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Former FCC Commissioner Named President of the CTIA – Wireless Industry’s Lobbying Group

Phillip Dampier April 24, 2014 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments
Meredith Atwell Baker is moving on up...

Meredith Attwell Baker is moving on up…

Meredith Attwell-Baker, former FCC commissioner and high-level Comcast lobbyist has been named the new president of the CTIA – the wireless industry’s chief lobbying group and trade association.

“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to use my experience in both the public and private sectors to help the vital and fast-growing wireless communications industry,” Baker said in a press release. “CTIA should be in the center of discussions about how wireless is reshaping our economy, our society and our culture.”

Baker has cashed in on her two-year stint as a Republican commissioner at the FCC after resigning in the middle of her term to accept a high-paying lobbying job at Comcast only months after voting in favor of Comcast’s merger deal with NBCUniversal. Criticism of her hiring by one Seattle youth advocacy group almost cost it financial support when Comcast initially threatened to yank its funding.

The revolving door between the private sector and those that regulate it has rarely been as clear than at the Federal Communications Commission. Baker will assume a position once held by current FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler. Another former chairman of the FCC, Michael Powell, now runs the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the cable industry’s lobbying group.

Baker will be well-compensated at the CTIA with a salary likely to approach $3 million a year. Baker is the daughter-in-law of former secretary of state James A. Baker.

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AT&T/Verizon Wireless’ No-Subsidy Plans Working Great for Them, Not So Much for You

Phillip Dampier April 24, 2014 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon, Wireless Broadband 1 Comment

galaxy s5AT&T and Verizon Wireless are thrilled customers are moving away from subsidized smartphones, because both are raking in extra revenue they are not returning to customers with lower plan prices.

In the past, customers have usually chosen discounted new phones that come with a two-year contract. A smartphone that retails for $650 sells in the store for $199 or less, with the $450 subsidy gradually repaid through artificially high service plan prices over the length of the contract. The subsidy system didn’t hurt long-term revenues because the money was eventually recovered and contracts locked most customers into place for at least two years. But Wall Street has never been thrilled by carriers tying up subsidy money on the books for two years.

For a transition away from the subsidy system to be fair, providers need to lower plan prices enough to drop the subsidy payback. But neither AT&T or Verizon Wireless have done that.

AT&T customers choosing an $650 iPhone on contract under the subsidy system will pay $200 up front, a $36 activation fee, and $80 a month for a two-year plan with 2GB of data. Total cost: $2,156.

If you buy your own iPhone and finance it through AT&T, which most customers are likely to do, the cost is $65 a month for the service plan, no activation fee, and a device installment payment plan of $32.50 a month for 20 months. Total cost: $2,210 or $54 more than the subsidized plan costs.

verizon attVerizon Wireless is a bigger taker.

Sign a two-year contract with Big Red for that same phone and 2GB plan and you will pay $200 up front, an activation fee of $35, and $75 a month for the service. That adds up to $2,035. Buying a no-contract iPhone without a subsidy costs $27 a month for the installment plan, no activation fee, and $65 a month for the service. That totals $2,210, $175 more than a subsidy customer pays.

Big spending-customers can realize some further savings by upgrading to plans with a bigger data allowance, but those plans won’t make sense if you don’t use up your allowance.

Both companies claim the unsubsidized plans save customers money, but they actually don’t for most because neither lowered plan rates enough and are now pocketing the difference. Verizon and AT&T also argue customers don’t have to pay several hundred dollars up front for a phone, which is true, but they will pay more for it over time. It is also true these unsubsidized plans allow for earlier upgrades, but customers are paying for that privilege.

It’s hard to say whether AT&T and Verizon Wireless will pay fair value for old phones as customers choose to upgrade. If they don’t, customers could effectively hand both companies even more money through undervalued trade-ins.

At least 40 percent of AT&T customers are choosing the unsubsidized route through AT&T Next and the company couldn’t be more pleased.

In a conference call with investors this week, AT&T’s chief financial officer told analysts wireless service margins were up to 45.4%, with AT&T Next having a positive impact on that margin.

