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Verizon: Our Legacy Landline Service Areas are Not a Part of Our Future Growth Strategy; Verizon Wireless Is

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon Communications does not see its remaining landline customers as part of the company’s future growth and customers should not be surprised if Verizon sells more of its legacy network to other telephone companies including Frontier, Windstream, and CenturyLink.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference 2015 on March 2, Verizon chief financial officer Fran Shammo made it clear to investors Verizon will dump “non-core” assets that do not align with the company’s future long-term growth strategy, even in areas where FiOS predominates.

Shammo told investors Verizon’s growth strategy is predicated on Verizon Wireless, which will continue to get most of the company’s attention and future investment.

“It’s all around the wireless network and I’ve consistently said before, you should anticipate that wireless CapEx continues to trend up while wireline continues to trend down,” Shammo said.

The bulk of Verizon’s investments in its wired network are being made in areas that are already designated as FiOS fiber to the home service areas. Shammo explained that the company is required to invest in FiOS expansion to comply with agreements signed in cities like New York and Philadelphia to make the service widely available in those communities. Beyond those commitments, Shammo signaled the company isn’t planning any significant new spending to upgrade the rest of its legacy copper network.

“We continue to invest in those things that we believe are the future growth of the company,” Shammo said, and anything involving its wired networks outside of Verizon’s core FiOS service area in the northeast and Mid-Atlantic states probably doesn’t qualify.

Verizon-logoWhat will happen in Verizon service areas that are not considered priorities?

“For the right price and right terms, if there’s an asset we don’t believe is strategic to Verizon and can return shareholder value, we’ll dispose of that asset,” Shammo said.

An example of that strategy was Verizon’s sudden announcement in February it would sell its wireline assets in Florida, California, and Texas to Frontier Communications for $10.54 billion. Although a significant part of those service areas are served by FiOS after Verizon invested more than $7 billion on upgrades, Verizon still plans to abandon customers and walk away from that investment because it is not part of Verizon’s future growth strategy.

“If you look at Florida, Texas, and California, these are three island properties,” Shammo told investors. “FiOS is a very small footprint of those properties compared to the copper [except in] Florida because it was just Tampa. But you look at that and you say strategically there’s really not much we can do with those properties because they are islands.”

Verizon will spend the proceeds from its latest landline sale on the wireless spectrum it just acquired and will pay down some of the debt incurred after buying out Vodafone’s former ownership stake in Verizon Wireless. The company has also undertaken a massive share repurchase program, planning to buy back 100 million shares by 2017 to help its shareholders. To ease investor concerns about some of Verizon’s latest strategic moves, it also announced plans to buy back an extra $5 billion worth of shares in the second quarter of this year.

A close review of the latest Verizon sale to Frontier shows the extent Verizon believes in its wireless business at the cost of its legacy copper and FiOS networks. That comes as no surprise to Verizon observers who note its current CEO used to run Verizon Wireless.

Shammo, as featured on a recent cover of CFO Studio magazine.

Shammo, as featured on a recent cover of CFO Studio magazine.

“It’s been clear for years that Verizon has wanted out of the copper business,” said Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting. “They first sold off large portions of New England to Fairpoint. Then in 2010 they sold a huge swath of lines in fourteen states to Frontier including the whole state of West Virginia. And now comes this sale. It’s starting to look like Verizon doesn’t want to be in the landline business at all, perhaps not even in the fiber business.”

Verizon’s latest sale involves “higher margin properties than the rest of our wireline business,” Shammo said, in part because large parts of the urban service areas involved were previously upgraded to FiOS.

“So if you look at Dallas, we were over 50% penetrated both in TV and broadband,” said Shammo. “So, it was a very highly penetrated market that was delivering a lot of cash flow and delivering a lot of earnings. So by just divesting of the three properties, if you just did it on an apples-to-apples basis, there would be dilution.

Giving up that amount of cash flow — needed to win back the $7 billion in FiOS upgrade investments Verizon made in the three states — would normally concern investors worried about the “stranded costs” left over from investments that were never fully repaid. But Verizon has a plan for that: an “Involuntary Separation Plan” (ISP) for more than 2,000 Verizon employees, a polite way to describe job-cutting layoffs.

