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Wireless Data “Traffic Explosion” is a Fraud; Network Densification Deferred

Analysys Mason logoDespite perennial claims of an unmanageable wireless data traffic tsunami threatening the future of the wireless industry, there is strong evidence wireless data traffic growth has actually flattened, increasing mostly as a result of new customers signing up for service for the first time.

Expensive wireless data plans and usage caps have left consumers more cautious about how they use wireless data, reducing the demand on wireless networks and allowing carriers to defer plans for aggressive network densification they claim is needed to keep up with demand.

Analysys Mason discovered some of the biggest victims of the myth of the traffic tidal wave are the manufacturers and dealers of small cell equipment hoping to make a killing selling solutions to the wireless traffic jam. Vendors attending the ‘Small Cell, Carrier Wi-Fi and Small Cells Backhaul World’ event will have no trouble filling the modest amount of orders they likely received this year. While there is money to made selling small cells to manage data usage in very high traffic locations including shopping and sports venues, AT&T dropped plans to deploy 40,000 small cells on its network by the end of 2015, a goal that had been a key element of its Project Velocity IP (VIP) network initiative, and no other U.S. carrier has shown as much interest in small cell technology as AT&T once did.

It turns out, Rupert Wood, principal analyst at Analysys Mason writes, most operators admit they are not experiencing much “pain” managing data growth. As a result, rapid public small-cell densification, an important indicator of heavy traffic growth, is continuously deferred.

As customers confront costly, usage-limited data plans, they are deterred from the kind of usage that might actually create widespread traffic issues for wireless carriers. Instead, carriers are primarily relying on a mix of data caps, incremental upgrades, and gradual expansion of their traditional cell tower networks to keep 4G performance stable and expand coverage areas to improve customer satisfaction. AT&T claims most of its traffic concerns were abated with the 2014 acquisition of Leap Wireless’ Cricket network, which added to AT&T’s network capacity. The Cricket network never came close to offering nationwide coverage, however.

Figure_2_webWhen pressed for specifics, many wireless carriers eventually admit they have enough spectrum to handle today’s traffic demand, but will face overburdened and insufficient capacity tomorrow. But that is not what the evidence shows.

Analysys Mason:

Nations where the use of 4G is highest are not experiencing exponential growth in mobile data traffic. In fact, they have not been doing so for some time – even in developed Asia–Pacific. In the US, the CTIA recently recorded 26% traffic growth in 2014. If this figure is correct, the average usage per US mobile data subscriber barely changed at all in 2014: the recorded number of data subscribers grew by 22%, and the expected exponential curve of data traffic has morphed into an s-curve.

In fact, with wireless pricing so high in the United States, traffic growth here is minimal in comparison to Sweden, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan. Most shift their usage to Wi-Fi as often as possible instead of chewing up their monthly data allowance.

Analysys Mason believes the forthcoming introduction of LTE-A — the more efficient next generation of 4G — will allow carriers to expand capacity on existing cell towers as quickly as future demand mounts without the need for massive numbers of new towers or small cells.

The analyst firm labels today’s cellular platform as a low-volume, high-cost network. If providers cut prices or relaxed usage caps, traffic would grow. It recommends operators should focus on increasing the supply of, and stimulating the demand for, data usage, and not simply expecting demand to come at some point in the near future. The analyst believes constructing a network of fiber-connected small cells may open the door to an exponentially higher capacity wireless network that performs better than traditional wireless data services and is robust enough to support high bandwidth applications that demand a strong level of network performance.

It would also benefit fiber to the home providers that could also market wireless backhaul service to wireless companies, helping defray the costs of constructing the fiber network and further monetizing it.

Thurman, N.Y. White Space Rural Broadband Wins “Most Innovative Project Award”

rural connectOne of the few “white space” wireless broadband projects deployed in the United States to deliver broadband to rural residents has won the “Most Innovative Project” award, presented during the 2015 New York State Broadband Summit.

The collaborative project between the Town of Thurman, Rainmaker Network Services and Frontier Communications to offer high-speed Internet access to around 65 residents is seen as a successful private-public collaboration to address rural broadband issues in sparsely populated areas.

Frontier Communications provided the trunk line for the service and a $200,000 state grant helped acquire the infrastructure to power the wireless network, which works over unoccupied UHF television channels. The 12 currently subscribing households pay $50 a month for broadband, plus a $292 equipment fee when they sign up. Plans to reach more households have been delayed by a handful of town board members opposed to the project and residents who refuse to grant easements to place equipment on private property. The project had to be re-engineered to workaround some of these difficulties.