John Stephens noted that with the retail price of smartphones being in the $600-650 range, more customers are being convinced to sign up for AT&T’s handset insurance plan, which provides AT&T with two benefits. First, the insurance earns AT&T more than it pays out in claims and second, devices returned under the insurance program are refurbished and then sent to other AT&T customers filing claims in the future.

Tim K. Horan from Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. believes AT&T’s total subsidy expenses/internal costs are around $400 for a subsidized phone but only $100 for a phone sold on the Next unsubsidized installment plan.

With competition from T-Mobile starting to have an impact on both companies, AT&T and Verizon Wireless have plenty of room to further lower their rates and still come out ahead.

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Comcast’s Spring Cleaning: More Rate Hikes, X1 Boxes, Wireless Gateways and Usage Caps

speed increaseComcast will increase capital spending in the first half of 2014 to hasten the rollout of its advanced X1 set-top boxes and new wireless gateways that provide public Wi-Fi from customer homes.

Comcast told investors Tuesday its increased spending will likely be offset by increased earnings from more subscribers and room for further price hikes over the course of the year.

First quarter consolidated revenue increased 13.7% to $17.4 billion over the past three months. Almost $11 billion of that comes from Comcast’s cable business. The company boosted cable earnings by 5.3% in the first quarter. Most of that came from a 4.5% increase in the average customer’s cable bill. Comcast subscribers, on average, pay $134 per month. They will pay even more by the end of the year.

Although Comcast’s head of its cable division Neil Smit noted the company implemented lower rate increases during the first quarter, there is room to boost prices further.

“I wouldn’t read any trends into it,” Smit said. “We took rate increases across the smaller percentage of our footprint this quarter than last year as well, but we target different offers to different customers and I don’t think we’re seeing it topping out. In the competitive arena, the offers are in the same ballpark, the promo prices go up and down, but the destination pricing is fairly similar across these various competitors.”

Roberts

Roberts

Comcast continued to buck cord-cutting trends and added 24,000 new video customers in the quarter, a major improvement over the 25,000 it lost at the same time last year. Comcast believes its new X1 platform and aggressive customer retention efforts are responsible for winning and keeping cable television customers. Ongoing speed enhancements in Comcast’s broadband division won the company 383,000 new Internet customers in the last three months. Broadband is Comcast’s biggest money-maker, and revenues increased a further 9% during the quarter owing to customer growth, rate hikes, and customers choosing higher-speed tiers. By the end of the quarter, 38% of Comcast’s residential customers subscribed to at least 50Mbps service, showing growing demand for higher speed Internet.

Sources tell Stop the Cap! Comcast intends to further expand its trial of usage caps (Comcast prefers to call them “usage thresholds”) to more markets this year. Comcast has settled on 300GB usage allowances for most broadband products in current test markets, charging $10 for each additional allotment of 50GB as an overlimit fee. Comcast has avoided trials of usage caps in areas where Verizon FiOS delivers significant competition. Verizon has no usage caps on either their DSL or fiber broadband products.

Comcast also picked up 142,000 new phone customers in the quarter, mostly from those subscribing to aggressively priced triple play service bundle promotions. Around 155,000 new triple play customers signed up over the last three months.

At the end of the first quarter, 68% of Comcast customers took at least two products and 36% took three products, compared to 33% at the end of last year’s first quarter.

Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, said there were several factors that fueled Comcast’s growth during the quarter, starting with its advanced X1 set-top box platform, which offers a better television experience and makes finding things to watch easier. If customers have an X1, Roberts told investors, they are less likely to drop cable television service.

X1

X1

“These positive early results reinforce our decision to accelerate our X1 deployment this year, and we are now adding 15,000 to 20,000 X1 boxes per day, which is double our rate of deployment from just six months ago,” Roberts told analysts. “Additionally, we are now rolling out a new XFINITY TV app, which enables our customers to live stream virtually their entire television lineup on any IP device in the home and watch DVR recordings in the home or on the go.”

Although usage caps remain controversial, Comcast has been aggressive about increasing broadband speeds at least once a year.

