Home » Issues » Recent Articles:

Cox Waives Its Own Data Cap When It Faces Unlimited 5G Home Wireless Competition

Phillip Dampier September 22, 2021 Broadband "Shortage", Competition, Consumer News, Cox, Data Caps No Comments

With unlimited home wireless broadband from T-Mobile and Verizon starting to take a dent out of Cox Communications’ customer base, the cable operator is shoring up a defensive position by waiving its arbitrary data cap for existing customers signed up for gigabit speed service in select areas.

“We’re showing our appreciation by giving you free unlimited data for two years,” reads the postcard sent to one of Stop the Cap’s readers in Phoenix. “Now you can stream away without worrying about overages.”

Phoenix residents currently have a choice of up to four different providers — Cox Cable, CenturyLink, Verizon 5G Home Internet, or T-Mobile’s 5G fixed wireless home broadband. Verizon and T-Mobile both offer service with no data caps, but coverage remains selective, especially for Verizon.

Customers must receive the postcard offer and redeem it with Cox to waive their data cap, and the offer is not transferable. It applies only to subscribers with gigabit speed and after 24 months, Cox’s 1.25 TB data cap returns.

The fact Cox is willing to waive its own arbitrary data cap for marketing and competition reasons further demonstrates that artificial limits imposed on internet service have nothing to do with congestion, “fairness,” or network management.

 

CenturyLink Has “Given Up” and Abandoned Its Customers, Leaving Some Without Service for Months

Two months after a late July thunderstorm interrupted phone and internet service for some CenturyLink customers in parts of Albemarle County, Va, some are still waiting for the phone company to restore service.

Multiple CenturyLink customers around the area told The Daily Progress about the extended outage, and the company’s lack of responsiveness in restoring service. Many report their service appointments are unilaterally canceled or a repair technician just never shows up. Others are receiving messages the repairs are complete, but they still have no service.

Mobile phone service is spotty in this part of central Virginia, so many customers keep their landlines to reach emergency services. With service out for nearly two months, making emergency calls or accessing the internet has been difficult.

In August, CenturyLink employee Derek Kelly told attendees at a Albemarle Broadband Authority meeting that at storm brought down almost a mile of CenturyLink’s legacy copper wire network, which has been in place for decades. Kelly noted CenturyLink intended to replace the damaged copper wiring with more copper wiring, instead of upgrading to fiber optics, and because of supply chain issues, customers have been left waiting.

“We ran into logistical issues of being able to find that length of copper,” Kelly said. “I think between COVID and everything else, supplies are limited, so it took us longer than we typically hope for to get the copper in place and get it in town and get it hung back up and spliced in.”

So far, customers are still being billed for service they do not have, and the company has refused to issue automatic credits for customers left without service. Some customers want CenturyLink to compensate them extra for interrupted service as well as for the company wasting their time on unfulfilled service calls and being left on hold, sometimes for an hour, trying to resolve the problem.

Firefly is a service of municipal/co-op power companies in central Virginia.

Albemarle County Supervisor Donna Price has been hearing complaints from local residents for weeks and she is also well aware CenturyLink is in the process of selling a large part of its legacy local phone operations in 20 states to Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm. The phone company will keep its most profitable customers in 16 states — many already served by fiber optics, under its Lumen brand. As that sale waits to close, Price believes CenturyLink has already walked away from their soon-to-be ex-customers.

“I believe that corporate CenturyLink has basically given up and has abandoned their responsibility, which leaves it all upon the individual consumers to either seek some sort of collective relief or basically just suffer until a new provider comes in,” Price told the newspaper. “I think CenturyLink has failed in customer service, in the delivery of service and, I’ll be a little more generous, in the recovery from the storm, because those are really difficult situations.”

Some customers in nearby Fluvanna County who have also experienced multi-month service interruptions from CenturyLink were lucky enough to have a choice of broadband providers, and many have switched to Firefly Fiber Broadband, which also supplies landline phone service. Firefly is owned and operated by a partnership subsidiary that includes the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. That fiber to the home network has survived serious storms in the past without lengthy service interruptions. The member-owned cooperative has also invested heavily in fiber broadband and communications services its members demand, and if something goes wrong, local repairmen answerable to local supervisors are on hand to manage any issues.

Firefly Fiber is currently looking to expand its operations within its central Virginia service area, which includes the counties of Albemarle, Appomattox, Buckingham, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Goochland, Greene, Louisa, and Powhatan.

