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Mysterious 5G Small Cells Showing Up in Cincinnati Suburbs

Homeowners in Greenhills, Ohio woke up one morning recently to discover anonymous contractors unspooling cable and planting orange-colored PVC pipes along a Hamilton County right of way on Sharon Road, straddling the communities of Greenhills and Forest Park.

Technological mysteries are uncommon in Greenhills, a planned community built in the 1930s as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program. Greenhills was designed to be surrounded by a “belt” of nature, drawing people out of dilapidated urban settings and into quiet, tree-filled neighborhoods. Many who were offered homes in Greenhills by the Resettlement Administration never left, and their descendents still live in the homes their parents or grandparents once did.

Considering the slow pace of change and the desire to stay a quiet enclave, it should come as no surprise that many residents are disturbed about the quiet invasion of 5G small cells that will be going up all over town, especially because the owner won’t come forward and explain the project.

That layer of secrecy has brought suspicion among neighbors, even those younger ones that understand how much faster 5G service could be over 4G service available today.

“For me, I’d rather not be the guinea pig,” Andrew Steele told WCPO-TV. “That would be terrible,” Anna Steele, Andrew’s wife, added. “That would be horrible. Also, do we really even need it?”

A closer inspection of the infrastructure being installed shows Verizon is the most likely silent operator, which makes the prospect of millimeter wave 5G service for the community of 3,600 very likely. That could mean a new home broadband competitor in the area. But many residents do not want an option that includes small cell antennas.

Monique Maisenhalter told the TV station she was concerned about cell tower radiation causing damage to health and the environment, although such evidence is open to debate.

She and nearly 50 of her neighbors have signed a petition asking for the construction to cease until “more is known.”

Some believe there is no need for 5G service when 4G works well enough. Others are concerned about property values being lowered by the presence of multitudes of small cell antennas. Others object to the fact the equipment is being installed without full disclosure about exactly who is behind it. Even town leaders are flummoxed, as WCPO reports:

The mayor of Greenhills, David Moore, said he has no say over the fiber line installation because the lines are actually going up across the border in Forest Park, on a Hamilton county right-of-way on Sharon Road.

So we went to Hamilton County engineer Ted Hubbard, who said he, too, is struggling to find out who is laying the fiber and what their plan might be.

“The ownership is a big question,” Hubbard said. “And I have asked that. We are having a hard time finding out who actually owns it.”

Hubbard said several small contractors have received permits to install the lines but won’t tell the county who is behind the whole project.

“Who’s going to operate it?” Hubbard asked. “And who do we contact if there is an issue?’

WCPO in Cincinnati investigates mysterious new 5G infrastructure appearing in northern suburbs of Cincinnati (3:19)

5G Hype: 5G Is Faster But It Will Be Years Before You Get It

Wireless companies want cheap and fast access to public infrastructure to place tens of thousands of small cells capable of delivering next generation 5G services. But most Americans won’t benefit for years, the Wall Street Journal reports, and wireless companies are under pressure from Wall Street to raise your wireless bill to profit from the upgrades. (4:48)

AT&T and Verizon Reneging on Free Phone Deals; Customers Worn Out by Broken Promises

Phillip Dampier November 12, 2018 AT&T, Consumer News, Verizon, Video, Wireless Broadband No Comments

Wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless have reneged on promotions offering customers free phones and “buy one, get one free” deals that leave customers on the hook for hundreds of dollars in equipment charges.

With the holiday shopping season about to begin, phone promotions will be heavily advertised. But those deals may be too good to be true, according to consumer protection groups.

The Better Business Bureau said the problems customers are reporting are serious, and growing. Since the beginning of this year, BBB president (Southern Piedmont) Tom Bartholomy said the group has received almost 6,800 complaints about wireless provider advertising, sales, and promotional practices.

“We’re talking hundreds of complaints about a similar type of situation,” Bartholomy told WSOC-TV. “[It] points to an underlying cause, an underlying concern, with those types of promotions.”

WSOC’s consumer reporter has been inundated with complaints from his North Carolina viewers about broken promises:

Rachel Seighman lives in Monroe. She said, “(I) wanted to try to get a cheaper plan for my family. So, I tried AT&T out.”  She said she got her bill and “it was going to be about $60 higher per month than they said.” So, she called AT&T.  “I was told that the price they quoted me at was not correct,” she said.

