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AT&T Still “Meh” on Fixed 5G Wireless; “We’re Focused on Mobility”

AT&T continues to gently discourage the media and investors from comparing its 5G strategy with that of its biggest competitor, Verizon, suggesting the two companies have different visions about where and how 5G and small cells will be deployed.

“We’ve done fixed wireless in our network on LTE as part of our Connect America Fund commitment from the government. We’ve been doing that for two years. And so we know the technology. We know it works, and it works for the purposes intended, which is real broadband,” said Scott Mair, president of operations at AT&T. “The challenge is the use case and the economics, right? So where does fixed wireless work? We’re focused on mobility.”

Mair echoes earlier sentiments from AT&T’s chief financial officer who has repeatedly told investors that AT&T sees fiber to the home service as a superior offering, and one economically within reach for the company in its urban and suburban service areas.

Speaking on Barclays Global Technology, Media and Telecommunications Broker Conference Call, Mair did not rule out 5G residential fixed wireless service in certain expensive-to-reach areas, but it is clear AT&T’s priority will be to bolster its mobile network, not invade the home internet access marketplace. Mair noted AT&T will deploy small cells to power its 5G services, but primarily to resolve congestion issues in high wireless traffic areas.

“If we’re there, we build small cells primarily for capacity,” noted Mair, adding the company believes “the mobility use case is probably the right place to be spending our time and effort.”

AT&T plans to target its first fixed or short-range 5G services on its business customers.

“We see initially enterprise businesses as being the area where the entry will be first,” Mair said. “We’ve thought about partnering with a manufacturing firm, and I really believe that manufacturing is going to be a key capability. When you look at a factory floor, it’s real-time telemetry, real-time analytics. You have factories that now need to be more nimble than ever in terms of being able to reconfigure for product changes very quickly.”

AT&T is also continuing to aggressively expand its fiber footprint, including the prospect of constructing fiber networks outside of AT&T’s traditional landline service area. But the company stressed it is building fiber networks in new ways that will maximize the company’s Return On Investment.

Mair

“So with our fiber build-out, fiber underlies everything we do, whether it’s wireline or wireless. And so fiber matters,” Mair said. “By middle of next year, we’ll be at 14 million homes passed and because we also have a deep fiber footprint, we’ll have another eight million businesses that we pass. That gives us 22 million locations that we can sell fiber-based services.”

AT&T’s fiber network planning has become very sophisticated these days. The more customers sharing a fiber connection, the faster construction expenses will be paid off.

When a business client contacts AT&T to arrange for fiber service, the company used to run a dedicated fiber cable directly to the business. These days, AT&T attempts to maximize the potential use of that fiber cable by routing it through areas that have a high potential of generating additional business for the company or traffic on its network. For example, a fiber connection furnished for a business might also be used to serve multiple dwelling units, like apartment buildings or condos, or rerouted to also reach other businesses that can be sold fiber services.

“I’m passing two [AT&T] cell sites that I’m paying someone else transport and backhaul for, where I can now put it on my own network,” Mair offered as an example. “I know where I’m going to be building small cells in the future. We can plan out that. We know where we’re going to be. I can route that fiber. So now I’ve optimized the route.”

Charter Spectrum CEO Says Company Using Tax Breaks to Buy Back Its Own Stock

Rutledge

Charter Communications is using the benefits of the Republican-promoted tax cut to buy back its own stock, because the only other option under consideration was using the money to buy up other cable operators.

“From a [mergers and acquisitions] perspective, I think cable is a great business. If there were assets for sale that we could do more of, we would do that,” said Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge at this week’s UBS Global Media & Communications Conference. “We’ve been buying a lot of our own stock back. Why? Because we think the cable business is a great business and we haven’t been able to buy other cable assets.”

Charter is not using the company’s lower tax rate to benefit Spectrum customers with lower bills or more extravagant upgrades. Instead, it is accelerating efforts to please shareholders and executives with efforts to boost its share price — something key to top executives’ performance bonuses.

With digital and broadband upgrades nearly complete in areas formerly served by Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks — the cable companies Charter acquired in 2016 — Rutledge told investors he can initiate additional upgrades without spending huge sums on infrastructure buildouts.

