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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.

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 1 Comment
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)

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.

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.”

AT&T, Verizon Wireless Resist “Kill Switch” for Stolen, Lost Smartphones

Klobuchar

Klobuchar

After months of fruitless discussions with cell phone carriers, the U.S. Senate is moving closer towards legislation that would stop phone companies from blocking “kill switch” technology that could disable lost or stolen phones, discouraging would-be thieves.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) sent letters this week to Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile asking the carriers to do more to protect customers from phone theft.

Klobuchar is concerned wireless companies may be blocking cell phone manufacturers from enabling anti-theft technology customers could activate to disable missing phones and prevent unauthorized access or reactivation without the customer’s consent.

“Mobile devices aren’t just telephones anymore – increasingly people’s livelihoods depend on them,” Klobuchar said. “That’s why we need to do more to crack down on criminals who are stealing and reselling these devices, costing consumers billions every year. The wireless industry needs to step up to the plate and address these thefts, and make sure consumers have the most advanced security technology at their fingertips.”

The technology is already widely available internationally and has dramatically reduced smartphone theft by eliminating most of the resale value of the expensive devices, which are rendered useless once the phone is disabled.

Apple has contractual control over its products unlike most cell phone manufacturers.

Apple has contractual control over its products unlike most cell phone manufacturers.

But American carriers have so far refused permission to allow manufacturers like Samsung to introduce the feature in North America. Apple has successfully introduced a “kill switch” on many of its latest devices thanks to favorable contractual language that limits outside interference with the software Apple develops for its wireless devices. Other manufacturers are generally required to bow to carrier demands.

“I think that this is motivated by profit,” San Francisco district attorney George Gascon told CNN. Gascon reported he had seen e-mails from carriers that rebuffed Samsung’s efforts to introduce the technology in the American market.

Companies like AT&T claim that a “kill switch” feature could be exploited by hackers and make restoring service extremely difficult. But manufacturers and proponents of kill switch technology dismiss that argument, claiming the process is easily reversible once a customer enters a correct name and password. Critics believe carriers are motivated by the potential loss of millions from the sale of insurance plans, replacement phones, and the increased revenue earned from the reactivation of stolen phones.

With more than 1.6 million smartphones stolen or lost annually, carriers sell more than $800 million of replacement phones worth at least $500 each. Wireless phone companies also profit selling insurance plans priced at $7 or more monthly that offer free or discounted, typically refurbished cell phone replacements. Most customers never use the insurance plans, earning providers an extra $84 a year in revenue per customer.

Without kill switch technology and other theft prevention measures, the incentive to steal valuable smartphones continues to increase. As the price of sophisticated smartphones continues to increase, they are a prime target in street crime incidents. In San Francisco, 67% of robberies are related to mobile devices, according to the police department. Ten percent of phone owners have had a phone stolen, according to a Harris poll.

For now, the industry has only agreed to develop a voluntary database of phones reported lost or stolen. But participating carriers are largely American, allowing crooks to bypass the list by exporting phones overseas where they are quickly reactivated.

Klobuchar wants carriers to go on the record about kill switch technology, and her letter requested a formal response to three questions:

  • Whether companies received offers from handset manufacturers to install “kill switch” technology;
  • Have companies introduced the technology and, if not, why not;
  • How companies will introduce such technology in the future.
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Kill Switch Smartphones 11-20-13.flv

CNN reports American cell phone companies aren’t interested in allowing customers to remotely disable their lost or stolen cell phones. (0:43)

T-Mobile Needs More of the Public’s Airwaves; Reportedly Seeks Deal With Verizon to Get Some

tmobile“Use it or lose it” is the policy under which the Federal Communications Commission licenses scarce, publicly owned airwaves, but in practice companies warehousing unused spectrum can sell it off and make a handsome profit.

Reuters today reports T-Mobile USA is exploring a spectrum buy from its rival Verizon Wireless to bolster wireless data services to effectively compete against Verizon, AT&T and Sprint.

A source told Reuters the deal is in the early stages and could involve the purchase of Verizon’s unused “A” Block 700MHz spectrum, ideal for long distance and indoor reception. Verizon chief financial officer Fran Shammo earlier said the company was not going to sell its unused spectrum at “fire sale” prices and recently rejected an offer deemed to be too low. One analyst estimated the value of Verizon’s excess “A” spectrum to be as high as $3 billion.

They are coming.

T-Mobile, owned by Deutsche Telekom, told investors on Nov. 12 it was launching an equity offering to raise money for spectrum deals with a private, unnamed party. T-Mobile raised $1.8 billion through a sale of its common stock last week and offered $2 billion in bonds on Nov. 18 with the expected aim of funding future spectrum purchases.