Cynthia Emrich lives in Stanfield. She took advantage of an AT&T “buy one, get one free” offer for a Samsung phone. But, she said AT&T charged her for both phones.  “So I call them and they said it would straighten itself out, and it never did,” she told Action 9.  She said she called the company every month for 2 1/2 years. “It was frustrating every month.”

Denise Reid lives in Fort Mill. She said she went with a Verizon “buy one, get one free” deal for an iPhone, but that the company charged her full price.  “They could not give me a reason as to why,” she said.  “No reason as to why.”

Joseph Mayberry lives in Hickory. He told Action 9 a similar story. All four customers said they tried to resolve things on their own but couldn’t. “I would call someone.  I would go through the long story of what happened.  I would get to the supervisor level.  I’ve got emails saying I would be credited back and a phone call would follow.  Never got the phone call,” Mayberry said.

Many customers are tripped up by the fine print in promotional offers that frequently contain complicated conditions and opaque language. Some insist company representatives assured them that the promotion was valid only to find out later they were misled. In fact many promotions contain strict provisions that, if not followed precisely, invalidate the promotion.

Here are some common tricks and fine print traps you may encounter getting your “free” phone:

  1. Many “Buy 1, Get 1” promotions require the customer to activate and maintain a new line of service to qualify for a free phone, which can cost nearly $50 a month for a plan, including additional surcharges and taxes. Customers that fail to follow through on this condition or quickly terminate the extra line after moving the device to a different line on their account were often charged full price for both phones.
  2. Some promotions require customers to sign up for a “device payment agreement” to qualify for the free phone. That is actually a contract to pay off a device with monthly installment payments at 0% interest billed to your mobile account. The free device promotion is often tied to the payment agreement. If a customer buys the first phone and pays for it upfront there is no payment agreement, and no free phone. Some promotions require customers to maintain a device payment agreement for up to 30 months. If a customer violates any terms of the promotion, such as paying the phone off early or selling it, the company might bill you for the “free” phone.
  3. Some companies take months to begin crediting your account for the monthly installments that will appear on your bill. Customers will eventually see a monthly device payment charge and a corresponding credit in the same amount for your “free” phone. But until bill credits start to appear in 60-90 days, you are responsible for the installment charges.
  4. “Free” phone promotions often conflict with other service plans and features. Customers that have signed up to receive a new phone every two years may have to turn in their “free” phone and walk away from several delayed reimbursement credits before getting they can obtain their next new device.

Many customers underestimate the true cost of complying with the terms necessary to get that “free” phone. That realization usually comes too late to return it, leaving customers with several hundred dollars in equipment fees — a costly mistake that could ruin any holiday.

It is important to carefully study the terms and conditions of all wireless device promotions. The written contract is valid, promises from overeager salespeople are not. Be wary when you see “device payment agreement” or “activate and maintain a new line of service,” or “promo credit applied to account over 24 mos w/in 1-2 billing cycles; promo credit ends when balance paid or line terminated/transferred.” If you do, it could mean you will need to set up an installment payment plan for that “free” phone, keep it on your account as a new line of service for at least two years, and avoid paying it off in advance or attempt to move the phone to a different account or provider.

If negotiating with your provider has failed to resolve a conflict over the promotion, taking your case to the media over the terms of a possibly deceptive promotion can be effective in getting what you thought you were promised. When these customers contacted WSOC-TV and the station took the complaints back to AT&T and Verizon, the company quickly gave all four customers their free phones.

“Nobody would listen to me until [WSOC] actually reached out to them. And then within two hours, I got a phone call from AT&T,” Emrich told the station.  “If it wasn’t for Action 9, I would have never got that refund.”

AT&T claimed in a statement it honors all of its deals. Verizon tried to refer complaints about its promotions to the wireless industry lobbying group — CTIA. That group does not understand why Verizon did that and claims it isn’t familiar with cell phone promotions. Neither are most consumers.