PrintDespite the delays, there are estimates another 40-50 households will be able to get the service by the end of summer.

Customers love the service, which is faster than traditional Wireless ISP technology, and comes without speed throttling or data caps.

“By implementing an innovative white space network, Thurman found a way to provide Internet service to a rural area without the need for a large amount of costly infrastructure,” said David Salway, executive director of the New York Broadband Program Office. “Where there was once only dial-up and satellite service, Thurman citizens will have reliable high-speed Internet at affordable rates.”

 http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Carlson Wireless Technologies Rural Connect 3-2015.mp4

Carlson Wireless Technologies explains how next generation white space wireless broadband can be a cost-effective solution to the digital divide. (3:41)

Uproar Over Eastlink’s 15GB Usage Limit Brings Call to Ban Data Caps in Rural Canada

EastlinkLogoA plan to place a 15GB monthly usage cap on Eastlink broadband service in rural Nova Scotia has led to calls to ban data caps, with a NDP Member of the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia leading the charge.

NDP MLA Sterling Belliveau is calling on the Liberal government to prohibit Eastlink from placing Internet data caps on rural broadband.

“This newly announced cap really sends us back to the 1990s when it comes to technology,” Belliveau said in a news release Tuesday. “The province paid $20 million to bring this service to rural communities, and as such, the Minister of Business needs to tell Eastlink this can’t stand.”

Belliveau’s office is being flooded with complaints from residents and business owners upset about Eastlink’s data cap, which includes a $2/GB overlimit fee, up to a maximum of $20.

“Only rural customers get penalized for using the Internet,” complained Angel Flanagan on Twitter. “We can’t have Netflix or YouTube. Eastlink, stop this cap and upgrade your services and give us better Internet. We don’t need to use it less.”

“I am so angry about the Internet capping,” said Emma Davis. “Eastlink you are out of your goddamn minds. Rural Nova Scotia is entering the Dark Ages.”

rural connect

Eastlink’s Rural Connect package is a wireless service, delivering speeds up to 1.5Mbps at a cost of $46.95 a month. The service is provided where wired providers are generally not available, including Annapolis, Hants, Digby, Yarmouth, Queens, Lunenburg, Shelburne and Kings counties. Eastlink says its new usage cap was designed to accommodate “intended usage like surfing the web, reading/sending emails, social media, e-commerce, accessing government services, etc. — and NOT video streaming, for which the service was not intended.”

Belliveau

Belliveau

Eastlink’s continued dependence on a low capacity wireless network platform has conflicted with the changing needs of Internet users, who increasingly use high bandwidth applications like streaming video that can quickly clog wireless ISP traffic.

When the service was designed, the popular video streaming service “Netflix was shipping DVDs by mail,” says Eastlink spokesperson Jill Laing.

The cap was implemented to “address Internet traffic, which we believe will help provide equal access to the service and deliver a better overall rural Internet experience for customers,” Laing wrote.

Eastlink says the average customer uses about 12GB of traffic, excluding video streaming. Setting a usage cap at 15GB should not be a problem for customers who stay off Netflix, argues the ISP.

“Those who are using the service as it was intended to be used should not be impacted by monthly usage,” she wrote.

The fact Eastlink labeled some traffic legitimate while video streaming was discouraged did not go over well with customers.

“Who made them Internet Gods when our provincial tax dollars helped finance their Internet project,” asks Al Fournier. “The very fact they would suggest a 15GB cap with a straight face in 2015 should be ringing alarm bells in Ottawa about the rural broadband crisis in Canada.”

nova scotiaFournier suspects Eastlink has not invested enough to keep up with a growing Internet because the service originally advertised itself as a way to listen to online music and watch video. But he also wonders if the data cap is an attempt to force the government to fund additional upgrades to get Eastlink to back down.

“This is why wireless ISPs suck for 21st century Internet,” Fournier argues. “They are incapable of keeping up with growing traffic and bandwidth needs and need to be retired in favor of fiber.”

But at least one wireless provider in Nova Scotia does not understand why Eastlink is making a fuss over data caps.

Cape Breton’s Seaside Wireless Communications offers Internet access in Antigonish, Cape Breton, Colchester, Cumberland, Guysborough, Inverness, Pictou, Richmond and Victoria counties, along with rural parts of Halifax County, and has no data caps.

