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Cable Operators Told to Get Ready for a Gigabit, But Will Rationed Usage Make It Meaningless?

Phillip Dampier: A cable trade publication is lecturing its readership on better broadband the industry spent years claiming nobody wanted or needed.

Phillip Dampier: A cable trade publication is lecturing its readership on better broadband the industry spent years claiming nobody wanted or needed.

Remember the good old days when cable and phone companies told you there was no demand for faster Internet speeds when 6Mbps from the phone company was all you and your family really needed?

Those days are apparently over.

Multichannel News, the largest trade publication for cable industry executives, warns cable companies gigabit broadband speeds are right around the corner and the technological transformation that will unleash has been constrained for far too long.

Say what?

Proving our theory that those loudest about dismissing the need for faster Internet speeds are the least equipped to deliver them, the forthcoming arrival of DOCSIS 3.1 technology and decreasing costs to deploy fiber optics will allow cable providers to partially meet the gigabit speed challenge, at least on the downstream. Before DOCSIS 3.1, consumers didn’t “need those speeds.” Now companies like Comcast claim it isn’t important what consumers need today — it’s where the world is headed tomorrow.

Comcast 2013:

Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen writes that the allure of Google Fiber’s gigabit service doesn’t match the needs or capabilities of online Americans.

“For some, the discussion about the broadband Internet seems to begin and end on the issue of ‘gigabit’ access,” Cohen says, in a nod to Google Fiber. “The issue with such speed is really more about demand than supply. Our business customers can already order 10-gig connections. Most websites can’t deliver content as fast as current networks move, and most U.S. homes have routers that can’t support the speed already available to the home.” Essentially, Cohen argues that even if Comcast were to deliver web service as fast as Google Fiber’s 1,000Mbps downloads and uploads, most customers wouldn’t be able to get those speeds because they’ve got the wrong equipment at home.

Comcast 2015:

“We’ve consistently offered the most speeds to the most homes, but with the current pace of tech innovation, sometimes you need to go to where the world is headed and not focus on where it is today.”

“The next great Internet innovation is only an idea away, and we want to help customers push the boundaries of what the Internet can do and do our part to inspire developers to think about what’s possible in a multi-gigabit future.  So, next month we will introduce Gigabit Pro, a new residential Internet service that offers symmetrical, 2-Gigabits-per-second (Gbps) speeds over fiber – at least double what anyone else provides.”

Nelson (Image: Multichannel News)

Nelson (Image: Multichannel News)

Rich Nelson’s guest column in Multichannel News makes it clear American broadband is behind the times. The senior vice president of marketing, broadband & connectivity at Broadcom Corporation says the average U.S. Internet connection of 11.5Mbps “is no longer enough” to support multiple family members streaming over-the-top video content, cloud storage, sharing high-resolution images, interactive online gaming and more.

Nelson credits Google Fiber with lighting a fire under providers to reconsider broadband speeds.

“Google’s Fiber program may have been the spark to light the fuse — Gigabit services have fostered healthy competition among Internet and telecommunications providers, who are now in a position to consider not ‘if’ but ‘when and how’ to deploy Gigabit broadband in order to meet consumer’s perceived ‘need for speed’ and maintain their competitive edge,” Nelson wrote.

But the greatest bottleneck to speed advances is spending money to pay for them. Verizon FiOS was one of the most extravagant network upgrades in years among large American telecom companies and the company was savaged by Wall Street for doing it. Although AT&T got less heat because its U-verse development costs were lower, most analysts still instinctively frown when a company proposes spending billions on network upgrades.

Customer demand for faster broadband is apparent as providers boost Internet speeds.

Customer demand for faster broadband is apparent as providers boost Internet speeds.

The advent of DOCSIS 3.1 — the next generation of cable broadband technology — suggests a win-win-win for Wall Street, cable operators, and consumers. No streets will have to be torn up, no new fiber cables will have to be laid. Most providers will be able to exponentially boost Internet speeds by reallocating bandwidth formerly reserved for analog cable television channels to broadband. The more available bandwidth reserved for broadband, the faster the speeds a company can offer.

Many industry observers predict the cable line will eventually be 100% devoted to broadband, over which telephone, television and Internet access can be delivered just as Verizon does today with FiOS and AT&T manages with its U-verse service.

The benefits of gigabit speeds are not limited to faster Internet browsing however.

Nelson notes communities and municipalities are now using gigabit broadband speeds as a competitive tool selling homes and attracting new businesses to an area. According to a study from the Fiber to the Home (FTTH) Council, communities with widely available gigabit access have experienced a positive impact on economic activity — to the tune of more than $1.4 billion in GDP growth. Those bypassed or stuck in a broadband backwater are now at risk of losing digital economy jobs as businesses and entrepreneurs look elsewhere.

The gigabit broadband gap will increasingly impact the local economies of communities left behind with inadequate Internet speeds as app developers, content producers, and other innovative startups leverage gigabit broadband to market new products and services.

The Pew Research Center envisioned what the next generation of gigabit killer apps might look like. Those communities stuck on the slow lane will likely not have access to an entire generation of applications that simply will never work over DSL.

But before celebrating the fact your local cable company promises to deliver the speed the new apps will need, there is a skunk that threatens to ruin your ultra high speed future: usage-based pricing and caps.

At the same time DOCSIS 3.1 will save the cable industry billions on infrastructure upgrade costs, the price for moving data across the next generation of super high-capacity broadband networks will be lower than ever before. But cable operators are not planning to pass their savings on to you. In fact, broadband prices are rising, along with efforts to apply arbitrary usage limits or charge usage-based pricing. Both are counter-intuitive and unjustified. It would be like charging for a bag of sand in the Sahara Desert or handing a ration book to shoreline residents with coupons allowing them one glass of water each from Lake Ontario.

skunkCox plans to limit its gigabit customers to 2TB of usage a month. AT&T U-verse with GigaPower has a (currently unenforced) limit of 1TB a month, while Suddenlink thinks 550GB is more than enough for its gigabit customers. Comcast is market testing 300GB usage caps in several cities but strangely has no usage cap on its usage-gobbling gigabit plan. Why cap the customers least-equipped to run up usage into the ionosphere while giving gigabit customers a free pass? It doesn’t make much sense.

