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Cable One Changing Name to Sparklight in the Summer of 2019 to Refocus on Broadband

Phillip Dampier December 12, 2018 Broadband Speed, Cable One, Consumer News, Data Caps 1 Comment

Cable One will rebrand itself Sparklight starting in the summer of 2019, reflecting a refocus on selling broadband service.

“We are very excited for this evolution to our new brand and the next chapter in our story,” Cable One CEO Julie Laulis said in a statement. “Over the past several years we have evolved and our new brand will better convey who we are and what we stand for – a company committed to providing our communities with connectivity that enriches their world.”

The corporate name will remain Cable One, but like Charter’s Spectrum or Comcast’s XFINITY, customers will primarily know the company under its new brand.

Cable One provides service in these areas.

Cable One has just over 800,000 customers in 21 states nationwide, primarily in the South. The company’s decision to hold the line on the wholesale cost of its cable television package resulted in the company dropping Viacom-owned cable networks, which caused a significant number of customers to cancel service. Today, nearly 60% of its customers are broadband-only.

The cable company has also been criticized for dramatically raising the price of its internet service and for its regime of data caps, which limits most of its customers to 300 GB of usage a month. Customers who exceed their usage allowance three times during a calendar year “may be required to upgrade to an appropriate plan for data usage.”

Cable One currently offers four broadband options:

  • Starter Plan (100/3 Mbps) $55/mo with up to 300 GB of usage
  • Family Plan (150/5 Mbps) $80/mo with up to 600 GB of usage
  • Streamer and Gamer Plan (200/10 Mbps) $105/mo with up to 900 GB of usage
  • GigaONE (1000/50 Mbps) $175/mo with up to 1,500 GB of usage

Under the rebrand, the company will “streamline” its residential broadband options and pricing, which will likely push customers towards a more expensive, higher-speed tier. Sparklight will also offer unlimited data on any of its revamped tiers for an additional monthly fee. Both measures are likely to boost revenue, and customer bills.

“As consumer data consumption continues to increase, multi-device households become the norm, and businesses expect a broad suite of services, Sparklight will continue to evolve with our customers by offering innovative options to fit their needs, while providing helpful, proactive and personal local service,” Laulis said.

Census Bureau Reports Internet Penetration Lowest in Urban Poor and Rural Areas

There are stark contrasts in internet subscription rates depending on where you live and how much money you make, according to newly released findings from the U.S. Census Bureau.

As the cost of internet access continues to rise, affordability is increasingly a problem for poor Americans. In rural areas, a lack of broadband availability is also holding down subscription rates.

Telfair County, Ga. has the dubious distinction of being America’s worst connected county, with just 25% of households signed up for internet access. The most connected communities are found in suburban areas surrounding major cities along the Pacific Coast and northeastern U.S. More than 90% of households also have internet access in suburban areas outside of the District of Columbia, Atlanta, and Denver.

Urban Poor Americans Can’t Afford Increasingly Expensive Service Plans; Many Turn to Smartphones Instead

Although internet subscription rates are sky-high in wealthier suburban areas, poor inner city neighborhoods score poorly for internet subscriptions. In the Chicago metropolitan area, 77% of Cook County households subscribe to the internet. In downtown Los Angeles, just 80% are signed up. In D.C., only 78% subscribe.

In Philadelphia, there were some neighborhoods with just 25% of residents getting internet service. In the Tioga-Nicetown neighborhood, only 37.1% of households had internet service. Persistent poverty, crime, unemployment, and low-income in poorer parts of the inner city have conspired to make it very difficult for residents to afford internet access at prices often over $50 a month.

Increasingly, poor urban residents are turning to their smartphones as their sole source of internet. In the Philadelphia neighborhood of Fairhill, where internet subscriptions are below 38%, 12% of homes report smartphones are the only way they connect to the internet.

Pew Research Center senior researcher Monica Anderson told The Inquirer that 31 percent of Americans who earn less than $30,000 a year now rely only on smart phones for internet access, a percentage that has doubled since 2013.