“It is not even on our radar,” said Loran Tweedie, CEO of Seaside Wireless. “This is a differential we are proud of.”

Some Nova Scotians are also questioning why their Internet service is being capped while rural Eastlink customers in Newfoundland, Labrador and Ontario can continue to use the Internet cap-free, at least for now. Others are suspicious about the future of Eastlink’s maximum cap on overlimit fees, currently $20. Canadian providers have a history of raising the maximum cap, subjecting customers to greater fees.

“It’s hard to speak to what will happen over time. We’ll certainly evaluate where we’re at later in the fall,” said Laing.

Liberal provincial Business Minister Mark Furey said he was aware of Eastlink’s rural broadband data cap but only promised to monitor the situation for now.

Starting next month, Eastlink’s rural Internet packages will be capped at 15 gigabytes of usage per month. CBC Radio Nova Scotia’s “Information Morning” program speaks with Eastlink and Port Royal resident Gary Ewer about the impact the usage cap will have. (10:15)

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

Fine Print Fun: Sprint Backs Off From Throttling All Wireless Video Traffic to 600kbps

sprint all inSprint’s all-new “All-In” wireless plan was supposed to simplify wireless pricing for consumers by bundling a leased phone, unlimited voice, data, and texting for a flat $80 a month, but customers slogging through the fine print discovered speed throttling and roaming punishments were silent passengers along for the ride:

To improve data experience for the majority of users, throughput may be limited, varied or reduced on the network. Streaming video speeds will be limited to 600Kbps at all times, which may impact quality. Sprint may terminate service if off-network roaming usage in a month exceeds: (1) 800 min. or a majority of min.; or (2) 100MB or a majority of KB. Prohibited network use rules apply—see sprint.com/termsandconditions.

Although many smaller wireless carriers also have limits on off-network roaming usage, none have proposed to permanently throttle web videos to a frustratingly slow 600kbps. At those speeds, Sprint customers could expect buffering delays or degraded HD video.

Many customers contemplating switching to the All-In plan considered the speed throttle a deal-breaker and let Sprint know through its social media accounts. Even websites friendly to Sprint were very critical of the plan:

Sprint 4G Rollout Updates:

We just aren’t seeing the new and innovative thing with All In. You already have plans that price out the same way as All In (some even less expensive). It appears as a marketing gimmick that is disguising a desperate move to limit streaming. This is not popular with your current customers and your new customers are likely going to hate you for it. After they find out.
.
Marcelo, it’s really bad that David Beckham touts unlimited movie watching and you reference unlimited watching videos in your Press Release. 600kbps video streaming can hardly run any YouTube or Netflix streaming. It will buffer significantly even with the lowest resolution settings. 600kbps is insufficient for most moderate quality video streaming on a smartphone screen.

Claure

Claure

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure got the message and announced late yesterday the video speed throttle was gone, but general network management would remain.

“At Sprint, we strive to provide customers a great experience when using our network,” said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. “We heard you loud and clear, and we are removing the 600 kbps limitation on streaming video. During certain times, like other wireless carriers, we might have to manage the network in order to reduce congestion and provide a better customer experience for the majority of our customers.”

Claure has been hinting the days of unlimited data from Sprint may be coming to an end sometime in the near future. Sprint is among the last carriers that offer a truly unlimited experience, and some customers have used Sprint as a home broadband replacement and have created congestion issues as they consume hundreds of gigabytes of wireless data, which can slow Sprint’s network to a crawl in some areas. T-Mobile experienced similar issues and recently updated their terms and conditions to apply a speed throttle after 21GB of usage during a billing cycle.

Unlimited 4G LTE customers who use more than 21 GB of data in a bill cycle will have their data usage de-prioritized compared to other customers for that bill cycle at locations and times when competing network demands occur, resulting in relatively slower speeds. See t-mobile.com/OpenInternet for details.

Customers report in high volume areas speeds drop well below 1Mbps if they are temporarily sentenced to “speed jail.”

Many of those attempting to use a wireless carrier as their primary home broadband connection do not do so because of convenience or selfishness. Often, they have no other choice because they are bypassed by cable operators and not served by DSL. But it does not take too many customers to start creating problems for wireless carriers if a nearby cell tower becomes congested. Online video is probably the most bandwidth intensive application for wireless companies, especially HD video streaming. The growth of video traffic also raises questions about whether AT&T and Verizon’s efforts to move rural customers to an all-wireless phone and data platform will work well for the companies or customers.

