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Residents Rebel Against Verizon’s “Godzilla” Small Cell Poles, Previewing 5G Battles to Come

Judith Monroy looks up at a recently installed Verizon small cell signal booster (upper right) placed a few dozen feet from her front door. It was accompanied by a 5-foot high utility cabinet (lower left) containing backup batteries to power Verizon’s equipment for up to four hours in the event of a blackout. (Image courtesy: The Press Democrat)

A preview of the possible aesthetics battle of future 5G small cells that are expected to proliferate across America’s cities and towns in the coming years is taking place in Santa Rosa, Calif., where residents and some city officials reacted with surprise when Verizon began attaching “small cell” wireless repeater equipment on 72 city-owned light and utility-owned poles around the city. While not exactly the same at the 5G equipment Verizon is preparing to install in Sacramento to launch its forthcoming fixed wireless service, the similar-sized equipment turned out to look nothing like what was promised by Verizon officials. But city officials learned this only after the project was approved by a 7-0 City Council vote in 2017.

In January, one resident learned about the sudden arrival of Verizon Wireless’ equipment when she opened her front door one morning to confront a utility pole decorated with antenna equipment and a 5-foot high utility box about 30 feet away from her home.

“I’m planning to put this house on the market and the mechanisms on the telephone pole and in the ground are very aggressive and ominous-looking,” said Judith Monroy, 75. “You can’t miss them.”

Within days, someone vandalized the utility box, spray painting the word “no” and “stop this” for all to see.

In many areas, 5G small cells will be installed on utility or light poles in the front yards of residential homes. Wireless companies will want to place equipment on poles that are not obstructed by foliage or tall, nearby infrastructure, which can block signals. Requests for aggressive tree trimming to remove obstacles, within the limits permitted by local ordinances and the policies of the pole owner, are also likely. This is certain to create controversy if property owners find their trees or shrubbery removed or aggressively pruned. But for many others, the appearance of the new equipment is enough to provoke protests.

When some property owners discovered Verizon was also adorning electric utility poles with its cellular equipment, some started referring to them as “PG&E’s Godzilla Poles.”

‘PG&E Pole Godzilla’ (Image courtesy: The Press Democrat)

The utility poles hosting Verizon’s equipment have new “branches” attached several feet below pre-existing utility wiring, onto which small cell antennas are attached.

As more equipment gets installed, the more concerned citizens are phoning up city hall to complain.

Last week, city officials bowed to citizen pressure and temporarily suspended Verizon Wireless’ antenna upgrade program. While some residents cited health and safety fears from electromagnetic radiation — a fear repeatedly debunked — many more were upset by the aesthetics of the equipment and wondered if the city got a raw deal.

“I think it is time to push the pause button on this installation in our neighborhoods,” said John Cushman, a resident of Hidden Valley. “This project has been rushed and the only urgency I can see is financial.”

Verizon is paying the city $350 per pole, an amount some local residents consider absurdly low. As opposition mounted, some uncomfortable members of City Council that originally voted in favor of Verizon’s plan changed their minds, according to The Press Democrat:

Neighbors are not happy about Verizon’s new equipment. (Image courtesy: The Press Democrat)

“I am supportive of putting the brakes on this,” Councilman Tom Schwedhelm said. “I’m not convinced that we’ve done everything that we can so we can look anyone in the face and say ‘Yes it’s safe there. It’s safe to be in front of my house.’ ”

Councilman Jack Tibbetts said he viewed the rollout as a “commercial enterprise” that perhaps was better suited to commercial areas given the city’s stated goal of helping strengthen the city’s wireless infrastructure to foster entrepreneurialism.

“I’d like to see residential zones be carved out in our ordinance,” Tibbetts said to loud applause in a chamber full of people wearing bright yellow stickers reading “Caution: Cell tower microwave frequency hazard.”

But Verizon may have positioned itself to move forward regardless of what the city has in mind.

The company announced it would continue installation at 25 previously approved sites where it already has permits in-hand. Verizon has yet to obtain permits to place equipment at two other PG&E sites and 31 city light poles.