But then usage caps have never made sense or been justified on wired broadband networks and are questionable on some wireless ones as well.

Stop the Cap! began fighting against usage caps and usage pricing in the summer of 2008 when Frontier Communications proposed to limit its DSL customers to an ‘ample’ 5GB of usage per month. That’s right — 5GB. We predicted then that usage caps would become a growing problem in the United States. With a comfortable duopoly, providers could easily ration Internet access with the flimsiest of excuses to boost profits. Here is what we told the Associated Press seven years ago:

“This isn’t really an issue that’s just going to be about Frontier,” said Phillip Dampier, a Rochester-based technology writer who is campaigning to get Frontier to back off its plans. “Virtually every broadband provider has been suddenly discovering that there’s this so-called ‘bandwidth crisis’ going on in the United States.”

That year, Frontier claimed most of its 559,300 broadband subscribers consumed less than 1.5 gigabytes per month, so 5GB was generous. Frontier CEO Maggie Wilderotter trotted out the same excuses companies like Cox and Suddenlink are still using today to justify these pricing schemes: “The growth of traffic means the company has to invest millions in its network and infrastructure, threatening its profitability.”

Just one year later, Frontier spent $5.3 billion to acquire Verizon landline customers in around two dozen states, so apparently Internet usage growth did not hurt them financially after all. Frankly, usage growth never does. As we told the AP in 2008, the costs of network equipment and connecting to the wider Internet are falling. It still is.

“If they continue to make the necessary investments … there’s no reason they can’t keep up” with increasing customer traffic, we said at the time.

We are happy to report we won our battle with Frontier Communications and today the company even markets the fact their broadband service comes without usage caps. In many of Frontier’s rural service areas, they are the only Internet Service Provider available. Imagine the impact a 5GB usage cap would have had on customers trying to run a home-based business, have kids using the Internet to complete homework assignments, or rely on the Internet for video entertainment.

So why do some providers still try to ration Internet usage? To make more money of course. When the public believes the phony tales of network costs and traffic growth, the duped masses open their wallets and pay even more for what is already overpriced broadband service. Just check this chart produced by the BBC, based on data from the Organization for Economic Co‑operation and Development. Value for money is an alien concept to U.S. providers:

_70717869_countries_with_high_speed_broadband

The usual method of combating pricing excess is robust competition. With a chasm-sized gap between fat profits and the real cost of the service, competitors usually lower the price to attract more customers. But the fewer competitors, the bigger the chance the marketplace will gravitate towards comfort-level pricing and avoid rocking the boat with a ruinous price war. It is one of the first principles of capitalism — charging what the market will bear. We’ve seen how well that works in the past 100+ years. Back in 2010, we found an uncomfortable similarity between broadband prices of today with the railroad pricing schemes of the 1800s. A handful of executives and shareholders reap the rewards of monopolistic pricing and pillage not only consumers but threaten local economies as well.

special reportThe abuses were so bad, Congress finally stepped in and authorized regulators to break up the railroad monopolies and regulate abusive pricing. We may be headed in the same direction with broadband. We do not advocate regulation for the sake of regulation. Competition is a much more efficient way to check abusive business practices. But where an effective monopoly or duopoly exists, competition alone will not help. Without consumer-conscious oversight, the forthcoming gigabit broadband revolution will be stalled by speed bumps and toll booths for the benefit of a few giant telecommunications corporations. That will allow other countries to once again leap ahead of the United States and Canada, just as they have done with Internet speeds, delivering superior service at a lower price.

China now ranks first in the world in terms of the total number of fiber to the home broadband subscribers. So far, it isn’t even close to the fastest broadband country because much of China still gets access to the Internet over DSL. The Chinese government considers that unacceptable. It sees the economic opportunities of widespread fiber broadband and has targeted the scrapping of every DSL Internet connection in favor of fiber optics by the end of 2017. As a result, with more than 200 million likely fiber customers, China will become the global leader in fiber infrastructure, fiber technology, and fiber development. What country will lose the most from that transition? The United States. Today, Corning produces 40% of the world’s optical fiber.

Global optical fiber capacity amounted to 13,000 tons in 2014, mainly concentrated in the United States, Japan and China (totaling as much as 85.2% of the world’s total), of which China already ranked first with a share of 39.8%. Besides a big producer of optical fiber, China is also a large consumer, demanding 6,639 tons in 2014, 60.9% of global demand. The figure is expected to increase to 7,144 tons in 2015. Before 2010, over 70% of China’s optical fiber was imported, primarily from the United States. This year, 72.6% of China’s optical fiber will be produced by Chinese companies, which are also exporting a growing amount of fiber around the world.

John Lively, principal analyst at LightCounting Market Research, predicts China could conquer the fiber market in just a few short years and become a global broadband leader, “exporting their broadband networking expertise and technology, just like it does with its energy and transportation programs.”

Meanwhile in the United States, customers will be arguing with Comcast about the accuracy of their usage meter in light of a 300GB usage cap and Frontier’s DSL customers will still be fighting to get speeds better than the 3-6Mbps they get today.

Stop the Cap!’s Open Letter to N.Y. Public Service Commission: No Rush to Judgment

letterhead

August 19, 2015

Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess
Secretary, Public Service Commission
Three Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12223-1350

Case Number: 14-C-0370

Dear Ms. Burgess,

After years of allowing the telecommunications industry in New York to operate with little or no oversight, the need for an extensive and comprehensive review of the impact of New York’s regulatory policies has never been greater.

