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New Owner Ziply Fiber Moves Quickly to Overhaul Frontier’s Network in Pacific Northwest

Even with the threat of COVID-19 and a virtual nationwide work-from-home initiative, the new owners of Frontier Communications’ network in Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho are moving rapidly to repair persistent network issues, create a backup network, and lay the foundation to bring fiber to the home service to 85% of its customers over the next three years.

Ziply Fiber of Kirkland, Wash., formerly known as Northwest Fiber, acquired the Frontier Communications service areas in the Pacific Northwest just as Frontier itself was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. It will waste little time upgrading Frontier’s copper wire network to get fiber service to customers fast.

“After Frontier bought Verizon’s landlines and FiOS networks in Washington and Oregon in 2010, it felt like the last decade was a phone company driving in neutral,” said Dale Prescott, a FiOS customer in Washington State. “You could feel Frontier never wanted to spend any money out here. It was like they were a caretaker of Verizon’s network, and while we got some service improvements here and there, Frontier also took away a lot too.”

Service reliability suffered, especially in areas that remained served by copper over the last decade. Customers reported lengthy outages and waiting times for repairs, and DSL speeds were actually reduced in some areas because deteriorating network infrastructure could no longer support earlier, faster speeds. In a decade of service, Frontier only managed to provide fiber connections to about 33% of its customers, the vast majority of it acquired from Verizon.

“Frontier never invested much in its network, and what it did invest seemed mostly to keep the lines from falling off the poles,” Prescott said. “Businesses got slightly better service when Frontier boosted its fiber capacity, primarily to serve commercial customers. But if you lived in the sticks, your service got worse over time, not better.”

Ziply Fiber plans to change that experience with a promise to regulators to spend about $500 million overhauling Frontier’s network in the region. Most of that spending will be devoted to upgrading customers to fiber optics. Just a few weeks after closing on its acquisition of Frontier landlines, Ziply told residents in 13 communities to expect fiber upgrades that began this spring. The majority long suffered with Frontier DSL, often at speeds as low as 3 Mbps.

Among the first towns to get fiber service are Kellogg, Moscow, and Coeur d’Alene — all in Idaho. Work has already commenced and is expected to be finished by fall. Ziply wants to keep construction costs as low as possible, so it intends to do aerial deployment of fiber by wrapping the optical cable around existing copper wire telephone cables already on the pole. This process, known as “overlashing” will simplify installation by not requiring additional space to place fiber cables next to existing telephone wiring or going to the effort of removing the existing copper wiring, which raises costs.

Overlashing has met with some controversy, however. Telephone companies are strongly in favor of allowing the process for optical fiber installation because they rarely need permission or costly permits from utility pole owners, often electric utilities. Opposition comes primarily from some electric companies, which claim overlashing can make existing installations “unsafe” by placing too much weight on existing wiring, which may have been installed decades earlier. Those electric utilities also stand to make money from forcing companies to seek new permits for placing fiber on poles, and that permission does not come free of charge.

Fiber customers will be able to select internet plans up to 1,000 Mbps. Enhanced DSL service in some areas is available at speeds up to 115 Mbps, but most of these service areas will probably be served by fiber to the home service, eventually.

Ziply Fiber Upgrade Projects (May, 2020)

  • Washington—Anacortes, Kennewick, Pullman, Richland and Snohomish
  • Oregon—Coquille, Coos Bay, La Grande, North Bend
  • Idaho—Coeur d’Alene, Kellogg, Moscow
  • Montana—Libby

To further speed fiber upgrades, Ziply acquired Wholesail Networks, already contracted to manage fiber network design for Ziply. Company officials quickly identified multiple weak spots in Frontier’s network, particularly relating to its resiliency when fiber cables were cut or copper wiring was stolen. Ziply is building in network redundancy, with each portion of its network served by at least two sets of fiber cabling and identical equipment in each of more than 130 central switching offices. In many markets, Ziply will maintain at least three redundant fiber connections to make certain if one (or two) networks go down, customers can still be served by a third with no interruption in service.

Ziply is also avoiding the usual nightmares customers experience when switching between one company’s systems to another. Frontier’s customers suffered significantly from a cutover from Verizon’s operations and billing systems, which often left them disconnected or mis-billed. To prevent that from happening again, Ziply literally cloned Frontier’s existing back office systems, so customers won’t experience any “cutover” problems.

Ziply executives have been candid about the network they are acquiring. They told regulators the network was in reasonably good condition in some places, but not all. Ziply promised to fix the network weak spots, resolve customer repair orders at least two-thirds faster than Frontier did, and make comparatively broader investments in network operations. Analysts predict Ziply has a better chance of success than Frontier did, primarily because Frontier’s operations were mired in debt, making new investment in network upkeep and upgrades difficult.

Spectrum Upgrades Standard Speed Plan to 200/10 Mbps in Central Florida and South Texas

Spectrum internet customers in parts of Central Florida and South Texas are getting twice the download speed they used to receive thanks to a series of quiet service upgrades still in progress.