WSOC-TV consumer reporter Jason Stoogenke investigates cell phone promotions that sound too good to be true. (3:36)

Verizon pulled out of a promo for a free iPhone for this North Carolina customer. Nobody knows why. (1:16)

Verizon messed up a promotion offering two phones for the price of one and left this customer out in the cold, telling him he needed to pay full price for both phones. (1:14)

Optimum and Suddenlink Getting Speed Upgrades as Customers Demand More

Altice USA’s Optimum (formerly Cablevision) and Suddenlink are getting upgraded technology as the two cable companies face increasing demands for speed and broadband usage around the country.

“Over the last two years, the percentage of customers taking over 100 megabits of speed has risen to about 80% of our total customer base,” noted Dexter Goei, CEO of Altice USA. “Recently, we have shifted focus to growing the penetration of 200 Mbps services with about 80% of gross additions now taking these speeds or higher, reaching about half of our total customer base at the end of the third quarter, up from less than 5% two years ago.”

Goei noted that the average of all Optimum and Suddenlink broadband customers’ internet speeds has risen from 56 Mbps to 172 Mbps over the last 24 months, and this is increasing every quarter.

“Average data usage is now over 240 gigabytes per month per customer,” Goei added. “And this continues to grow over 20% per year.”

Goei

To meet growing demand, Altice USA is spending money upgrading its cable properties. The company is scrapping its coaxial cable network in the northeast and in selected parts of Suddenlink territory. In smaller communities that Suddenlink typically serves, the company will either bring fiber to the home service or upgrade the existing cable system to DOCSIS 3.1.

“The first objective is to have 1 Gbps broadband services available virtually everywhere,” Goei said. “For our legacy coax network in the Optimum footprint, we just need to do a Digital Switched Video upgrade now to move us to DOCSIS 3.1 and 1 Gbps speeds, which we can complete over the next few quarters. We just soft launched our fiber network in select areas of Long Island, and it is performing just as we expected so far, delivering a great 1 Gbps symmetrical single-play data service with the new advanced wireless gateway. The smart meshed Wi-Fi we’ve introduced is also doing extremely well.”

Goei says Optimum’s fiber network will be capable of delivering more than 10 Gbps speeds, as well as enhanced Wi-Fi, and improved system reliability.

“For the Suddenlink footprint, we already offer up to 1 Gbps services, so we will add further 1 Gbps capacity through some node splitting and CMTS upgrades,” Goei said. “We are also doing a QAM to IP migration on the cable plant to deliver future IP services. And with the move to DOCSIS 3.1, customers will have a uniform SSID across all of their devices, for an improved seamless Wi-Fi experience.”

The upgrades will mean Suddenlink customers will be more likely to receive 1 Gbps speeds even during peak usage times.

By transitioning video services away from the current QAM platform, IP video will free up additional bandwidth Suddenlink can devote to its internet customers.

Goei told investors on a quarterly results conference call that the five-year fiber upgrade project in the northeast may stretch into a sixth year due to permitting delays in some communities where Optimum provides service.

Some Wall Street analysts questioned Goei about the merits of a costly fiber upgrade, asking if it was necessary. Jonathan Chaplin of New Street Research suggested if cable systems were already capable of gigabit speed service under DOCSIS 3.1, any revenue benefits gained from offering gigabit service could already be realized without stringing fiber optic cable. Other Wall Street analysts wanted to know when Altice would deliver the next revenue-increasing rate hike on Optimum and Suddenlink customers.

The company acknowledged it lost customers after the last round of price increases last spring. Its biggest losses are coming from cord cutting. Altice saw 20,700 Optimum TV customers cancel service between July and September, with a total of 76,000 customers dropping service so far this year. But that won’t stop Altice from raising rates again. Goei anticipated the next rate hike will likely take place during the first half of 2019.

Altice USA is also working on its own cellphone service, which will be powered by its large Wi-Fi hotspot network in the northeast and rely on the services of Sprint to connect customers while away from Wi-Fi. The company did not release pricing or service information.

New Zealand Court Rules Neighbors May Be Forced to Trim Trees Interfering With Wireless Internet

Property owners in New Zealand may have to trim back or remove trees if they are proven to interfere with Wi-Fi or wireless broadband services in the neighborhood, according to an interesting High Court judgment that could establish a wide-ranging precedent.