Let us remind the Commission of the status quo:

  • As Verizon winds down its FiOS initiative, other states are getting cutting-edge services like Google Fiber, AT&T U-verse with GigaPower, CenturyLink Prism, and other gigabit-speed broadband service competition. In contrast, the largest telecommunications companies in New York have stalled offering better service to New Yorkers.
  • Time Warner Cable has left all of upstate New York with no better than 50/5Mbps broadband – a top speed that has not risen in at least five years.
  • Frontier Communications has announced fiber upgrades in service areas it is acquiring while its largest New York service area – Rochester, languishes with copper-based ADSL service that often delivers no better than 3-6Mbps, well below the FCC’s minimum 25Mbps definition of broadband.
  • Verizon Communications, the state’s largest telephone company, is accused of reneging on its FiOS commitments in New York City and has left upstate New York cities with nothing better than DSL service, giving Time Warner Cable a monopoly on 25+Mbps broadband in most areas. It has also talked openly of selling off its rural landline network or scrapping it altogether, potentially forcing customers to an inferior wireless landline replacement it calls Voice Link.

As the Commission is also well aware, there are a number of recent high-profile issues relating to telecommunications matters that have a direct impact on consumers and businesses in this state – some that are currently before the Commission for review. Largest among them is another acquisition involving Time Warner Cable, this time from Charter Communications. That single issue alone will impact the majority of broadband consumers in New York because Time Warner Cable is the state’s dominant Internet Service Provider for high speed Internet services, especially upstate.

These issues are of monumental importance to the comprehensive examination and study of the telecommunications industry in New York promised by Chairwoman Audrey Zibelman. The Charter-Time Warner Cable merger alone has the potential of affecting millions of New York residents for years to come.

Although this study was first announced to Speaker Sheldon Silver, the Honorable Jeffrey Klein, and the Honorable Dean Skelos in a letter on March 28, 2014, followed up by a notification that Chairwoman Zibelman intended to commence the study within 45 days of her letter of May 13, 2014, the first public notice seeking comments from stakeholders and consumers was issued more than a year later on June 23, 2015 (less than two months ago), with comments due by August 24, 2015.

With respect, providing a 60-day comment window in the middle of summer along with a handful of public hearings scattered across the state with as little as three weeks’ advance notice is wholly inadequate for a broad study of this importance. The Commission’s ambitious schedule to contemplate the state of telecommunications across all of New York State will likely be shorter than the review of the 2014-2015 Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger transaction which started May 15, 2014 and ended April 30, 2015.

We have heard from New York residents upset about how the Commission is handling its review. One complained to us the Commission had more than a year to prepare for its study while giving New York residents short notice to attend poorly advertised public hearings in a distant city, and two months at most to share their feelings with the Commission in writing. One woman described having to find a hearing that was, at best, 60 miles away and located at a city hall unfamiliar to those not local to the area, where suitable parking was inconvenient and difficult as she attempted a lengthy walk to the hearing location at the age of 69.

Several of our members also complained there are more suitable public-friendly venues beyond paid parking downtown city administration buildings or deserted campuses in the middle of summer break. Many asked why the Commission does not seem to have a social media presence or sponsor live video streaming of hearings where residents can participate by phone or online and avoid inconvenient travel to a distant city. Perhaps the Commission could be enlightened to see how New York’s telecommunications companies actually perform during such a hearing.

While we think it is very useful for the Commission to have direct input from the public, we are uncertain about how the Commission intends to manage those comments. We were disappointed to find no public outline of what the Commission intended to include in its evaluation of a topic as broad as “the state of telecommunications in New York.”

Too often, providers downplay service complaints from consumers as “anecdotal evidence” or “isolated incidents.” But if the Commission sought specific input on a topic such as the availability of FiOS in Manhattan, consumers can provide useful input on the exact location(s) where service was requested but not provided.

If the Commission received information from an incumbent provider claiming it was providing broadband service to low income residents, consumers could share on-point experiences as to whether those claims were true, true with conditions the Commission might not be aware of (paperwork requirements, onerous terms, etc.) or false.

If the Commission sought input on rural broadband, providers might point to a broadband availability map that suggests there is robust competition and customer choice. But the Commission could learn from residents asked to share their direct experiences that the map was inaccurate or outdated, including providers that only service commercial customers, or those that cannot provide service that qualifies as “broadband” by the Federal Communications Commission.

A full and open investigation is essential to finding the truth about telecommunications in New York. The Commission needs to understand whether problems are unique to one customer in one part of the state or common among a million people statewide. We urge the Commission to rethink its current approach.

New Yorkers deserve public fact-finding hearings inviting input on the specific issues the Commission is exploring. New Yorkers need longer comment windows, more notice of public hearings, and a generous extension of the current deadline(s) to allow comments to be received for at least 60 additional days.

Most critically, we need hearings bringing the public and stakeholders together to offer sometimes-adversarial testimony to build a factual, evidence-based record on which the Commission can credibly defend its oversight of the telecommunications services that are a critical part of every New Yorker’s life.

The Commission’s policies going forward may have a profound effect on making sure an elderly couple in the Adirondacks can keep a functioning landline, if affordable Internet will be available to an economically-distressed single working mother in the Bronx, or if upstate New York can compete in the new digital economy with gigabit fiber broadband to support small businesses like those run by former employees of downsized companies like Eastman Kodak and Xerox in Rochester.

Yours very truly,

Phillip M. Dampier
Director

Fiber Infinitely Upgradeable: Verizon Successfully Tests 10Gbps NG-PON2 Technology on FiOS

Phillip Dampier August 12, 2015 Broadband Speed, Competition, Verizon No Comments

verizonfiosVerizon is ready to push speeds beyond 1Gbps on its fiber to the home network FiOS, after successfully testing the next generation of signaling technology capable of delivering at least 10Gbps to customers.

Next Generation-Passive Optical Network (NG-PON2) technology allows providers to improve signaling speed and performance on existing fiber infrastructure already on the poles or in the ground. Verizon successfully tested an optical line terminal to transmit four wavelengths, each capable of speeds up to 10/2.5Gbps. Future versions should achieve symmetrical speeds of 10/10Gbps, according to Verizon. Eventually, FiOS customers may be able to subscribe to speeds up to 80Gbps.

gpon-optical-lan-overview-november-5-2014-8-638

The test demonstrated Verizon can successfully upgrade to newer generation technology and stay backwards-compatible with existing GPON customers without having to scale a utility pole or dig up any sidewalks. Existing fiber strands can manage all types of light signaling, meaning upgrades will typically occur in the office, not in the field, reducing the costs of upgrades.