Customers in parts of suburban Orlando, including Seminole County, first noticed the speed upgrade in April in towns like Lake Mary. Parts of Kissimmee saw a service upgrade earlier this month. Some neighborhoods in Orlando also began reporting speed upgrades as of mid-May. Some parts of Pasco County, north of Tampa, also received a 200 Mbps upgrade, particularly in planned communities.

Charter Communications is gradually upgrading capacity in the area, formerly served by Bright House Networks. Spectrum traditionally does not announce speed upgrades until an entire service area is complete, which will likely happen in parts of Florida and Texas by early this summer.

In South Texas, San Benito is one of the communities between Brownsville and McAllen seeing Spectrum’s usual download speed doubled from 100 to 200 Mbps.

The speed upgrades come without any additional charges and usually appear automatically. Spectrum has been slowly upgrading its national service footprint to offer the new, higher-speed 200 Mbps Standard service tier. For more than two years, customers in many AT&T landline areas in the midwest and south have had 200/10 Mbps service, designed to help keep the cable company competitive with AT&T’s fiber offering. But service remains stubbornly fixed at 100/10 Mbps in just under half of Spectrum’s service area, particularly in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and West regions.

Stop the Cap! expects Spectrum to upgrade all of its service areas to provide 200/10 Mbps service. It remains uncertain exactly when that will happen, however.

This Internet Provider Earned a 94% Customer Satisfaction Score, and It Isn’t Comcast or Spectrum

One of America’s internet service providers managed to achieve a customer satisfaction score of 94%, an unprecedented vote of approval from consumers that typically loathe their cable or phone company.

What also makes this provider different is that it is owned by the public, and administered by the City of Fairlawn, Ohio. Fairlawn is a suburb of Akron, with a population of around 7,400 people. Akron is dominated by Charter Spectrum for cable and AT&T for telephone service. But the suburbs have been underserved by both companies for decades. As with many northeastern cities, the economic shift away from manufacturing towards high-tech businesses requires robust connectivity. But many communities are stuck with a cable company that will not service less populated areas in town and a phone company that is willing to leave many customers with low-speed DSL and nothing better.

When a community finds it cannot get gigabit fiber optic service for residents, it can either live with what is on offer instead or decide to do something about it. Fairlawn decided it was time to establish FairlawnGig, a municipal broadband utility that would provide gigabit fiber service to every resident in town, if they wanted it.

Broadband Communities reports local residents love the service they are getting:

The online survey results reveal overall satisfaction with FairlawnGig at an astoundingly high number of 94% with more than 3 out of 4 (77%) saying they are “very satisfied.”

Additionally, FairlawnGig 94% of residential customers rated the service they receive from FairlawnGig as “excellent” or “very good.”

FairlawnGig offers two plans to residents: 300/300 Mbps service for $55 a month or 1,000/1,000 Mbps service for $75. Landline phone service is an extra $25 a month, and the municipal provider has pointed its customers to online cable TV alternatives like Hulu and YouTube TV for television service. Incumbent cable and phone companies usually respond to this kind of competition with cut-rate promotions to keep the customers they have and lure others back. Spectrum has countered with promotions offering 400 Mbps internet for as little as $30/mo for two years. Despite the potential savings, most people in Fairlawn won’t go back to Spectrum regardless of the price. FairlawnGig’s loyalty score is 80, with 85% of those not only sticking with FairlawnGig but also actively recommending it to others.

Residents appreciate the service, deemed very reliable, and that technicians are local and accessible. The City says it works hard to ensure that customer appointments are kept and on time and representatives are available to assist customers with their questions and technical support needs. FairlawnGig claims its technicians spend extra time teaching customers about their services.

City officials candidly admit they were willing to build and launch the municipal fiber service even if it did not recoup its original investment for years to come. That is because the municipal fiber network has benefited the city in other ways:

  • It has attracted new residents to town and kept them there.
  • Several businesses launched or moved to be within FairlawnGig’s service area. Most are white collar businesses, such as IT firms, software and hardware engineers, and consultants.
  • A new orthopaedic hospital is being developed in the town, in part because FairlawnGig can provide connectivity up to 100 Gbps for things like medical imaging and video conferencing.
  • As businesses move in, so do workers looking for a shorter commute. Property values in the town have increased and realtors make a point to alert would-be buyers when a property is within FairlawnGig’s service area.

In short, Fairlawn officials see providing internet access as more than just a profit center. It is a public service initiative that is paying back dividends that will eventually exceed the $10 million investment taken from the city’s general fund to build the network. Taxes did not increase as a result of FairlawnGig either. Now other towns around Fairlawn and the city of Akron itself are showing interest in how to join forces to expand the public service well beyond Fairlawn’s town borders.

WOIO in Akron covered FairlawnGig back in January 2019 in this report explaining how a publicly owned fiber to the home service was delivering gig speed to this northeastern Ohio community. (2:31)

Charter Spectrum’s “False Ads” Cost Windstream $3-5 Million in Profits, Expert Witness Testifies

Windstream Communications lost between $3.2-5.1 million in lost profits because of a 2019 false advertising campaign run by Charter Communications in areas where the two companies compete for internet customers, claimed an expert witness in a court hearing to determine the damages Charter must pay.

