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“The French Slasher” Patrick Drahi/Altice Likely to Target Cablevision, Cox, Mediacom Next for Quick Buyouts

THE FRENCH SLASHER: Patrick Drahi's cost-cutting methods are legendary in Europe. He could soon be bringing his style of cost management to America.

THE FRENCH SLASHER: Patrick Drahi’s cost-cutting methods are legendary in Europe. He could soon be bringing his style of cost management to America.

Patrick Drahi and his Luxembourg-based Altice SA appears to be out of the running to buy Time Warner Cable, but are likely to quickly turn their attention to acquiring several of America’s remaining medium-sized cable companies: Cablevision, Cox, and Mediacom.

“While it is still possible that Altice counters on TWC, we do not believe that it can match Charter [and backer John Malone’s] funding firepower and will ultimately lose out,” wrote Macquarie Capital’s Kevin Smithen. “In our opinion, Altice is more likely to turn its attention to Cablevision or privately held Cox or Mediacom, in an effort to gain more fixed-line scale in order to compete against Charter and Comcast.”

Last week, cable analysts were surprised when Drahi swooped in to acquire Suddenlink, one of America’s medium-sized cable operators.

“Altice’s decision to buy Suddenlink (at an unsupportably high price) creates even more uncertainty in an industry where virtually every element of the story is now in flux,” said MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett.

Cablevision recently seemed to signal it was willing to talk a merger deal with Time Warner Cable, but that now seems unlikely with the Charter acquisition heading to regulator review. Drahi met last week with Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus about a possible deal with the second largest cable company in the U.S., which seems to indicate he is serious about his plans to enter the U.S. cable market.

“On paper, Cablevision was already overvalued,” Moffett said. “And Altice’s acquisition of Suddenlink, which has no overlap with Verizon FiOS, would suggest that they are quite cognizant of the appeal of a carrier without excessive fiber competition. The spike in Cablevision’s shares only makes that overvaluation worse. Then again, if Altice is willing to overpay for one investment, might they not be willing to overpay for another?”

Drahi has been topic number one for the French telecom press for months after his aggressive acquisition and cost-cutting strategies left a long trail of unpaid vendors and suppliers, as well as employees forced to bring their own toilet tissue to work. Customers have also started leaving his French cable company after service suffered as a result of his investment cuts.

As a new wave of cable consolidation is now on the minds of cable executives, several Wall Street analysts have begun to call on the cable industry to consolidate the wireless space as well, buying out one or more wireless companies like Sprint or T-Mobile to combine wired and wireless broadband.

“Unlike Europe, we continue to believe that the U.S. is not yet a ‘converged’ market for wireless and wireline broadband services but that this trend is inevitable in the U.S. due to increasing need for small cells, fiber backhaul and mobile video content caching closer to the end user. In our view, Altice believes in convergence and so mobile will be a strategic objective in the long-term,” Smithen wrote.

Other Wall Street analyst/helpers have pointed out there are other cable targets ripe for acquisition: WideOpenWest Holding Cos (a/k/a WOW!) and Cable One have a combined 1.92 million video subscribers.

Wireless Lobby Head Hints No 5G Service in United States Unless Industry Gets ‘Exclusive Use’ Spectrum

The CTIA is the wireless industry's lobbying group

The CTIA is the wireless industry’s lobbying group

The wireless industry is threatening to withhold upgrades to 5G service unless the United States adopts a spectrum policy that provides wireless carriers with more frequencies.

CTIA president Meredith Baker told attendees at the Accenture conference that the wireless industry wants a new national spectrum plan to clear more frequencies for the exclusive use of mobile providers.

“When and how we introduce 5G in the United States depends, in part, upon whether we keep our spectrum policy as forward-looking as our industry,” Baker said. “The question we face is will the U.S. continue to embrace licensed spectrum – the approach that has made us the global leader in 4G.”

Baker is frustrated with the FCC’s ongoing effort to create “shared-use” spectrum that can be cleared for mobile use in certain sections of the country while still being used for other purposes elsewhere. In some cases, spectrum identified for possible dual-use is used by various government agencies, but only in certain parts of the country. The wireless industry generally does not favor shared-use spectrum policy because it can complicate wireless network buildouts.

Baker

Baker

Baker continues to advocate a more forceful approach of “spectrum clearing,” which can force users off existing frequencies to clear it for mobile exclusivity.

“Clearing spectrum will never look easy, particularly years before an auction,” she said. “To be fair, it will never be easy. But it can be done and needs to be done if we are to remain the global leader in mobility.”

The FCC is currently involved in an effort to repack the UHF television dial into a smaller space to make room for more spectrum for the wireless industry. Some companies, notably AT&T, are growing impatient about the process and want faster exclusive use of those frequencies after an incentive auction is held in 2016.