“We are seeing smartphones help more people get online,” she told the newspaper, adding that data caps and data plan costs lead people to cancel or suspend services.

Rural and Native Americans Suffer Without Service, If They Can Afford It

Some of the worst scoring counties where internet subscription rates were lower than average are located in rural areas across the upper Plains, the Southwest and South. The desert states of Arizona and New Mexico, south Texas, the lower Mississippi through Southern Alabama and some areas of the Piedmont of Georgia, the Carolinas and Southern Virginia were notable for containing many counties with low broadband internet subscription rates, although there were exceptions throughout.

Only 67% of Native Americans have signed up for internet access, compared with 82 percent for non-Native Americans. Native Americans living on American Indian land had a subscription rate of 53 percent.

Thirteen percent of the counties achieving better than an 80% subscription rate were located in “mostly rural” or “completely rural” counties, often getting telecommunications services from a local co-op or municipal utility. Assuming a rural customer can buy internet access, the next impediment is often cost.

In “mostly urban” counties with median household incomes of $50,000 and over, the average broadband internet subscription rate was roughly 80 percent, while in “completely rural” counties with the similar median incomes, the average broadband internet subscription rate was only 71 percent.

“Mostly urban” counties with median household incomes below $50,000, however, only reported average broadband internet subscription rates of 70 percent while “completely rural” counties with similar median incomes had average broadband internet subscription rates of just 62 percent.

This contrast showed up most dramatically in the South. Of the 21 counties with populations of at least 10,000 and broadband internet subscription rates at or above 90 percent, 12 were in the South, four were in the Midwest, four in the West, and one in the Northeast. Conversely, of the 24 counties with broadband internet subscription rates at or below 45 percent and populations of at least 10,000, 21 were in the South, two were in the West, and one was in the Midwest.

Charter Settlement Talks With New York Officials Proving Fruitful; Spectrum Likely Staying

Charter Communications’ ongoing settlement talks with the New York Public Service Commission are “productive” and will likely result in a final settlement agreement allowing Spectrum to continue operating in New York.

Today, the Public Service Commission formally approved a third extension for Charter, allowing the cable company to hold off filing an orderly exit plan and an appeal of the order revoking approval of Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable in New York State. Department of Public Service (DPS) staff recommended one last 45-day extension to allow settlement discussions to continue and conclude.

“These discussions have been productive and should continue. However, DPS Staff believes that the Commission should direct that any request granted in response to Charter’s most recent filing be final in form and that any additional time allowed must either result in a settlement agreement being presented to the Commission or the cessation of settlement talks and a resumption of the processes outlined in the Revocation and Compliance Orders, unless good cause is shown by both parties,” wrote John J. Sipos, acting general counsel for the Public Service Commission. “This will ensure that progress is made or that in the event a settlement is not reached, that there is certainty as to the expectations on the parties going forward.”

DPS staff identified nine principles guiding discussions towards a final settlement:

  1. All addresses that are counted toward Charter’s obligations must further the Commission’s statements that service be provided to those in less densely populated areas (i.e., Upstate N.Y.).
  2. Addresses counted toward Charter’s obligations must not have had network previously passing the address or high speed broadband service available from a competitor. As the Commission has previously noted, New York City is one of the most wired cities in America, with much of the City served by multiple providers. Thus, the focus of the buildout should be in Upstate N.Y.
  3. Overlap between Charter’s proposed buildout Upstate and those areas awarded by the Broadband Program Office should be minimized or eliminated to the maximum extent practicable.
  4. The goal of DPS Staff and New York State is to ensure that the maximum number of New York State residents have wireline cable and broadband networks available to them.
  5. Charter’s violations of the January 8, 2016 order and September 2017 Settlement Agreement must be addressed.
  6. Going forward, the scope of changes allowed to be made to the buildout plan should be limited in order to provide certainty to New Yorkers as to when Charter’s network will pass their homes and businesses.
  7. Safety is of paramount importance to New York State and that, regardless of any targets agreed to, all work must be done safely.
  8. Company representations regarding the buildout and compliance with PSC orders must be truthful.
  9. The buildout schedule must establish concrete and enforceable consequences should Charter fail to meet its obligations.