Charter Asks FCC to Approve Time Warner Cable/Bright House Merger; Stop the Cap! Urges Changes

charter twc bhCharter Communications last week filed its 362 page redacted Public Interest Statement laying out its case to win approval of its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, to be run under the Charter banner.

“Charter may not be a household name for all Americans, but it has developed into an industry leader by implementing customer and Internet-friendly business practices,” its statement reads.

The sprawling document is effectively a sales pitch to federal regulators to accept Charter’s contention the merger is in the public interest, and the company promises a range of voluntary and committed service upgrades it says will improve the customer experience for those becoming a part of what will be America’s second largest cable operator.

Charter’s proposed upgrades fall under several categories of direct interest to consumers:

Broadband: Charter will commit to upgrade customers to 60Mbps broadband within 30 months (about 2.5 years) after the deal is approved. That could mean some Time Warner Cable customers will still be serviced with standard speeds of 15Mbps as late as 2018. Time Warner Cable’s Maxx upgrade program will be effectively frozen in place and will continue in only those areas “consistent with Time Warner Cable’s existing deployment plans.” That will leave out a large sections of the country not on the upgrade list. Charter has committed to impose no data caps, usage-based pricing or modem fees, but only for three years, after which it will be free to change those policies at will.

Wi-Fi: Charter promises to build on Time Warner’s 100,000 Wi-Fi hotspots, most in just a few cities, and Bright House’s denser network of 45,000 hotspots with a commitment to build at least 300,000 new hotspots across Charter’s expanded service area within four years. Charter will also evaluate deploying cable modems that also act as public Wi-Fi hotspots. Comcast already offers over 500,000 hotspots with plans for many more, making Charter’s wireless commitment less ambitious than what Comcast today offers customers.

Cable-TV: Charter has committed to moving all Time Warner and Bright House systems to all-digital service within 30 months. Customers will need to lease set-top boxes designed to handle Charter’s encryption system for all cable connected televisions. Among those boxes includes Charter’s new, IP-capable Worldbox CPE and cloud-based Spectrum Guide user interface system.

Video on the Go: Charter will adopt Time Warner Cable’s streaming platform and apps to provide 300 streaming television channels to customers watching from inside their homes (a small fraction of those channels are available while outside of the home). Customers will not be able to watch on-demand recorded DVR shows from portable devices, but can program their DVRs from apps or the website.

Discount Internet for the Poor: Charter references the fact its minimum entry-level broadband speed is 60Mbps so that does not bode well for Time Warner Cable’s Everyday Low Priced Internet $14.99 slow-speed Internet plan. Instead Charter will build upon Bright House Networks’ mysterious broadband program for low-income consumers.

Based on Charter’s initial proposal, Stop the Cap! will urge state and federal regulators to require changes of these terms before approving any merger. Among them:

  1. All existing Time Warner Cable and Bright House service areas should be upgraded to meet or exceed the levels of service offered by Time Warner Cable’s Maxx program within 30 months. It is not acceptable to upgrade some customers while others are left with a much more modest upgrade program proposed by Charter;
  2. Charter must commit to Net Neutrality principles without an expiration date;
  3. Regardless of any usage-cap or usage-based pricing plans Charter may introduce after its three-year “no caps” commitment expires, Charter must permanently continue to offer unlimited, flat rate Internet service at a reasonable price as an alternative to usage-priced plans;
  4. Customers must be given the option of opting out of any leased/provided-modem Wi-Fi hotspot plan that offers a wireless connection to outside users without the customer’s consent;
  5. Charter must commit to a more specific Wi-Fi hotspot program that details towns and cities to be serviced and proposed pricing for non-customers;
  6. Charter must allow customers to use their own set-top equipment (eg. Roku, Apple TV, etc.) to receive cable television service without compulsory equipment/rental fees. The company must also commit to offering discount alternatives such as DTAs for secondary televisions and provide an option for income-challenged customers compelled to accept new equipment to continue receiving cable television service;
  7. Charter must retain Time Warner Cable’s Everyday Low Priced $14.99 Internet plan regardless of any other low-income discount program it offers. If it chooses to adopt Bright House’s program, it must broaden it to accept applications year-round, simplify the application process and eliminate any waiting periods;
  8. Charter must commit to independent verification of customer quality and service standards and adhere to any regulatory guidelines imposed by state or federal regulators as a condition of approval.
  9. Charter must commit to expansion of its cable network into a reasonable number of adjacent, unserved areas by committing a significant percentage (to be determined) of measurable financial benefits of the merger to the company or its executives towards this effort.