In a filing sent to the FCC, AT&T objects to creating more spectrum rights for secondary and unlicensed users and applications on the frequencies they intend to use. Once the auction is complete, it could take three years or more for AT&T and other spectrum winners to upgrade their networks to use the new frequencies in the 600MHz band. In the meantime, the FCC has proposed allowing low-power television stations and translators, wireless microphones, and other similar unlicensed equipment to continue using those frequencies until the new license holders are ready to become operational.

attAT&T considers that an intrusion on its spectrum and has told the FCC it strongly objects allowing any secondary or unlicensed user to use their spectrum “without so much as [paying AT&T] a lease” or getting consent from AT&T. AT&T wants everyone off their frequencies no later than 39 months after the issuance of a Channel Reassignment Public Notice that will identify new channel assignments for full power and Class A television stations that have been reassigned to different channels. AT&T also wants the right to jump ahead of the proposed three years of transition for licensed stations and make it possible to start kicking off all unlicensed users of its frequencies within 120 days notice.

The wireless industry argues without wireless-friendly policies, there will be insufficient incentive to invest in 5G network upgrades.

Critics contend that is just another of the wireless industry’s empty threats. Opponents contend AT&T will invest in network upgrades the moment the company believes it will generate additional profits.

Verizon Buys AOL for $4.4 Billion; Bolsters Verizon’s Mobile Video/Advertising Business

aolVerizon Communications this morning announced it will buy AOL, Inc., in a $4.4 billion cash deal that will provide Verizon with powerful mobile video and advertising platforms.

Originally known for its ubiquitous dial-up Internet access, AOL today is better described as a content and advertising aggregator — putting online video in front of viewers bolstered by AOL’s powerful advertising technology that can match a targeted advertising message to a specific viewer in milliseconds.

AOL’s portfolio also includes the well-known EngadgetTechCrunch and Huffington Post websites, which many analysts expect will not be part of the deal, quickly spun off to a new owner(s) to avoid any political headaches over Verizon’s control of the well-known content sites, some including coverage critical of Verizon.

Verizon-logoAll signs point to the AOL acquisition as more evidence Verizon management is shifting priorities to its mobile business, Verizon Wireless. In 2014, Verizon acquired the assets of Intel Media, which was planning an Internet TV service called OnCue. Verizon’s acquisition will help it develop an alternative television platform and many analysts expect it will primarily reach Verizon Wireless customers.

Complimenting online video with AOL’s ad placement and insertion platform will likely be the best chance Verizon has to monetize that video content.

“Certainly the subscription business and the content businesses are very noteworthy,” confirmed Verizon’s president of operations, John Stratton. “For us, the principal interest was around the ad tech platform.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Why Verizon Coveted AOLs Ad Technology and Mobile Video 5-12-15.flv

Bloomberg says Verizon’s real interest in AOL is their online advertising platform, which can bolster Verizon Wireless’ mobile video service. (2:39)

Verizon’s $4 billion investment in AOL did not go into expanding its fiber optic platform FiOS.

Verizon Wireless Multicast

Verizon Wireless Multicast

“For the price it’s paying for AOL, Verizon could deploy its FiOS broadband service across the rest of its service area, bringing much-needed services and competition to communities like Baltimore, Boston and Buffalo,” said Free Press research director S. Derek Turner. “Instead, the company is spending a fortune to wade into the advertising and content-production markets. In terms of the latter, Verizon has already shown a willingness to block content and skew news coverage.”

As Stop the Cap! reported last week, that isn’t a surprise to some utility companies that believe all signs point to Verizon’s growing disinterest in its wireline division. Florida Power & Light expects Verizon will become a wireless only company within the next 10 years.

While AT&T explores expanding its wireless service internationally and seeks approval for its acquisition of satellite service DirecTV, Verizon Wireless is moving to monetize increased customer usage of its network with the forthcoming introduction of a video service this summer. The product would offer a mix of ad-supported and paid short video content and may offer live multicast programming that can reach a larger audience without disrupting network capacity.

Increased viewing of high bandwidth video will force Verizon customers to continually upgrade data plans, further monetizing Verizon’s wireless business. AOL’s ad insertion technology will allow Verizon to earn advertising income from viewers, creating a dual revenue stream.

Verizon can also sell advertisers information about its massive customer base of wired and wireless customers, including their browsing habits and demographic profile to deliver “data-driven marketing and addressable advertising.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Verizon-AOL Deal 1999 All Over Again 5-12-15.flv

Bloomberg News puts together several of Verizon’s puzzling recent acquisitions, which point to a shift of Verizon’s business towards its mobile and content platforms. (5:42)

LTE-Unlicensed: How the Wireless Industry Plans to Conquer Your (and the Cable Industry’s) Home Wi-Fi Hotspot

special reportWith billions of dollars in new revenue and royalties to be made, Qualcomm and some members of the wireless industry are pushing regulators to quickly approve a new version of LTE wireless technology that will share many of the same frequencies used by home and business Wi-Fi networks, creating the potential for speed-killing interference.

Wireless operators believe LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) could be used to offload much of the growing wireless data traffic off traditional 4G LTE wireless data networks. With the cost of securing more wireless spectrum from regulators growing, LTE-U technology would allow operators like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile to use the U-NII-1 (5150-5250MHz) and U-NII-3 (5725-5850MHz) unlicensed bands currently used for Wi-Fi to deliver high-speed wireless broadband traffic to their customers.