Verizon acquired the spectrum in 2008, part of a broader auction that sold off frequencies formerly used by UHF TV channels 52-69. The “A” block is considered less desirable because of adjacent interference concerns in areas where a television station operates on Ch. 51. Those stations may not be there for long. The FCC is proposing to auction off UHF channels 31-51 to wireless companies in the future, reducing UHF TV to channels 14-30. Verizon’s “A” block licenses do not blanket the entire country, but can cover a number of major cities. Verizon Wireless deployed its LTE 4G network on its “C” block.

Verizon Consultant: Voice Link and Home Phone Connect Are Essentially Identical

Verizon's Home Phone Connect base station

Verizon’s Home Phone Connect base station

Despite assertions that Verizon created Voice Link as a solution for customers suffering from chronic landline problems, in reality the wireless landline replacement is nearly identical to Verizon Wireless’ Home Phone Connect and was produced only because of a complicated business relationship the wireless carrier had with its part owner Vodafone.

A Verizon spokesman told Stop the Cap! in June Voice Link was created for use where Verizon’s copper customers had chronic repairs issues:

Verizon will maintain the copper network where it makes customer service and business sense to do so.  Please keep in mind that the vast majority of our copper customers have no issues at all with their service; we are only considering the universe of customers where the copper network is not supporting their requirements.  Again, the exception is the storm-impacted areas in the western portion of Fire Island and a few New Jersey Barrier communities where copper facilities were damaged beyond repair.  In these locations Voice Link will be the single voice option available to customers. Verizon will offer these customers the opportunity to use our state-of-the-art, tried and tested wireless network at the same rate (or better) that they pay today.

Business sense appears to have played a great deal in Verizon’s strange decision to produce and market two nearly identical products. Hired by Verizon, William E. Taylor, a special consultant with National Economic Research Associates, Inc., testified last week that both Voice Link and Home Phone Connect are intended to compete in the landline replacement marketplace:

Home wireless services are a rapidly growing alternative to wireline plain old telephone service for many customers throughout New York State. In competition with Verizon’s Voice Link service, AT&T offers a Wireless Home Phone and Internet service with unlimited nationwide voice service at $20 per month with broadband internet service at higher prices, wherever its 4G LTE network is available. Sprint offers a competing wireless home service at $20 per month, as does U.S. Cellular. Wal-Mart sells its comparable Straight Talk prepaid wireless home voice service for $15 a month together with additional optional prepaid broadband internet access service. These offerings are similar to Verizon Wireless Home Phone Connect service, and differ in some features from Verizon New York’s Voice Link service but compete directly with both services.

Thus, one immediate and real competitive effect of the public release of Verizon’s wireline and Voice Link cost data would be to enable these four competitors (and others) to assess Verizon’s price floor for wireline voice service as an element in pricing their wireless home network services and calculating the profitability of expanding their wireless networks to provide wireless home phone service on Fire Island and elsewhere.

Verizon Voice Link

Verizon Voice Link

Taylor’s provided his declaration as part of Verizon’s case not to reveal certain documents (for competitive reasons) to the public about Voice Link deployment in New York and New Jersey. Verizon has offered Voice Link either as an option or, originally, as a sole landline replacement in areas considered uneconomical for landline restoration. But Taylor’s testimony also suggests Voice Link wasn’t necessarily created to solve chronic landline problems or replace landlines in natural disaster areas. In fact, Taylor testified Voice Link is just one of several competitors in the landline replacement market, including one from Verizon Wireless. In 2011, Verizon Wireless began national marketing of Home Phone Connect, a home wireless landline replacement product marketed to cord-cutters.

Verizon Communications chief financial officer Fran Shammo explained why Verizon Voice Link and Verizon Wireless Home Phone Connect both exist during remarks at the Wells Fargo Technology, Media & Telecom Conference on Nov. 12. Shammo blamed a complicated business relationship between Verizon, Verizon Wireless, and Vodafone which owned 45% of Verizon’s wireless venture for the near-twin services. The result was an informal “wall” between two Verizon entities, one devoted to landline and FiOS service, the other wireless — both selling essentially the same wireless product.

“The easiest way I can explain this is if you look at our product called Home Phone Connect, which was developed on the wireless side of the house,” Shammo said. “This is the product that you plug into your wall at home, converting the copper wire inside your home to an LTE network for voice. So in essence it is a copper voice replacement product. Now you would think that we would be able to take that same product and market it on the wireline side of the house. But we were prohibited because of governance and affiliate transactions. So the wireline business went out and developed their own product called Voice Link, which now they sell to their copper and DSL customers.”