Because the ongoing discussions have been conducted in private, without input from interested third parties (including Stop the Cap!) and the public, the revelation of the “nine principles” are the first indication the public has that the Commission’s staff has limited the scope of its negotiations to the rural broadband buildout obligation contained in the original merger approval order. This also coincides with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s high-profile commitment to expand broadband availability to every New York resident, one of the achievements the governor cites in his re-election campaign. Charter’s participation is essential to the program achieving its objectives, because rural broadband funding has been diverted to addresses not identified as targets for Charter’s rural broadband buildout.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing rural broadband initiatives in New York.

Charter ran into trouble with the Commission because it failed to initially meet its buildout targets for 2017 and progress further faltered in 2018. The Commission argues Charter attempted to mask the problem by counting new passings in urban areas towards its broadband expansion commitment, including many addresses in the New York City area. When Charter balked at the Commission’s broad disqualification of Charter’s progress reports, many that included locations outside the intended goal of the rural expansion effort, the PSC hastily met in July and revoked approval of the original merger agreement, directly threatening Charter’s ability to provide Spectrum service in the state.

A vocal group of consumers among the 78,000 rural New Yorkers without access to cable, DSL, fiber, or wireless broadband are also calling out the governor and the Broadband Program Office (BPO) for bait and switch rural broadband. They accuse the governor of promising to get broadband service to every New York home or business that wants it, but quietly capitulating on that commitment by assigning tens of thousands of rural New Yorkers satellite internet service from HughesNet, widely criticized for not consistently meeting broadband speed standards and offering heavily usage capped service at very high prices.

Because the DPS has set a goal to minimize overlap of Charter’s planned expansion areas with addresses designated for BPO-funded HughesNet service, the Commission will indefinitely prevent satellite customers from getting other practical internet options, because many of these locations are high-cost service areas. Stop the Cap! urged the Commission to consider requiring Charter to further expand its rural broadband commitment as a penalty for earlier transgressions, specifically targeting as many satellite-designated addresses as practical, even if HughesNet has already received BPO funding to serve those locations.

Dampier

“The commitment should be to protect the interests of the public, not the assigned provider,” said Phillip Dampier, director and founder of Stop the Cap! “The Commission’s goal to maximize the number of New York addresses where wireline cable and broadband networks are available is laudable. But this goal is immediately abandoned in areas designated for satellite service. Satellite internet access has rarely, if ever, been considered by broadband regulators to be a suitable replacement for wired internet access. Satellite internet access has proven again and again to be a frustrating and inadequate broadband solution.”

“We are talking about a very small percentage of places where overlapped funding may occur, potentially giving these rural New Yorkers two options for internet access instead of one,” Dampier added. “There is no conflict with the public interest if it means these customers have the option of a much faster, unlimited internet access plan — something HughesNet does not and will not offer in the foreseeable future.”

Stop the Cap! argues without a better option for residents stuck with satellite, the governor has broken his promise and commitment to these left-behind New Yorkers.

“In many cases, these addresses are literally just down the road from the nearest Spectrum customer,” Dampier noted. “Niagara County, for example, is hardly in the middle of the Adirondacks and is heavily wired by Spectrum/Time Warner Cable already. Is it too much to ask to push them to do more?”

John B. Rhodes, chairman of the New York Public Service Commission, signed an order granting the extension, but acknowledged the lack of broadband service in counties where Spectrum offers service to some residents but not others is a point of contention.

“Many Upstate New Yorkers living in Charter’s franchise areas are understandably frustrated by the lack of modern communications infrastructure,” Rhodes wrote. “The Compliance and Revocation Orders [revoking the merger] were designed to deal with very serious issues presented by Charter’s conduct related to the company’s network expansion. As such, the processes envisioned therein must continue in the absence of an agreement.”

