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Increased Investment and Fierce Competition Brings 1.5 Gbps Internet to Western Canada

Phillip Dampier November 12, 2020 Broadband Speed, Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Shaw, Telus No Comments

Shaw is western Canada’s dominant cable operator.

While American cable companies have cut back investing in their high-speed broadband services as competition languishes, a price and service war has erupted between western Canada’s biggest cable and phone companies, with consumers winning the benefits of increased investment and fierce competition.

Shaw Communications, the largest cable company west of Ontario, has just upped the ante with the introduction of 1,500/100 Mbps unlimited internet service for $127 (all prices in $US) a month. The new speed tier, known as Fibre+ Gig 1.5,  is delivered over Shaw’s existing DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband network, and is already available in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Victoria, and is gradually expanding outwards to smaller cities, including Banff in Alberta, and Burnaby and Dawson’s Creek in British Columbia. Shaw also offers a traditional gigabit unlimited plan in most of its service area, offering 940/25 Mbps for $88/month. Both high-speed plans include a two-year contract.

“The hard work and investments we’ve made in building, upgrading and expanding our Fibre+ and Fast LTE networks and services — nearly $22.8 billion over the past seven years — allow us to deliver these ultrafast speeds to western Canadians over our existing infrastructure,” said Zoran Stakic, chief operating officer and chief technology officer. “These ongoing investments are the foundation to providing our customers service beyond one gigabit today and ultrafast speeds to more places in the future.”

“We know that there’s a growing segment of people — including heavy gamers, content creators and super streamers — who need access to ultrafast internet services, and that need has only increased during the pandemic as many of our customers manage the reality of having multiple people working from home and sharing bandwidth,” said Paul Deverell, president of Consumer, Shaw Communications. “With the launch of our Fibre+ Gig 1.5 product, we are delivering the speeds and capacity needed by today’s super users and data-heavy customers, while confirming Shaw’s position as the western Canadian leader in gigabit speed deployment.”

Telus is western Canada’s largest phone company.

Shaw’s increased investment is designed to fend off its chief competitor, Telus. In 2020, Shaw discovered a growing number of its broadband customers defecting in favor of Telus, the region’s telephone company. Telus is expanding its own high-speed offering, which relies on fiber to the home service. In some areas, Telus offers 940/940 Mbps service on a two-year contract for $76 a month and a 1,500/940 Mbps plan for $127 a month — which matches Shaw’s price but vastly exceeds Shaw in upload speed. To further sweeten the deal, Shaw gives its premium-speed internet customers discounts on Shaw Mobile services — including the exclusive rate of $25 per month on Unlimited Data wireless plans for Shaw Fibre+ Gig 1.5 and Fibre+ Gig internet subscribers.

Shaw claims its infrastructure has made it possible to offer gigabit service to at least one million more western Canadians than Telus. Telus has been gradually scrapping its legacy copper wire network in favor of fiber optics, but will likely take over a decade to complete the transition in significantly populated communities.

While Canadian cable companies are pushing DOCSIS 3.1 to the limit, American cable companies have taken it easy this year, reducing estimated budgets for network investment, returning to data caps, and putting further upgrades to next generation DOCSIS 4.0 on hold for at least a year or two. With AT&T and Verizon distracted and focused on spending billions to build 5G wireless networks, both companies have stopped significant expansion of fiber-to-the-home service for residential customers, reducing competitive pressure on cable operators. This reduced competition allows cable companies an opportunity to raise rates on broadband customers, and Charter Spectrum has done exactly that, announcing a general $5/month increase on residential internet service to take effect by the start of 2021.

FCC Considering 18-24 Month Delay of $9 Billion Rural 5G Subsidy Until Accurate Coverage Maps Appear

The FCC is likely to delay for up to two years a massive $9 billion subsidy program that will provide 5G wireless service in rural America because the agency’s broadband coverage maps are too flawed to credibly determine where the money is needed.

The delay is just the latest in a series of speed bumps that have slowed down rural wireless service expansion, hampered mostly by service coverage maps that typically over-promise service that just doesn’t exist in many areas.