“We have a year to plan for this and the plan is similar to what we did with the last time we rolled properties out from Frontier,” Shammo said. “We will plan to offset the stranded cost and those plans are already being worked. You saw a little bit of that in the fourth quarter where we gave some ISPs to the represented employee base and we had 2,100 people come off payroll.”

Verizon’s growing preoccupation with Verizon Wireless leaves some analysts questioning the company’s wisdom giving up high-profit FiOS broadband in favor of wireless at a time when competition among wireless companies is finally emerging.

“Verizon reports an overall 41% market penetration for its data product on FiOS networks,” said Dawson. “Data has such a high profit margin that it’s hard to think that FiOS is not extremely profitable for them. The trend has been for the amount of data used by households to double every three years, and one doesn’t have to project that trend forward very far to see that future bandwidth needs are only going to be met by fiber or by significantly upgraded cable networks.”

Considering the wireless market is maturing and most everyone who wants a cell phone already has one, there are questions about where Verizon sees future growth in a business where it is getting harder to attract new customers.

“Verizon was a market leader getting into the fiber business. FiOS was a bold move at the time,” Dawson reflects. “It’s another bold move to essentially walk away from the fiber business and concentrate on wireless. They obviously think that wireless has a better future than wireline. But since they are already at the top of pile in cellular one has to wonder where they see future growth?”

Verizon Wireless Admits Spectrum Isn’t The Holy Grail; There Is No Wireless Spectrum Shortage

A Verizon executive told investors there is no wireless spectrum shortage in the United States and Verizon has historically purchased and warehoused spectrum it had no intention of using immediately.

Fran Shammo, chief financial officer of Verizon Communications, drew attention to Verizon’s controversial spectrum acquisition policy as part of a conversation with investors about the recent FCC auction that sold 65 megahertz of wireless frequencies for an unprecedented $44.9 billion, far and away the highest ever seen in a spectrum auction.

“In every purchase of spectrum up to this auction, the scale was that it was more efficient to buy spectrum than it was to build capacity because the scale was spectrum was cheaper to build on capacity,” Shammo said.

preauction

Before the auction, there were significant differences in Verizon Wireless’ network capacity in different cities. In New York City, Verizon controls 127MHz. In Los Angeles and San Francisco it manages with 107MHz, but only has 97MHz to work with in Philadelphia, San Diego and Chicago.

Verizon Wireless has always held spectrum it acquired at auction but never put into widespread use on its network. But bidding during the FCC’s most recent Auction 97 made bidding and warehousing unused frequencies an expensive proposition, more expensive than beefing up Verizon’s existing network with additional cell towers, microcells, and other technology to make the most use of existing spectrum assets.

“This auction flipped [our acquisition] equation in certain markets,” Shammo said in reference to Verizon’s bidding strategy. “And so we became much more diligent on what markets we strategically wanted and [which] we were willing to let go because when you looked at it, if I was to get what I wanted initially when I went in, I would have spent an extra $6 billion when I could create the same capacity with $1.5 billion by building it.”

In the most recent auction, Verizon Wireless considered spectrum acquisitions crucial in California, where it added frequencies in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. But Verizon gave up bidding on spectrum for densely populated New York and Boston where the asking price grew too high. That forces Verizon Wireless to increase the efficiency of its existing network in those cities. It will do so by deploying more cell towers to divide the traffic load, as well as adding microcells and other small-area solutions in high traffic urban areas.

Despite not getting everything it wanted, Verizon took the auction results in stride, claiming its network was fully capable of handling growing traffic loads even in areas where it failed to win new spectrum.