Stop the Cap! will closely monitor the proceedings and intends to participate on both the state (New York) and federal level to guarantee any merger provides consumers with an equitable share of the benefits. We will also be examining the impact of the merger on existing Time Warner Cable and Bright House employees and will promote merger conditions that protect jobs and limit outsourcing, especially overseas.

So Much for Competition: Rogers to Buy Independent Mobilicity to Use in Tax Savings Scheme

mobilicityMobilicity, a struggling independent wireless carrier serving some of Canada’s largest cities, will end its efforts to compete with larger wireless companies if a court approves its sale to Rogers Communications, Canada’s largest mobile operator.

Late this afternoon, sources told The Globe and Mail Mobilicity accepted an offer from Rogers in excess of $400 million to acquire the wireless company’s assets and transfer some of its wireless spectrum to Wind Mobile Corp., one of the last remaining Canadian independent carriers, to appease regulators, who could still block a deal with Rogers.

The federal government’s wireless telecom policy has stressed the importance of having at least four wireless providers competing in every region. Wind has managed to achieve that in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta, but lacks enough coverage elsewhere. Mobilicity landed itself in financial trouble soon after launch, finding the costs of network construction high for a company with below-expected customer numbers.

rogers logoMobilicity has been under creditor protection since September 2013 and has only managed to keep 157,000 active customers on its discount cellular network. Rogers is said to be interested in Mobilicity primarily as part of a tax write-off strategy. Mobilicity had non-capital loss carry forwards of $567-million by the end of 2013, which offers Rogers a reduction in its tax bill of about 25 to 30% of that amount.

Observers predict Mobilicity could continue for a time, if in name only, as part of Rogers’ larger portfolio of wireless brands. Rogers already controls two other Canadian wireless brands: Fido and Chatr.

As late as yesterday, Rogers and Telus were both fighting to acquire Mobilicity after it became clear there would be no “white knight” for Mobilicity that would satisfy competition regulators or creditors. Telus attempted an acquisition twice, only to be rebuffed by the Competition Bureau. A last-ditch effort by Wind Mobile to acquire its comparatively sized competitor was a flop with creditors who expected a higher bid.

Mobilicity’s network coverage was always one of its biggest challenges. The company only managed to offer direct coverage in parts of the Greater Toronto Area, Ottawa/Gatineau, Calgary, Edmonton, and Greater Vancouver. Mobilicity’s network also relied on very high frequencies that had a challenging time penetrating buildings, and its lack of network densification led to complaints about dropped calls and poor coverage overall.

The disposition of an earlier plan submitted by employees and Mobilicity’s founder to transform the company into an MVNO — providing independent wireless service using its acquirer’s network, isn’t known at press time.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Clock ticking on Rogers and Telus to conclude Mobilicity takeover 6-22-15.flv

As late as yesterday, BNN was reporting Telus and Rogers were both competing to acquire Mobilicity. It appears Rogers has won. (2:23)

French Economic Minister to Patrick “The Slasher” Drahi: No “Too Big to Fail” Telecoms Here

logo-bouygues-telecomToday’s offer by Altice SA to spent $11 billion to acquire France’s Bouygues Telecom and combine it with Altice-owned Numericable-SFR to create France’s largest wireless operator is not playing well in some quarters of the French government.

Patrick Drahi’s announcement he was borrowing the money to finance the deal worried France’s economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who felt Drahi’s leverage game in the mergers and acquisitions business came with a massive debt load that could have major implications on French taxpayers.

“I don’t want to create a too-big-to-fail player with such a leverage and it’s my role to … deliver such a message,” Macron said. ”If the biggest telecom operator blows up, guess what, who will pay for that? The government, which means the citizens.”

Macron is partly referring to the upcoming French wireless spectrum auction that will make more wireless frequencies available to the wireless industry. The proceeds will be paid to the French government and a default by Altice could have major implications.

Macron

Macron

Macron, himself a one-time investment banker at the Rothschild Group, said he was not fooled for a moment by Drahi’s claims the merger would benefit French consumers, especially at the overvalued price Drahi was willing to pay. Macron estimates Drahi has offered almost double the total market value of Bouygues Telecom, a conglomerate that also includes road construction and maintenance, commercial construction and television businesses — all elements Drahi would likely discard after the merger.