“In broadband, we recently increased speeds again for the 13th time in 12 years,” Roberts offered. “Doubling speeds in our Blast products to 105Mbps, while our Extreme tier moved up to 150Mbps for customers in the northeast. And we’re not stopping there. Our focus on wireless gateway deployment is adding utility to our customers while at the same time helping us create the largest Wi-Fi footprint in the U.S. with over one million public Wi-Fi hotspots currently available to our customers.”

xfinitylogoAlthough Comcast’s first quarter capital expenditures increased $51 million (or 4.6%) to $1.1 billion (10.6% of cable revenue versus 10.7% in the first quarter of 2013), the cable company returned even more money to shareholders. In the first quarter, the company boosted return of capital by 35% to $1.3 billion. Comcast repurchased its own shares of stock totaling $750 million and paid $508 million in dividends for the quarter.

In 2014, Comcast will invest 14% of cable revenue (compared to 12.9% in 2013) to accelerate the deployment of X1 and wireless gateways, increase network capacity and continue to invest in expansion of business services and XFINITY Home. But it will spend far more than that placating shareholders. If Comcast wins support to buy Time Warner Cable, Comcast intends to increase its stock repurchase plan by $2.5 billion. The company earlier committed it would spend $3 billion on repurchasing its own shares, for an expected total of $5.5 billion during 2014.

When a company repurchases its own shares, it reduces the number of shares held by the public. That in turn means that if profits remain the same, the earnings per share increase. It also boosts the value of the massive portfolios of Comcast stock held by executives as part of their compensation packages.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Comcast Introducing the X1 Platform from XFINITY 4-14.mp4

Comcast produced this video showing off its X1 platform and new set-top boxes. (1:47)

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SaskTel Exposes Predatory Wireless Pricing from Telus, Bell, and Rogers

sasktelTelus, Bell and Rogers charge customers as much as 45 percent less on wireless service where they face a fourth regional competitor in a case of suspected predatory pricing that could threaten the viability of competition in Canada’s wireless marketplace.

SaskTel, a crown corporation, is one of several Canadian regional wireless providers. The Saskatchewan Telecommunications Holding Corporation, based in Regina, said SaskTel’s revenue and net income dipped to $1.205 billion and $90.1 million, respectively. SaskTel (which has net income of $106.2 million in 2012) projects this will be only $59.2 million next year.

The dramatic drop in revenue, in part, comes from suspiciously low wireless rates in areas where SaskTel and other regional providers operate.

Sudden rate cuts were introduced last summer and are available only to customers where regional firms offer wireless service. Vidéotron in Quebec, EastLink in the Maritimes, MTS in Manitoba, and SaskTel in Saskatchewan are all impacted. But the savings don’t extend outside of these competitive areas, leading to whispered accusations that the Big Three are engaged in predatory pricing behavior, designed to undercut competitors while maintaining high rates for everyone else.

Styles

Styles

SaskTel president Ron Styles told The Leader-Post Telus has been offering customers in Saskatchewan a rate 45% lower than customers in Red Deer, Alberta pay. SaskTel is forced to match those rates to stay competitive, but it has hit the crown corporation’s finances hard.

“We’re very concerned; it’s had a major impact,” Don McMorris, cabinet minister responsible for SaskTel, told the newspaper.

Although many customers are happy paying a much lower mobile phone bill, the savings may prove temporary.

Canada’s three national carriers have proved particularly adept as killing off any competitors threatening their 90%+ market share. Public Mobile found it difficult to attract new customers away from rival Telus, so as the business floundered, Telus made the upstart company an offer it couldn’t refuse, shut down Public’s network, and transferred customers to its own network.

Although stopping short of directly pointing the finger at the Big Three, Styles is headed to Ottawa to discuss the implications of predatory pricing on SaskTel’s future. But he left no doubt something is up.

If Bell, Telus and Rogers can afford to offer low rates here and on other “4th carrier” turf, does that mean their wireless rates are needlessly high elsewhere, Styles asks. Or are the Big 3 engaged in “predatory pricing” — selling something below cost to damage or destroy competitors and keep new entrants out of the market.