Shammo admitted creating both Home Phone Connect and Voice Link was “a pretty inefficient way to develop product.”

So when this governance affiliate transaction-wall is taken away, you then can become a much more efficient company to launch one product to your customer, whether it is a wireline product or a wireless product,” he added. Shammo also believes tearing down that wall and tightly integrating Verizon’s wireline and wireless businesses will create “the soft synergies of the new Verizon that we believe we can create here.”

That might be bad news for Verizon’s rural landline customers, because Verizon’s current CEO is no fan of maintaining rural copper landline service when Verizon Wireless can do the job for less money and the open the door to higher profits.

“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,” said Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam in June of last year. “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.”

The wall that divided Verizon and Verizon Wireless may eventually be rebuilt between rural landline customers transitioned to wireless service as the only available landline replacement technology and urban and suburban customers offered Verizon’s fiber-to-the-home service FiOS.

Verizon Admits Congestion Problems for Its LTE 4G Network in NYC, San Francisco, and Chicago

They are coming.

Verizon Wireless quietly admitted Tuesday its much-vaunted LTE network is suffering speed slowdowns so serious, some customers in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco are being randomly kicked off Verizon’s 4G network to slower 3G service until congestion eases.

Fran Shammo, Verizon’s chief financial officer, volunteered that online video was the likely culprit and he was surprised by usage growth well in excess of what Verizon predicted.

Current estimates from the company suggest Verizon’s LTE customers are responsible for 64% of all data traffic on Verizon’s wireless network nationwide. But in large cities, Shammo said traffic numbers are much higher.

Shammo

Shammo

“There are certain pockets where we’re absolutely going to experience that down tick from the LTE network to 3G because of capacity constraints,” Shammo admitted.

The sudden revelation Verizon now has insufficient capacity for its LTE service is a significant reversal for Shammo, who has repeatedly told investors Verizon has enough wireless spectrum for the next 4-5 years.

In May 2013, Shammo told investors attending the JPMorgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference:

As I have said before, our spectrum position right now is very good, with the AWS transaction that we completed with the cable carriers last year, with the sale of the spectrum that we are doing with AT&T later this year, obviously giving that spectrum to someone who can utilize it better than we can at this point in time. So I think our holdings are exactly where we need to be. And I have said before we really don’t need spectrum for the next four to five years, with the way that we deployed CDMA and how we will utilize that spectrum from our CDMA deployment over to the 4G network as we need it.

Later that same month, Shammo confidently repeated his assertion Verizon was all set for spectrum at Barclays Global Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference:

Well, we have — from where we sit today, we have a very good spectrum portfolio which is why we went after the AWS spectrum, which is really going to be used for our capacity of LTE. The 700 megahertz that we have contiguous across the United States is used for the coverage piece. So we’re in pretty good shape for the next four to five years, even with reallocating our 3G spectrum over to our 4G network. […] And we think, look, we think that there will be enough spectrum there. We think that technology change — I mean, people are already talking about LTE advanced. Well, LTE advanced is nothing more than creating a bit more speed on the network. But really LTE advances around being able to utilize the spectrum much more efficiently within the network.

Carriers can boost coverage with additional traditional cell towers, street level picocells, or in-building femtocells.

Carriers can boost coverage with more cell towers, street level picocells, or in-building femtocells.

Some critics suggest Verizon is ginning up a spectrum crisis as new FCC chairman Tom Wheeler begins to look at the current state of wireless spectrum and competition in the wireless industry. They also point to the fact Verizon has so much unused, warehoused spectrum, it has tried to sell the excess off to third parties.

“We have A band [unused spectrum] in our pocket today that we put for auction a year and a half ago and we did not get what we thought it was worth,” Shammo said yesterday. “We brought it back into the portfolio. But we can use that as a trade for some different spectrum. We put it up for auction so obviously it was on the block [and was] never taken off the block. But obviously it is not for fire sale. If a transaction makes sense then we will execute the transaction. If it doesn’t, then we will deploy it.”

In the short-term, Shammo promised customers the congestion issues were already being dealt with by “lighting up” acquired AWS spectrum formerly owned by cable operators, and adding data systems and small cell-type antennas in high congestion areas.

Shammo added that since Verizon was finished expanding its wireless network out to new, unserved areas, future investments would be directed at improving service within current coverage areas.

“I think by year-end you’re going to see us [concentrate] all of our CapEx around densification and then you will start to see us talk about things like VoLTE (Voice over LTE) and multicast (video) and some of these LTE advanced technologies that will come in the next year,” said Shammo.

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.

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