Qualcomm and Ericsson, behind the newest iteration of LTE, have a vested interest promoting it as the ideal choice for metrocell, indoor enterprise, and residential small cell applications. Every manufacturer incorporating LTE-U technology into everything from carrier-owned microcells to smartphones will owe royalty payments to both companies. With billions at stake, Qualcomm is doing everything possible to tamp down fears LTE-U signals will create harmful interference to Wi-Fi signals.

qualcomm lte-u

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CES2015 Qualcomm Demonstrates LTE-U 1-2015.mp4

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas held in January, a Qualcomm representative went as far as suggesting LTE-U will improve home Wi-Fi service. (5:42)

RCRWireless News:

[Qualcomm] set up a screened room with eight pairs of access points occupying the same channel and added Wi-Fi access-point terminals in one room and LTE-U terminals in another. The results show the average throughput of 3.3Mbps with Wi-Fi alone more than doubled to 6.7Mbps when the LTE-U access point was introduced.

In another test to show that LTE-U is a better neighbor to Wi-Fi than Wi-Fi itself, they took eight Wi-Fi nodes and replaced four of them with LTE-U nodes, the result of which showed a 1.9Mbps increase in average Wi-Fi throughput. In almost every test, the LTE-U enhanced network outperformed traditional Wi-Fi.

Burstein

Burstein

Industry observer Dave Burstein is concerned advocates of LTE-U are trying to rush approval of the technology without verifying Qualcomm’s non-interference claims.

“The telcos are considering 40 and 80MHz channels that could easily swallow half of more of the Wi-Fi spectrum,” Burstein writes in response to an EE Times article about the technology. “If Wi-Fi is important, that’s a mistake to allow. Advocates are trying to rush it through even though there is not a single independent test or field trial.”

Qualcomm dismisses the interference complaints pointing to its own research showing the two standards can co-exist adequately. But multi-billion dollar wireless companies with nationwide Wi-Fi networks at stake are far less confident. In fact, LTE-U has already divided the two largest wireless carriers in the United States. Verizon Wireless is an original proponent of LTE-U while AT&T has expressed “concern,” a polite way of saying it isn’t happy. What separates AT&T and Verizon Wireless? AT&T has invested in a nationwide network of more than 34,000 Wi-Fi hotspots. Verizon offers just over 5,000, most for FiOS customers or those in especially high traffic venues.

A Stanford University professor with no ties to Qualcomm or the wireless industry privately shared his belief allowing 5GHz Wi-Fi signals to commingle with LTE-U is going to cause problems.

lte-u-unlicensed-spectrum-v3The development of “Wild West” Wi-Fi has always tracked differently than the licensed cellular/wireless business. Over more than a decade, evolving Wi-Fi standards have come to expect interference from other nearby Wi-Fi signals. In a densely packed city, more than two dozen Wi-Fi signals can easily be found all competing for their own space across the old 2.4GHz and newer 5GHz unlicensed bands.

Wi-Fi proponents credit its robustness to its “politeness protocol.” Before a wireless router or home hotspot fires up its Wi-Fi signal, it performs several tests to check for other users and constantly adjusts performance by backing off when it discovers interference from other signals. That is why a user can receive strong Wi-Fi signals but still endure reduced performance, as the hotspot accommodates nearby hotspots and other traffic.

It works reasonably well, according to Rupert Baines, a consultant at Real Wireless.

“But [Wi-Fi signals] are delicate, and they rely on implicit assumptions that there aren’t other things there (or aren’t too many),” Baines told EE Times. “In effect, they behave as though the unlicensed band were not technology neutral but were Wi-Fi only.”

The intrusion of LTE-U changes everything.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Wireless Week Tuesdays with Roger LTE-Us Gain is Wi-Fis Loss 3-24-15.flv

On the March 24, 2015 episode of Tuesdays with Roger, Recon Analytics’ founder Roger Entner talks with Wireless Week about the questions raised as major carriers, including T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, plan to launch LTE into unlicensed territory. Concerns abound, particularly for consumers and companies who rely on Wi-Fi and don’t want licensed use in unlicensed bands to interrupt that service. (7:31)

Change in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if LTE-U is superior to Wi-Fi, and some proponents suggest it is. Jag Bolaria, an analyst at The Linley Group, argues LTE better manages data/call handoff better than Wi-Fi access points can. LTE is also a more efficient spectrum user than Wi-Fi.

Last week, South Korea’s LG U+ demonstrated LTE-U was capable of 600Mbps speed, eight times faster than traditional LTE. But to accomplish that level of speed, LG U+ had to occupy 60MHz of bandwidth in the 5.8GHz band and allocate an extra 20MHz from its traditional LTE service. The company plans to further expand its use of South Korea’s 5.8GHz unlicensed band by occupying 80MHz of it to further boost speeds to 750Mbps. But the company did not say how the tests affected others sharing the same frequencies.

If LTE-U is superior, then why not gradually move every user towards the technology and away from Wi-Fi?

Aptilo Networks AB CEO Torbjorn Ward answers LTE-U is a solution in search of a problem.

“I think LTE on unlicensed sounds like a good idea if it wasn’t for the fact that there are four billion devices on Wi-Fi out there,” he told Light Reading, noting that 802.11ac can already run at 100Mbps, so there’s little need for the LTE boost. “I think when it comes to unlicensed, you can do a longer range with LTE, but I don’t see the full benefit.”

