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China Well Ahead of U.S. in Fiber Deployment; Lack of U.S. Competition Responsible for Lag

China is outpacing the U.S. in fiber broadband expansion. (Image: Broadband Now)

At least 86% of China now has access to fiber broadband connectivity after six years of aggressive fiber optic network expansion, putting the United States at a significant disadvantage.

Only 25% of the United States is served by fiber service, creating a giant digital divide that leaves most Americans without fiber high speed broadband. That is the finding of Broadband Now, which summarized the results of its investigation in an article published this week, blaming the country’s reliance on deregulated monopoly/duopoly telecom companies for much of the problem.

“While America continues to suffer from an immense digital divide, China’s government has made incredible progress building out a state-sponsored super network of fiber optic connections. This infrastructure will allow the country to take early advantage of some of the most impactful applications resulting from the fourth industrial revolution,” Broadband Now reports.

Chinese state policy has emphasized the importance of deploying modern telecommunications networks, including fiber-to-the-home and 5G wireless service. The Chinese central government is spending billions to build a core public broadband network, which providers can lease to offer service to their customers. U.S. providers rely on private investment that depends on a financial formula to determine if fiber upgrades will deliver a competitive advantage or a potential for robust profits.

Broadband Now notes that most U.S. providers face little significant competition — “a difficult proposition to justify installing robust fiber networks, especially in less populous areas of the U.S.”

The “return on investment” formula is also responsible for the lack of rural broadband access, a problem the Chinese government solved by directly subsidizing the construction of fiber networks across the country, deeming high speed connectivity a national priority. As a result, 96% of rural Chinese villages now have access to fast internet service.

Broadband Now advocates for more aggressive fiber broadband deployment in the United States, including policies that promote fiber expansion and reduce deployment costs. For example, Broadband Now believes that a national “dig once” policy that would require fiber optic conduit to be installed wherever roadway projects are undertaken could allow providers quick and inexpensive access to deploy fiber technology. The group estimates that nationwide fiber expansion costs could be reduced from $140 billion to $14 billion if dig once policies were the national standard.

Chinese fiber deployment has already laid a foundation for China to outpace the United States in the race to deploy 5G wireless networks. Fiber connections are required to power gigabit speed small cells integral to millimeter wave 5G services. With China well ahead of the U.S. in fiber deployment, the country is poised to rapidly expand 5G wireless service.

Spectrum Preparing to Turn Cable Modems/Routers Into Public Wi-Fi Hotspots

Phillip Dampier November 26, 2019 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Wireless Broadband No Comments

Charter Spectrum is laying a foundation to convert company-supplied consumer/residential cable modems and routers into public Wi-Fi hotspots, helping the company offload Spectrum Mobile traffic from Verizon Wireless.

Speaking at FierceWireless’ Next Gen Wireless Networks Summit in Dallas this week, Craig Cowden — senior vice president of wireless technology at Charter Communications, said Spectrum is considering converting over 10 million deployed cable modems and routers into shared hotspots, following Comcast’s lead. This would allow Spectrum Mobile and home internet customers to automatically connect to millions of Spectrum’s Wi-Fi hotspots when outside of their own homes.

“We already offload significant traffic onto Wi-Fi,” said Cowden. “Comcast has 19 million hotspots that are called home-as-a-hotspot, using the existing router in the home. We see a benefit of doing that.”

The technology change would activate a company-supplied router’s second Wi-Fi channel, available inside customer homes and accessible to any Charter Spectrum customer. If Charter is planning to adopt the same technology Comcast uses today, customers would continue to have exclusive access to their existing 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi channels, and any usage on the second (public) Wi-Fi channel would not affect the customer’s own internet speed. Spectrum Mobile devices automatically connect to Spectrum’s Wi-Fi network when signals are strong enough.

Customers that use their own independently purchased cable modem and router equipment will not be affected. Comcast allows their customers to opt out if they object, and Charter may also offer a similar option for Spectrum customers using company-supplied equipment.

 

FCC Considering New 5.9 GHz Wi-Fi Band

Pai

Pai

After significant lobbying by the cable industry, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made a decision to propose splitting up the 5.9 GHz so-called Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) band to open up 45 MHz for unlicensed Wi-Fi services and leave 30 MHz reserved for emerging crash avoidance technology that will allow cars to communicate with each other to reduce accidents.

Pai has been frustrated by the slow development of intelligent vehicle communications, especially as different competing technologies appear to have delayed deployment as carmakers ponder a technology shift. Pai’s proposal would allow auto manufacturers to debate what kind of spectrum division might be appropriate within the remaining band if different technologies are eventually deployed. But Pai would also quickly move to open up much of the rest of the band for cable industry and consumer Wi-Fi services.