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T-Mobile Unveils Operation Tablet Freedom and a $40 LTE Data Plan w/Unlimited Talk-Text

tmo tabletT-Mobile is back with some very aggressively priced packages on data plans, including one offering almost a year of free data. But more impressively, customers also have a chance to buy a 4G LTE-equipped tablet for the same price as a Wi-Fi only version.

T-Mobile’s Simple Starter Plan – $40/mo Unlimited Talk, Text + 500MB 4G LTE data

Simple Starter provides an affordable $40 unlimited talk and text offer with a 500MB entry-level data allowance with no overlimit fees. T-Mobile is intending to shame AT&T and Verizon to ditch overlimit fees on their data plans by demonstrating that a mobile carrier can automatically shut off data when a customer reaches their allowance, inviting them to voluntarily pay extra for continued service instead of slapping overlimit fees on the bill automatically. T-Mobile’s “data pass” resets the allowance, but often for only a limited time, such as $10 for one extra gigabyte, expiring after one week.

Still, the plan may be a comfortable fit for anyone unlikely to run a lot of data applications on their phone and prefer the convenience of having access to 4G speed when they need it. Some other carriers force value-priced plan customers to use 3G-only service, especially in the prepaid market.

Operation Tablet Freedom – Buy a 4G-equipped tablet at Wi-Fi prices, free 1GB data for the rest of 2014, free 200MB data for life.

tmobileThe biggest problem wireless carriers have selling tablets is justifying the cost of 4G-equipped models that typically run at least $100 more than a Wi-Fi only version. As a result, 4G-equipped portable devices like these just don’t sell well. T-Mobile is tackling that problem by discounting the MSRP of their 4G tablets to the same price one would pay for a Wi-Fi only equipped device.

T-Mobile is also offering trade-in deals for tablet customers who want something new.

“Now you can come to T-Mobile, trade it in and upgrade to a 4G LTE-enabled model and pay no more than you’d pay for the cheaper Wi-Fi-only model,” said T-Mobile’s Mike Sievert. “For example, you might choose to pay the Wi-Fi price of $499 instead of $630 for the 4G LTE-enabled iPad Air (16GB). Or pay the Wi-Fi price of $200 instead of $312 for the 4G LTE Samsung Tab 3. And remember, on all of these tablets you might qualify for no interest financing with nothing down.”

T-Mobile will also cover any early termination fees charged by your current carrier if you purchased one on contract.

Customers will also find good deals on tablet data plans. Beginning April 12, new and existing postpaid voice customers can add tablets to their plans and get nearly 1.2GB of data per month free for the rest of this year. In 2015, customers can keep that data plan for $10 a month or revert to T-Mobile’s 200MB for life data plan, free of charge. Customers who want a 3 or 5GB data plan will find them priced $10 off for the rest of 2014. Be aware that the free 1GB data offer does seem to require at least one voice plan, whether that’s an existing one or one you sign up for in store when you get your tablet.

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Sprint Will Shut Down Clear/4G WiMAX Network by 2015; TD-LTE Upgrade for Most Cell Sites

wimaxSprint has begun decommissioning its increasingly obsolete 4G WiMAX network with definitive plans to shut off the service completely by the end of 2015.

While most Sprint customers with smartphones have long since moved away from WiMAX, Sprint has resold access to the 2.5GHz network for some prepaid Boost, Sprint, and Virgin Mobile customers as well as third parties including FreedomPop and Earthlink.

WiMAX was the first 4G network in the United States, launching first in Baltimore in the fall of 2008. Sprint customers were offered the HTC Evo 4G smartphone to access WiMAX’s faster speeds. Separately, Clearwire marketed access to WiMAX as a wireless home and business broadband solution. WiMAX was often promoted as a longer distance alternative to Wi-Fi, and was initially capable of 30-40Mbps speeds.

clear-logoIn practice, WiMAX in the United States never achieved great success. Sprint and Clearwire’s network was never built out sufficiently to provide nationwide coverage, and because it relied on very high frequencies, even customers inside claimed service areas often dealt with reception problems, especially indoors. Clearwire’s home broadband replacement often required reception equipment be placed near a window, preferably one without a thermal coating that could block or degrade the signal.