Verizon Denies Throttling Florence Victims, But Customers Deal with Slow Speeds

Verizon Wireless claims it is not intentionally slowing data services for its customers in North & South Carolina, despite growing complaints from customers about slow speeds.

Stop the Cap! has heard from nearly 20 readers in central and eastern North Carolina and they are displeased with Verizon’s performance.

“Signal is five bars but speed might as well be dial-up,” reports one reader. “I have consistently gotten 20 Mbps or better service for at least a decade from my home and workplace on Verizon’s network, but now the speed shows it starts at around 20 Mbps but quickly declines to less than 1 Mbps within 3-5 seconds. I have an unlimited data plan and have relied on it since Spectrum went out over the weekend.”

“Of course they are throttling us,” said Paul Ingell, who moved inland from New Bern to share a room with friends near Charlotte. “As soon as you go over 20 GB, the speed throttle game begins, and they are playing it. My bill reset date was today and by gosh speeds magically returned to normal. But my sister-in-law is still being throttled. Her phone delivers less than 1 Mbps sitting right next to mine and I get around 15 Mbps. We both own the same phones and have unlimited plans.”

The Washington Post covered the alleged Verizon slowdowns as well, and one Raleigh area reader claimed he is being throttled now as well.

“We lost power/cable and were using my Verizon unlimited data plan for internet access, and were very frustrated when attempting to access pages with dynamic content,” he wrote. “This is not typically a problem in central North Carolina, a high-coverage area. It seemed clear our data was being throttled.”

Another reader in New Bern who rode out the storm said Verizon service was very poor as he attempted to get news from CNN and Google during and after the storm. Browsing was almost impossible.

“E-mails and texts were the only reasonably quick way for me to get information. Other people complained of the same issue,” the reader wrote. “Having lost power and internet, the phone was our only contact with the outside.”

First word of the claimed throttling came from a reddit thread from AbeFroman21:

My family lives in a small town in eastern North Carolina, and we were just devastated by the hurricane. Our power has been out for five days now and internet service is gone as well. Two days ago my wife and I noticed that we couldn’t retrieve our email from our phone or check Facebook [for] updates from our community about the storm or when service would be restored.

We traveled into a bigger town and called Verizon to check and see if there was a data outage and when we could expect it to be restored. Only, I was told that my unlimited plan was deprioritized for being too low tier of a plan. But if I upgraded to a higher plan my service would be restored.

There’s no outage, just corporations sucking dry a community that as already lost so much. Thanks a**holes.

Verizon categorically denies it is throttling any customers in North Carolina.

“On North Carolina, we are not throttling,” said Richard Young, a Verizon spokesman. “The most likely scenario is that the customer, who can’t connect to the internet, is in an area that has lost cell service.”

Verizon Starts Taking Orders Thursday for 5G Home Internet in Houston, Indianapolis, LA and Sacramento

Verizon 5G Home will begin accepting new customer orders for its in-home wireless broadband replacement as of this Thursday, Sept. 13, with a scheduled service launch date of Oct. 1.

The new high-speed wireless service will be available in select parts of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg is calling the service part of Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network. Initial reports indicate speed will range between 300-1,000 Mbps and existing Verizon Wireless customers will get a $20 price break on service — $50 a month instead of $70 for non-Verizon Wireless customers. We are still waiting word on any data caps or speed throttle information. Verizon informs Stop the Cap! there are no data caps or speed throttles. Service is effectively unlimited, unless hidden terms and conditions introduce unpublished limits.

Interested customers can determine their eligibility starting at 8 a.m. ET on Thursday from the Firston5G website. If you are not eligible initially, you can add your email address to be notified when service is available in your area.