“My proposal would do far more for both automotive safety and Wi-Fi than the status quo,” Pai said, noting he was adding his proposal for FCC consideration at a meeting on Dec. 12.

The cable industry, through its national lobbying group NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, quickly applauded Pai’s proposal, which nearly mirrors the plan recommended by the nation’s biggest cable companies.

“We applaud Chairman Pai’s announcement today that the Commission intends to move forward in considering a new plan for 5.9 GHz spectrum band that will chart a constructive path forward in putting these frequencies to better use for consumers,” said NCTA President Michael Powell. “The Chairman’s proposal will enable the fastest gigabit Wi-Fi speeds in America, ensuring that Wi-Fi can keep pace with growing consumer demand and the deployment of next-generation wireless broadband technologies. We also thank Commissioners O’Rielly and Rosenworcel for their tireless efforts in support of unlicensed spectrum, especially enabling Wi-Fi in the 5.9 GHz band.”

Cable operators including Charter and Comcast want to deploy a large network of Wi-Fi hotspots in the new band to support their growing mobile service operations. Both stand to save substantially by offloading network traffic to their own wireless networks instead of relying on Verizon Wireless, which is contracted to provide 4G LTE service.

Consumers will eventually also be able to purchase in-home routers that will support the new 5.9 GHz band, if Pai’s proposal is approved. The new Wi-Fi band, located between 5.85-5.895 GHz is adjacent to the existing 5.9 GHz Wi-Fi band in the United States (5.725-5.850 GHz)

Expanding available Wi-Fi spectrum may help consumers get faster wireless connections, especially in areas where signal congestion from other users is significant. Some proponents suggest that the new band could allow consumers to experience near-gigabit Wi-Fi speeds, but that will largely be dependent on the equipment used, one’s distance from a Wi-Fi hotspot, and any prevailing wireless traffic congestion.

Spectrum Creates New $5 Sports Tier, Some Customers Losing Channels

Phillip Dampier November 20, 2019 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News 3 Comments

Charter Spectrum is launching a new extra-cost sports tier that will feature a dozen sports networks for $5 a month.

Spectrum TV Sports Pack has been soft launched in many markets and will include:

  • NFL Network
  • Golf Channel
  • Tennis Channel
  • ESPN Goal Line/Bases Loaded
  • ESPNews
  • ESPN College Extra
  • MAV TV
  • MLB Strike Zone
  • NFL RedZone
  • NHL Network
  • Olympic Channel
  • Outdoor Channel

The new sports tier means some Spectrum customers that pay extra for Spectrum’s Gold package will lose NFL RedZone, MLB Strike Zone and the Outdoor Channel late next month unless they also subscribe to the Sports Pack.

“Combining these sports networks into a single tier means more choice and flexibility for customers, especially sports fans,” Spectrum said in a statement.

Spectrum is dropping several other sports channels from its lineup altogether, including ESPN Classic. Other channels being dropped are certain regional sports networks, notably FCS.

Any Spectrum TV customer is eligible to subscribe to the sports channel package, which may allow some customers to downgrade from Spectrum’s costly Gold package if they subscribed primarily for sports networks.

NFL Network, Golf Channel, and the Tennis Channel will also remain as part of existing packages, so if you currently get these networks you will continue to receive them.

Customers can subscribe by contacting Spectrum online or by phone.

Hulu + Live TV Hiking Rates $10/Mo; Most Customers Will Pay $55 a Month for Live TV Streaming

Phillip Dampier November 18, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Hulu, Online Video No Comments

Hulu + Live TV is celebrating its successful signup of over an estimated 2.7 million customers with a major rate increase the company says reflects the service’s true value in the marketplace.

Most customers will see their subscription price increase by $10 a month, from $45 to $55 a month.

“Today, we’re letting customers know that the monthly base price of Hulu + Live TV will increase to $54.99, beginning December 18,” the company wrote in a blog post. “The new price better reflects the substantial value of Hulu + Live TV and allows us to continue offering all of the popular live news, sports and entertainment programming included in the plan.”

Craig Moffett, a chief analyst at MoffettNathanson, told readers of his Cord Cutting Monitor quarterly newsletter that Hulu + Live TV, which combines Hulu’s on demand plan with a selection of about 60 streaming live TV networks, is likely America’s largest cable TV replacement service, topping Sling TV’s estimated 2.686 million customers.

Moffett also reported that cord cutting is becoming a more costly proposition.

“Eighteen months ago, the cheapest video packages for vMVPDs were clustered around $30 to $35 per month,” Moffett wrote. “Eighteen months later, most are in the $45 to $50 per month range, an increase of roughly 50%.”

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