As soon as Sprint and Clearwire added a significant number of customers to the network, speeds deteriorated. Neither company invested enough in upgrades to keep up with demand. Instead, Clearwire’s home broadband customers, originally promised unlimited service, were routinely speed throttled for “excessive use.”

The same year WiMAX was introduced in Baltimore, Network World was already warning the technology was in trouble. By 2011, the magazine had officially declared WiMAX dead.

“There was way too much hype surrounding WiMAX (like the White Spaces today, it was marketed as ‘Wi-Fi on steroids’ and a replacement for Wi-Fi; such was, of course, complete nonsense)”, the magazine wrote.

Other American wireless carriers showed little interest in WiMAX, particularly as competing 4G technologies including HSPA+ and LTE were nearing deployment.

SprintDespite the promise of greatly enhanced data speeds with the next generation of WiMAX, dubbed WiMAX 2, many of the world’s largest wireless carriers were already preparing to move on. In particular, China Mobile (and its 600 million customers) became the decisive factor that turned WiMAX 2 into a bad bet. China Mobile decided the better choice was TD-LTE, a variant of LTE technology. With China Mobile providing service to 10 percent of the world’s mobile users all by itself, support for TD-LTE grew and attracted equipment manufacturers that saw the earnings potential from selling tens of millions of base stations.

TD-LTE is an excellent upgrade choice for WiMAX operators because it was designed to work best at high frequencies ranging from 1850-3800MHz — the same frequency bands that WiMAX already uses.

Sprint expects to decommission at least 6,000 of its 17,000 WiMAX cell sites. Another 5,000 of those sites have already gotten TD-LTE technology, a part of Sprint’s broader LTE network upgrade. Sprint will combine its FDD-LTE network in its 800MHz and 1.9GHz spectrum with a TD-LTE network in its 2.5GHz spectrum. Sprint Spark customers are being offered tri-band equipment that can access either technology. Sprint can use its massive expanse of 2.5GHz spectrum to offload data usage from its lower frequency spectrum, especially in large cities.

Another 5,000 legacy Clearwire cell sites will be upgraded to TD-LTE between now and the end of next year. Sprint expects to deploy TD-LTE more widely than WiMAX, potentially serving 100 cities and 100 million base stations by 2016.

Sprint has protected much of its postpaid customer base from the transition by repeatedly encouraging customers to upgrade to LTE service, now being rolled out as part of its Network Vision plan. But firms like FreedomPop and others that now lease access to the WiMAX network will leave their customers with a shorter upgrade path when WiMAX equipment stops working, requiring users to upgrade to LTE equipment.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Sprint Spark -- Today is already the future 10-30-13.mp4

Sprint hypes its new tri-band Sprint Spark network, which combines two different LTE networks to deliver faster data speeds. (1:18)

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Wireless Company Lobbyists Add Cell Tower Deregulation to Connect Every Iowan Act

Is a cell tower coming to your backyard?

Is a cell tower coming to your neighbor’s backyard?

Amended language in a bill that would expand broadband service to rural Iowa strips local communities from regulating where wireless companies can place their cell towers, potentially threatening its passage.

The “killer” amended language originated from wireless phone company lobbyists, most likely working for AT&T, and suddenly appeared in the Iowa House version of the bill.

AT&T has routinely proposed such language in several states, claiming the new regulations are designed to “streamline” the expansion of cellular networks often held up by ‘spurious objections’ from local citizens opposed to the unsightly towers in their immediate neighborhoods.

Local governments have also regularly weighed in on approving cell towers in areas where they pose an aesthetic threat or a potential safety risk and some, according to AT&T, have interminably delayed consideration of cell site proposals.

The language in the House bill introduces time limits on cell tower approvals, prohibits communities from rejecting tower placement except under limited circumstances, and denies communities access to cell site documentation deemed private, competitive information by wireless companies.

(Unless you want to put a cell tower here)

(Unless you want to put a cell tower here)

The cell tower language is included in the House version of the Connect Every Iowan Act, legislation considered a priority by Gov. Terry Branstad this year. Branstad wants to remove financial and regulatory impediments and offer tax credits to stimulate expansion of broadband into areas most providers have previously deemed uneconomical to serve.