That does not seem to matter to LTE-U’s developers or cell phone companies that lack robust Wi-Fi networks of their own.

as-is

In the original Qualcomm/Ericsson proposal, both companies promote the fact they could launch LTE-U in the unlicensed Wi-Fi bands “as-is.” That is a big problem for AT&T and other Wi-Fi users because LTE-U evidently employs few, if any protection protocols in its initial specifications for other traffic. Verizon Wireless is reportedly lobbying against the development of interference protection protocols and has publicly asserted its interest in deploying LTE-U regardless of other users.

“In [the] USA, there are no requirements for unlicensed deployment that require changes to LTE air interface,” Verizon stated in its proposal: “New Band for LTE deployment as Supplemental Downlink in unlicensed 5.8GHz in USA.”

LTE-Unlicensed has been characterized as "rude" for not avoiding interference to other users.

LTE-Unlicensed has been characterized as “rude” for not avoiding interference to other users.

Clint W. Brown, business development director of mobility wireless connectivity at Broadcom, and a vice-chairman of the Wi-Fi Alliance counters it is premature to approve LTE-U in the unlicensed Wi-Fi band without more testing and information about its interference protocols.

“We’ve heard about the tests they’ve done, but it’s not factual,” Brown told EE Times. We haven’t seen the data and we don’t know how the tests were set up. First, I’d like to see if [LTE-U] can detect low-level signals. Second, I want to make sure it features a ‘Listen before Talk’ decision process so that LTE-U will wait for an opening rather than barging into the conversation already taking place in the unlicensed spectrum. Third, there should be a back-off mechanism, when it sees a collision. “We aren’t aware of any publicly available documents explicitly stating those attributes.”

The Federal Communications Commission has also now taken an interest and issued a public notice asking stakeholders and consumers to share their thoughts on LTE-U and a companion technology known as Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) that would hand off data sessions between a wireless carrier’s traditional 4G LTE network and LTE-U.

The makes the discussion political as well as technical. The FCC traditionally permits industry groups to define standards, but Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly now worries the FCC might butt into that process.

“The decision to jump into this space rather casually causes me great concern,” O’Rielly said. “In particular, any step that could insert the commission into the standards work for LTE-U comes with great risk. I will be vigilant in ensuring that the commission’s involvement does not result in taking sides with various stakeholders, hindering technological innovation, or having any say about what technologies should or should not be deployed.”

monopolyFor the moment, O’Rielly’s concerns about the FCC are premature as long as a division exists over LTE-U among many of the industry players:

  • Companies FOR LTE-U: Verizon, China Mobile, Qualcomm, Ericsson, NTT DoCoMo, T-Mobile USA, Deutsche Telekom, TeliaSonera, and China Unicom.  Equipment manufacturers also in support: Nokia, NSN, Alcatel-Lucent, LG, Huawei, ZTE, Hitachi, Panasonic, and others;
  • Companies AGAINST LTE-U (as now defined): Orange, Telefónica, Vodafone, AT&T, Sprint, SouthernLINC, US Cellular, DISH and a handful of vendors.

Burstein also uncovered evidence the wireless industry may be stacking the deck against increased competition and consumers. He found 11 of the world’s largest wireless companies (including AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint) quietly colluding on a proposal that would block anyone other than currently licensed LTE users from being able to use LTE-U on a standalone basis. The opaquely-titled proposal, “Precluding standalone access of LTE on unlicensed carriers,” is at least frank about its reasoning: “Standalone deployment in unlicensed spectrum implies drastically different business models from nowadays and might impact the value chain.”

In other words, if consumers are able to get savings from LTE-U using a new generation of non-traditional providers like Republic Wireless or Cablevision’s Freewheel that do not depend primarily on cellular networks, it could cost those 11 traditional wireless companies billions in lost revenue. To stop that, the companies propose requiring a special LAA “guard signal” to stop standalone access of LTE-U. Since only licensed cell phone companies have access to those frequencies, it automatically locks out new upstarts that lack mobile spectrum of their own.

Sneaky insertions like that may be exactly why the Obama Administration’s FCC is being more activist about monitoring the wireless industry, potentially cutting off anti-competitive proposals before they can become adopted as part of a formal technical standard.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Fairness to Wi-Fi and LTE unlicensed 5-8-2015.mp4

RCRWireless News gets deep into the development of LTE-Unlicensed and how it will impact cellular infrastructure, Wi-Fi and small cells. (25:39)

Fla. Utility Says Negotiations With Verizon Make It Clear Verizon Will Exit the Wireline Business Within 10 Years

FPL_logo_PMS2925A Florida utility company has told federal regulators it is certain Verizon has a plan to exit its landline and wired broadband businesses within the next ten years to become an all-wireless service provider.

Florida Power & Light argued in a regulatory filing with the Federal Communications Commission it was clear Verizon had plans to exit its wireline business after the phone company suddenly informed regulated utilities like FP&L it no longer seemed interested in fighting over pole attachment fees and pole ownership and use issues. FP&L suggests that is a radical change of heart for a company that has fought tooth and nail over issues like pole attachment fees for years.

“Verizon has made it clear it intends to be out of the wireline business within the next ten years, conveying this clear intent to regulated utilities in negotiations over joint use issues and explaining that Verizon no longer wants to be a pole owner,” FP&L wrote to federal regulators. “Indeed, the current proposed [$10.54 billion sale of Verizon facilities in Florida, Texas and California] proves this point.”

