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Verizon Accuses AT&T of “Rigging the Game to Stifle True Competition”

It is rare for AT&T and Verizon to feud in public, even rarer for one company to accuse the other of being anti-competitive, but that is precisely what happened last week in California as the two companies sparred over building a next generation wireless network for first responders.

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is a government program to provide emergency responders with priority access to the first nationwide, high-speed wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety. AT&T won an extremely lucrative contract to build, operate and maintain the network in states that “opt in” to AT&T/FirstNet’s proposal. But AT&T is not building a separate wireless network apart from its existing wireless infrastructure. It is using $6.5 billion in public taxpayer dollars and free access to an extremely valuable segment of nationwide 700MHz spectrum, known as Band 14, to improve its existing wireless network for individual customers and the first responders that will get priority access in the event of an emergency.

For AT&T to benefit the most financially, it has to convince each of 56 states and territories to “opt in” to its FirstNet deployment plan or do nothing at all, which will result in that state or territory automatically being enrolled in AT&T’s plan. If a state elects to opt out of AT&T’s plan, the wireless company cannot get free access to Band 14 or collect the taxpayer dollars designated for that area.

FirstNet is one of AT&T’s most lucrative contracts in years, and the phone company is doing everything possible to win over state officials in hopes they will embrace the FirstNet plan. It has been a successful effort with more than 30 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands purposely opting in, and more than a dozen still studying AT&T’s offer. To date, no state has opted out.

Verizon, which did not bid on the original FirstNet contract, has not walked away from providing public safety communications and has spent a considerable amount of its advertising budget to promote Verizon’s own services to first responders, designed to assure they get first priority to clogged cellular networks in the event of an emergency. In August, Verizon announced it will privately finance its own “private network core” to directly serve police, fire, ambulance, and related agencies. Verizon’s first responder network will be separate from Verizon’s public network, but the company has also promised full priority access to its public LTE 4G network across the country.

Verizon’s counteroffer comes without taxpayer financing, yet will offer many of the same services as AT&T FirstNet, without costing the country more than $6 billion. Among the services Verizon will give away for free: priority/preemption access, which means in an emergency, first priority will go to emergency officials even if it means dropping your cell phone call or data session. Verizon is also bolstering its Push-to-Talk Plus service, which works with existing land mobile radio networks. This will allow first responders to use the “walkie talkie”-type features already a familiar part of their radio equipment.

Verizon’s offer would seem to be a good deal for consumers and governments in states like New York and California that have yet to opt in to AT&T FirstNet, and in California, Verizon was invited to bid to create an alternative network in a potential “opt out” scenario. Verizon’s director of public-safety solutions group – David Wiederecht, promised the state Verizon would submit its bid by the state deadline, which was last Wednesday. By Friday, California officials leaked word Verizon had reneged on that commitment and did not participate, a fact Verizon later confirmed.

Verizon accused AT&T and FirstNet of colluding to rig the “Request for Proposals” process in California with requirements that were impossible for anyone except AT&T to meet.

“Vigorous competition that allows the industry and the marketplace to continue to grow and innovate is in the best interest of public safety and should be everyone’s shared goal,” Verizon said in a written statement. “Instead, we believe FirstNet and its corporate partner are rigging the game in order to stifle true competition.”

Urgent Communications reported that the among the most onerous requirements imposed by AT&T and FirstNet is that all emergency communications in an “opt out” state must be sent to the FirstNet LTE core network operated by AT&T. That would mean that regardless of who builds and operates the network, AT&T still remains at the core of FirstNet.

“We’re not prepared to have our public safety customers run on a network where we can’t control their ability to connect or their customer experience,” according to the Verizon spokesperson.

Verizon suggests the reason for 36 states to have opted-in to AT&T’s proposal may not be the result of love for AT&T, but rather the punishments the states and territories risk if they don’t sign on with AT&T.