AT&T sees wireless broadband as a sensible alternative and the company has publicly advocated using wireless 4G technology in rural areas. If the House measure is approved, AT&T and other wireless companies can affix microcells or other cellular antennas to utility poles, street signs, or water towers without seeking permission from local authorities.

Colleagues in the Iowa state Senate were concerned about the language in the House version of the bill.

“The language in the House bill, in my view, is pretty egregious,” Sen. Steve Sodders, (D-State Center), who is leading the effort on the Senate bill. He told the Associated Press, “It really took away all local control of cell tower siting.”

“The real angst there is that without local control on these towers, these things can be built right in your neighborhood,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, (D-Des Moines). “Nobody wants to come home and see that. Finding that balance is going to be key.”

att-logo-221x300Des Moines city attorney Jeff Lester noted the language in the bill cleverly favors cellular companies with a built-in guarantee of approval of their cell tower requests:

The bill does not require cellular companies to provide company and business plan information to local governments when applying for a new cell tower site. Should municipal authorities deny a request, and a cellular company then brings the case to federal court, local authorities wouldn’t have the evidence necessary to justify their denial.

Lester said under federal law, company information serves as evidence in these appeals. Without it, there is no basis for denial, he said, and the ruling would be in favor of the cellular company.

Rep. Peter Cownie, (R-West Des Moines), who spearheaded the effort in the House, said determining where towers can or cannot go is a difficult task, but that it’s not his intent to weaken anyone’s say in their placement.

“I do not want to take away the authority of local officials in terms of cell tower siting,” he told AP. “I don’t think anyone’s goal is to take that away.”

Subcommittees in both chambers plan to meet to discuss the legislation next week.

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Telecom Italia Seeks Advice from AT&T on How to Grab More €uros from Customers

Telecom Italia wants to learn from the master of higher priced phone service: AT&T

Telecom Italia (TI) has a big problem. While AT&T charges the average American $66 a month for mobile service, competition in Italy has forced wireless prices down to $18 a month for comparable service.

TI chief executive officer Marco Patuano wants the price cutting to end and traveled to the United States to learn from AT&T how it was able to raise prices and increase customer spending with usage-capped Internet, phone and television service. His self-described “innovation trip” brought him straight to the office of AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

TI is trying to end years of losses and sales declines precipitated by falling prices and a growing disinterest in traditional landline service. AT&T accomplished that by boosting investment in mobile services. AT&T charged high prices for unlimited data plans until demand for data grew to the point the company could earn much more metering Internet usage. As a result, AT&T has earned a staggering $100 billion over the past decade from boosted phone bills.

Patuano

Patuano

Patuano wants to find a way to follow in AT&T’s footsteps as TI’s share price has fallen more than 70 percent over the last six years. Fierce competition from Vodafone and VimpelCom have forced prices down across Italy. With prices so low, investors have shown little interest in providing funding for wholesale upgrades to 4G wireless service. In turn, that has kept Telecom Italia from offering faster data speeds which would allow them to raise prices for service.

In North America, high wireless prices and the relative lack of competition have brought considerably better financial returns for investors. That high rate of return has attracted investment allowing providers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless to spend billions on network upgrades that have, in turn, further increased revenue at both companies. Customers benefit from the faster speeds, but also pay for the privilege with some of the highest wireless prices in the world.

It’s a formula Patuano wants to bring to the Italian market, but he needs more investment to stabilize TI’s finances. TI was the government-owned phone company until it was privatized in 1997. Despite having a massive customer base, nimble wireless competitors have outflanked the phone company and the results have been falling sales, disconnected customers, and its $37 billion in debt reduced to junk status by investor rating services. The company sold its headquarters in Milan and got rid of its Argentine subsidiary, along with suspending shareholder dividends.

att_logo“The first target now for a phone carrier is upgrading networks and transform it to a platform for high-value services,” Patuano said. “This is exactly what AT&T did and what we are calling for.”