Early adopters will be awarded with a series of goodies:

  • Free installation (a big deal, since it could cost as much as $200 later. An external antenna is required, as well as in-home wiring and equipment.)
  • 90 days of free service (a good idea, considering there may be bugs to work out)
  • 90 days of free YouTube TV (a welcome gift for cord-cutters)
  • Free Chromecast or Apple TV 4K (a common sign up enticement with streaming cable-TV replacements)
  • Priority access to buy forthcoming line of 5G-capable mobile devices

Customers in the first four launch cities will be using equipment built around a draft standard of 5G, as the final release version is still forthcoming. Verizon is holding off on additional expansion of 5G services until the final 5G standard is released, and promises early adopters will receive upgraded technology when that happens.

Verizon is clearly providing a greater-than-average number of enticements for early adopters, undoubtedly to placate them if and when service anomalies and disruptions occur. Although Verizon has done limited beta testing of its 5G service, it is very likely the 5G network will get its first real shakeout with paying customers. Unanticipated challenges are likely to range from coverage and speed issues, unexpected interference, network traffic loading, the robustness of Verizon’s small cell network, and how well outside reception equipment will perform in different weather conditions, particularly heavy rain and snow. With a large number of freebies, and no charges for 90 days, customers are likely to be more forgiving of problems, at least initially.

Chromecast

Verizon’s 5G network depends on millimeter wave spectrum, which means it will be capable of providing very high-speed service with greater network capacity than traditional 4G LTE wireless networks. But Verizon will have to bring 5G antennas much closer to subscribers’ homes, because millimeter wave frequencies do not travel very far.

Verizon will combine a fiber backhaul network with small cell antennas placed on top of utility and light poles to reach customers. That explains why Verizon’s initial 5G deployment is unlikely to cover every customer inside city limits. There are substantial deployment costs and installation issues relating to small cells and the optical fiber network required to connect each small cell.

Verizon’s existing FiOS network areas will offer an easier path to introduce service, but where Verizon does not offer its fiber to the home service, it will need to bring fiber optic cables deep into neighborhoods.

AT&T sees a similar challenge to 5G and is openly questioning how useful wireless 5G can be for urban/suburban broadband service, considering it can simply extend fiber optic service to those homes and businesses instead, without a costly 5G small cell deployment.

Verizon introduces 5G wireless in-home broadband in four U.S. cities and starts taking new customer orders on Thursday. (1:00)

Article updated at 6:28pm ET with information about data caps and speed throttles provided by Verizon.

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  • Andy: They hiked the legacy ELP internet from 19.99 to 24.99 in november 2018. It used to be 14.99. The only reason these Charter spectrum effin ass holes a...
  • Frank D: Second Spectrum $20 price hike within a year. Signed up as $99/mo with time warner cable triple bundle. That became $130/mo after promo ended. Earli...
  • Dylan: Look at their prices. Absolutely ludicrous compared to many companies, especially Charter Spectrum. I pay $60 a month for 100/10 with unlimited data. ...
  • Paul Houle: For a long time communities have been frustrated in that they don't have any power to negotiate with cable companies. This town refused to enter into...
  • Ian S Littman: To be fair, you aren't wrong. Spectrum likely knows it won't have any competition for years in Lamar, so they'll quickly get take rates of >70% (re...
  • Ian S Littman: Are you in an area that can even get Spectrum service? Because in areas where they actually have to compete, they're actually pretty decent now. Yes,...
  • Ian S Littman: A more odd entry in that list is Chattanooga. The entire area has FTTH via EPB. Yet apparently folks can't swing the $57/mo starting price for 100 Mbp...
  • Ian S Littman: The issue here is that the NY PSC's threats have no teeth because, well, who will take over the cable systems if Spectrum is forced to sell? Either Al...
  • Bill Callahan: Phil, National Digital Inclusion Alliance just published interactive Census tract maps for the entire US based on the same ACS data. Two datapoints a...
  • Carl Moore: The idiots that run the cable companies must be also using drugs...a lot of people are cutting their cable services because of the higher rate and inc...
  • EJ: This will require a New Deal approach. Municipals need the ability to either be granted money or loaned money for broadband expansion. Until this is d...
  • Bob: I also got $1 increase for my 100/10 internet from Spectrum. A rep said it's for the speed increase that's coming in 2019. I complained that I was pro...

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