Don Brittingham, Verizon’s vice president of public safety, testified at a Pennsylvania hearing regarding FirstNet and warned states could be effectively stuck with AT&T indefinitely.

“States should not be required to use the network core deployed by (AT&T) FirstNet, as such a requirement would put the state in the untenable position of being driven by the interests and decisions of FirstNet’s commercial partner—a condition that would be unattractive to any prospective state commercial partner,” Brittingham said.

AT&T has also borrowed from its customer preservation policies on the retail side with terms and conditions that could be financially devastating to states that decide to look elsewhere.

Because any competing provider is required to use AT&T’s network core to be a part of FirstNet, AT&T can set whatever price it chooses for third party access. But most onerous of all is the penalty imposed if a state opts out of AT&T FirstNet and chooses a vendor that does not meet every FirstNet guideline. In that case, a state would be required to come hat in hand back to AT&T/FirstNet for service that does meet the guidelines AT&T/FirstNet wrote. In California, that penalty fee would amount to as much as $15 billion, more than twice the amount taxpayers are paying AT&T to build out FirstNet in at least 36 states and territories.

Taken from a FirstNet fact sheet.

AT&T defended the amount of the penalty fee, claiming it has to build or enhance its network to provide public safety communications for at least 25 years, but critics contend the penalty is so risky, most states will opt for the path of least resistance and legal exposure and sign on with AT&T/FirstNet.

Verizon’s complaints about the bidding process received a strong rebuke from AT&T.

“Building a state-of-the art network that meets the needs of first responders is hard. Clearly, AT&T is up for the task,” Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president for FirstNet, said in a statement provided to Urgent Communications. “We’re noticing a pattern: Verizon says they have public safety’s back, but when it comes to the heavy lifting, they are nowhere to be found.”

But then, neither are any competing providers.

Wall Street Uneasy About Future 5G Broadband Competition; Ponders Idea of 5G Monopolies

Super monopoly?

Some Wall Street analysts are pondering ideas on how to limit forthcoming 5G wireless home broadband, suggesting providers might want to set up local monopolies, keeping competition to a minimum and profits to a maximum.

Verizon’s presentation at its annual Analyst Day meeting drew little praise from analysts and investors in attendance, “landing like a thud” to quote one person at the event.

The issue concerning Wall Street is what impact 5G wireless broadband will have on the internet access marketplace, which is currently a comfortable monopoly or duopoly in most American cities. That may radically change if the country’s four wireless companies each launch their own 5G services, designed to replace wired home broadband services from the cable and phone companies.

This week Verizon formally announced Sacramento would be the first city in the country to get its forthcoming 5G service, with an additional four of five unnamed cities to follow sometime next year.

Verizon will advertise 1,000Mbps service that will be “priced competitively” with current internet providers in the market. But Verizon intends to market itself as “a premium provider,” which means pricing is likely to be higher than one might expect. Verizon claims they intend to roll out 5G service to 30 million households — 25-30% of the country, making Verizon a prominent provider of fixed wireless home broadband service.

But analysts panned Verizon’s presentation for raising more questions than the company was prepared to answer. Barron’s shared the views of several analysts who were underwhelmed.

Notably, Craig Moffett from Moffett-Nathanson was particularly concerned about how to rate 5G service for his investor clients, and more importantly to them, how to forecast revenue and profit.

Moffett

The biggest problem for Moffett is the prospect of additional competition, and what that will do to each current (and future) provider’s share of customers and its revenue. If every major wireless carrier enters the 5G home broadband business, that will raise the prospective number of ISPs available to consumers to six or more — four wireless carriers competing with the phone and cable company. That is potentially very dangerous to big profits, especially if a competitive price war emerges.

“Let’s assume that AT&T is just as aggressive about this opportunity as Verizon,” Moffett told his investor clients. “Will they enter the same markets as Verizon, or different ones? […] If multiple players enter each market, all targeting the same 25-30% [where 5G service will be sold]. Well, what then? Let’s suppose the 30% market share estimate is right. Wouldn’t it be now shared among two, three, or even four [5G fixed wireless broadband] providers?”

