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Tropical Storm Isaias Brings Frontier’s Network to Its Knees in the Hudson Valley of N.Y.

Phillip Dampier August 5, 2020 Consumer News, Frontier, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

A tropical storm that swept up the east coast of the United States took out Frontier Communications’ landline network, its backups, and 911 service for residents of Orange and Sullivan Counties, N.Y. for 13 hours last night, requiring a response from local fire officials after Frontier’s backup equipment also failed.

Tropical Storm Isaias brought significant, but not unprecedented wind and rain to the Hudson Valley of New York on Tuesday. While most of the damage and service outages were further east in the New York City, Long Island, and New Jersey areas, a general power failure in the City of Middletown started a chain of events that left two counties without Frontier phone, internet, or 911 service from 7:30 pm Tuesday night until 8:30 am Wednesday morning.

When the power failure began, Frontier’s switching network went down. Calls to 911 failed to connect, and customers reported no dial tone or internet access. Frontier’s backup battery system, designed to operate in the event of a power failure, itself failed and literally melted under the pressure, spilling enough toxic chemicals to force Frontier to request assistance from the Middletown Fire Department and Orange County Hazmat, which responded to contain the toxic material. Frontier had to drive in a replacement backup solution from another service area to get its network up and running again.

“There were several equipment failures there related to the power outage,” Brendan Casey, commissioner of emergency services told the Times Herald-Record. “Their backup system failed, their switch failed, battery issues that resulted in a minor hazmat issue. It was like everything just failed up there.”

After dealing with the failed battery equipment, county officials, firefighters, and Frontier technicians were left in the building’s parking lot cooling their heels until 2 am trying to figure out how to restore 911 service to the area, without success. Casey reported Frontier successfully restored 911 service later Wednesday morning.

Orange County, N.Y.

As Frontier technicians gradually restore service to individual customers affected by the storm, county officials are calling on the New York Public Service Commission to conduct a review of the incident and investigate if Frontier was adequately prepared to deal with the storm. Frontier will not be alone. Gov. Andrew Cuomo blasted utility companies across downstate New York, accusing them of being ill-prepared to handle the storm. Some customers are expected to be without power, phone, and internet service for up to a week.

“We know that severe weather is our new reality and the reckless disregard by utility companies to adequately plan for tropical storm Isaias left tens of thousands of customers in the dark, literally and figuratively. Their performance was unacceptable,” Cuomo said. Cuomo ordered the PSC to “launch an investigation into Verizon, PSEG Long Island, Con Edison, Central Hudson Gas & Electric, Orange and Rockland Utilities, and New York State Electric & Gas to understand how such a failure could have taken place. New Yorkers deserve answers and they deserve better. The large volume of outages and the utilities’ failure to communicate with customers in real-time proves they did not live up to their legal obligations. The fact that many customers still do not know when their power will be restored makes it even more unacceptable. The worst of this situation was avoidable, and it cannot happen again.”

Frontier was not the only telecommunications company embarrassed by the tropical storm. Along the Westchester-Putnam border, power outages knocked out cell service. At one location, a backup generator designed to provide backup power to the cell tower immediately caught fire, causing damage to the building at the base of the tower.

“While there was a fire at the cell tower in question, I have no information if all carriers on that tower are down or just one. What we do know is that cell services across the county are negatively impacted for all carriers. We had reports that cell towers in this region (Putnam, Orange, Rockland, Passaic) were damaged during the storms,” said Thomas Lannon, director of Putnam County’s technology office.

Frontier filed for bankruptcy protection in April 2020.

FCC Releases New Speed Test App That Will Better Track Performance of Mobile Networks

The Federal Communications Commission has announced a new updated version of its FCC Speed Test app, helping consumers evaluate their internet connection while also sharing performance data with the Commission.

The new version is designed with more accurate measurements of users’ mobile internet connections in mind, including emerging 5G services.

“This new and improved app is an important tool that will empower consumers to collect information about the services they are receiving,” said Monisha Ghosh, the FCC’s chief technology officer. “These improvements will build on the success of this effort over the years and help the FCC bridge the digital divide.”

Versions are available for iOS in the Apple App Store and Android in the Google Play Store.

Users running the app will be able to check upload and download speed, network latency, packet loss, and jitter on both wired and wireless networks. Results are shared anonymously with the FCC, which compiles network performance data as part of an agency mandate, the Measuring Broadband America program. That program reports whether the nation’s service providers are delivering internet speeds that match their advertising claims.

Verizon Launches 4G LTE Home Broadband Service Without Data Caps, Starting at $40/Month

Verizon is introducing a new wireless home broadband service that will target customers that can get good cell phone reception from home but are stuck with slow speed DSL from the phone company, or no internet access at all.

Verizon’s new LTE Home Internet will offer customers speeds of 25-50 Mbps without data caps on Verizon’s already built 4G network. The service launched this week in Savannah, Ga., Springfield, Mo., and Tri-Cities, Tenn./Va./Ky. Starting today, Verizon says it will expand home internet access to customers outside of its existing Fios and millimeter-wave 5G Home footprints, primarily to reach rural customers.