The city will not have much say over pole attachments on PG&E’s infrastructure, which is governed on the state level by the California Public Utilities Commission.

If the city denies Verizon’s request to install its equipment on city-owned light poles, the company could just move those antennas to other PG&E poles nearby instead.

Verizon Begins Wave of Call Center Closures, Layoffs, in Transition to “Home Based Agents”

Phillip Dampier February 26, 2018 Consumer News, Verizon, Wireless Broadband 3 Comments

Verizon has announced a wave of call center closures in several states that will results in layoffs, although some employees will be invited to reapply for their position if they are willing to move to another state or continue their work as a “Home Based Agent” taking customer service calls from a home office.

Verizon is cutting back on customer service call centers, after looking for ways to cut expenses and direct customers to use “self-service” options on Verizon’s website. For those who still want to speak to ‘a real person,’ increased hold times may be the result. Verizon maintains 16 call centers around the country, with at least six scheduled to close and a seventh closure already in progress.

Affected customer service call centers:

  • Mankato, Minn. — Originally a call center for Midwest Wireless and Alltel before being acquired by Verizon Wireless, about half of the estimated 600 workers will be invited to continue as Home Based Agents, while others will be laid off or invited to apply for another position if they are within 90 miles of another Verizon call center and are willing to commute or relocate. Just a few years ago, this call center was desperate to hire new workers, handing out lucrative signing bonuses and other incentives. The center is expected to close by this September.
  • North Charleston, S.C. — Formerly a Montgomery Ward department store, Verizon Wireless repurposed the 150,000 square foot facility and hired up to 1,000 workers when it opened in 2004. About 500 workers are being invited to transition into Home Based Agents, “supporting customers the same way and with similar tools as if they were working from a traditional brick-and-mortar call center,” according to a Verizon spokesperson. Verizon will save almost $2 million a year in rent closing the call center. The layoffs and call center shutdown are expected to be complete by September.
  • Huntsville, Ala. — The call center in Research Park will be shuttered “in the coming months,” with workers invited to participate in the Home Based Agents program. Verizon claims it will cover “most” of the equipment and supplies needed to work from home, and will pay a stipend of $65 a month for internet access. But other ongoing home office-related expenses, including electricity, furniture, insurance, and other related costs will the employee’s responsibility.
  • Albuquerque, N.M. — Verizon Wireless will shut down its 197,000 square foot call center by October 2019, with workers selected for its Home Based Agents program transitioned out of the building by May of 2019. At least 1,000 workers are likely affected. The call center cost $30 million to open in 2006 and by 2009 employed 1,600 workers.
  • Hilliard, Ohio — A Verizon call center that formerly absorbed a lot of displaced Verizon call center employees across the region is itself shutting down by November of this year. Qualified workers are invited to continue as Home Based Agents. Verizon employees complain Home Based Agents lack job security and are usually among the first to be laid off in any future downsizing actions. Some recommend relocating to another call center instead of working from home.
  • Little Rock, Ark. — Verizon has informed its 600 Little Rock call center employees they are shutting down the office by this October, and workers that want to stay with Verizon will be able to transition to a work-at-home model or apply for a job elsewhere in the company.
  • Franklin, Tenn. — Already downsizing, this call center will be shuttered sometime this year, with workers invited to apply for the Home Based Agents program. But some workers with experience working from home warn there are significant downsides: “You can’t relocate to another call center or move to the Home Based Agents program if you are on ‘corrective action’ (for attendance or performance),” said one worker. Those employees will lose their jobs and receive severance packages. “Moral of the story, don’t let yourself get an attendance warning for your kids having the flu [thinking] ‘I will [accept a write-up]’ because if your center closes, you cannot relocate.”

Verizon spokesperson Jenny Weaver told the Albuquerque Journal a very different story about home agents.

“At other places, we’ve found it’s a satisfaction driver for employees,” Weaver said. “Happy employees translates to happy customers, so we’re excited about this.”