Moffett gently proposes a concept where this profit-bruising competition can be abated by following the cable television model — companies agree to stay out of each others’ markets, giving consumers a choice of just one 5G provider in each city instead of four.

“There’s a completely different future where each operator targets different markets […] Let’s say that AT&T decides to skip Sacramento. After all, Verizon will have gotten there first,” Moffett suggests. “If the required share of the [fixed wireless] market is close to Verizon’s estimated 30%, then there is only room for one provider. So AT&T decides to do Stockton, about 40 miles to the south. Verizon would then skip Stockton, but might do Modesto, twenty miles further south… and then AT&T would then skip Modesto and instead target Fresno… unless Sprint or T-Mobile got there first.”

But Moffett is thinking even further ahead, by suggesting wireless carriers might be able to stop spending billions on building and expanding their competing 4G LTE networks when they could all share a single provider’s network in each city. That idea could work if providers agreed to creating local monopolies.

“That would create a truly bizarre market dynamic that is almost unimaginable today, where each operator ‘owned’ different cities, not just for [5G] but also for 4G LTE. If this kind of patchwork were to come to pass, the only viable solution might then be for companies to reciprocally wholesale their networks. You can use mine in Modesto if I can use yours in Fresno. To state the obvious, there is almost no imaginable path to that kind of an outcome today.”

The reason providers have not attempted this kind of “one provider” model in the past is because former FCC commissioners would have never supported the idea of retiring wireless competition and creating a cable monopoly-like model for wireless service. But things have changed dramatically with the advent of Chairman Ajit Pai, who potentially could be sold on the idea of granting local monopolies on the theory it will “speed 5G deployment” to a large number of different cities. Just as independent wireless providers lease access on the four largest carriers today (MVNO agreements), AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint could sell wholesale access to their networks to each other, allowing massive cost savings, which may or may not be passed on to customers.

But it would also bring an end to network redundancy, create capacity problems, and require every carrier to be certain their networks were interoperable with other wireless companies. The federal government’s emergency first responder program also increasingly depends on a wireless network AT&T is building that would give them first priority access to wireless services. How that would work in a city “designated” to get service from Verizon is unclear.

Restricting competition would protect profits and sharing networks would slash expenses. But such prospects were not enough to assuage Wall Street’s insatiable hunger for maximum profits. That is why analysts were unimpressed with Verizon’s presentation, which “lacked the financials” — precise numbers that explain how much the network will cost, how quickly it will be paid off, and how much revenue it can earn for investors.

A small cell attached to a light pole.

Verizon did sell investors on the idea 5G will put an end to having to wire fiber optics to every home. The service will also keep costs to a minimum by selling retail activation kits customers will install themselves — avoiding expensive truck rolls. Billing and account activation will also be self-service.

Verizon also announced a new compact 4G/5G combined antenna, which means 5G service can be supplied through existing macro/small cell 4G equipment. Verizon will be able to supplement that network by adding new 5G nodes where it becomes necessary.

Investor expectations are that 5G will cost substantially less than fiber to the home service, will not cost massive amounts of new investment dollars to deploy in addition to maintaining existing 4G services, will not substantially undercut existing providers, and will allow Verizon to market 21st century broadband speeds to its customers bypassed for FiOS fiber service. It will also threaten rural phone companies, where customers could easily replace slow speed DSL in favor of what Verizon claims will be “gigabit wireless.”

Despite that, Instinet’s Jeffrey Kvaal was not wowed by Verizon’s look to the future.

