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Maine Raises the Bar on Public Broadband: Will Fund Projects Offering 100/100 Mbps

Maine’s broadband internet authority is proposing major changes to win public financing of broadband projects in the state, demanding better speeds and performance and giving more Maine communities the potential to construct their own public internet projects.

The ConnectMaine Authority (ConnectME), which traditionally modestly funds a variety of smaller scale internet projects in the state, wants to think big now that it has a budget over fifteen times its original size. With at least $15 million to spend this year and potentially tens of millions in federal broadband funding to manage, courtesy of Congress and the Biden Administration, the authority wants to make certain future projects can deliver the scale and service consumers need in the 21st century digital economy.

In April, ConnectME’s board voted to propose changing the criteria for broadband funding awards, now insisting that projects be capable of delivering at least 100/100 Mbps service, which is four times faster than the FCC’s current minimum definition of downstream broadband. The board hopes the faster speeds will be future-proof and more realistic of what consumers need to telecommute and access online classes, streaming video, and other high bandwidth services. The result of the proposed standards would likely require all future projects to be fiber to the home, although historically the vast majority of broadband projects funded by ConnectME in the past have been fiber to the home.

The authority has also proposed expanding the definition of what represents an “unserved/underserved” area qualified to receive public funding to include any address that lacks access to at least 50/10 Mbps service, up from the current standard of 25/3 Mbps. Such a change would likely open up funding in areas where only DSL service or wireless internet is currently available. Most cable operators can meet the new standard, so their territories would likely remain closed to public funding. Opposition from the state’s telephone companies was almost instant, however, represented in comments from Ben Sanborn, executive director of the Telecommunications Association of Maine, a state telecom lobbying group.

Sanborn considers the proposed changes negative because public dollars could end up funding competitors in areas already served by lower speed providers.

“Arguably, there are going to be a whole bunch of areas in the state that will be eligible for funding either from ConnectME or with federal dollars,” Sanborn told the Press Herald. “Our concern with that is that it is going to create a situation of overbuilding existing networks,” which could leave currently unserved areas out of getting any funding for service.

At present, about 11% of Maine homes still have no internet access, mostly in rural areas. Traditionally, telephone companies or co-op telecom providers are the most likely to provide rural internet service, but the costs to reach those not currently served can be prohibitive. Cable operators have been the least likely to extend service in rural areas, and cash-strapped telephone companies have been reluctant to replace rural copper wire networks that can extend for miles with fiber optics, just to reach a few dozen homes. As broadband penetration increases, the cost to reach remaining unserved homes typically rises as they are often the most costly to reach. Subsidy funding can make a considerable difference when determining the cost/benefit analysis of expanding service to these homes.

The authority is also hoping to inspire existing providers to adopt 100/100 Mbps as the new broadband speed minimum across the state, which it claims will meet the needs of customers. For cable providers, that likely will not happen until upgrades to DOCSIS 4.0 are implemented, unlikely in the short term. Cable broadband networks are designed to deliver much faster downstream speeds at the expense of uploads.

The newly available funds are likely to achieve a significant increase in the number of rural homes served, but probably will not be enough to achieve 100% penetration.

ConnectME plans a public hearing to discuss the proposed changes on May 13, with a final vote scheduled for later this month.

Locast Comes to Cleveland

Phillip Dampier March 10, 2021 Consumer News, Locast, Online Video 1 Comment

Cleveland, Ohio area residents now have access to over 70 over-the-air channels from northeast Ohio thanks to the efforts of Locast, a nonprofit service that streams local broadcast stations online with the request of a monthly donation.

The Cleveland broadcast market includes the cities of Cleveland, Akron, Ashland, Ashtabula, Canton, Mansfield, and Sandusky and encompasses almost four million viewers. Locast’s app and website use location verification to provide service only to those living or traveling inside one of their 30 service areas. To access Cleveland-area stations, online viewers must be inside Ashland, Ashtabula, Carroll, Cuyahoga, Erie, Geauga, Holmes, Huron, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, Richland, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas, or Wayne County.

Among the stations included: WKYC NBC 3, WEWS ABC 5, WJW FOX 8, WOIO CBS 19, PBS and PBS Kids, as well as DABL, Univision, Azteca America, CourtTV, Mystery, MeTV, TrueCrime, QUBO, Circle, The CW, BOUNCE, Movies!, LAFF, COMET, cheddar, ION, GRIT, Charge!, and more.