AT&T Replacing Storm/Wildfire Damaged Copper Wiring With Fiber Optics

Phillip Dampier February 14, 2018 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon 1 Comment

AT&T is staying committed to its wireline network in the face of two significant natural disasters by replacing beyond-repair copper wiring with fiber optics.

The phone company has recently notified the Federal Communications Commission its existing facilities in parts of California that were damaged by last year’s wildfires will be replaced by fiber optic infrastructure.

Fierce Telecom notes customers affected by the Nuns, Tubbs, Redwood and Sulphur fires will be served by a new optical fiber network in portions of Sonoma, Ukiah, Santa Rosa, and Lower Lake.

“The circuits will be transferred to fiber based NGDLC systems,” AT&T said in a FCC filing. “The transfer of these circuits does not compromise the capacity of the cabinets.”

In Florida, as a result of last September’s Hurricane Irma, AT&T will migrate its irreparably damaged copper wire network that strings throughout the Florida Keys to a new fiber to the home network.

AT&T’s decision to maintain its wired networks comes in contrast to Verizon’s 2013 attempt to scrap its copper facilities on Fire Island, N.Y. and certain New Jersey barrier islands left devastated by Superstorm Sandy. Verizon hoped to replace traditional landline service with a wireless alternative known as VoiceLink. A firestorm of protests over the service’s limitations, sound quality, and reliability forced Verizon to scrap the plan in New York and install its FiOS fiber-to-the-home network instead.

New Verizon FiOS Triple Play Customers Get Free Netflix for a Year

Phillip Dampier February 14, 2018 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Verizon No Comments

To celebrate the addition of Netflix to Verizon FiOS’ set top boxes, Verizon is giving new customers signing up online a free year of Netflix.

The lowest priced promotional package that includes the Netflix offer combines Verizon’s Custom TV package, 150/150 Mbps broadband, and Unlimited Nationwide Calling phone service for $79.99 a month. The free Netflix offer still applies if a customer chooses to upgrade certain elements of their package at a higher price. A 2-year contact applies with an early termination fee. Consult the Verizon website for more details.

Verizon FiOS TV customers can watch Netflix by tuning to channel 838 and authenticating their Netflix subscription by logging in. Once signed in, FiOS customers can access Netflix without having to use a streaming device or Smart TV.

The deal is valid for both new and existing Netflix customers, and is a savings of $10.99 a month for 12 months.

Verizon does offer some fine print, however:

Offer avail. 1/18 – 4/18. Valid for 12 mos. of Netflix service on the $10.99/mo. “2 Screen Streaming Plan” (total value of $131.88). New or existing Netflix subscription & compatible device req’d. and must maintain qualifying FiOS services for 60 days after installation, with no past-due balance. A one-time bill credit of $131.88 will be applied directly to customer’s Netflix account. Must be redeemed by 8/31/18. Not redeemable or refundable for cash. Value may be applied to a different Netflix streaming plan; exchanges in this manner may alter the duration of the offer. Netflix Service price plans subject to change. Not available to subscribers billed through iTunes or Google play unless subscriber begins a new subscription billed via alternate payment provider or via Netflix.com.


Verizon Thumbs Its Nose at FCC: Will Lock Smartphones Despite Agreement Prohibiting It

Verizon Wireless, ignoring its agreement with the Federal Communications Commission not to lock handsets, will soon stop selling unlocked phones, at least temporarily preventing customers from taking their phones to another carrier or overseas without Verizon’s consent.

Verizon’s ‘SIM Lockdown’ is expected to begin later this year in a move Verizon is calling a “theft control measure.”

Verizon Wireless is the only major carrier that does not lock its smartphones, but that policy was agreed to as a condition of its acquisition of 700 MHz spectrum licenses in 2008, which included a prohibition on phone locking. But Verizon seems to think its new locking policy doesn’t break any rules or that nobody will care.

“We’re taking steps to combat this theft and reduce fraud. These steps will make our phones exponentially less desirable to criminals,” Tami Erwin, executive vice president of wireless operations for Verizon, said in a statement to CNET.