A revised subsidy program would double the funds available for rural wireless service, but delay projects at least 18-24 months, with the first awards granted sometime in late 2022.

The wireless subsidy program is designed to enhance rural wireless/mobile coverage across the United States. The FCC estimates about 83% of rural America is currently covered by 4G LTE service providing an average of 10/3 Mbps. In urban and suburban communities, 97% of areas have 4G coverage and often at faster speeds. Small, independent wireless carriers have popped up to serve rural states and regions that have been ignored by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, but coverage gaps still remain far from well-traveled interstate highways or in mountainous regions. Carriers have typically considered those areas unprofitable to serve, failing Return On Investment formulas that expect investments to pay off within a certain number of years. Wireless subsidies cover a portion of the cost to build and operate unprofitable rural cell towers, coaxing wireless companies to be more willing to expand coverage.

The ongoing problem of wireless coverage accuracy has had a direct impact on rural funding programs that have rules forbidding spending in areas that already have coverage. Wireless companies with overeager marketing departments have routinely issued coverage maps claiming solid 4G LTE coverage in areas where many claim it doesn’t exist. The conflict over accurate coverage maps became so contentious, the FCC canceled plans to spend billions on wireless subsidies in late 2019 until more accurate coverage maps could be created.

Next week the FCC plans a vote to authorize the new $9 billion subsidy program, but funds will likely be held until wireless companies can prove their coverage claims and update coverage information so the FCC can pinpoint areas that can qualify for the funds.

“This approach won’t be the fastest possible path,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wrote. “But it will allow us to identify with greater precision those areas of the country where support is most needed.”

Verizon Expands Both 5G “Ultra Wideband” and Nationwide Dynamic Spectrum Sharing 5G

Verizon customers in over 1,800 cities across the United States can now get a speed boost with the launch of Verizon’s nationwide Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) 5G, which runs simultaneously with existing 4G LTE on the same lower band spectrum, giving customers with 5G-capable devices faster service.

DSS technology is important to Verizon as it shares the limited amount of 4G spectrum it has in some cities with a slowly growing number of 5G customers. Now both can share the same spectrum without Verizon having to dedicate scarce low band frequencies exclusively to 5G service. The tradeoff is that low band DSS 5G service will not deliver the speed boost Verizon’s “Ultra Wideband” millimeter wave 5G service can offer.

Verizon simultaneously announced the addition of several cities now slightly covered by Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, which can now reach up to 4 Gbps speed in some locations with the use of carrier aggregation. The rollouts are very limited, often covering just a few neighborhoods, a park, or shopping center, so check verizon.com/coverage-map for current coverage information.

Anaheim, Calif.

Where Available: West Anaheim, Downtown Anaheim (along Harbor Boulevard), Betsy Ross Park, Chaparral Park.

Baltimore, Md.

Where Available: Inner Harbor, Downtown, Power Plant Live, Camden Yards & M&T Bank Stadium, Towson University, and Cockesville.

Hartford, Conn.

Where Available: Trinity College, Frog Hollow and City Hall.

Jersey City, N.J. 

Where Available: Bayside Park, The Heights, and Journal Square.

Las Vegas, Nev.

Where Available: Las Vegas Strip, Mirage Volcano, Bellagio Lake, Welcome to Vegas Sign, and Paris/Eiffel Tower.

Oklahoma City, Okla.

Where Available: Quail Springs Mall, OU Medical Center, and near Hidden Trails Country Club.

Philadelphia, Pa.

Where Available: Temple University, South Philadelphia Sports Complex, Logan Circle, Broad Street, and Hawthorne.

Raleigh, N.C.

Where Available: Triangle Town Center, outside Duke Raleigh Hospital, and Crabtree Valley Mall.

Richmond, Va.

Where Available:  Scott’s Addiction, near VCU, and Church Hill.

San Francisco, Calif.

Where Available: Mission Bay, Yerba Buena Gardens, Marina Green Park, outside Oracle Park, Palace of Fine Arts, and Huntington Park (Nob Hill area).

Sarasota, Fla.