Verizon isn’t even sure what to do with the extra speed yet.

“Upgrades on the FTTP network will begin when commercial equipment is available to support business services such as switched Ethernet services,” Verizon said in a press release. “The technology upgrade can also be used to support multi-gigabit-speed Internet access services for FiOS customers as the marketplace demands such services and as the technology matures.

Verizon Wireless Kills Phone Subsidies, Contracts: Some Customers Will Pay More

610px-Verizon-Wireless-Logo_svgThe days of the wireless phone subsidy are numbered with today’s announcement Verizon Wireless will end all smartphone subsidies and service contracts next week. It’s a path we’ve predicted at Stop the Cap! since at least 2013.

In an effort to “simplify” wireless pricing, Verizon Wireless is radically shaking up its wireless plans starting Aug. 13 — raising prices for its lightest users, ending the two-year phone contract, and requiring customers buy or finance their devices at the full retail price. Instead, customers will pay $650 up front for a phone like Apple’s iPhone 6, or finance it for around $27 a month for the next two years.

Phone plans are changing as well. Eliminated are “individual” and “family plans.” In their place, there is just one plan with four data options:

  • Access Fee (includes unlimited voice/text): $20/mo per phone, $10/mo per tablet or portable hotspot, $5 for connected devices (eg. watches)
  • Shareable Data Option: $30 (Small – 1GB), $45 (Medium – 3GB), $60 (Large – 6GB), or $80 (X-Large – 12GB)  —  Overlimit Fee is $15/GB

Average and heavier users will save a few dollars with Verizon’s new plans. The “Medium” plan is $5 less than Verizon used to charge and the “Large” plan is $10 less. You get 2GB of extra data for your $80 comparing Verizon’s older plan and its newer one. The benefits seem less compelling when you realize just a few years ago Verizon charged $30 for unlimited use data plans.

Budget customers will find Verizon’s new plans the least attractive. Customers with 6GB or less data plans used to pay a $15 access fee. Now they will pay $5 more per phone. Those who want Verizon’s cheapest 500MB plan for $20 are out of luck. That plan is being dropped, according to Verizon, because customers were confused over the difference between MB and GB. Customers now on that low-end plan will probably be able to keep it, but may eventually have to choose a “Small” data plan for $10 more per month. Budget customers used to pay around $35 a month. Now they will pay at least $50.

Heavy data users may be concerned Verizon’s top data plan tops out at 12GB. The company plans to privately offer bigger data buckets to customers, but only if they visit a Verizon Wireless store to discuss their needs.

Current customers still on contract will not see any changes immediately. Verizon will continue to charge the $40 a month access fee for contract customers until the contract expires, after which the fee will drop to $20. Customers on More Everything plans can stick with their existing plans for now, as well as add lines. There are no plans to force customers to change service plans at this point.

Expect AT&T to take a similar path towards the elimination of subsidized devices. Because customers will likely finance their $600+ smartphones, it isn’t likely consumers will face dramatically changed pricing as a result of Verizon’s plan changes. But device manufacturers can no longer get away with promoting their phones at a $200 price point. In fact, the sticker shock of the retail price of smartphones may eventually force manufacturers to produce more affordable phones for the marketplace.

Verizon DSL: The Love is Gone – Rate Hikes, Availability Problems, Low Speeds

Sandra Hartman has been a Verizon DSL customer for more than 10 years. She doesn’t have much of a choice.

In her small town outside of Binghamton, N.Y., Verizon is her only option. Time Warner Cable doesn’t come close to providing service in this part of upstate New York and cell service is abominable, even with Verizon and AT&T.

“I live in an area just large enough to have given Verizon the justification to offer DSL, but 3Mbps service is about all we have ever been able to get, but it has been better than nothing,” Hartman tells Stop the Cap!

Hartman signed up for a package that included $19.99 DSL with her landline a decade ago, a price that went up $10 after the sign-up promotion ended but has remained stable for years.

“Then Verizon decided to raise the price without improving the service,” Hartman says.

In fact, the price hikes have been fast and furious lately, beginning last fall when Hartman received this notice Verizon was raising the price to $34.99 a month:

Verizon-logo

Dear Valued Verizon Customer,

We realize you have choices when it comes to choosing your Broadband provider, and would like to take this opportunity to say thank you for being a loyal customer and for choosing Verizon.

In order to continue to bring you quality service and product innovation, at times we need to raise our rates. Your monthly rate will increase by $5.00 and will be reflected on your bill within the next two months. This rate will remain in effect for one year. If you currently have any credits or discounts on your account, these will remain in effect until their original expiration date.

If you would like to review your account to see if you may qualify for additional savings or if you have any questions, please log on to verizon.com/myverizon or give us a call at 1.888.213.9932.

We value you as a customer and look forward to continuing to serve you.

Sincerely,
Your Verizon Team

“What choices?,” Hartman wondered. “We have no choice and after the rate increase, we’ve seen no improvement in the quality of the service or any evidence of Verizon’s ‘product innovation.’ It’s the same DSL service we’ve had for a decade — we’re just paying $60 more a year for the same thing.”

In Pennsylvania, Verizon is required by regulators to provide access to broadband to any customer that wants the service by the end of 2015. This map shows Verizon's service areas, 96% of which now have access to at least DSL service.

In the unusual case of Pennsylvania, Verizon is required by law to offer access to broadband to any customer that wants the service by the end of 2015. This map shows Verizon’s service areas in green, 96% of which now have access to at least DSL service. That same requirement is absent in most states.

To save money, Hartman downgraded her Verizon landline to the cheapest possible plan and switched to Voice over IP provider Ooma, which works over her DSL line. But Verizon is now back for more with another rate increase notice — this time looking for another $7 a month starting this fall, putting the price of 3Mbps DSL up to $41.99 before fees, surcharges, and taxes.