Judge Orders Permanent Injunction That Likely Deals Final Death Blow to Locast

The same New York District Court judge that forced a temporary shutdown of Locast, which streamed over the air broadcasts inside their communities of service, has dealt what is likely a final death blow against the non-profit group, issuing a permanent injunction that forbids the service from operating.

Judge Louis L. Stanton signed the two-page permanent injunction on Wednesday:

ORDERED that, Defendants, along with their officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys and other persons who are in active concert or participation with Defendants or the officers, agents, servants, employees, or attorneys (if they receive actual notice pursuant to Rule 65 (d) (2) of the Federal Rules of Civil procedure) are permanently restrained and enjoined from operating Locast.

Two weeks earlier, Judge Stanton found Locast’s arguments that it was operating legally under an exemption to the Copyright Act to be uncompelling. Locast had argued it was operating a translator service on a not-for-profit basis, offering TV stations improved coverage within their broadcast service area at no charge to station owners or viewers. But Judge Stanton found Locast was nagging viewers with persistent requests for donations, interrupting the signal every 15 minutes for those who did not contribute at least $5 a month. In his mind, that made Locast a de facto subscription service, and an apparently profitable one, collecting at least $2 million more than it needed to operate the service in the past year.

Stanton ruled Locast’s profits disqualified the service from being considered exempt from the Copyright Act, and rejected Locast’s arguments that as a translator service, it did not need the permission of local stations to stream their signals.

Locast earlier predicted it planned to appeal. Unless it does and wins an appeal ruling in its favor, the three-year old service will remain permanently closed down.

U.S. Gone from World Ranking of Fastest Broadband Countries; Cozy Duopoly Results in Less Investment, Upgrades

Phillip Dampier September 13, 2021 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

The United States is rapidly losing its place among the world’s fastest broadband countries, dropping out of the top-10 this year and falling behind Chile, Liechtenstein, and Romania.

While other countries and internet providers are investing billions to improve their standing in an increasingly competitive global broadband marketplace, a comfortable duopoly of phone and cable companies in the United States has successfully kept regulators at bay and allowed many of the largest internet service providers to divert investment away from upgrades and towards stock buybacks, dividend payouts, debt reduction, and ongoing merger and acquisition activities.

Internet speed testing firm Ookla has watched the United States slip in its fixed broadband speed standings over the last three years, dropping from 8th place (2019) to 9th place (2020), to being dropped from its top 10 list this year (it now scores 14th). Canada has never made the list.

This year, the countries with the fastest internet download speeds are: Monaco, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Romania, Switzerland, South Korea, Chile, Denmark and Liechtenstein. The only other countries to fall off the top-10 list in the last three years are Taiwan, Andorra, Macau, and France.

Globally, wireless internet speeds are benefitting from 4G and 5G upgrades on cell towers, with overall speed increasing nearly 60% in the last year. Fixed broadband speeds are up 32% year over year, primarily from an increase in the amount of fiber to the home connections providers are making as they move away from traditional copper wiring. Heavy investment in network upgrades can deliver remarkable boosts in internet speeds.

“South Korea and the United Arab Emirates stood out with mean mobile download speeds that were more than 240% faster than the global average and fixed broadband downloads that were more than 70% faster than the global average,” said Ookla’s Isla McKetta. “China’s mobile download speed was more than 180% faster than the global average and the country was more than 70% faster than the global average for fixed broadband. Switzerland’s mobile and fixed broadband download speeds were close to 100% faster than the global average.”

All of those countries have invested heavily in fiber connectivity for both their mobile and fixed wired broadband connections.

In contrast, U.S. cable companies have delayed upgrades to DOCSIS 4.0, capable of supporting 10 Gbps connections, and many telephone companies have dragged their feet on fiber upgrades, facing resistance from Wall Street as well as heavy debt burdens from prior mergers and acquisitions.

Most of the countries ranking the fastest have pushed providers to supply gigabit internet speed connections, but U.S. regulators and politicians have reduced pressure on large providers by proposing to subsidize millions of expanded internet connections with U.S. taxpayer funds while reducing required speed minimums to just 100/20 Mbps.

Locast Plans to Appeal Crippling Court Loss, But Service Shuttered for Now

Phillip Dampier September 2, 2021 Competition, Consumer News, Locast, Online Video 2 Comments

Locast, like Aereo and Ivi before it, has ceased streaming local, over the air television signals on a non-profit basis after a New York federal court judge ruled the service is violating U.S. copyright law by receiving more funding than it needs. But in developments this afternoon, there is word an appeal is planned.