Verizon has fought repeatedly with the Florida power company over the fees it pays FP&L to attach copper and fiber cables to the power company’s poles. Verizon Florida has repeatedly accused FP&L of charging unjust fees and at one point withheld payments to the utility worth millions.

In February, the FCC dismissed Verizon’s complaint for lack of evidence in the first-ever decision in a pole attachment complaint case involving an incumbent telephone company under a joint use agreement with an electric utility. The power company accused Verizon of lying when it promised concrete benefits to consumers if the FCC reduced joint use pole attachment rates. Suddenly, Verizon no longer seems to be interested in the issue.

verizon“Verizon has not increased its efforts to deploy wireline broadband in the last three years; and there is no evidence that Verizon has used the capital saved on joint use rates for the expansion of wireline broadband,” FP&L officials write. “Indeed, all of the evidence shows that Verizon is abandoning its efforts to build out wireline broadband.”

The power company is not about to just wave goodbye to Verizon. It filed remarks opposing the sale, claiming the benefits will end up in the pockets of executives and shareholders while customers get little or nothing. FP&L wants the FCC to enforce concrete conditions that guarantee Frontier will invest in upgrades to Verizon’s network, especially in non-FiOS service areas.

FP&L added it supports forward technological progress for the benefit of consumers, but the price of that progress should not be the abandonment of wireline customers, contractual obligations, and past promises to the FCC. The utility wrote it is not opposed to Verizon becoming a fully wireless company, but it should only be allowed to do so after it ensures that “its wireline house is in order.”

As things stand today, the utility argues Verizon is looking to abdicate on its obligation to deliver universal service and is no longer interested in maintaining its wired networks. FP&L points to Verizon’s efforts in 2013 to discard damaged wired facilities in favor of Voice Link, Verizon’s wireless landline replacement, in states including New York, New Jersey, and Florida.

“There should be no doubt that Verizon’s strategy to abandon wireline service in favor of wireless service extends beyond New York and Florida and beyond storm damaged and rural areas,” argues FP&L.

The utility points to Verizon’s successful effort to relieve itself of obligations to build a statewide fiber network in New Jersey that was supposed to be complete by 2010.

“Verizon, quite simply, has failed to build out wireline broadband in New Jersey because Verizon has no interest in doing so,” said FP&L. “As the sale of wireline facilities in Florida, Texas, and California […] clearly demonstrates, Verizon obviously is no longer interested in the wireline broadband business and sees its financial future in the wireless industry.”

GOP Tries to Slash Rural Broadband Funding in Minnesota: “Wireless/Satellite Broadband is the Future!”

Garofalo

Garofalo

Outrage from Minnesota’s elected officials representing rural districts around the state has embarrassed Minnesota House Republicans into grudgingly restoring a token amount of broadband funding to help small communities get online.

Earlier this month, the GOP majority’s budget proposal completely eliminated broadband development grants, which amounted to $20 million in 2014. Republicans attacked the spending as unnecessary and a wasteful “luxury.” The money was reallocated towards promoting tourism.

Budget point man Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) said hardwired Internet access was outdated.

“The future is wireless and satellite Internet,” Garofalo declared, adding these were better, cheaper options for rural Minnesota.

Rural Minnesota strongly disagreed.

The West Central Tribune in Willmar declared the GOP budget proposal very disappointing to everyone in rural Minnesota.

“Rural Minnesota will continue to fall behind in broadband access and, in turn, the critical factors of quality of life, education, economic opportunities, access to health care and many other positive benefits,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial.

Rural Minnesota Broadband: Nothing to write home with a quill pen about.

Rural Minnesota Broadband: Nothing to write home with a quill pen about.

“We are astonished as to why the House would ignore one of the state’s biggest economic development needs,” said Willmar City Council member Audrey Nelsen, a member of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities’ board. “The lack of high-quality broadband affects communities and regions all across the state.”

“We agree,” the paper declared.

“High-speed Internet service is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity for job and business growth,” said executive director Dan Dorman of the Greater Minnesota Partnership.

House Republicans seem intent on stomping out rural Minnesota’s digital economy. Broadband coverage in these areas is a disgrace: Kandiyohi County is third lowest in Minnesota, at only 13.18 percent, in the percentage of households with access to broadband that meets state-speed goals. Surrounding counties with low access percentages include: Chippewa at 24.47 percent, Yellow Medicine at 25.69, Swift at 30.41, Pope at 31.40 and Renville at 58.29.

In 2013, Gov. Dayton’s Broadband Task Force Report recommended a $100 million infrastructure fund to start addressing the $3.2 billion total investment needed statewide to address this issue. Garofalo seems ready to concede to an $8 million token allocation some Democrats call insulting.

Rep. Tim Mahoney said he believed 10 years of an annual $20 million investment would solve the rural broadband problem in Minnesota in a decade. The St. Paul Democrat believes with the GOP’s budget, it will take forever.

“For them to come up with $8 million is kind of ridiculous,” Mahoney said. “It’s almost a slap in the face.”

Garofalo believes AT&T and Verizon’s forthcoming home wireless broadband solutions will solve Minnesota’s broadband problems, without considering those services are expensive and tightly usage-capped. Satellite Internet is condemned by critics as costly “fraudband,” often speed-throttled and usage capped.