“Verizon’s initial fixed wireless implementation seems clunky and it withheld its pricing strategy,” Kvaal told his clients. He believes fixed wireless broadband will cost Verizon an enormous amount of money he feels would be better spent on Verizon’s mobile network. “Verizon glossed over 5-10x LTE upgrades that are already offering ~100Mbps of fully mobile service at current prices to current phones without line of sight. A better 5G story might be to free up sufficient LTE capacity to boost the unlimited cap from 25GB to 100GB for, say, a $25 premium. The ‘cut the cord’ concept was successful in voice, in video, and should be in broadband.”

Sprint/T-Mobile Merger is Dead

Phillip Dampier October 30, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Sprint, T-Mobile, Wireless Broadband 2 Comments

After months of negotiations, it all came down to a matter of control.

Softbank Group Corp., owner of Sprint Corp., has abandoned a long-expected merger between Sprint and Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile USA, citing concerns about which company would have effective control of the combined wireless carrier.

At the 11th hour, Softbank’s board of directors in Japan expressed concern the merger would leave Deutsche Telekom with majority control of Sprint’s assets and network, leaving Softbank effectively out of the U.S. market at a time when companies like Sprint and T-Mobile are preparing for the future launch of 5G wireless networks that will likely be a backbone for the future multi-billion dollar Internet of Things (IoT) marketplace. Multiple sources have told both Japanese and American newspapers that SoftBank’s founder and CEO Masayoshi Son had always been reluctant to give up control of Sprint, but had not made the issue a potential deal breaker until the talks were nearly complete and final decisions had to be made.

Deutsche Telekom considered the issue practically non-negotiable, because the international telecommunications company has relied heavily on the financial performance of T-Mobile USA to brighten its financial reports. Deutsche Telekom subsidiaries in Europe have struggled financially as a result of competition and other factors and international accounting rules require DT to have control of assets it wishes to include in its financial reports. Had T-Mobile ceded control of the merged company to Softbank, it could not include its U.S. business in its financial reports.

T-Mobile USA is regarded as the stronger of the two companies, and its German parent is very happy with its U.S. subsidiary. Most analysts argue Sprint needs the merger with T-Mobile far more than T-Mobile needs Sprint, so there was reportedly little disappointment from Deutsche Telekom over the merger talks achieving an impasse. To calm nervous investors, Softbank plans to announce it will step up its investment in Sprint to improve its network and coverage. Sprint customers have heard such promises before, but the fourth largest wireless carrier has continued to lose market share, mostly to the benefit of T-Mobile. Independent tests have shown Sprint’s network often performs worse than its three major competitors in many areas.

T-Mobile Increases True Unlimited to 50GB a Month Before Speed Throttling

T-Mobile today announced it was boosting the amount of data its “unlimited data” customers can use before they are subject to speed throttling from 32GB to 50GB, effective Sept. 20, 2017.

“Meanwhile, Verizon and AT&T sit at a meager 22GB, meaning Un-carrier customers can use more than 2x the data before prioritization kicks in,” wrote Neville Ray, T-Mobile’s chief technology officer. “Now, 50GB of data usage means a T-Mobile customer is basically the top 1% of data users, and to put it in context, you could stream a full two hours of Netflix every single day – that’s 30 SD movies – and never even reach that point! You’d still have roughly 8GB to go.”

Like other wireless companies, “unlimited data” does not actually mean “unlimited.” Providers allot a certain allowance of truly unlimited data which, once exceeded, subjects the customer to speed-reducing “throttles” until the next bill cycle begins. T-Mobile claims it only throttles customers when a customer exceeds their “prioritization” allowance — 50GB as of tomorrow — and the cell tower they are using is currently experiencing congestion.

“When T-Mobile customers who use the most data hit these prioritization points during the month, they get in line behind other customers who have used less data and may experience reduced speeds,” Ray wrote. “But this impacts them only very rarely, like when there is a big line, and it resets every month. If you have a lot of congestion in your network (I’m looking at you, Verizon & AT&T), these lines can be long and deprioritized customers can be waiting a long time.”