“I called Verizon and they told me rates are reviewed ‘for competitive reasons’ and reflect the cost of providing the service, which is apparently now up another $84 a year,” she said. “Verizon’s equipment, sitting in the elements on a phone pole or humming away in their phone office actually appreciates in value it seems. I wish my 10-year-old laptop was worth more today than the day I bought it, but my laptop wasn’t made by Verizon.”

Hartman complained to customer service the successive rate increases do not seem to be spent on any improvements. In fact, it seems Verizon is no longer accepting new DSL customers in her area.

“A real estate agent friend of mine told me selling homes in this town has gotten difficult because Verizon will simply not sell DSL to new customers here, claiming they have no capacity,” Hartman said. “If you can’t get DSL from Verizon, you don’t have broadband service, it’s as simple as that.”

DSL availability from Verizon is not just a problem for Hartman. Several central offices in upstate New York no longer accept new Verizon DSL customers, claiming the service is at capacity. Some customers in the Finger Lakes region keep DSL service year-round at their seasonal cottages, fearing if they suspend service for the winter they will not get it back next spring. Time Warner Cable offers service to many lakefront properties, but those who own cabins and homes away from the lakeshore usually cannot get cable service and depend on Verizon for service.

The Verizon DSL forum on DSL Reports has more examples of customers that discover their entire exchange is no longer qualified to get Verizon DSL. One such example is in Purcellville, Va., west of Washington, D.C., a quick drive to the Maryland and West Virginia borders.

“DSL suddenly has disappeared from my wire center entirely – regardless if your 10 feet from the CO or out of a remote terminal with a DSLAM,” wrote Zenit. “Even the industrial section of town which has its own fiber fed DSL equipped RT shows negative for service, and there are plenty of vacant units there.”

Similar stories were reported in communities like Pittsfield, Mass. and Netcong, N.J.

Customers have been able to push back against Verizon’s price increases, especially in competitive areas. Some customers are switched to lower cost bundled packages while others are given straight service credits that lower a customer’s bill. Customers need only ask Verizon for a better price and let them know you are shopping around for a better deal.

No Verizon Strike for Now, Says CWA Union; Workers Launch PR War on Company Instead

verigreedy”After considering all of our options, your leadership has decided not to go on strike at midnight tonight, even though we have not yet reached a contract agreement,” came word Sunday from Dennis Trainor, vice president for CWA District One, which represents Verizon workers in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.

Verizon’s workers will stay on the job for now, launching a new strategy that will include sharing information with customers about Verizon’s unwillingness to invest in FiOS fiber expansion and improved broadband and phone service. The PR war will extend not just to customers but also to the media, politicians, and regulators. The union’s message: “Verizon’s greed knows no bounds.”

“Despite $18 billion in profits over the last 18 months, and a quarter of a billion in compensation to its top executives over the last five years, this greedy corporation is still insisting on destroying our job security, forcing us to pay thousands of dollars more for our health care, and slashing our retirement security,” Trainor said in a bargaining update. “It’s a disgrace.”

“But we are not going to let our anger allow us to walk into a trap,” Trainor added. “It’s quite possible that Verizon is trying to provoke us into a long strike in order to try to break us. They have spent tens of millions of dollars preparing for a strike, training managers, hiring scabs and contractors, advertising against us on TV and radio. So your leadership has decided that if and when we strike, it will be on our terms, on our timing.”

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still dead.

The union wants Verizon to expand FiOS throughout the company’s entire service area, not just a select few communities and wealthy suburbs. That’s a win for customers and for workers running fiber optic cables, installing and maintaining the service, according to the union. A series of radio ads from the CWA are running in New York and Pennsylvania telling customers “you just can’t trust Verizon” after the company failed to bring FiOS service across both states.

The CWA says the New York mayors of Albany, Syracuse, Kingston, Rome and Utica, as well as the town supervisor of Brookhaven, have joined the CWA in sharing their concerns Verizon has refused to build out its FiOS broadband and TV services across upstate New York, leaving customers with a neglected legacy copper network Verizon barely maintains.

Verizon spokesperson Rich Young attacked the CWA’s efforts to bring politicians looking for better broadband from Verizon into the negotiating process.

“The CWA owes these mayors an apology,” Young said. “These elected officials should be outraged that union leaders wasted their time attending a negotiating session today that had nothing to do with FiOS. Unfortunately, the mayors were seemingly misled to think FiOS deployment is an issue that’s being negotiated. It’s not. Sadly, it seems the mayors were just a ploy as part of this bargaining publicity gimmick.”

Sheil

Sheil

“I can assure you, none of these mayors were misled,” said Kevin Sheil, president of CWA Local 1103. “Does the company really believe that the mayor’s constituents need for reliable High Speed Internet so underprivileged children could have additional educational opportunities is a union gimmick, or do they just not give a shit about the consumers in their footprint.”

Union officials expressed concern about Verizon’s latest contract offer, which would allow the company to transfer employees to any Verizon service area, in or out-of-state, on short notice. The union also noticed Verizon is limiting job opportunities in rural service areas, which could be another clue Verizon is planning to eventually sell off much of its rural landline network to another company. Some utilities that have experience fighting over infrastructure issues like telephone poles believe all signs point to Verizon’s exit of the landline business to focus on more profitable wireless service instead.

Union officials admit they could be in for a long fight with Verizon before another contract is signed. The hostility is coming from both sides. Verizon took heat for creating what the CWA is calling a “spy app” it has distributed to non-union employees to document and report bad behavior by union workers if a strike occurs. The app records a photo and the time and exact place of any vandalism or intimidation non-union workers encounter, and asks the user to write a short incident report that will be sent to corporate security.

The Communications Workers of America is running this radio ad slamming Verizon’s lack of FiOS deployment in Pennsylvania. (0:30)

You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

“Verizon should stop focusing on clever new ways to fire people and start focusing on bargaining in good faith towards a contract that protects workers’  job security and standard of living, and ensures that every customer is getting the highest quality service,” said Bob Master, legislative and political director for CWA District One. “The company’s petty attempts to intimidate workers do not bring us any closer to a fair collective bargaining agreement.”