Patuano has seen AT&T defend its turf in the wireline business by scrapping its traditional landline/DSL-only service in larger markets in favor of a hybrid fiber-copper network dubbed U-verse. Patuano is now pondering whether TI could deliver a package of phone, broadband and television service over a broadband platform. The average AT&T U-verse customer spends $170 a month on U-verse, an amount much better than $18 a month. TI could do even better than AT&T because Italy lacks many cable television providers — Italians depend on satellite television for multichannel pay television.

AT&T and TI are no strangers to one another. In 2007, AT&T attempted to buy a stake in the Italian phone company but met with a storm of objections from Italian politicians. AT&T dropped the idea soon after.

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FCC Expands 5GHz Wi-Fi Band, Allows Higher Powered, Faster Wireless Service

Phillip Dampier April 1, 2014 Public Policy & Gov't, Wireless Broadband No Comments
The 5GHz spectrum at issue used to require limited transmitting power and indoor-use only.

The 5GHz spectrum at issue used to require limited transmitting power and indoor-use only.

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to expand the 5GHz unlicensed Wi-Fi band with an extra 100MHz of spectrum that will open the door to faster connections with less interference.

Manufacturers will also be permitted to raise the transmitting power wireless devices can use in the 5.15-5.25GHz band, lifting restrictions that were in place to protect mobile and fixed satellite services that occupy nearby frequencies. The relaxed rules also now permit outdoor use of 5GHz spectrum. Previously only indoor devices were allowed to occupy those frequencies.

“This change will have real impact, because we are doubling the unlicensed bandwidth in the 5 GHz band overnight,” FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said. “The power of unlicensed goes beyond on-ramps to the Internet and off-loading for licensed [mobile] services,” she said. “It is the power of setting aside more of our airwaves for experiment and innovation without license. It is bound to yield new and exciting developments. It is also bound to be an economic boon.”

Manufacturers are expected to support the extra frequencies and increase transmitting power on the next generation of Wi-Fi equipment likely to be on sale by the end of the year, including more 1Gbps Wi-Fi routers.

Wireless ISPs will also be permitted to use the 5GHz spectrum to expand available bandwidth for customers as use of the Internet continues to grow. Congestion from shared Wi-Fi connections can present problems for small wireless providers because connection speeds will slow for customers.

The FCC also opened up an extra 65MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband and other licensed wireless users. The expanded AWS band between 1695-2180MHz will be shared with federal agency users that now occupy some of the frequencies.

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Comcast Hotspot Wi-Fi Usage Will Be Tied Back to Customer’s Broadband Account

xfinity wifiComcast customers using the company’s growing network of Wi-Fi network hotspots will have their usage tracked to their broadband accounts, opening the door for Comcast to count wireless use against a customer’s future monthly usage allowance.

As part of a press release announcing that more than 300,000 Comcast hotspots are now available in New England, the cable company added that it is preparing to activate its Xfinity Wi-Fi Neighborhood Hotspots in the region, allowing other Comcast customers to share your Comcast Internet service over a separate Wi-Fi channel provided by your gateway. But it noted customers will need to log-in first, permitting Comcast to measure just how much of the wireless service you are using:

wifi hotXfinity WiFi Neighborhood Hotspots – In June of last year, Comcast announced its plans to create millions of WiFi access points for its customers through a neighborhood hotspot initiative. Comcast is the first major ISP in the country to deploy this innovative technology. This new initiative gives customers with Xfinity Wireless Gateways an additional “xfinitywifi” signal (or SSID) in their home that is completely separate and distinct from the private and secure home WiFi signal. Offered at no additional cost, the additional WiFi signal will allow visiting Xfinity Internet subscribers instant, easy access to fast and reliable WiFi without the need to share the home’s private network password and without an impact to the home subscriber’s speed. And since visitors sign in with their own Xfinity credentials, their usage and activities are tied back to their own accounts, not the homeowner’s.

 

Comcast is testing the reimplementation of a usage cap – now set at 300GB a month – in several cities in the southern U.S. Wireless usage could eventually also be counted against that cap.

Many of Comcast’s primary outdoor hotspots are in larger cities, such as Greater Boston. Most of the one million total hotspots Comcast hopes to activate are located in residential customers’ homes using Comcast’s Wireless Gateway.

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