Fiber Internet, in Garofalo’s world view, is “yesterday’s technology,” despite ongoing investments in fiber to the home Internet around the world, including investments from companies including AT&T, Verizon, Google, and others that now offer fiber technology capable of speeds in excess of 1Gbps.

Sober assessments of the different broadband technologies available in Minnesota are already available from the state’s Office of Broadband Development. Garofalo’s budget resolves the ideological conflict between his views and theirs by eliminating the agency.

Garofalo said to save rural broadband, the state government must first kill any plan that might interfere with the private sector.

“The private sector won’t invest if it senses that the government is coming in with something else,” he said.

lousy rural

Without throwing Garofalo totally under the nearest tourist bus, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Jim Knoblach said the state needs rural broadband funding, even if other options such as wireless Internet may be a more efficient way to tackle the problem down the road.

“There are people waiting for broadband now that I think this would help,” the St. Cloud Republican said, supporting the restoration of $8 million in funding.

Google Unveils Project Fi Wireless Service: $20/Mo Voice/Text + $10/GB Data Plan That Credits Back Unused Data

google fiGoogle today unveiled their new wireless service, dubbed Project Fi, the first wireless carrier that combines the coverage of two competing cellular providers — Sprint and T-Mobile — to deliver affordable wireless service and a data plan that rebates back any unused portion of your monthly allowance. There are no term contracts, early termination fees, or overlimit penalty charges.

Google’s calling plan starts with Fi Basics for $20 per month. This includes:

  • Unlimited domestic talk and text;
  • Unlimited international texts;
  • Low-cost international calls;
  • Wi-Fi tethering;
  • Coverage in 120+ countries (Unlimited international texts are included in the plan, Cellular calls cost 20c per minute. If calling over Wi-Fi, per-minute costs vary based on which country you’re calling and you’re charged only for outbound calls.)

There is no unlimited data plan, presumably because neither T-Mobile or Sprint was willing to allow Google to offer one. Google tries to turn that into a plus by telling customers they should only pay for the data they actually use. The 2G/3G/4G data plan is $10/GB, sold in 1GB increments up to 10GB. Whatever data you do not use is converted into a cash amount credited to the following month’s bill. Instead of rolling over data, you roll over dollars. If you exceed your allowance, there are no penalty overlimit fees. Instead, you are charged $10 for an additional gigabyte of usage, with the same privilege of getting a cash credit applied to your next bill for any data you didn’t use.

Google assumes you will spend most of your time connected to Wi-Fi, where it offers free Wi-Fi calling and texting. If you lose your Wi-Fi connection, the phone will connect to either Sprint or T-Mobile’s network without losing a call in-progress. Another unique aspect of the service is that your mobile phone number lives in the cloud, so you can talk and text with your number on just about any phone, tablet or laptop using Google Hangouts.

The Nexus 6 is a real handful. It's also the only phone that will currently work on Google Fi.

The Nexus 6 is a real handful. It’s also the only phone that will work on Google Fi.

Google Project Fi relies on Sprint and T-Mobile’s combined networks to deliver coverage, trying to satisfy customers seeking Verizon or AT&T-like coverage. Google’s service seamlessly chooses Wi-Fi first, followed by Sprint or T-Mobile depending on which offers the best 4G signal at your location.

Although the service has been anticipated for some time, there are some caveats to consider before rushing to sign up.

First, you cannot sign-up immediately, you can only request an invitation. As with many other new Google projects, invitation-only service means it could be days, weeks, or even a month before you can sign-up.

Second, a view of Google’s coverage map shows Project Fi has substantially reduced dead spots, but has not eliminated them. Project Fi would likely appeal to Sprint or T-Mobile customers now frustrated by their suburban coverage. Chances are good that between the two carriers, one will deliver a robust signal even if the other does not. But rural areas have always been bypassed by both carriers and this makes Project Fi a bad choice if Sprint and T-Mobile are not good options where you live or work.

For example, much of eastern Kentucky, virtually the entire state of West Virginia, and western Virginia offer little to no 3G/4G coverage. Google Fi only promises 2G coverage in these areas, through a roaming agreement T-Mobile or Sprint has with a larger carrier.

Third, unless you already own a Nexus 6, you will be spending at least $650 to buy a new smartphone. Google will initially only support the Nexus 6 for Project Fi, because it is the only phone capable of switching between Google’s wireless partners. It comes in your choice of colors, if your choice is “Midnight Blue.” The smartphone offers two storage sizes—32GB ($649) and 64GB ($699). You can buy the Nexus 6 up front or finance your phone at 0% interest or fees for 24 months at $27.04/month for the 32GB option or $29.12/month for the 64GB option. A credit check is required for the financing option.

Fourth, there are no family plan options. Each phone is assigned to its own account. If you intend to switch your family of four, you will be dealing with four individual accounts (and a whopping $2,600 to acquire four Nexus 6 phones). Because of the invitation-only approach now in effect, it may take some time to get all of your family members up and running.

Finally, Google intends that its mobile service effectively sells itself. That means they are not offering promotions to sign up and will not pay your existing carrier to cover any early termination fees. You can port your current landline or mobile telephone number to the service. Google does not disclose any fees for doing so.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Google Project Fi 4-22-15.mp4

Google produced this introductory video about its new wireless service: Google Project Fi. (1:56)

UK Regulator: Don’t Call Your Wireless Service Unlimited and Then Throttle Heavy Users to Death

virgin-media-union-logo“Unlimited data” must mean exactly that in the United Kingdom if you hope to survive a challenge with British regulators over advertising and tariff claims.