“People think that spectrum is the Holy Grail and if you don’t have enough spectrum, you can’t have the capacity,” Shammo said. “But actually that’s not true now because technology has changed so much. If you look at small cell technology, diversified antenna systems, and when you think [about] Chicago, if you walk down the street, you see small cells on lamp posts. So, the municipalities are starting to open up to that small cell technology.”

postauction

AT&T paid $18.2 billion for nearly 250 licenses, compared with $10.4 billion Verizon will spend on 181 licenses. The presence of Dish Networks in the bidding clearly irritated AT&T and Verizon, primarily because the satellite dish provider incorporated two “designated entities” — SNR Wireless LicenseCo and Northstar Wireless — as bidding partners, winning up to 25% off their bids as part of a “small business discount.” The two DEs won over $13 billion in licenses with $3 billion in savings.

AT&T accused Dish of circumventing auction activity rules and distorting the bidding.

“As a result, Dish the corporate entity won no licenses,” said Joan Marsh, AT&T’s vice president of federal regulatory matters. “The Dish DEs, who each enjoyed a 25% discount, won substantial allocations.”

Marsh complained Dish already controls around 81MHz of spectrum that remains unused for wireless telecom services.

Dish also made life difficult for large carriers who have learned to predict the likely bidding strategies of their competitors based on experience. Many were surprised Dish managed to both bid up prices and win a substantial percentage of spectrum, all for a wireless business it has yet to build.

T-Mobile was not happy either. CEO John Legere called the auction “a disaster for American wireless consumers.” T-Mobile suffered considerably in the auction, outspent by Dish & Friends 132 times for important wireless licenses.

“Three companies alone spent an insane $42 billion between them, grabbing a ridiculous 94 percent of the spectrum sold at this auction,” Legere wrote, referring to AT&T, Dish Network and Verizon Wireless. “This whole thing should scare the hell out of you and every other wireless consumer in the U.S., because there is another important auction next year, and the results have to be different if wireless competition is going to survive.”

With the auction over, Verizon Wireless will continue to shift its spectrum usage around to accommodate network changes. Verizon will continue to emphasize enlarging 4G LTE services while gradually reducing the percentage of its network used for other purposes. Verizon expects to shut off its CDMA voice network in the early 2020s and is reducing the amount of spectrum dedicated to supporting its legacy 3G network.

HissyFitWatch: Bell Loses Net Neutrality Case, Threatens to Bury Complaining Consumers In Legal Fees

The first "bricks of paper" arriving from Bell's attorneys in the case of Bell v. Ordinary Canadian consumers

The first legal “bricks of paper” arriving from Bell’s attorneys in the case of Bell v. Ordinary Canadian consumers arrived at the home of Jean-François Mezei of Pointe-Claire, Que.

A Manitoba university student and consumer groups who won their case against Bell’s preferential treatment of its mobile streaming video service are now being threatened with demands they personally cover Bell’s legal expenses as the phone company appeals the ruling in court.

The dispute involves Bell Mobile TV Service — a $5/mo optional add-on that allows Bell’s mobile customers to stream up to 10 hours of video programming, some of it from Bell-owned television networks like CTV, without it counting against the customer’s usage cap. Each additional hour costs $3. The service prices usage based on time, not data usage, which lets Bell stream very high quality video to customers. Competitors like Netflix do not have this option and their customers are billed based on the amount of data consumed, which is around 800 percent higher than what Bell Mobile TV charges.

University of Manitoba graduate student Benjamin Klass filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 2013 accusing Bell of violating Net Neutrality and creating an anti-competitive marketplace for online video. ​Twelve of the 43 channels available on Mobile TV — including CTV, TSN and The Movie Network — are owned by Bell Media, a subsidiary, like Bell Mobility, of the media behemoth BCE.

Klass alleged the practice was a clear violation of Canada’s laws governing broadcasting: “No Canadian carrier shall, in relation to the provision of a telecommunications service or the charging of a rate for it, unjustly discriminate or give an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage.”

The CRTC agreed with Klass and in late January ruled in favor of Klass’ complaint, giving Bell and Quebec-based Vidéotron (which offers a similar service) until the end of April to close them down in their present form.

BCE, the parent of Bell Mobility, told the CBC it was “shocked” by the CRTC’s ruling, suspecting the complaining groups mislead regulators into thinking Bell favored its own content over others.