Amy Seifer, Verizon associate general counsel for labor and employment, told RCR Wireless News, “The app serves three primary purposes: the first is a means for our management employees to report or document an unsafe situation, unlawful act, or violation of our code of conduct, and it will also be used by managers who have been assigned into these union positions for the duration of the strike to ask questions about installations or repairs they are handling. It also provides a means for our employees to submit suggestions on process improvements.”

“The answers [they receive in response] will be wrong anyway,” countered Ed Mooney, vice president of CWA District 2-13 on a town hall conference call.

Seifer did admit the app’s primary purpose was to assist non-union workers taking over during a work stoppage.

“If we get reports of misconduct, our corporate security office will do a thorough investigation then determine a course of action whether that’s suspension, termination or no action at all will be based on the outcome of the investigation,” Seifer said.

“We will rally, engage in informational picketing, build political and regulatory pressure on the company, follow all the company rules to the letter, never take shortcuts, pressure company executives and members of the board of directors,” said Trainor. “We will be disciplined, militant and united. This was not an easy decision. But it is the smart decision. And if and when the time comes, we will strike the company on our terms.”

The Communications Workers of America is airing this radio ad across upstate New York, telling consumers they were bypassed for Verizon FiOS because of the company’s broken promises. (0:30)

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HBO NOW Available Today for Verizon Broadband Customers; Coming Soon to Mobile Video

hbonow_largeHome Box Office and Verizon today announced an agreement that allows Verizon to distribute HBO NOW — a service targeting Internet-only customers, across all of Verizon’s wired broadband networks, with the right to extend the service to Verizon Mobile customers in the near future.

Beginning today, HBO NOW is immediately available to all Verizon FiOS and High Speed Internet customers, starting with a 30-day free trial.

After signing up, Verizon customers can access the service by downloading the HBO NOW app on their Android phone or tablet, Amazon Fire Tablet, iPhone, iPad or Apple TV and selecting “Verizon” from the drop down menu of providers. Upon initial registration, customers sign in to watch their favorite HBO programming on their mobile device or on their computer at HBONOW.com. HBO NOW is currently available through Verizon to non-FiOS TV customers for a monthly subscription of $14.99 following the introductory free offer. FiOS TV customers can continue to purchase HBO, which includes access to the award-winning HBO GO app and access to HBO content on an anywhere, anytime basis on FIOS Mobile, through existing sales channels, including by using their FiOS TV remote control.

The agreement will allow Verizon to sell HBO NOW on its forthcoming mobile video platform, potentially under the umbrella of its Go90 service, expected to enter beta testing soon. No word on if Verizon’s mobile video platform will chew through your data usage allowance.

N.Y. Public Service Commission Reminds Verizon of Its FiOS Obligation in NYC, Requests Documents

Zibelman

Zibelman

After the N.Y. Public Service Commission heard an earful about Verizon’s broken promise to deliver FiOS service to every resident in New York City, the head of the PSC has sent a letter to Verizon reminding them of their obligation and requesting an explanation:

At a recently conducted July 15, 2015 Public Statement Hearing held in the City of New York in the matter of the Study on the State of Telecommunications in New York State […] citizens of the City expressed concern over the pace of Verizon New York Inc.’s (Verizon) Fiber-to-the Premises (FTTP) build-out. Some of the commenters stated that they called Verizon to find out when FiOS would be available in their building and the Company could not provide a specific date or time. Others asked why some buildings had been wired for FiOS while others were still being served over the copper network.

Among the Commission’s minimum requirements and terms included in the approval of Verizon’s cable franchise agreement with the City, is the requirement to complete upgrading its wire centers to video serving offices (VSO) and have its FTTP network “pass all households served by [Verizon’s] wire centers within the Franchise Area” 1 by no later than June 30, 2014.

Audrey Zibelman, chair of the PSC, acknowledged Verizon’s repeated explanation that building owners have often been reluctant to let Verizon engineers into their buildings to initiate the FiOS upgrade, noting Verizon has filed more than 45 petitions for Order of Entry with the PSC over the past two years, identifying over 3,000 buildings with “access” issues of one type or another. Approximately 50% of the building access problems have been identified in Manhattan; about 20% each in Bronx and Queens; 13% in Brooklyn, and the rest in Staten Island and Long Island.

dpsBut Zibelman assumes at least some of those disputes have since been settled and now wants details about where Verizon is still unable to offer FiOS in New York City and why. She also wanted to make sure Verizon was not favoring certain areas over others for fiber service:

The agreement also provides that Verizon will conduct the build-out in a way that will prevent redlining, or discrimination based on income, by requiring Verizon to build-out simultaneously to all boroughs and in a manner relatively proportionate to household income. Specifically, the median household income of all homes passed shall not be greater than the average household income of all the households in the City.

fios“Indicate whether Verizon has achieved its six-year build-out in the cable franchise agreement,” Zibelman asked. “If Verizon has not achieved that build-out, please provide all documentation that Verizon provided to the City to justify the basis for any delay. In addition, please provide a current status of the FTTP build-out, by Borough, indicating the percentage and number of buildings served, and the remainder of buildings yet to be served. Provide a status update of the buildings identified in previous Verizon petitions for Orders of Entry.”

Zibelman reminded Verizon it has an absolute obligation under 16 NYCRR §895.5 to “provide service to any customer upon request.” To verify that, Zibelman wants Verizon to accept and record all requests for service and respond to all of her concerns within 14 days.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WNBC NY Verizon FiOS Not Installing High-Speed Internet for 25 Percent of NYers Who Want It Audit 7-15-15.flv

WNBC in New York reports a quarter of New Yorkers still cannot sign up for Verizon FiOS, despite a commitment from the company to wire the entire city. (2:01)

Verizon Wireline Workers Prepare to Strike Aug. 1; “Negotiations Are Going Poorly”

Phillip Dampier July 28, 2015 Consumer News, Verizon No Comments
Verizon workers attend a mass rally at Verizon headquarters on July 25, 2015. (Image: CWA)

Verizon workers attend a mass rally at Verizon headquarters on July 25, 2015. (Image: CWA)

If Verizon management and its unionized workforce cannot come to terms on a new contract by this Saturday, up to 39,000 Verizon landline workers from Massachusetts to Virginia will begin a strike industry observers predict could last for weeks.