Since January 2018, Locast has attempted to provide its service legally by operating as an independent “translator service,” extending streams of over-the-air signals to viewers within the acknowledged viewing range of the stations. Locast used geofencing technology to block more distant viewers, and sought support for its service with a suggested contribution of $5 a month. Non-paying viewers were nagged with donation request messages that interrupted each stream every 15 minutes.

Despite its limited service areas, Locast amassed over 3 million regular users in its 36 served TV markets over the last three years. That growth represented a threat to lucrative retransmission fee revenue collected by TV station and network owners, who promptly sued Locast in federal court in 2019. A part of that lawsuit was decided Tuesday in favor of the broadcasters.

Judge Louis L. Stanton rejected Locast’s claim it was exempt from Section 111 (a) (5) of the U.S. Copyright Act, which allowed it to stream over the air signals without getting permission from those stations in advance. That section of the Copyright Act was designed to provide a loophole for independent non-profit translator stations, which in some rural areas pick up difficult to receive TV stations and rebroadcast them locally on other channels. Some of these translator operations existed before the days of cable and satellite television, and well before the internet as we know it ever existed. But many of these services were provided through low-power transmitters operated inside large apartment complexes or hotels for the enjoyment of tenants or guests. The Copyright Act allowed groups to retransmit TV signals as long as they lacked “direct or indirect commercial advantage” and did not charge viewers in excess of the “actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service.”

What got Locast in trouble with the judge is the fact the service nagged viewers to make $5 donations if they wanted the nagging messages to end, and those contributions delivered healthy revenue to Locast of $4.51 million in 2020, while the costs to provide the service were just $2.43 million that same year.

“On those undisputed facts, in 2020 Locast made far more money from user charges than was necessary to defray its costs of maintaining and operating its service,” Judge Stanton wrote. Stanton also rejected arguments that excess revenue was used to expand Locast into new markets, claiming the law was quite clear limiting charges only to the “actual and reasonable costs” incurred providing the service, not for expanding it. Stanton ruled Locast could not charge viewers to raise funds to expand into new markets. Had Judge Stanton accepted Locast’s argument that it was pouring excess revenue into expanding its service, not to make a profit, the broadcaster’s legal case could have been seriously weakened and Locast would have continued operating pending the final disposition of the lawsuit.

Instead, perhaps bowing to the court’s judgment that Locast’s contribution system was hampering its case, last evening Locast notified users it was suspending requests for contributions aired every 15 minutes, and hoped supporters would continue contributions anyway. But early this morning, Locast went further and announced the immediate suspension of its video streaming service.

In an e-mail to supporters, Locast announced:

We are suspending operations, effective immediately.

As a non-profit, Locast was designed from the very beginning to operate in accordance with the strict letter of the law, but in response to the court’s recent rulings, with which we respectfully disagree, we are hereby suspending operations, effective immediately.

Thank you.

Judge Stanton

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has supported Locast with legal assistance in this case, criticized the judge’s ruling.

“We are disappointed that the court ruled against Locast on its copyright defense,” the EFF said in a statement. “The court interpreted the law in an artificially narrow way. Congress wrote copyright’s nonprofit retransmission exception to make sure that every American has access to their local broadcast stations, and expanding access is exactly what Locast does.”

The EFF said Judge Stanton’s ruling may not be the end of Locast, however.

“Locast has decided to suspend its operations. The case will continue, likely including an appeal, to resolve the remaining issues in the case. The problem remains: broadcasters keep using copyright law to control where and how people can access the local TV that they’re supposed to be getting for free,” a lawyer at the EFF said in a statement.

Theoretically, Locast could be restructured to spin off each of its markets into independent non-profit entities responsible for raising funds to maintain current operations and possibly be found “legal” under the U.S. Copyright Act provisions. New markets could be launched independently as well, starting with fundraisers to launch the service and then additional fundraising to maintain each operation.

Any legal appeal would likely be based on Stanton’s determination that “expansion” was disallowed under the Copyright Act, even though most non-profit entities raise funds to expand their operations all the time.

But for now, Locast will likely remain dark until the remaining legal issues are settled or determined.

Search This Site:

Contributions:

Recent Comments:

Your Account:

Stop the Cap!