Gigabit speed is now available in most markets, and the company has doubled its lowest internet download speeds in areas where it faces significant competition from AT&T from 100 to 200 Mbps, boosting sales of Spectrum broadband service, according to Rutledge.

Today, about 60% of Spectrum customers are offered 100 Mbps, while the other 40% — mostly in AT&T service areas — are getting 200 Mbps.

Rutledge told investors he does not see much threat from Verizon FiOS or its newly launched 5G offerings, and has no immediate plans to upgrade service in Verizon service areas because neither offering seems that compelling.

“I saw that Verizon had some passings that they could do 800 Mbps in,” Rutledge said. “We have 51 million passings that we can do 1 gigabit in and we can go to 10 gigabits relatively inexpensively and I think we will because I think the world will go to 10 gigabits.”

Analysts are uncertain whether Rutledge’s comments are naïve or brave.

“We see 5G fixed wireless broadband [like that offered by Verizon] as the largest existential threat to broadband providers, by far,” wrote analysts at Cowen. Until now, most broadband competition for cable operators came from phone companies pitching DSL. Verizon retrenched on its FiOS offering several years ago. But AT&T has been more aggressive upgrading urban areas to fiber service, which has forced Charter to respond with higher speeds and better promotions.

Rutledge does not see Verizon’s 5G being a significant competitive threat for several years, and suspects Wall Street may once again punish Verizon for spending money on a wireless network less capable than what the cable industry offers today. Shareholders may also dislike watching Verizon distracted by the home broadband market when portable wireless revenues are much more important to the company.

Verizon officials claim about half of those signing up for its 5G service plan were not current Verizon customers. But the company would not say whether their new fixed wireless customers were coming largely from cable or DSL disconnects, which would prove marketplace disruption.

DirecTV’s Crazy December Customer Retention Deals Can Save You $90+ a Month

Phillip Dampier December 4, 2018 Competition, Consumer News, DirecTV, Online Video 2 Comments

AT&T is responding to its deepening losses of satellite television customers by slashing prices for those threatening to leave by as much as $90 a month and throwing in Visa debit cards worth up to $300 if customers agree to stay.

AT&T lost at least 346,000 subscribers during the last quarter and is on track to break an all-time record of subscriber losses, primarily attributed to cord-cutting.

When Stop the Cap! readers called to cancel, they shared stories of outrageous discounts available to anyone willing to spend a few minutes on the phone to ask, including slashed pricing, discounted or free channel upgrades, and equipment improvements. Some customers are now paying as little as $5 a month after the discounts were combined.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Stop the Cap! reader Dylan Marshall. “My old promotion recently expired and I called to threaten them with cancellation and they cut my bill by $90 a month for a year, which means my video package is costing me $15 a month. Then they offered me a free year of NFL Sunday Ticket, a $200 Visa debit card, and every premium movie channel available for three months at no charge!”

“I got $70 off my package after my credits expired last summer,” said Sandra Bizek. “It is always such a hassle to call in every year to argue with them, but they were very receptive this year. I almost thought I was being greedy when I also asked them about a gift card, which they usually won’t offer. They put you on hold and then come back and offer one. I got $100, but I know others were offered $200-300, depending on how long they have been a customer.”

It is easiest to score a good promotion if you do not already have one on your account, but it is possible for everyone — even customers still under contract — to get a better deal. One customer negotiated $25 off a month in early 2018. He had to surrender that credit, but in return his new bill will be $85 less.

Are you overpaying for AT&T’s DirecTV?

“They don’t even argue with you anymore,” said Narash, another Stop the Cap! reader. “Within two minutes he gave me $70 off my video package and then he found another $20 credit a month he could add, making my multi-hundred TV channel package about $5 a month. I couldn’t understand the guy very well and I think he thought I was hesitating to accept his offer so he also came up with a $300 Visa gift card out of the blue. I said ‘yes.’ Oh wow.”