Verizon Communications has increasingly shifted attention and investment away from its wireline networks, which include copper landline service and its FiOS fiber to the home network. The workforce of line technicians, installers, and engineers that are trying to keep Verizon’s wired networks running well are under pressure to accept concessions the company says reflect the reality of a dwindling number of landline customers and competition for its FiOS network.

As of Monday, representatives for the Communications Workers of America District 1, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2213 and IBEW New England Regional committees continued to call out Verizon for insisting on a list of benefit and job security reductions:

  • Eliminating protections against layoffs and mandatory transfers/temporary reassignment to different Verizon service areas, including those in other states;
  • No Cost of Living increases;
  • Adding Sunday as part of the basic work week;
  • Possible elimination of corporate profit-sharing;
  • Eliminating caps on overtime and limiting payouts to 1.5x regular pay;
  • Reduce the notice given to workers if Verizon has plans for any major technological change (ie. getting rid of rural landlines, selling FiOS, moving customers to wireless, etc.);
  • Reductions in medical benefits including higher deductibles, co-pays, premiums, and co-insurance;
  • Eliminating the union’s ability to negotiate retiree health care benefits, often at risk in other companies;
  • Eliminate the lump sum pension option and introducing new restrictions on pensions and new fees on 401K plans;
  • Eliminate accidental disability coverage;
  • Eliminate family care leave.

cwa_logoVerizon spokesman Rick Young countered that Verizon has offered workers a straight 4% wage increase but admitted many existing contract provisions are decades old and no longer reflect current business reality. Young added Verizon union network technicians are paid $160,000 a year on average in total compensation, including salary, pension and health care. But Verizon management is insistent on cutting back the company’s health care costs, noting Verizon successfully reduced the cost of covering nonunionized workers to about $16,700 per family while union workers still receive coverage worth $20,000-24,000 a year per family.

Union officials counter Verizon was able to manage that by slashing non-union employee benefits and forcing workers into high deductible medical plans that offer lower levels of coverage. In 2011, Verizon fought its unions over the same issues, including a company demand workers accept health care plans with a $5000 out-of-pocket deductible before medical coverage kicked in. That led to a contentious two-week strike.

“Negotiations are going poorly,” Communication Workers of America’s Bob Master told CBS News this week. “We are far apart.”

Verizon-logoWith 86 percent of union members voting to strike if negotiations fail, it seems an almost certainty workers will be on the picket lines by next week if negotiations remain unsuccessful. Workers believe Verizon’s profits have been shared mostly at the top through executive bonuses and ever-increasing compensation packages while ordinary workers are asked to forego benefits and job security.

In solidarity with Verizon customers, the unions are also fighting to force Verizon to further build out its FiOS fiber network to more customers and stop allowing its copper network to deteriorate to the point of unusability.

“On the one hand, Verizon refuses to build its high-speed FiOS network in lower-income areas and on the other, they are systemically ignoring maintenance needs on their landline network,” said Ed Mooney, vice president for CWA District 2-13, which covers Pennsylvania to Virginia.  “This leaves customers at the mercy of a cable monopoly or stuck with deteriorating service while Verizon executives and shareholders rake in billions.”

Trainor

Trainor

A highly critical audit of Verizon’s FiOS rollout in New York City found that Verizon failed to meet its promise to deliver high-speed fiber optic Internet and television to everyone in the city who wanted it, claims the union.  During its negotiations for a city franchise, Verizon promised the entire city would be wired with fiber optic cables by June 2014 and everyone who wanted FiOS would get it within six months to a year.  The audit found that despite claiming it had wired the city by November 2014, Verizon systematically continues to refuse orders for service.  The audit also found Verizon stonewalled the audit process.

The CWA also contends rates for basic telephone service have increased in recent years, even as Verizon has refused to expand their broadband services into many cities and rural communities, and service quality has greatly deteriorated. Verizon’s declining service quality especially impacts customers who cannot afford more advanced cable services, or who live in areas with few options for cable or wireless services.

But the company is not hurting for money, argues union officials.

“Verizon made $9.6 billion in profits in 2014 and reported $4.4 billion in profits just in the 2015 second quarter alone,” said Dennis Trainer, vice president of CWA District One in a statement.

“In 2012, during a time of great economic stress, the company came to the union and after 15 months of bargaining, including mediation, reached an agreement that the company said they had to have to survive,” wrote an official updating workers represented by CWA District 2-13 (Mid-Atlantic region) in a bargaining update. “Since then, every year they have made billions of dollars in profits and not one executive officer at Verizon has made a single sacrifice like they told us they needed us to do. The latest insult being [Verizon CEO] Lowell McAdam getting a 16% raise in one year while we have paid more in healthcare, lost pensions for new hires, froze pensions for current members, made significant changes in incidental absence payments and made other changes to our contract that have resulted in stressful working conditions and excessive discipline to our members.”

CWA officials in District 1, representing New York and New England workers, were more blunt in responding to an unsolicited email sent to every worker signed by Marc Reed, Verizon’s executive vice president and chief administrative officer.

“Reed suggests in his e-mail that he has a concern for you and your family,” wrote one official. “Ask yourself, if he really gave a shit about you and your family why is he proposing to gut the contract that provides for you and your family.”

Cable’s Fiber Fears: Broadband Market Share Drops to 40% or Less When Fiber Competition Arrives

The magic of fiber

The magic of fiber

Ever wonder why Comcast, one of the strongest defenders of classic coaxial-based cable technology, is suddenly getting on board the fiber-to-the-home bandwagon? New research suggests if they don’t, their market share could fall to 40% or less if a serious fiber competitor arrives.