In December, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain issued a summary judgment finding Charter responsible for sending out misleading advertising fliers that violated the federal Lanham Act and false advertising laws in place in some states.

“Shortly after Windstream filed for Chapter 11 protection, Charter commenced a false and misleading advertising campaign designed to cause irreparable injury and damage to Windstream’s reputation and business,” the original lawsuit filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York stated. “Charter targeted Windstream customers in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Nebraska, and North Carolina, which are several of Windstream’s top performing states.”

“On the envelopes for the advertisement, Charter intentionally utilized Windstream’s trademark and signature color pattern to mislead Windstream customers into believing that the advertisement came directly from Windstream. Indeed, Charter’s advertisement stated that it was ‘Important Information Enclosed for Windstream Customers.’”

The offending Charter flier seems to suggest Windstream is going out of business.

A later investigation found Charter sent at least 800,000 mailers to customers in service areas where Windstream competes with Spectrum.

Jeffrey Auman, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Windstream Communications, told the court last week the false ads directly harmed Windstream’s reputation with its customers, with some left believing the phone company was ceasing operations because of its bankruptcy filing. Auman argued it was fair for Charter to pay damages covering Windstream’s legal expenses to file the lawsuit and cover its advertising and promotional expenses incurred to rebut the ads and retain customers.

A company-provided expert witness testified Windstream lost customers and between $3.2 and $5.1 million in lost profits. Spectrum’s ad campaign also created long term negative “fear, uncertainty, and doubt” about Windstream’s health and ability to service customers. The witness claimed Spectrum’s fliers ended a “growth streak” for the phone company and has caused new customer projections to fall behind.

“It was a big deal with us,” Aubrey testified. “Word of mouth in these small communities means a lot.”

Windstream told Judge Drain the company has spent more than $4.3 million on service credits, promotional retention discounts, and cost-free upgrades to keep customers happy.

Charter has countered Windstream’s customer losses come from its inferior technology, which makes Windstream’s speeds slower and less competitive. Spectrum has upgraded internet customers in the midwest and parts of the southern U.S. to up to 200 Mbps for its Standard internet plan, which is much faster than what Windstream offers many of its DSL internet customers.

CBS All Access Getting a New Name, A Bigger Library and a Relaunch This Summer

With the merger of CBS and Viacom now complete, the combined company is preparing to overhaul its subscription streaming service CBS All Access with a rebranding and a relaunch this summer.

“We believe audiences want their entertainment on demand and their news, sports and events live, and our expanded offering will be the service that gives them what they want, how they want it all in one place and then a great value,” ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish told investors during a quarterly results conference call on Thursday.

The relaunched service will be dramatically larger than the current CBS All Access, adding content from Smithsonian TV and Viacom’s various cable networks including BET, Comedy Central, Logo, MTV, Nickelodeon, Pop TV, and the Paramount Network. The new streaming platform will also integrate more closely with Viacom’s free-to-view, advertiser-supported Pluto TV and Showtime, CBSViacom’s premium pay movie channel.

Subscribers will not have to wait until summer to see some changes on the All Access platform. Paramount added over 100 movie titles to the service earlier this week.

Currently, CBS All Access and Showtime together boast about 10 million subscribers, with ads-included All Access priced at $6 per month and Showtime at $11. Viacom’s advertising-supported streaming service Pluto TV, which Viacom bought in January 2019 for $340 million, has attracted almost 20 million monthly users.

Bakish believes the new ViacomCBS service will be as robust as competitors like Hulu or Disney+. It will enter a marketplace already dominated by Netflix (167 million subscribers), Amazon Prime (150 million subs), Hulu (30.7 million subs), Disney+ (28.6 million subs), ESPN+ (7.6 million subs), Starz (6.3 million subs) and YouTube TV (2 million subs). It will also have to compete against newly launched Apple TV+ and the forthcoming debuts of HBO Max and Peacock.

CBS All Access currently includes live streams of local CBS affiliates, streaming news network CBSN, and a variety of live and on-demand entertainment and sports programming. Its content library currently includes CBS TV network shows and a long-standing selection of evergreen off-network shows including Perry Mason, the original Hawaii 5-0, and The Brady Bunch.

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  • Wendy in Tampa: I can't stand Frontier. They are the biggest liars I have ever known. They cap us almost every hour every day and we have to reboot our internet co...
  • Nolar Barnes: I just called and argued till they drop it....
  • Nienna: Thank you for mentioning this. I'm newly approved for SSI. As a non-verbal autistic person I socialize on World of Warcraft. When I get my own plac...
  • Pat: As a Spectrum customer with few other options, living in a tiny, but beautiful southern NW US beach town, my resentment is the creepy ways they fin...
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  • Bette: I put service on seasonal suspension, as I have done for the past 10 years, first with Brighthouse then with Spectrum, when they took over. Suspens...
  • mhorgan65: Or you can get the Moxee Home Phone which also works with Verizon VoLTE service. ...
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