“There’s a hint here that the government believes Bell Mobile TV delivers only Bell Media content,” spokesman Jason Laszlo said. “They should know we offer mobile TV content from all of Canada’s leading broadcasters in English and French.”

Bell_Mobility logoLaszlo added Bell-owned content only comprises 20% of Bell Mobile TV programming and that the ruling would deprive more than 1.5 million current Bell Mobile TV subscribers from getting the service after the spring deadline to shut it down.

The CRTC and consumer groups argue that is beside the point.

“At its core, this decision isn’t so much about Bell or Vidéotron,” CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais said at a breakfast luncheon in London, Ont., in late January. “It’s about all of us and our ability to access content equally and fairly, in an open market that favours innovation and choice. The CRTC always wants to ensure ­— and this decision supports this goal ­— that Canadians have fair and reasonable access to content. It may be tempting for large vertically integrated companies to offer certain perks to their customers. But when the impetus to innovate steps on the toes of the principle of fair and open access to content, we will intervene.”

Consumer group OpenMedia says Bell’s motivation isn’t to create a level playing field or provide customers with more options for online video. It’s about artificially inflating the cost of accessing services like Netflix and other independent video companies that are innovating away from the traditional pay television package.

“Bell is doing everything in its power to make the Internet more like cable TV,” said OpenMedia campaigns manager Josh Tabish. “They want the power to pick and choose what we see by forcing competing services into a more expensive toll lane online.”

Klass (Image: CBC)

Klass (Image: CBC)

Bell’s legal strategy going forward is an homage to the one American wireless companies used for years to avoid Net Neutrality.

Bell Mobility argues that Bell Mobile TV is a broadcasting service, not a telecommunications service and therefore doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Telecommunications Act.

Since the CRTC was not receptive to that argument, Bell is taking the matter to the Federal Court of Appeal, asking it to overturn the CRTC ruling and grant the company court and legal costs paid for by the Canadian consumers that brought the original complaint.

Jean-François Mezei of Pointe-Claire, Que. is among them and has been the unhappy recipient of several parcels containing “bricks of paper” from FedEx he suspects is just the beginning.

Mezei has been tweeting about ongoing developments in the case, and asked Bell, “how come you have no press release bragging about how Bell Mobility is suing individual citizens who participated in [the CRTC complaint]?”

Klass told CBC News he hasn’t yet made up his mind how to respond to the court filing, but admitted it is unnerving.

“In that regard, it really strikes me as a method of intimidation,” he said. “Right off the bat, it has a chilling effect. It appears that Bell is simply pursuing the argument, that it unsuccessfully made to the CRTC, through the court.”

Google, Cablevision Challenge Traditional Cell Phone Plans, Wireless Usage Caps With Cheap Alternatives

freewheelLuxurious wireless industry profits of up to 50 percent earned from selling some of the world’s most expensive cellular services may soon be a thing of the past as Google and Cablevision prepare to disrupt the market with cheap competition.

With more than 80 percent of all wireless data traffic now moving over Wi-Fi, prices for wireless data services should be in decline, but the reverse has been true. AT&T and Verizon Wireless have banked future profits by dumping unlimited data plans and monetizing wireless usage, predicting a dependable spike in revenue from growing data consumption. Instead of charging customers a flat $30 for unlimited data, carriers like Verizon have switched to plans with voice, texting, and just 1GB of wireless usage at around $60 a month, with each additional gigabyte priced at $15 a month.

With the majority of cell phone customers in the U.S. signed up with AT&T or Verizon’s nearly identical plans, their revenue has soared. Sprint and T-Mobile have modestly challenged the two industry leaders offering cheaper plans, some with unlimited data, but their smaller cellular networks and more limited coverage areas have left many customers wary about switching.

Google intends to remind Americans that the majority of data usage occurs over Wi-Fi networks that don’t require an expensive data plan or enormous 4G network. The search engine giant will launch its own wireless service that depends on Wi-Fi at home and work and combines the networks of Sprint and T-Mobile while on the go, switching automatically to the provider with the best signal and performance.

googleCablevision’s offer, in contrast, will rely entirely on Wi-Fi to power its mobile calling, texting, and data services. Dubbed “Freewheel,” non-Cablevision customers can sign up starting in February for $29.95 a month. Current Cablevision broadband customers get a price break — $9.95 a month.