No wireless company will provide data on which cell towers are likely to experience the most congestion, how many customers are speed throttled, or what speeds customers will get for how long before the throttle usually drops. But it is definitely harder to hit 50GB than 22 or 32GB, which means fewer customers are likely to find their wireless data connections throttled.

There has been no response yet from T-Mobile’s competitors — AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon.

Verizon Wireless’ Great Rural Purge: Tens of Thousands Losing Cell Service

Herding rural customers off Verizon Wireless.

Nearly 20,000 rural Verizon Wireless customers in states like Maine, Michigan, North Dakota, and Montana are being notified their cell service is being terminated because they spend too much time roaming outside of a Verizon Wireless coverage area.

Verizon Wireless won’t say exactly how many customers it recently sent letters to advising them that because they have used “a significant amount of data while roaming off the Verizon Wireless network,” their service will be terminated Oct. 17.

“We’re providing advance notice to these customers so they have plenty of time to port their wireless number to another company before their Verizon Wireless service ends,” Verizon spokesperson Laura Meritt stated. “We regularly review accounts with data use that primarily takes place outside of the Verizon network.”

Verizon denies reports as many as 19,000 customers are losing service as a result of the purge, but their representatives are routinely quoting that number to customers and officials calling Verizon to complain.

Customers have no recourse and if they don’t port their number to another service provider by the termination date, their number will be disconnected and lost for good. The only good news? Verizon wants to disconnect customers so badly, they are willing to forgive the remaining owed balances for any devices financed through Verizon.

Maine

In Winter Harbor, many Verizon Wireless customers reportedly received the same letter, including the town’s police chief Danny Mitchell, who is concerned about the impact Verizon’s decision will have on local public safety.

“From a public safety standpoint, a lot of our 911 calls come in via mobile phone. And when you have less towers or less service to ping off from, then your area of location, instead of getting more specific in the location, is gonna get wider,” Mitchell told WLBZ-TV in Bangor.

Maine’s Public Advocate is concerned as well, and noted this is what happens when unfettered deregulation of telecommunications services give providers the right to terminate any customer for any reason.

“The Office of the Public Advocate is concerned about the well-being of all Maine residents,” the agency wrote. “This loss of wireless communication underscores the importance of our landline network to ensure that individuals can contact public safety officials in the event of an emergency.  Verizon’s actions raise new concerns that areas once deemed a competitive marketplace for telecommunications will once again be served only by their landline provider.  This possibility should be considered as the de-regulation of landline telephone continues throughout the state.”

Public Advocate Barry Hobbins thinks it all comes down to money.

“Because it’s not cost-effective for them, now they’re going to pull the plug — and basically pull the plug on 2,000 customers — then that becomes an issue,” he says.

The decision to terminate an estimated 2,000 customers in rural Maine alone is especially stinging to residents, public safety officials, and community leaders because they bent over backwards to get Verizon Wireless to expand its coverage area in the state.

In 2015, communities in Washington and eastern Hancock counties joined forces to make life easier for Verizon in return for expansion of cell service in the region, quickly approving more than a dozen new cell towers adjacent to well-traveled Routes 1 and 9.

Mitchell said residents are more than a little annoyed that Verizon is kicking them off after all that they’ve done for the company.

In 2015, the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) insured, at the public’s expense, a $3.4 million loan for Wireless Partners, LLC of Portland to enhance Verizon’s 4G LTE network with up to 32 new cell towers for those counties.

FAME Board Chair Raymond Nowak said at the time, “It is our hope that the planned communication improvements by Wireless Partners will support business expansion, emergency services, and the tourism industry in Maine. Such partnerships are a key part of FAME’s strategy to support infrastructure that enables the success of other businesses.”

“We are pleased to be partnering with FAME and Mechanics Savings Bank on this important project,” added Bob Parsloe, president and CEO of Wireless Partners, LLC. “This project will make it possible for people who live, work and recreate in Downeast Maine to have reliable 4G LTE broadband and voice cellular service that allows them to be connected like the rest of the world.”