“All the synergies which could justify such a price are in fact about killing jobs,” Mr. Macron said. “At the end of the day, is it good for the economy? The answer is ‘no’.”

The merger deal is probably not good news for consumers either. France’s ongoing wireless price war among the four current competitors has reduced the cost of wireless service to as little as $3 a month since low-cost player Iliad broke into the French mobile market three years ago.

Virtually every French telecom analyst predicted the merger would be the beginning of the end of France’s cheap wireless service. Investors cheered the news, predicting higher priced wireless service would boost the value of their stock and increase profitability, while reducing costs. The deal’s defenders said ending the price war would attract necessary investments to upgrade French wireless networks and limit the impact of a bidding war for new wireless spectrum.

Drahi's style of indebting Altice while slashing expenses at acquired companies has earned him suspicion from French officials.

Drahi’s style of indebting Altice while slashing expenses at acquired companies has earned him suspicion from French officials.

Drahi’s style of doing business again raised concerns among several members of the French government. Drahi is notorious for severely slashing expenses at the companies he acquires, usually firing large numbers of middle managers and “redundant employees” and alienating those that remain.

But vendors complain they are treated even worse than Drahi’s employees. Electricity has been cut at Drahi-owned facilities for non-payment, employees have been expected to bring their own toilet paper to the office, and copying machines have been known to run out of toner and paper after office supply firms went unpaid for months.

After his $23 billion acquisition of SFR, the country’s second largest mobile operator, Drahi ordered SFR to stop paying suppliers’ outstanding invoices until vendors and suppliers agreed to massive discounts of as much as 80% on current and future invoices. A government mediator was forced to intervene.

Macron doubts Drahi has the interest or the financial resources to invest in Bouygues’ telecom business. Drahi has already indebted Altice with a spending spree of more than $40 billion over the last year acquiring Suddenlink Communications, SFR, and Portugal Telecom.

Drahi’s acquisition machine is fueled by “cheap debt” available from investment bankers looking for deals to meet investors’ demands for better yields from corporate bonds. Safer investments have faltered as interest rates have fallen into negative territory in parts of Europe.

alticeFrench lawmakers, particularly those aligned with France’s labor unions, accuse Drahi of acting like a bulimic debtor and feared his splurge would eventually lead to a banker-forced purge and government bailout if he cannot meet his debt obligations in the future.

“If I stop my so-called bulimic development, I won’t have any debt five years from now. That’s idiotic, I won’t have any growth for five years,” Drahi curtly replied. “I think it’s better to continue to produce growth all while keeping a foot close to the brakes and looking in the rear-view mirror.”

Finance Minister Michel Sapin scoffed at the apparent recklessness of America’s J.P. Morgan and France’s BNP Paribas investment banks who readily agreed to offer financing for the deal, despite Drahi’s existing debt.

“We must be careful not to base an empire on the sands of debt,” he warned.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Reuters French government hardens stance on Altice bid for Bouygues Telecom 6-22-15.flv

Reuters reports Altice may be vastly overpaying for Bouygues Telecom and that has the French government concerned about creating a “too big to fail” telecom operator in France. (2:04)

Net Neutrality Now in Full Effect; The Internet Is Still Working, Providers Are Still Getting Rich

netneutralityThe Federal Communications Commission’s Net Neutrality rules took full effect Friday, after a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied petitions for a temporary stay of the rules made in separate lawsuits by AT&T and other telecom industry opponents.

“This is a huge victory for Internet consumers and innovators!,” FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler exclaimed in a written statement. “There will be a referee on the field to keep the Internet fast, fair and open. Blocking, throttling, pay-for-priority fast lanes and other efforts to come between consumers and the Internet are now things of the past. The rules also give broadband providers the certainty and economic incentive to build fast and competitive broadband networks.”

The Net Neutrality rules govern both wired and wireless Internet services, and most observers predict the biggest impact will be felt by wireless customers. Wireless providers have experimented with speed throttling, priority access, data caps, and so-called “sponsored data” exempt from usage caps or usage billing. Some of these practices are now illegal under Net Neutrality rules and others are subject to increased scrutiny by the FCC.