Cablevision’s dense service area in parts of New York City, Long Island, northern New Jersey and Connecticut offers ample access to Wi-Fi. Cablevision chief operating officer Kristin Dolan said its new service would work best in Wi-Fi dense areas such as college campuses, business districts, and multi-dwelling units.

New York City is working towards its own ubiquitous Wi-Fi network, which could theoretically blanket the city with enough hotspots to make Cablevision’s service area seamless. But the biggest deterrent to dumping your current cell phone provider is likely to be available coverage areas. Google’s answer to that problem is combining the networks of both Sprint and T-Mobile, offering customers access to the best-performing carrier in any particular area. While that isn’t likely to solve coverage issues in states like West Virginia and the Mountain West, where only AT&T and Verizon Wireless offer serious coverage, it will likely be sustainable in large and medium-sized cities where at least one of the two smaller carriers has a solid network of cell towers.

Comparing the Wireless Alternative Providers

  • Google Wireless will offer seamless access to Wi-Fi, Sprint and T-Mobile voice, SMS, and mobile data at an undetermined price. Likely to arrive by the summer of 2015;
  • Cablevision Freewheel depends entirely on Wi-Fi to power unlimited voice, SMS, and data. Launches in February for $29.95/mo ($9.95/mo for Cablevision broadband customers);
  • FreedomPop Wi-Fi ($5/mo) offers an Android app-based “key” to open unlimited Wi-Fi access to 10 million AT&T, Google, and cable industry hotspots nationwide for calling, texting, and mobile data;
  • Republic Wireless developed its own protocol to properly hand off phone calls between different networks without dropping it. Calling plans range from $5-40 a month. Less expensive plans are Wi-Fi only, pricier plans include access to Sprint’s network;
  • Scratch Wireless charges once for its device – a Motorola Photon Q ($99) and everything else is free, as long as you have access to Wi-Fi. Cell-based texting is also free, as a courtesy. If you need voice calling or wireless data when outside the range of a hotspot, you can buy “access passes” to Sprint’s network at prices ranging from $1.99 a day each for voice and data access to $24.99 a month for unlimited data and $14.99 a month for unlimited voice.
Scratch Wireless

Scratch Wireless

Google is pushing the FCC to open new unlicensed spectrum for expanded Wi-Fi to accommodate the growing number of wireless hotspots that are facing co-interference issues.

Wi-Fi-based wireless providers are likely to grow once coverage concerns are eased and there is reliable service as customers hop from hotspot to hotspot. The cable industry has aggressively deployed Wi-Fi access with a potential to introduce wireless service. Comcast is already providing broadband customers with network gateways that offer built-in guest access to other Comcast customers, with the potential of using a crowdsourced network of customers to power Wi-Fi coverage across its service areas. FreedomPop will eventually seek customers to volunteer access to their home or business networks for fellow users as well.

AT&T and Verizon are banking on their robust networks and coverage areas to protect their customer base. Verizon Wireless, in particular, has refused to engage in price wars with competitors, claiming Verizon customers are willing to pay more to access the company’s huge wireless coverage area. AT&T told the Wall Street Journal its customers want seamless access to its network to stay connected wherever they go.

Verizon’s chief financial officer Fran Shammo appeared unfazed by the recent developments. On last week’s conference call with investors, Shammo dismissed Google’s entry as simply another reseller of Sprint’s network. He added Google has no idea about the challenges it will face dealing directly with customers in a service and support capacity. While Google’s approach to combine the coverage of T-Mobile and Sprint together is a novel idea, Shammo thinks there isn’t much to see.

“Resellers, or people leasing the network from carriers, have been around for 15 years,” Shammo said. “It’s a complex issue.”