Not anymore.

“[People are] going to come out their door every day, look at a cellphone tower and say, ‘Hey, I can’t connect to that because Verizon won’t let me,’” Mitchell said.

Letter from Verizon Wireless terminating service for “excessive roaming.”

In fact, Verizon Wireless customers who don’t live in the area, along with customers of other wireless companies who happen to be roaming while traveling, will be able to use those cell towers while former local Verizon Wireless customers cannot.

Law enforcement and public safety officials feel a little bait-and-switched by the decision.

Sheriff Curtis

Washington County Sheriff Barry Curtis says his department is still trying to wrap their heads around what Verizon Wireless is doing. But he seems confident it could adversely affect the department’s ability to stay in touch with law enforcement officials and respond quickly to calls. The decision could, in his view, set back the county several years.

“It’s kind of difficult sitting in this seat as far as being the sheriff here,” he says. “I’m in contact with the commissioners. I’m hoping that they’re going to be stepping up to the plate here, assisting us in this too — filing their complaints. We’re going to need all the help we can get here.”

With a chorus of complaints across rural Maine, officials at Wireless Partners have launched their own damage control effort to point the finger of blame at Verizon Wireless, and claim they had no idea the wireless company was pulling the plug on so many customers.

“Access to 4G LTE is an essential 21st century infrastructure need and it is the mission of Wireless Partners to meet that need in rural, underserved areas of Maine and New Hampshire,” said Wireless Partners CEO Bob Parsloe. “To that end, Wireless Partners built, owns, operates, and is expanding a Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network in Downeast Maine. Along with our network users, we were blindsided to learn that Verizon Wireless mailed subscription cancellation notices to their customers on this network. Wireless Partners was not given advance warning that Verizon Wireless was planning to restrict new customers nor terminate existing customers. We were only made aware of this development from concerned Verizon Wireless customers who were in receipt of the cancellation notification.”

Parsloe did hint at what is motivating Verizon to drop its own customers.

“Verizon Wireless did ask Wireless Partners to assist them in reducing the contractually agreed costs of using our networks,” Parsloe added. “Wireless Partners promptly informed Verizon that it was ready to address their concerns. At no point during this dialogue, which continues in earnest, did Verizon Wireless indicate to us their intent to restrict new customers and cancel current customers.”

Maine’s Public Advocate believes Verizon’s resumption of its unlimited data plan is probably costing the company more than it anticipated in roaming data charges levied by third party cooperating providers like Wireless Partners. In rural areas, private companies and independent providers often lease their networks to larger cellular companies like Verizon to enhance rural coverage and avoid exposing customers to punitive roaming charges. As far as customers are aware, they are using Verizon’s home network and there are no indications on their devices they are roaming.

Hobbins adds Verizon is doing this “all over the country” and residents in Maine — with large expanses of rural areas, are just among the first to react. But it annoys him that Verizon is implying in its letters that customers are doing something wrong. In fact, he says, they were simply using the service plan that Verizon sold them.

“It appears that Verizon induced these companies to build out in the rural areas around the country and then significantly promoted it by saying that they’re covering the rural areas when it fact now after putting those ads out, they’re now not covering the rural areas — in fact, they’re cutting it back,” Hobbins said.

Michigan

Tuscola County, Mich.

In mid-Michigan, customers are also getting termination letters from Verizon Wireless. In Tuscola County, Frank Rouse says he routinely spends $275 a month on four lines with Verizon Wireless and has been a customer for years. But Verizon is kicking him to the curb.

“I was pretty livid. I called customer service and I wasn’t real pleasant with them,” Rouse said, claiming he was furious when he opened the letter. “Why not do something proactive and maybe put up a tower in the area or something to keep the customers and draw in new customers.”

Mid-Michigan residents already have just a few choices for cell service, and now there is one fewer.

For Jamie Hay, it isn’t all bad news. He will lose his Verizon Wireless account but scored more than $3,600 in free phones and tablets he acquired for his family of six just two weeks before getting the letter.