Providers generally have not opposed rules blocking online censorship, paid prioritization, and selective speed throttling, but they are vehemently against the FCC’s catch-all “Internet general conduct rule,” that effectively allows the agency to oversee issues like interconnection agreements that connect content producers with each ISP, data caps/usage billing, and issues like zero-rating — providing an exemption from an ISP’s usage allowance for preferred content partners.

Providers argue the FCC could block innovative pricing and usage-based billing they argue customers would like to have.

Other industry groups claim Net Neutrality will lead to a significant decline in investments towards broadband upgrades and expansion. But Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge, now in the middle of a multi-billion dollar merger deal with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, disagreed, noting it will have no effect on Charter’s investment plans for its own cable systems or those it may acquire.

“The big news today is that there is no news,” said Timothy Karr, senior director of strategy for Free Press. “With Net Neutrality protections in place, there are no dramatic changes to the way the Internet works. Internet users are logging onto a network that’s open, as they’ve long expected it to be.”

Verizon is Still Pushing Voice Link Wireless Home Phone Service

Verizon Voice Link

Verizon Voice Link

The Communications Workers of America today claimed Verizon is refusing to repair broken landlines and is once again trying to steer customers to a controversial wireless landline replacement Verizon calls Voice Link.

“Verizon is systematically abandoning the legacy network and as a consequence the quality of service for millions of phone customers has plummeted,” Bob Master, CWA’s political director for the union’s northeastern region, told the Wall Street Journal.

The CWA will file public information requests this week with state regulators in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania seeking more detailed information about how Verizon is utilizing Voice Link.

Stop the Cap! has received several messages from Verizon customers over the last six months, most in New York City, that were offered Voice Link as a temporary solution to ongoing landline service problems including no dial tone, intermittently failing lines, and those with crosstalk or static problems.

“It is crazy how long Verizon can take to fix a phone line in Manhattan,” wrote our reader Helen. “The problems started in February and we lost service for what turned out to be almost a month. We had four broken repair appointments and every date they promised it would be fixed it wasn’t. Can you imagine a whole month without a phone line?”

Helen tells us that Verizon started leaving messages on her voicemail apologizing for the problems, but offered Voice Link, a wireless landline replacement in the interim.

“At least it was something I told my husband, but he didn’t like the idea because Verizon would probably forget about us after putting it in,” she said. “I won the argument but we lost in the end because Voice Link never worked properly.”

Verizon FiOS is coming to Fire Island.

Helen complained Voice Link made phone calls difficult to understand and often her phone didn’t ring when calls came in.

“Everyone sounded like they were underwater and it was hard to understand people,” she said. “Callers would tell me they heard five rings when calling me, but I only heard one, if that.”

“We switched to Time Warner Cable phone service and it was installed fast,” she said. “But then the fax machine wouldn’t work right so we still need Verizon after all.”

Helen’s apartment building is not yet wired for FiOS because of problems the building management allegedly had with Verizon technicians in the past. She is willing to sign up, but thinks Verizon is not doing itself any favors treating customers badly when their old landlines fail.

“It makes you think how long it will take them to show up if a rat chews through a fiber cable next year.”

The fact Verizon offers Voice Link to customers while phone repairs go uncompleted for extended periods worries the CWA, who accused Verizon of “steering” customers to the wireless replacement.

Verizon spokesman Rich Young says about 13,000 customers have decided to keep Voice Link as a permanent solution to their landline woes and have never gone back to their old copper service.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Verizon Voice Link A Reliable Alternative.mp4

Verizon calls its Voice Link wireless landline replacement a reliable alternative in this promotional video produced in 2013. (2:24)

Thomas MacNabb, Verizon’s director of operations, also defends Voice Link, claiming it represents Verizon giving customers the best possible service when weather-related outages arise.

But retired AT&T executive W. Kenneth Lindhorst counters Voice Link is no upgrade, relying on old 1990s technology, and does not work with credit card machines, faxes, security and home medical monitoring, or wireless data.

“They come in with the implication that they are upgrading services in the neighborhood. They do not tell you that they are switching from a regulated basic to an unregulated service,” Lindhorst said. “They don’t like to be regulated by government. They don’t like their customers to be protected by government.”