Where Available: Burns Square, along N Lemon Ave, and Rosemary District.

Syracuse, N.Y.

Where Available: In the Northside Neighborhood, near Schiller Park, outside St. Joseph’s Health Center.

Tucson, Ariz.

Where Available: Downtown, Historic Fourth Avenue and University of Arizona.

AT&T Stops Selling DSL Service

Phillip Dampier October 5, 2020 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Rural Broadband 3 Comments

AT&T stopped accepting orders for traditional DSL service from customers across its landline service area on Oct. 1, and will no longer allow existing customers to change speeds or transfer DSL service if they move to a new address.

AT&T sells three classes of wired internet service to residential customers:

  • DSL: Traditional, old-fashioned DSL is sold primarily in rural and exurban areas that were never upgraded to AT&T’s U-verse service. Download speed is typically between 1-6 Mbps. This service is no longer available to new customers.
  • U-verse: AT&T’s fiber-to-the-neighborhood service delivers 24 Mbps or faster download speed. AT&T uses fiber optic cables between the central switching office and the customer’s neighborhood, where it connects with existing copper wiring that runs down your street and into your home. Most AT&T internet customers are still served by U-verse.
  • Fiber: About 4.3 million former U-verse customers have been upgraded to AT&T Fiber, the company’s fiber to the home service. This upgrade eliminates the copper wiring that runs to your home, which provides for vastly faster internet speeds.

Only AT&T’s DSL service has been discontinued. The company claims about a half million customers still get DSL service from AT&T as of the second quarter of 2020. Most don’t choose DSL by choice. It is often the only option, because the customer lives in a rural area where no other options for internet service exist. That may leave some new customers with no options for wired internet service at all.

“We are focused on enhancing our network with more advanced, higher speed technologies like fiber and wireless, which consumers are demanding,” AT&T said in a statement. “We’re beginning to phase out outdated services like DSL and new orders for the service will no longer be supported after October 1. Current DSL customers will be able to continue their existing service or where possible upgrade to our 100% fiber network.”

AT&T has been slowly expanding its wireless 4G LTE home internet service in select rural areas, but the service is unlikely to reach all the areas now shut out of DSL service.

While AT&T’s rural customers have been left behind, prices for AT&T Fiber are coming down, at least for new customers. Spectrum and Comcast have offered attractive new customer promotions in areas served by AT&T, and the phone company is now responding with better offers. New customers can now get 100 Mbps from AT&T Fiber for $35 a month, 300 Mbps for $45 a month, and 1,000 Mbps for $60 a month (all promotions good for 12 months and do not include equipment fees or taxes).

Verizon Announces Expansion of Rural Unlimited 4G LTE Wireless Home Internet to 189 Markets

Verizon has announced a significant expansion of its 4G LTE Home Internet service, now reaching 189 markets in 48 states.

“This summer, we introduced LTE Home Internet in select pilot markets, and the response from customers was incredible,” said Frank Boulben, senior vice president of consumer marketing and products at Verizon. “It’s clear the need for connectivity has never been greater during these challenging times, that’s why today, we’re expanding LTE Home Internet to even more customers in rural areas of America who may not have access to broadband internet.”

Indeed, most of the zip codes covered by Verizon’s wireless home broadband service are in rural communities where demand on Verizon’s 4G mobile network is likely much lower, with capacity to spare. The service is designed primarily for those living where DSL or cable broadband is not available.

For $40 a month for existing Verizon mobile customers ($60 for non-customers), customers receive unlimited data with no data caps or throttles at download speeds between 25-50 Mbps. A $240 LTE Home router is also provided, after a $10 a month device payment plan promotional credit that lasts for 24 months. In other words, you technically owe $240 for the router, with a balance reduction of $10 for each month you stay a customer. If you remain a customer for two years, that $240 is reduced to $0.00. If you cancel before that, you owe whatever balance remains. Verizon promises the service is easy to self-install.

The list of available zip codes is extensive, so you can download the current list here. Or verify precise availability by visiting: www.verizon.com/home/lte-home-internet.

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