Here is how to get your discount:

  1. Start by calling (978) 890-3027. This is DirecTV’s customer retention center in Massachusetts. If your account is combined with your AT&T wireless phone and you are billed by AT&T, they may have to transfer your call to a different call center. You can also try DirecTV’s general customer assistance number – 1-800-531-5000 and say “cancel service” when the auto-attendant answers. Answer “no” to the question about moving.
  2. When the representative answers, let them know you are planning to cancel DirecTV because you have a better offer from another provider (try to research an offer from a competitor that would generally interest you and be ready to discuss it). Add that you wanted to give them the opportunity to save your business by lowering your bill and enhancing the services you now get.
  3. You will be placed on hold as a representative reviews your account and any retention offers you are qualified to receive. Pay careful attention to the length of the discounts and any terms that might lock you into a contract. If you do not like what you hear, thank them for their time and call back. The next deal may be much more lucrative.

Our readers offered some important tips to maximize your savings:

  1. Print out your current bill so you understand exactly what you are paying for services now. If a representative tries to get you to remove services to lower your bill, let them know you can keep the same services and lower your bill with one of their competitors.
  2. Explain to the representative that you wish to cancel service because it costs too much and you are considering switching to a provider like YouTube TV or Hulu. Avoid mentioning DirecTV Now, which is also owned by AT&T.
  3. Do NOT simply accept the first offer made to you. When they try to lock you in, prevaricate. Ask, “is this really the best you can do?” and remind the representative you can create your own package of just the channels you want from one of their online streaming competitors like YouTube TV. You really want the lowest possible price, so could they please check one more time.
  4. When you are satisfied you have gotten the best possible deal, ask them about the availability of a gift card that you have heard about others getting, to compensate for the months you paid for channels you are not really watching. You may be able to get that as well, typically in amounts ranging from $100-300. But do not make it a dealbreaker and be sure it does not lock you into a long term contract.
  5. If a representative offers you nothing or seems uninterested in assisting, thank them and hang up and call right back. During high call volumes, regular representatives may be taking cancellation calls instead of customer retention specialists who are trained to offer the best deals to keep your business.

If you called for a better deal, let us know in the comment section what you were offered.

Canadian Netflix Rate Increase: Up $3 to $13.99/Month for Standard Plan

Phillip Dampier November 29, 2018 Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Canadian Netflix subscribers will pay up to $3 more a month in the coming weeks for streaming video as the company raises prices to produce more original Canadian content.

The latest rate increase is the largest ever for the service in Canada.

New Rates for Netflix Canada

  • Netflix Basic increases $1 to $9.99 a month. No 4K video and one-stream only
  • Netflix Standard increases $3 to $13.99 a month. No 4K video and up to two streams at a time viewing
  • Netflix Premium increases $3 to $16.99 a month. Includes 4K ultra HD video and up to four streams at a time viewing

The new rates take effect today for new customers. Existing customers will be notified by e-mail about the rate increase and when exactly it will be applied to their account.

Netflix Canada has taken over distribution of the long running mockumentary filmed in Nova Scotia.

The last rate increase in 2016 raised the price of Netflix by $1.

Netflix Canada spent $3.3 billion on original content in 2017. That is more than any of Canada’s English language commercial networks or broadcasters spent on scripted productions. Netflix also films many of its original productions in Canada, which is less expensive than many American filming locations.

Netflix Canada appears to have found a formula that works for the streaming service: participating in co-productions with entities like the CBC (at least for English productions) and asking subscribers to pay more to cover the company’s costs. This has spared Netflix from having its service subject to the federal GST, which would come out of subscribers’ pockets.

The company has had a much more difficult time dealing with the provincial government in Quebec, which protested loudly that Netflix Canada failed to make specific French language content commitments. As a result, Quebec has slapped its 9.975% sales tax on Netflix and all other streaming services.

Canada is gradually catching up to the United States in cord-cutting options. Netflix Canada’s offering is just a few hundred titles behind Netflix’s catalogs in the United States and Japan.

Other services have entered Canada in the last year or so, including CBS’ All Access, Acorn TV, and BritBox.

In response, Canadian broadcasters and telecom companies are beefing up their own services, which include CTV Movies/CTV Vault and Citytv Now/FX Now (which are only for authenticated cable/satellite subscribers) and Bell’s Crave TV (which just launched CraveTV+, offering more movies and original HBO shows).