“I made one payment and now I get to keep everything for free because Verizon is closing my account, voiding my payment plans and reporting all devices as now effectively paid in full,” Hay tells Stop the Cap! “Thanks to every other Verizon Wireless customer for covering my fabulous new phones and iPad!”

WNEM-TV in Michigan reports some customers are furious about being terminated by Verizon Wireless, and the company isn’t saying much. (1:32)

North Dakota

SRT Communications’ coverage map in North Dakota.

At least several hundred customers were notified across North Dakota that their Verizon Wireless service would also be terminated on Oct. 17. For many, once Verizon is no longer an option, cell service is no longer an option. Customers tell Stop the Cap! northern parts of the state are already reeling from North Dakota-based SRT Communications’ decision to exit the wireless business after 20 years. The company said it can no longer compete against larger companies like AT&T and Verizon and lack the resources to continue upgrades.

Customers are being encouraged to switch to Verizon Wireless, and Verizon has bought SRT’s spectrum and promised to improve coverage as part of the deal. But now some customers have been told they will not be able to keep their SRT service or Verizon Wireless much longer.

Montana
“Dropped like a bad habit,” as he put it, Kyle Wasson is among an unknown number of Verizon Wireless customers in Montana losing their Verizon service on Oct. 17.

Wasson, who was nearing a decade as a Verizon Wireless customer, is now no longer wanted, according to the letter he received: “We will no longer offer service for the numbers listed above since your primary place of use is outside the Verizon Wireless network” and “we discovered you are using a significant amount of data while roaming off the Verizon Wireless network.”

Northern Montana

Wasson had switched to Verizon’s unlimited data plan which he suspects might have had something to do with Verizon’s decision. Wasson doesn’t have many options in the town of Loring, 15 miles south of the Canadian border.

Neither does Brandi Horn in Harlem or Sue Hagen of Scobey — also told their Verizon service was being terminated next month.

“There is no better service in rural Montana than Verizon,” Horn said. “It’s going to be hard finding an affordable and high-coverage service now.”

LTE in Rural America (LRA) Program Implicated in Disconnections

Observers suspect the crackdown on rural roaming is primarily affecting customers served by the 21 partners Verizon has enrolled in its (LRA) program.

Under the program, LRA members lease Verizon’s 700MHz Upper C Block spectrum. Partners have access to Verizon’s network vendors and discounts and can sell the same equipment Verizon offers its customers in their stores. But the 21 companies are responsible for financing and building their own networks and can sell service independent of Verizon. In return, Verizon customers can “roam” on those networks as if they were still within Verizon’s home network. Verizon’s partners gain access to resources to build out their own LTE 4G networks and have a certain amount of effectively guaranteed traffic from Verizon customers in their service areas.

Verizon has leased out LTE spectrum covering 225,000 square miles in 169 rural counties in 15 different states. The company said more than 1,000 LTE cell sites have been built and switched on through the program, covering 2.7 million people.

But Verizon does not have the capacity to throttle or deprioritize traffic on third-party networks, meaning customers enrolled in an unlimited data plan can use as much data as they want on partner networks. There is a strong likelihood Verizon has to compensate those providers at premium rates for network traffic generated by their customers.

That means customers are at the highest risk of being disconnected if they are on an unlimited data plan and use their Verizon devices in areas served by these providers — all participants in the LRA program:

Bluegrass Cellular; Cross Telephone; Pioneer Cellular; Cellcom; Thumb Cellular; Strata Networks; S and R Communications; Carolina West; Custer Telephone Cooperative; KPU Telecommunications; Chariton Valley Communication Corporation; Appalachian Wireless; Northwest Missouri Cellular; Chat Mobility; Matanuska Telephone Association; Wireless Partners; Triangle Communications; Nemont; Mid-Rivers Communications and Copper Valley Telecom.

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