Lindhorst is part of Don’t Hang Up On New Jersey, a group fighting Verizon’s efforts to replace Superstorm Sandy-damaged telephone lines with Voice Link. Two bills in the New Jersey legislature: A2459/S278 are seeking a one year moratorium on Verizon replacing damaged copper wiring with any alternative technology, including wireless, until further studies can be done.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Verizon Voice Link Hanging Up On NJ.mp4

Verizon Voice Link is “hanging up on New Jersey” according to a consumer advocacy group. An interview with retired AT&T executive W. Kenneth Lindhorst suggests Verizon wants to use the service to escape regulatory oversight. (2:00)

Atlanta Reporter Discovers the Insidious World of ALEC, Gets Thrown Out of His Hotel Room

Chatham County Sheriff's Deputy O'Berry ejects a WXIA-TV news crew from a Savannah, Ga. hotel room at the direction of a senior official of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Chatham County Sheriff’s Deputy O’Berry ejects a WXIA-TV news crew from a Savannah, Ga. hotel room at the direction of a senior official of the American Legislative Exchange Council. (Image: WXIA-TV)

When an Atlanta news crew from WXIA-TV asked questions about a closed-door meeting involving Georgia lawmakers, wireless industry lobbyists, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, Bill Meierling, vice president of communications for ALEC, directed four armed sheriff’s deputies to kick the news crew out of their hotel rooms and escort them to the street.

“I am a guest of the hotel, sir,” WXIA reporter Brendan Keefe told Chatham County sheriff’s deputy A. O’Berry.

“Not for long, we’ll take care of that,” responded O’Berry.

“Are we violating a law here?” Keefe asked another deputy who told them to gather their belongings.

“Don’t say nothing,” O’Berry told the other deputy.

“To protect Republicans and serve giant corporations,” said Atlanta resident Larry Jefferson, who tipped us off. “To watch a hack from ALEC wave his arm and see armed deputies throw a reporter who paid for his room out of a hotel for just asking questions should wake up every American about where this country has gone.”

In a resort hotel in Savannah, the newest crop of bills likely to end up before Georgia lawmakers are being written by corporate lobbyists for introduction by friendly legislators willing to do their bidding.

At ALEC’s Communications & Technology Task Force Luncheon, Keefe spotted Rep. Ben Harmon hobnobbing with a lobbyist for CTIA, the giant wireless lobby. When he approached Harmon, Keefe was pulled out of the room. He soon found Meierling in the lobby being watched over by four off duty Chatham County deputies paid to protect ALEC’s event.

“Turn off the camera,” Meierling demanded.

alec-logo-smWhen Keefe refused, Meierling told him he was going to have him thrown out of the hotel.

Keefe persisted and asked who was paying for the legislators to attend. “Lobbyists?” Keefe asked.

“No,” Meierling replied.

Unfortunately for Meierling, looser lips from an unidentified New England legislator and two lobbyists in the hotel bar the night before suggested otherwise. One lobbyist admitted she paid a higher fee to be there to help subsidize legislators’ travel expenses.

Meierling

Meierling

When confronted with that information, Meierling sighed deeply and waved over the officers to do their duty… to ALEC.

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” Deputy O’Berry immediately demanded as he walked up to the reporter. He was uninterested in the fact Keefe was a paid guest at the hotel. Keefe and WXIA had to go, to protect the interests and the secrecy of a group that is responsible for writing many state laws across the country.

“It’s a corporate bill mill,” said former ALEC member Sen. Nan Orreck. “The truth be told, they write the bills.”

“There are votes taken that have the corporate folks at the same table voting with the legislators on what bills to pick and that at its core just screams out inappropriate,” Orreck said. She left the group.

For the convenience of legislators, ALEC model bills come to their desks already written. All a legislator has to do is fill in the name of his or her state on a blank line and the bill is ready for introduction. To help educate lawmakers about the hot button issues bothering America’s largest corporations, ALEC’s legislative members — almost all Republicans — are paid “scholarships” in the thousands of dollars to attend resort meetings.

David Ralston, the speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, even penned a fundraising letter on ALEC letterhead looking for $5,000 contributions to send fellow lawmakers to ALEC’s annual meetings.

“O’Berry and those other deputies should be suspended, fired, and then thrown in jail for dereliction of duty,” Jefferson believes. “These deputies either don’t know or don’t care about the law, something O’Berry was well aware of when he told another deputy to keep his mouth shut.”

“ALEC exists to subvert our democracy and any identified member of this group in public office should no longer be there.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WXIA Atlanta ALEC -- The Backroom Where Laws Are Born 5-20-15.mp4

WXIA-TV in Atlanta introduces viewers to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that can summon sheriff’s deputies to toss a reporter out of a hotel where he was a paid guest just for asking too many embarrassing questions. (6:31)

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