Locast now has more than 2.5 million registered users nationwide in 30 markets reaching approximately half of the U.S. population. In 2020, Locast added over 1 million users. The service selects new cities to cover based on donations and requests. Locast also looks favorably on requests that volunteer a safe and permanent location where it can locate its equipment to receive and stream over the air stations.

Roku Removes Spectrum TV App from Its Channel Store Over Contract Dispute

Phillip Dampier December 14, 2020 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Online Video 23 Comments

The next generation of retransmission consent wars is here, as programmers and cable operators do battle with set-top box companies that increasingly seek compensation to allow content on their hardware platforms.

Once again, Roku has triggered a dispute after Charter Communications turned down a contract renewal offer permitting Charter’s Spectrum TV app in Roku’s Channel Store. The app allows customers to stream Spectrum’s cable TV lineup over Roku. Existing users tell Stop the Cap! that the app disappeared from the Channel Store, but previously installed versions still work over Roku. The problem, readers tell us, is there is no way to install or reinstall it on new Roku devices.

Charter noted the issue in a new support article explaining why the app disappeared:

Despite our best efforts to reach an agreement, Roku has not accepted Spectrum’s offer to continue our contract, which allowed customers to access the Spectrum TV app from Roku devices.

This change may prevent new downloads of the Spectrum TV app to your Roku device, but you can still access your full video library by downloading the Spectrum TV app to your Apple TV, Samsung Smart TV, Xbox, smartphone or tablet.

If you already use the Spectrum TV app on Roku, your service shouldn’t be affected.

Be sure not to uninstall the app, but you can still add devices by signing in to your current account.

If you’re new to Roku, or if you have not yet downloaded the app, you can still access Spectrum programming on another device, or use your smartphone or laptop to screen mirror Spectrum content to your Roku TV.

Find out more about using the Spectrum TV app, or get help to troubleshoot common concerns.

Roku defended its decision but also admitted it now expects compensation from certain providers in return for allowing their apps on Roku’s Channel Store.

“As America’s #1 streaming platform we are committed to providing access to amazing streaming content at an exceptional value for our users,” Roku said in a statement. “Our contract with Charter for the distribution of the Spectrum TV [app] on the Roku platform expired and we are working together to reach a positive and mutually beneficial distribution agreement. All existing customers can continue to use the Charter app while we work together on a renewal.”

Roku’s willingness to battle with programmers became apparent this year as the company continued to keep HBO Max off of its platform. Other programmers that saw their apps temporarily blocked or unsupported include AT&T TV, FOX, and Comcast’s Peacock.

 

T-Mobile Introduces New Suite of Cord-Cutter Streaming TV Options Starting at $10/Month

After months of testing, T-Mobile’s streaming TV service TVision will debut for some existing T-Mobile wireless customers on Nov. 1, with three packages starting at $10/month.

Although late to the already-competitive cord-cutting streaming TV marketplace, T-Mobile hopes to shake up the market with more choices and, in some cases, lower pricing.

“People sure love TV — but they sure don’t love their TV provider,” T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert said during a livestream previewing the TVision service. Sievert claimed the cable and satellite TV customers are fed up being ‘held hostage’ by programming lineup choices made by everyone but the customer, leaving consumers with costly bundles containing “live news and sports with hundreds of other channels you don’t want. Get ready to un-cable, everybody.”

The service will initially be available Nov. 1, but only to T-Mobile postpaid wireless customers. By the end of November, Sprint postpaid customers will also be invited to sign up. Prepaid T-Mobile and Sprint customers are expected to have access to the service sometime in 2021, along with those who do not have a T-Mobile or Sprint account. Non-customers will pay an undetermined surcharge.

TVision’s Android TV device, with remote control.

Details:

TVision will be available for streaming through apps on iOS, Android/Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV. It is currently not available on the Roku platform. Customers can also purchase a TVision Hub, a $50 Android TV device that plugs into an HDMI port on the back of your television to bring the streaming service to traditional television sets, along with a platform to use over 8,000 apps that already work with Android TV, including competing streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and CBS All Access.

Special Offer:

New customers who sign up for Live TV Plus or Live Zone by Dec. 31, 2020 will receive 12 months of free Apple TV Plus service and an $80 rebate offer for the Apple TV 4K set-top box (retails at $179, but will cost $99 after rebate).

Available Packages:

T-Mobile’s philosophy is that customers want to choose between packages containing general entertainment fare, news and sports, local TV, and premium channels. The more categories you want, the higher the price. If you want all four, you are likely going to pay pricing rivaling what you already pay your current provider. True, a-la-carte packages allowing customers to select specific channels is not available. T-Mobile currently has no agreement with CBS, so this means CBS network programming and local affiliates are not accessible on TVision at this time. The three higher priced Live packages include 100 hours of DVR cloud-based recording.