“With LTE Home Internet, our most awarded 4G LTE network will provide internet connectivity for customers in more rural parts of America who may not have access to broadband internet service – a critical need, especially now, when so many are counting on reliable connectivity for remote work and educational needs,” said Frank Boulben, senior vice president of Consumer Marketing and Products at Verizon.

The service and equipment are sold at different prices depending on how much business you already do with Verizon:

LTE Home Internet Service Pricing

  • If you do NOT have an active Verizon mobile plan and DO NOT WISH to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $70/month.
  • If you do NOT have an active Verizon mobile plan or one that costs less than $30/month and ARE WILLING to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $60/month.
  • If you DO have an active Verizon mobile plan that costs $30/month or more and DO NOT WISH to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $50/month.
  • If you DO have an active Verizon mobile plan that costs $30/month or more and ARE WILLING to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $40/month.
  • The required LTE router costs $240 or $10/month for 24 months (0% interest) on Verizon’s Device Payment Plan. If you order the router using “device payments,” you will receive a $10/month promotional credit for the next 24 months, making the router free of charge if you stay with the service for two years. If you cancel service early, the remaining payments will become due immediately.

Although the service cannot match the speeds offered by modern cable and fiber broadband networks, Verizon’s wireless speeds do appear to qualify as “broadband service” and for the first time on a 4G LTE network, do not include any data caps or sneaky speed throttling, making it a potentially respectable option for those in rural areas looking for something better than phone company DSL.

Verizon offers this coverage check tool to determine if service is available in your area. If not, you can leave your e-mail address and phone number and Verizon will contact you as the service expands.

This Verizon-provided video introduces the company’s new LTE Home Internet service, a wireless broadband option without data caps for those looking for rural access or something better than phone company DSL. (1:25)

Trump Administration Wants FCC to Regulate Social Media Networks, Impose New Rules

Phillip Dampier July 28, 2020 Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters No Comments

President Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Commerce Department agency on Monday petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to reinterpret a 1996 law to require transparency in how social media companies moderate content, after President Donald Trump asked it to intervene in the matter.

Trump directed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to file the petition after Twitter in May warned readers to fact-check his posts about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting.

Trump’s executive order asked the NTIA to petition the FCC to write regulations stemming from Section 230, a provision of the Communications Decency Act that shields social media companies from liability for content posted by their users and allows them to remove lawful but objectionable posts.

The NTIA said in Monday’s petition it wants the FCC to require social media firms to “publicly disclose accurate information regarding its content-management mechanisms” to “enable users to make more informed choices about competitive alternatives.”

Trump, a Republican who is running for re-election on Nov. 3, has repeatedly expressed anger at social media companies. On Monday, he said Twitter’s trending topics feature was unfair.

“They look for anything they can find, make it as bad as possible, and blow it up, trying to make it trend,” he wrote.

Both Democratic commissioners on the five-member FCC said the commission should quickly reject the petition.

“The FCC shouldn’t take this bait. While social media can be frustrating, turning this agency into the President’s speech police is not the answer,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a written statement.

Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr said the “petition provides an opportunity to bring much-needed clarity to the statutory text.”

Twitter has called Trump’s executive order “a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law.”

A spokesman for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has said in the past he does not see a role for the FCC to regulate websites like Twitter, Facebook or Alphabet’s Google, said on Monday the agency “will carefully review the petition.”

The FCC could take a year or longer to finalize any rules.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a Georgetown University lecturer, said Trump was on shaky legal ground.

“The FCC has no authority to interpret Section 230, and even if it did, the rule that Trump wants is utterly incompatible with the plain language of the statute,” he said.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sandra Maler and Sonya Hepinstall

EarthLink Remains Committed to No Data Caps, If You Can Subscribe

Phillip Dampier July 27, 2020 Competition, Consumer News, Data Caps, Earthlink No Comments

EarthLink, a leading provider of internet and online services, is reiterating its commitment to selling internet service with no data caps, providing unlimited service up to 1,000 Mbps.

EarthLink traditionally relies on other internet service providers for connectivity and billing, and claims to be the nation’s largest competitive ISP, available to over 100 million Americans, mostly through partnerships with telephone companies. But finding a provider selling the service has proved increasingly challenging after cable operators stopped accepting new EarthLink customers.

“Our HyperLink consumer internet service has no data caps. That’s especially important as the COVID-19 outbreak continues and makes uninterrupted and unlimited internet access critical for our customers,” said EarthLink CEO Glenn Goad. “We are committed to maintaining a strong, reliable network with no data caps to ensure our customers always have the access they need.

Earthlink sells plans that include access speeds of 100 and 1,000 Mbps, depending on available technology and providers.

A Horowitz COVID-19 study released July 13 found that seven in ten home internet subscribers are using the internet more (68%) overall since COVID-19, with almost half “a lot” more (45%). Sixty one percent of U.S. households have added new work and/or study at home users, including 60% of households in May alone.

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