified as elderly or disabled;
  • Impose clear terms that wireless service is off-limits to state regulators.

The bill is co-sponsored by: Rep. Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington), Sen. Anthony Petruccelli (D-East Boston), Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein (D-Revere), and Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett).

Verizon Wireless Agrees to Honor Website Glitch That Offered Subsidized Upgrades & Unlimited Data

oopsA website glitch by Verizon Wireless last weekend let customers with legacy unlimited data plans to upgrade to a new subsidized smartphone on a two-year contract and keep unlimited data.

This afternoon, Verizon Wireless representatives confirmed they will honor upgrades from customers that took advantage of the mistake, despite the fact Verizon’s CEO has gone out of his way to declare unlimited data service “unsustainable.”

Over the past weekend, there was a software issue involving some orders for customers seeking to upgrade their devices. A number of customers who were upgrading devices were able to maintain an unlimited monthly data feature while paying a subsidized price. Verizon Wireless will honor those orders that were approved this past weekend, allowing those customers to retain their unlimited plans for the duration of their contract and receive their new device. Verizon Wireless corrected this software issue today.  The company no longer offers unlimited data plans and customers who want to retain existing unlimited data plans, must pay full retail price for a replacement phone.

610px-Verizon-Wireless-Logo_svgVerizon Wireless discontinued offering unlimited use data plans, but has allowed customers still on those plans to keep them indefinitely. Last year, Verizon Wireless amended its policy for grandfathered unlimited customers denying them access to subsidized, discounted devices unless they switched to a usage-based plan. A website error allowed unlimited customers to bypass a usual restriction requiring them to abandon their unlimited plan to complete the upgrade order. Dozens of customers reported this morning they had received their new phones with unlimited data still intact. With the glitch fixed, customers attempting to upgrade will once again need to give up unlimited data in return for a device discount.

Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam said last week offering unlimited data service was “unsustainable” as a matter of physics. McAdam said carriers still offering unlimited data will be overwhelmed by excessive customer use, running wireless networks “out of gas.”

Sprint countered it has plenty of “runway” to continue selling unlimited data service, and even offers a “lifetime guarantee” of unlimited service on its wireless network.

unlimited for lifeAt least one Wall Street analyst agreed with Sprint.

“This Verizon comment simply makes no sense. When two different people look at the same thing you often get two completely different perspectives. That’s what is happening here. It does not mean either is right or wrong, just different,” said tech analyst Jeff Kagan. “Unlimited wireless data may not make sense for Verizon Wireless for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they want to have some control over how much wireless data is being used. Perhaps they want to increase their profitability. Whatever the reason, this is Verizon’s belief and they are not wrong, for Verizon. Sprint is a different story.”

Sprint’s chief financial officer Joe Euteneuer, speaking at a Goldman Sachs conference in New York on Thursday, said Sprint’s acquisition of 2.5GHz radio spectrum from Clearwire will give it a capacity edge once its 4G network build-out is done in mid-2014.

“We feel very good about our positioning having that spectrum . .. and our portfolio spectrum vs. the competition,” Euteneuer said. “So we’ll get leverage there.”

“Sprint’s unlimited plans are the right idea at the right time,” added Kagan. “They have plenty of capacity on the network. Sprint in fact has much more spectrum than Verizon. Sprint needs to hang on to their existing customer base and attract new users. If Sprint charged the same as Verizon or AT&T they would lose. So Sprint needs to attract attention. That’s what always happens in a market. The leaders and the followers take different marketing and positioning angles. And that’s exactly what is happening here.”

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