TVision Vibe (general entertainment) ($10/mo for 30 channels, up to 2 concurrent streams): AMC, Animal Planet, BBC America, BBC World News, BET, BET Her, CMT, Comedy Central, Discovery, DIY, Food Network, HGTV, Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Hallmark Drama, IFC, ID, MotorTrend, MTV, MTV Classic, MTV2, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Nicktoons, OWN, Paramount Network, Sundance, Teen Nick, TLC, Travel Channel, TV Land, WEtv

TVision Live (emphasizing live news and local stations) ($40/mo for 30+ channels, up to 3 concurrent streams) Does not include networks from the Vibe package, which has to be purchased separately): ABC*, ABC News Live, Bravo, CNBC, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, CNN, Cozi TV, Disney Channel, Disney Jr., Disney XD, E!, ESPN, ESPN2, Fox*, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, Freeform, FS1, FS2, FX, FXX, HLN, MSNBC, National Geographic, NBC*, NBC News Now, NBC Sports Network, Oxygen, Syfy, TBS, Telemundo*, TNT, truTV, USA

TVision Live Plus (enhances live sports options) ($50/mo for 40+ channels, up to 3 concurrent streams): Includes all channels from TVision Live package plus ACC Network, Big Ten Network, ESPNews, ESPNU, ESPN College Extra, FXM, Longhorn Network*, NatGeo Wild, NBC regional sports networks*, NECN*, NFL Network, Olympic Channel, SEC Network, SNY*, TCM, Golf Channel

TVision Live Zone (brings even more live sports and Spanish language networks) ($60/mo for 50+ channels, up to 3 concurrent streams): Includes all channels from TVision Live Plus package plus Boomerang, CNBC World, ESPN Deportes, Fox Deportes, NFL RedZone, Universal Kids, Universo, MavTV

A-la-carte premium channels:

  • Starz ($8.99 per month): 28 channels
  • Showtime ($10.99 per month): 16 channels
  • Epix ($5.99 per month): 4 channels

(*-may not be available in all TV markets. For exact TV lineup in your area, visit here.)

T-Mobile’s CEO Mike Sievert announces TVision, the company’s new streaming TV service. (3:19)

Streaming Flop Quibi Closing Down After Burning Through $1.75 Billion of Investors’ Money

Phillip Dampier October 21, 2020 Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Quibi is closing down its streaming service in the next several weeks, sources told the Wall Street Journal this afternoon, after spending $1.75 billion of investors’ money and attracting few subscribers and a lawsuit.

The service, founded by Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, never found a footing in the highly competitive streaming business, and has been plagued with problems since its April debut. Katzenberg envisioned the service as a home for short-form video entertainment — typically 5-10 minute chapters of professionally produced shows, designed to be watched by people on the go. Quibi was specifically developed for smartphone viewing, which meant producers had to create shows specifically for small screens. For technical reasons, Quibi was difficult to view in-home.

Katzenberg argued the service would fill a streaming niche for people looking for short video fixes instead of long form programming, arguing highly produced shows would attract a different audience than amateur short-form clips from services like YouTube.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, forcing most would-be Quibi subscribers into home lockdown for school and work. It could not have come at a worse time for Quibi. Soon after debuting, scathing reviews about the quality of some Quibi productions were also published, further deterring would-be customers.

Quibi’s advertising partners, which included Pepsi and Walmart, were patient with the service, but after six months of low viewer numbers, many advertisers began deferring payments on their combined commitment of $150 million in advertising.

Also in early March, a patent infringement lawsuit over Quibi’s Turnstyle feature, which lets viewers watch video horizontally or vertically on their devices and rotate between those positions without disrupting the experience, was filed by Eko, which claimed it invented and patented the technology and saw its work stolen by Quibi employees. Although Quibi won a motion to limit the lawsuit, litigation was expected to continue in a California court.

Over the summer, media reports noted 90% of free trial subscribers canceled their subscription before charges began, revealing Quibi had just 72,000 paid subscribers willing to spend $4.99 a month, a fraction of the tens of millions of subscribers other streaming platforms have attracted.

The Journal reported on Wednesday that Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg called investors to tell them he is shutting the service down. A restructuring firm hired to examine options for the streaming platform reportedly made several recommendations to Quibi’s board of directors, but it seems a complete shutdown was chosen as the best option.

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