Wireless Companies Bid $336 Million and Counting for 28 GHz 5G/Small Cell Spectrum

Forty companies, including hedge funds, phone companies, and wireless carriers have collectively bid $336,265,480 so far for about 2,500 28 GHz licenses (out of 3,072 available) that will be a part of the buildout of 5G millimeter wave wireless service.

The FCC is currently auctioning off spectrum in the 27.5–28.35 GHz (28 GHz) band — a very large chunk of frequencies which can offer bidders the opportunity to launch a wide bandwidth cellular data service capable of very fast internet speed. But because the frequencies involved are line-of-sight, the winning bidders will have to invest in large networks of small cell antennas that will be required to reach customers.

Citigroup analysts reviewing the auction results so far told clients they suspect there are “two outsized bidders” winning many of the available licenses, including Verizon. This is not a surprise, considering Verizon already has significant spectrum holdings in the 28 GHz band. Verizon’s current 5G service relies on this millimeter wave spectrum, but is available so far only in a handful of markets. The identity of the second major bidder remains a mystery. The spectrum licenses getting no bids are mostly in rural areas with low population density.

All the other major wireless operators — AT&T, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular — are also bidders. Only Sprint, currently in a merger deal with T-Mobile, is missing. AT&T has not shown much interest in offering its customers millimeter wave 5G service, and T-Mobile is planning to use 5G’s technology upgrade to bolster its existing network with more capacity and speed. Dish Network, which already controls a substantial portfolio of unused spectrum, is also a bidder and could be seeking to stockpile 5G spectrum for a future venture or sales deal with one of the other wireless companies.

The qualified bidders:

8538 Green Street LLC MetaLINK Technologies, Inc.
Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative NEIT Services, LLC
Aries Wireless LLC Nemont Communications, Inc.
AT&T Spectrum Frontiers LLC Northern Valley Communications, LLC
BDCIH Wireless, LLC Nsight Spectrum, LLC
Beyerle, David E Nuvera Communications, Inc.
BroadBand One of the Midwest, Inc Panhandle Telephone Cooperative, Inc.
Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless Pine Belt Cellular, Inc.
Central Broadband 24/28 GHz Consortium Rock Port Telephone Company
Cityfront Wireless LLC SANN Consortium
Cordova Telephone Cooperative, Inc. T-Mobile License LLC
Crestone Wireless L.L.C. TelAlaska Cellular, Inc.
Day Management Corporation Townes 5G, LLC
Frontier Communications Corporation Trace Fiber Networks, LLC
FTC Management Group, Inc. Tradewinds Wireless Holdings, LLC
High Band License Co LLC Union Telephone Company
Horry Telephone Cooperative, Inc. United States Cellular Corporation
Inland Cellular LLC Universal Electrical Contractors
LICT Wireless Broadband Company, LLC Western Independent Networks, Inc
Mark Twain Communications Company Windstream Services, LLC

Bidding starts at $200 per available county, and many rural licenses could be won for precisely that amount, with only one interested bidder offering the minimum bid.

The highest bids are just over $10,000,000 each for two licenses in the Honolulu, Hawaii market. Bids in excess of $2 million are currently on the table in these counties:

California: Kern
Colorado: El Paso
Florida: Volusia
Illinois: Winnebago
Iowa: Linn
Louisiana: East Baton Rouge
Maine: Cumberland
Missouri: Greene
Nebraska: Lancaster
Nevada: Washoe
Oregon: Jackson
Pennsylvania: Lancaster, Berks, York, Lehigh, Luzerne, Northampton, Dauphin
Texas: Cameron, Hidalgo
Wisconsin: Dane

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  • ADubb: I completely agree with the comment above. I go over my limit each month, have a few Nest cams and cloud back up devices on my home network. Something...
  • Paul Houle: I think AT&T is more interested in fixed wireless using low band spectrum in exurban areas. At my location Unlimitedville (AT&T) was able to ...
  • EJ: How about investing in some CAPEX. Identify and fix problem areas. O wait Spectrum don't need to do that. If I had to guess my bottom dollar I would b...
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  • Dylan: While I don’t really mind these tax cuts being used for the purpose of buying back shares, which you kind have to as one of these companies, I do wish...
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