Virgin Media thought itself clever offering “VIP” mobile customers two choices for service: £15 for a package that included 3GB of mobile data or £20 for “unlimited” data. Unlimited sounds like a great deal. For just $7.41 more, a customer could turn their stingy 3GB plan into unlimited data paradise. Or so one would think until navigating a nearly impenetrable thicket of fine print that suggested “you should expect speeds delivered up to 384kbps (3G). Actual speeds experienced may be higher or lower and will vary by device and location.”

Seven complainants discovered something interesting about their “unlimited data plan.” It sped along at an average speed of 6Mbps until they hit 3.5GB of usage during any billing cycle. After that, speeds were consistently reduced to 384kbps. They quickly learned Virgin had a secret throttling plan in place for their unlimited customers, couched in vague and misleading fine print that suggested customers should treat anything over 384kbps as a veritable gift from the mobile gods.

Why hide the fact Virgin has a “fair use policy” similar to many other wireless carriers that promise unlimited data only to throttle speeds after customers reach a certain amount of usage? Look again at Virgin’s pricing.

A customer could choose a £15 plan that included 3GB of usage or spend an extra £5 for what actually turns out to be just 500MB of regular speed data. If customers realized that, they would likely keep the £5 in their wallet. Instead, it went straight into Virgin’s bank account.

Virgin’s response is familiar to any customer who thought they bought an unlimited plan only to discover it cannot reasonably be used once an arbitrary limit is reached. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) summarized Virgin’s reply:

They said within all of their advertising, whenever they referred to “unlimited data” in connection with their mobile tariffs, they included an explanation within the small print that customers should expect speeds of up to 384kbit/s.  They said the restriction imposed on customers was moderate in respect of the service being advertised.

They noted that the body copy of the ad did not make any reference to internet speeds, and said that Virgin Mobile customers were never prevented from accessing the internet, no matter how much data they used.  They therefore maintained that access to data for any customer was entirely unlimited.  They said, where a customer exceeded 3.5GB in any 30-day period, they would still be able to use the internet on their device at 3G speeds.  They said that 2% of Virgin Media customers ever reached the limit in a 30-day period, which they considered was a tiny minority. They said that the customers using more than 3.5GB of data each month would be those customers who would be more aware of the advertised expected speed, and that the average consumer would therefore not have been misled.

asaThat last sentence in particular did not amuse the regulators. In the United Kingdom, making a claim of “unlimited service” means that any limitations imposed on that service affecting speed or usability must be at most moderate and clearly disclosed. Virgin failed on both.

Average 3G speeds in Britain are now 6.1Mbps and that speed does not vary much between providers. The ASA ruled that slashing speeds to a fraction of 6Mbps went way beyond the rules.

“Given the speeds we understood consumers were likely to achieve before the [throttle], we considered that they were likely to notice the drop in speeds once the restriction was applied, as had a number of the complainants,” wrote the ASA. “We considered that a reduction in speed from an average we understood to be approximately 6 Mbit/s to 384 kbit/s once the limit was reached, was more than a moderate reduction. Because we considered the limitation imposed on speeds to be more than moderate, we concluded that the claim ‘unlimited data’ was misleading.”

As a result, Virgin Media was told not to claim that a service was ‘unlimited’ if the limitations that affected the speed or usage of the service were more than moderate.

Thurman, N.Y.’s Rural ‘White Space’ Wireless Network Debuts; Speed, Capacity Blows DSL and Satellite Away

The national map of available white space channels show plenty are available in rural areas, but designing an urban network might prove challenging because open channels just don't exist.

The national map of available white space channels show plenty are available in rural areas, but designing an urban network might prove challenging because open channels often just don’t exist. In a medium-sized city like Rochester, only 11 UHF channels are available, a number likely to dwindle to close to zero if the FCC successfully reallocates much of the UHF band to wireless providers like AT&T and Verizon.

A dozen homes in the middle of the Adirondacks now have access to Internet speeds far faster than what Verizon and Frontier DSL can deliver and without the usage caps or speed throttling common with satellite Internet access.

Thurman, N.Y.’s public-private “white space” wireless network survived months of political wrangling, debate, and even intentional signal interference created by someone intent on disrupting the project. For a community that some maps depict with zero residents, the 1,200 people of Thurman are now more known than ever, winning national attention for one of the first next generation rural wireless networks to use unused space on the UHF dial to provide Internet access.

A dozen homes are the first to receive the service, with nearly 80 more on the way during phase one of the project. A $200,000 New York state broadband grant helped get the project off the ground and defray the cost of equipment installed in each subscriber’s home. But the initial cost isn’t cheap, even with the grant. New customers pay an upfront equipment fee of $292 for a receiver that costs the project up to $600. The monthly service charge is $50. Despite the price, it’s worth it to a lot of subscribers.

“The white space service is truly amazing,” said John Schroeter of Kenyontown, noting he uses the Internet for genealogical research and relied on dial-up access for the last 15 years. “I can go from one web page to another without waiting forever.”