Investors are taking a cautious wait-and-see approach to the recent developments. Google’s new offering is likely to offer plans that are philosophically compatible with Google’s larger business agenda. Challenging the traditional business models of AT&T and Verizon that have implemented usage caps and usage pricing may be at the top of Google’s list. The new offering could give large data allowances at a low-cost and/or unlimited wireless data for a flat price. Such plans may actually steal price-sensitive customers away from Sprint and T-Mobile, at least initially. Sprint is clearly worried about that, so it has a built-in escape clause that allows a termination of its network agreement with Google almost at will.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ Google Cablevision Challenge Wireless Industry 1-26-15.flv

The Wall Street Journal talks about the trend towards Wi-Fi based mobile calling networks. (1:59)

AT&T to Federal Trade Commission: Our Speed Throttling is None of Your Business

Image courtesy: cobalt123AT&T has asked a federal judge in California to throw out a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission over wireless speed throttling, claiming the federal regulator has no authority over how AT&T manages its network.

The FTC filed a lawsuit in October 2014 alleging AT&T was throttling the speeds of its grandfathered “unlimited data” customers by as much as 90 percent and failed to sufficiently disclose the practice in violation of the FTC Act.

Although AT&T discloses its network management policies in broad terms deep within its website, the original complaint charges AT&T failed to directly notify customers identified as the ‘heavy unlimited users’ targeted for wireless speed reductions reportedly as low as 56kbps for up to 30 days or more.

AT&T’s lawyers claim the FTC has no jurisdiction to file the lawsuit because a portion of AT&T’s business — cellular voice service — is defined by the Communications Act as a regulated common carrier service by the Federal Communications Commission. The FTC had argued AT&T’s mobile data services are unregulated and do not fall under the FCC’s exclusive jurisdiction.

AT&T’s attorneys argue two apparently contradictory assertions about wireless regulation that both require the court, in AT&T’s view, to dismiss the FTC’s case:

  1. AT&T acknowledges that its mobile data services are not subject to Title II regulatory oversight by the FCC as a common carrier service. Therefore, federal agencies like the FTC have no jurisdiction to interfere in AT&T’s private business decisions on issues like data caps and speed throttling because it is an unregulated service;
  2. AT&T claims the FCC has asserted sweeping authority over wireless services under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Therefore it should be up to the FCC alone (and not the FTC) to decide the fairness of AT&T’s network management practices. But AT&T doesn’t remind the court this is the same authority that large telecom companies sued into impotence by successfully arguing the FCC exceeded its mandate attempting to assert jurisdiction on data services to enforce concepts such as Net Neutrality and attempting to fine Comcast for throttling peer-to-peer network traffic.

ftcAT&T calls the FTC’s claims it can intervene in services not regulated by the FCC “irrelevant,” arguing once one of AT&T’s services is subject to the FCC’s common carrier regulation, all of its services become untouchable by the FTC.

“The FTC lacks jurisdiction to prosecute this action because AT&T is a common carrier subject to the Communications Act and therefore outside the FTC’s authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act. 15 U.S.C. § 45(a)(2),” argues AT&T. “Indeed, the FTC itself has recognized that, as drafted, the exemption altogether removes common carriers such as AT&T from its jurisdiction and has asked Congress to modify the statute. So far, Congress has refused.”

“But whether AT&T’s network management program is ‘unfair’ and whether its disclosures were ‘inadequate’ are issues for the FCC to decide, and in fact the FCC is in the process of so deciding, just as Congress intended,” AT&T said. “Congress drafted Section 5 to avoid subjecting common carriers like AT&T to precisely this sort of conflicting authority of separate federal agencies over the same conduct.”

Should the FCC find AT&T in violation of its transparency rules, AT&T will have a strong legal case to have that ruling tossed as well on the grounds the agency has no mandate from Congress to regulate mobile data services under Section 706/Title III of the Communications Act — the same case other telecom companies have successfully argued in the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Ironically, AT&T’s apparent regulatory loophole will vanish should the FCC order that broadband services of all kinds be reclassified as Title II telecommunications services as part of the ongoing effort to implement strong Net Neutrality policies.

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