After the change takes effect, Verizon Wireless customers will find their new handsets locked and unable to be used with other carriers until activated on a new or existing Verizon Wireless account. After that, Verizon says it will still keep the phone locked for an unspecified waiting period to prevent cell phone thieves from stealing a phone, activating it with a stolen identity, and then selling it for profit. Verizon won’t say exactly when customers will be able to get their devices unlocked.

With an industry friendly Republican majority on the Federal Communications Commission, Verizon may be attempting to test the waters to see if it can successfully walk away from its agreement with the FCC without penalty or even win itself a waiver. But FCC rules don’t appear to give Verizon the leeway it needs to unilaterally act:

§ 27.16 Network access requirements for Block C in the 746-757 and 776-787 MHz bands.

(a)Applicability. This section shall apply only to the authorizations for Block C in the 746-757 and 776-787 MHz bands assigned and only if the results of the first auction in which licenses for such authorizations are offered satisfied the applicable reserve price.

(b)Use of devices and applications. Licensees offering service on spectrum subject to this section shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice on the licensee’s C Block network, except:

(1) Insofar as such use would not be compliant with published technical standards reasonably necessary for the management or protection of the licensee’s network, or

(2) As required to comply with statute or applicable government regulation.

(c)Technical standards. For purposes of paragraph (b)(1) of this section:

(1) Standards shall include technical requirements reasonably necessary for third parties to access a licensee’s network via devices or applications without causing objectionable interference to other spectrum users or jeopardizing network security. The potential for excessive bandwidth demand alone shall not constitute grounds for denying, limiting or restricting access to the network.

(2) To the extent a licensee relies on standards established by an independent standards-setting body which is open to participation by representatives of service providers, equipment manufacturers, application developers, consumer organizations, and other interested parties, the standards will carry a presumption of reasonableness.

(3) A licensee shall publish its technical standards, which shall be non-proprietary, no later than the time at which it makes such standards available to any preferred vendors, so that the standards are readily available to customers, equipment manufacturers, application developers, and other parties interested in using or developing products for use on a licensee’s networks.

(d)Access requests.

(1) Licensees shall establish and publish clear and reasonable procedures for parties to seek approval to use devices or applications on the licensees’ networks. A licensee must also provide to potential customers notice of the customers’ rights to request the attachment of a device or application to the licensee’s network, and notice of the licensee’s process for customers to make such requests, including the relevant network criteria.

(2) If a licensee determines that a request for access would violate its technical standards or regulatory requirements, the licensee shall expeditiously provide a written response to the requester specifying the basis for denying access and providing an opportunity for the requester to modify its request to satisfy the licensee’s concerns.

(e)Handset locking prohibited. No licensee may disable features on handsets it provides to customers, to the extent such features are compliant with the licensee’s standards pursuant to paragraph (b)of this section, nor configure handsets it provides to prohibit use of such handsets on other providers’ networks.

(f)Burden of proof. Once a complainant sets forth a prima facie case that the C Block licensee has refused to attach a device or application in violation of the requirements adopted in this section, the licensee shall have the burden of proof to demonstrate that it has adopted reasonable network standards and reasonably applied those standards in the complainant’s case. Where the licensee bases its network restrictions on industry-wide consensus standards, such restrictions would be presumed reasonable.

Verizon’s old unlocking policy.

Verizon does not need to lock phones to control stolen device trafficking. An earlier initiative by the wireless industry tracks stolen phone IMEI and other identification numbers that are needed to activate service. If a carrier gets a request to activate service on a phone or device with a suspect IMEI number, the carrier can refuse service, rendering the phone useless on the stolen goods market. But Verizon may have other motives in mind.

“This is going to make it harder for rivals to poach subscribers from Verizon,” Avi Greengart, an analyst at Global Data, told CNET, because customers bringing their Verizon smartphones to other carriers may find they cannot use them on the competitor’s network. The phones also won’t work if a customer travels abroad and uses a SIM card purchased in the destination country, which could offer substantially lower rates than Verizon’s international calling and data plans or roaming.

Few consumers would be willing to buy new phones for $600+ just to switch carriers, a fact Verizon is likely well aware will keep customers loyal to them.

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