Schroeter told Denton Publications that web pages often failed to load with dial-up, even after hours of waiting. Now he can manage to complete days of research in about an hour, without having to drive 15 miles to the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot.

Despite the fact Verizon and Frontier Communications both run their own fiber cables on the same utility poles in the region, at least 75% of the 400 homes in Thurman have no access to broadband Internet, living out of reach of even basic DSL. Many end up in the parking lot of the town hall to use Wi-Fi. Others depend on prohibitively expensive satellite access. None of the existing options were ideal. Sheila Flanagan, proprietor of Nettle Meadow Farm complained it took her hours to prepare even a small number of shipping labels to send her cheese products across the country with UPS. Speeds were so slow, she was forced to drop Williams-Sonoma as a client.

thurmanThe concept of white space wireless Internet access has already taken hold in Europe but has dragged in the United States as existing UHF television stations, wireless carriers, wireless microphone manufacturers and others who use the same frequencies white space data services also depend on defend their turf. Since white space services are unlicensed and intended for two-way communications, fears that Internet users would degrade wireless microphones or TV reception meant special care had to be taken to lower the potential for interference.

Since rural areas lack a crowded television dial, are often outside of the coverage areas of wireless carriers, and are unlikely to host many wireless mics, white space broadband would seem like the natural solution.

The project in Thurman faced a number of obstacles to overcome anyway. There were philosophical objections from tea party conservatives who objected to tax dollars paying for the “luxury” of Internet access when satellite service is available. Some residents wanted a fiber to the home solution, one that was likely financially out of reach for the small community. Still others wanted the money spent on a fiber link between the town and Time Warner Cable, that might then be enticed to wire homes in the rural community. In the end, the community decided to go ahead with an advanced wireless network, citing a number of factors familiar to many living in rural areas:

  1. thurman-nySince the town is located entirely within the Adirondack Park, there are prohibitions on placing communications towers on nearby peaks or other high spots that could spoil the view;
  2. The heavily forested and mountainous area made a traditional Wireless ISP project difficult because those networks need line of sight communications. White space wireless signals easily penetrate through trees and can stay intact across hilly terrain;
  3. Although not as bandwidth capable as fiber optics, white space networks are capable of delivering 10Mbps broadband per UHF channel. Most networks bond multiple UHF channels together to support even faster speeds and expand capacity;
  4. The chances of creating interference for other spectrum users was low in Thurman, which is a four-hour drive from New York and far enough north of Albany to avoid interfering with signals from the state capital. Even wireless carriers hug their cell towers along I-87, a respectable distance away;
  5. The network has redundant backhaul access to fiber from both Verizon and Frontier, neither of which show the slightest interest in expanding services into the community on their own;
  6. The grant was limited in scope and white space broadband qualified so it proved the most economical choice for a community that was no stranger to fights over money, engaging in political battles over issues like the cost of building a salt shed and auditing the on-hand count of trash bags.
The Thurman white space broadband project hides base station antennas in the tree canopy.

The Thurman white space broadband project hides base station antennas in the tree canopy.

Tests provided the project managers with an idea where to place needed wireless antennas, often hidden within tree canopies. But at least one disgruntled resident made a point of creating intentional interference on the channels the project managers were testing, committing a federal offense along the way. That was quickly overcome and the equipment has been placed and will soon be joined by installations in nearby neighborhoods, broadening the reach of the service.

Recent advancements in white space technology have also allowed speed and capacity to improve dramatically. Equipment now transmits its exact GPS-identified location to a national database which sends back an authorized list of “white space” channels each transmitter can use to provide the service. If a new licensed broadcaster takes to the airwaves, a database update will lock out that channel in the area, preventing interference.

Although exact speed data was not available at press time, Sally Feihel demonstrated she could successfully stream an episode of a classic Andy Griffith Show on her iPod at the same time a videoconference was underway and someone else was downloading a movie, all without skipping a beat. In fact, there is so much speed and capacity built into the system, its managers say speed throttles and usage caps are completely unnecessary.

Most users agreed the wireless network far outpaced satellite and DSL and some believed it was even faster than Time Warner Cable Internet access they experienced elsewhere. (Time Warner Cable doesn’t come near the community today.)

Constructing the network only took several months, but the politics that often surrounds public-private initiatives and the need for grant funding in income-challenged rural America can tie up projects much longer than that. The need for decent and affordable Internet access often will cross party lines, especially in rural communities.

New York’s state broadband expansion fund could help expand similar projects to other bypassed areas of the state. That investment may actually save taxpayers from paying high broadband bills indefinitely.

Residents are eagerly waiting for the next expansion to begin down Valley, Garnet Lake and Glen-Athol Roads. Moving beyond that may take more grant funding.

“White space is saving us $90 per month, and it’s far faster than satellite ever was,” another resident said.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/MetroFocus A New way to Bring Broadband to Rural Towns in Upstate New York 2014.mp4

MetroFocus showed the initial planning and testing phases of Thurman’s new white space wireless network, including interviews with town officials and a tour of the community. (4:23)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Dynamic Spectrum in Action How TV White Space Devices Work.mp4

TV white space wireless broadband networks are designed to avoid interference with other licensed spectrum users. See how the technology works in this short video. (2:27)

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?”

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