“There’s some sort of magic associated with fiber,” John Caezza, president of Arris’s Access Technologies division, told Multichannel News. “Everyone thinks it’s better than [cable technology].”

The risks to the cable industry are clear: be prepared to upgrade or face customer losses.

Craig Moffett of Moffett Nathanson has never been a cheerleader for fiber to the home service. In 2008, Moffett vilified Verizon for its investment in a major fiber upgrade we know today as FiOS to replace its aging copper infrastructure, complaining it was too expensive and was overkill for most residential customers. He was more tolerant of AT&T’s less-costly fiber to the neighborhood approach, dubbed U-verse, that still used traditional telephone lines to deliver service into the home. Because U-verse did not need AT&T to replace wiring at each customer location, the cost savings were considerable. But the cost-capability compromise left AT&T with a less robust platform, with broadband speeds initially limited to a maximum of around 24Mbps.

While phone companies like AT&T and Verizon were saddled with the enormous cost of tearing out decades-old obsolete phone wiring to varying degrees, the cable industry seemed well positioned with a mature, yet still recent hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) platform that was upgraded in the 1990s in many cities. While still partly reliant on the same RG-6 and RG-11 coaxial cable used since the first days of cable television, cable companies also invested in fiber optics to bring services from distant headends to each town, removing some of the copper from their networks without the huge expense of bringing fiber all the way to customer homes.

For Moffett, it was the cable industry that had the network with room to grow without spending huge amounts of capital on upgrades. He has touted cable stocks ever since.

Moffett

Moffett

What worries Moffett now isn’t Google, Frontier, CenturyLink, or even Verizon. He’s concerned about AT&T.

As part of its commitment to win approval of its merger with DirecTV, AT&T promised regulators in June it would expand AT&T U-verse with GigaPower — AT&T’s gigabit fiber to the home upgrade — to at least 11.7 million homes, nine million more than it has ever promised before. Comcast has a 32% overlap with AT&T U-verse, compared to Time Warner Cable (26%), Charter Communications (32%), Bright House Networks (25%) and Cox Communications (25%). Comcast had promised faster broadband with the advent of DOCSIS 3.1 beginning as early as next year. But the company isn’t willing to wait around to watch AT&T and others steal its speed-craving customers. This spring, it promised 2Gbps Gigabit Pro fiber to the home service to customers living within 1/3rd of a mile of the nearest Comcast fiber line.

Some in the cable industry complain Google’s huge marketing operation has saddled cable broadband with a bad rap — ‘it’s yesterday’s news, with Google Fiber representing the future.’ The marketing war has been largely won by Google, they say, leaving consumers convinced fiber is the better and more reliable technology, and they need it more than the cable company.

Cable’s defense is to consider some marketing changes of its own — including the idea of dropping the name “cable” from the business altogether, because it implies older technology. But despite any name change, most cable companies will continue to rely on HFC infrastructure for at least several more years, despite claims they are bringing their own middle mile fiber networks closer to customers than ever. Cable operators now serve an average of 400 homes from each cable node. Some cable companies like Comcast plan to cut the number of customers sharing a node to around 100-125 homes, which means fewer customers will share the same broadband connection. But in the end, that will make cable comparable at best to a fiber to the neighborhood network, still hampered to some degree by the presence of legacy coaxial copper cable. The industry believes most consumers will never see the limitations, and for those that do, a limited fiber buildout with a steep installation fee may keep costs (and demand) down to those who need the fastest possible speeds and are willing to pay to get them.

CableLabs_TaglineThat philosophy may still cost cable companies customers if a fiber competitor doesn’t have to compromise speed and performance and can afford to charge less.

The top 10 U.S. cable companies currently account for 60% of the residential broadband market and 86% of all broadband net additions in the first quarter of 2015, says Leichtman Research Group.

Moffett predicts cable broadband will only capture 40% of share in markets where it faces a fiber to the home competitor (Google, EPB, Greenlight, Verizon FiOS), 55% in markets served by a fiber to the neighborhood competitor (U-verse, Prism), and 60% where the competition only sells DSL (most Frontier, Windstream service areas). Nationwide, AT&T’s newest gigabit fiber commitment could cost the cable industry 2.4% of the whole residential broadband market, Moffett said.

Phil McKinney, president and CEO of CableLabs, believes DOCSIS 3.1 — the next standard for cable broadband — can easily stand toe to toe with fiber to the home providers.

McKinney

McKinney

“I think it [HFC] has tremendous life, and we are going to be riding it all day long,” Werner said. DOCSIS 3.1 “is definitely going to be our go-to animal. Due to ubiquity, we can go out and virtually serve all of our [customers] very quickly.”

Cable companies claim their speed increases reach all of their customers in a given area at the same time without playing games with “fiberhoods” or waiting for incremental service upgrades common with Google Fiber or AT&T’s U-verse. Customers, the industry says, also appreciate DOCSIS upgrades bring no service disruption and nobody has to come to the home to install or upgrade service.

“The cable industry has more fiber in the ground than each fiber provider in the world,” McKinney argues. “If you look at total fiber strand miles, there’s more fiber under management and under control of the [cable] operators than anybody else combined.”

That may be true, but Moffett thinks it is only natural shareholders may eventually punish the stocks of cable operators that will face competition from AT&T’s U-verse with GigaPower. There is precedent. Cablevision serves customers in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey and faces fierce competition from Verizon FiOS in most of its service areas. That competition has been brutal, occasionally made worse in periodic price wars. What may be protecting cable stocks so far is the fact AT&T competition will only affect, at most, 32% of the impacted cable operators’ service areas.

AT&T’s gigabit network has also proved itself to be more press release than performance, with very limited availability in the cities where it claims to be available. Verizon FiOS, in contrast, is widely available in most of Cablevision’s service area.

Still, Comcast is hoping it can hang on to premium customers who demand the very fastest speeds and performance with targeted fiber.

“Gigabit Pro is really for those customers who have got extreme needs,” said Tony Werner, Comcast’s executive vice president and chief technology officer.

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