As short-range 5G wireless internet services become established, high frequency and millimeter wave-based signals depend on line-of-sight communications with end users. Trees and buildings can reduce signal range or block the signal entirely, rendering the service unusable. In this case, an appeals judge was asked to rule whether broadband users or property owners took precedence when a large stand of trees or a building in an adjacent yard made wireless reception more difficult or impossible.

Justice Sally Fitzgerald found that when alternative solutions like relocating a receiver cannot be found to mitigate reception problems, nearby property owners may have to take steps to protect neighbors’ access to Wi-Fi and other wireless services, under a new interpretation of Section 335(1)(vi) of the [Property Law] Act of New Zealand. Similar laws are in place in North America and European countries.

The decision could result in a dramatic increase in legal challenges from frustrated neighbors who cannot get good reception because adjacent property owners prefer a tree-filled landscape.

Justice Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald based her decision on basic property laws that make illegal anything that can unduly interfere with the reasonable use and enjoyment of private property. Such laws are used as a basis for noise ordinances, zoning restrictions, restrictions on commercial use of residential property, and placement of structures on or near property lines. This judge found no special distinction between physical objects or noise and wireless transmissions. But she did find reasonable limitations on what would constitute a valid complaint.

In this case, Ian and Karen Vickery brought the complaint against their neighbor Christine Thoroughgood, for interfering with their access to wireless internet by refusing to trim the trees on her property line. But the judge found a better answer than ordering a robust tree trimming. Fitzgerald found the Vickery’s already receive a suitable signal after placing a receiver on a pole located away from their home. Therefore, the judge ruled against the complaint by the Kiapara Flats couple, even though they preferred placing the receiver on their home.

Legal observers found the case precedent-setting, despite its low-key outcome, because this High Court judge has established a right of access to broadband that takes precedence over property owners’ landscaping and buildings. Under certain circumstances, a neighbor may be forced to trim, remove, or alter trees and structures on their land if a neighbor can prove it directly interferes with their right to access wireless signals like broadband in a way that cannot be mitigated.

From the decision:

I am satisfied, and Mr. Allan properly accepted, that undue interference with a Wi-Fi signal caused by trees could constitute an undue interference with the reasonable use and enjoyment of an applicant’s land for the purposes of s 335(1)(vi) of the Act.

From reviewing the evidence, however, I do not agree that the Judge erred in accepting independent expert evidence (in fact called by Mr. Vickery) which objectively contradicted Mr. Vickery’s personal evidence on the issue as to Wi-Fi signal.

The expert, Mr. Lancaster, explained that Mr. Vickery’s Wi-Fi service is a “fixed wireless solution”. He notes in his technical report that it works by having the internet service provider establishing a “broadcast site” in a prominent location and connecting to customers with clear “line of sight” to that broadcast site.

In this case, the broadcast site (provided by Compass Wireless) is located on Moirs Hill Road. Mr. Lancaster notes that “nominally the solution will service customers up to 30 kilometres away from the broadcast site subject to a clear unobstructed line of sight.” In this way, Mr. Lancaster confirms that trees could obstruct the otherwise clear line of sight.

At present, the Wi-Fi transponder (or receiver) at the Vickerys’ home is mounted on a pole a little distance away from the rear of the house. I viewed its location during my site visit and have reviewed the photographs in Mr. Lancaster’s report. With the transponder located in its present position (referred to by Mr. Lancaster as “Location A”), Mr. Lancaster states:

There is currently a clear signal to the installed dish and other parts of the property, the signal has remained good for the past two years since installation.

This current location, however, is not Mr. Vickery’s preferred location. He notes that the present location is in a particularly windy site and on one occasion the wind was so strong it blew the cable out of the back of the aerial. Mr. Vickery also noted that another much larger stand of pine trees on the Thoroughgoods’ land, some considerable distance away, are also impacting what is referred to as the “Fresnel zone” of the Wi-Fi connection in its present location.

Mr. Vickery’s preferred location is closer to and attached to the back of the house itself, where it would be easier for Mr. Vickery to service the transponder. At this location however, Mr. Vickery says the trees in issue will interfere with the signal.

Mr. Lancaster states in his report that he spent over two hours on site and only identified two other locations (other than the present location, Location A) which he would consider appropriate for an installation.

The first of these alternative locations (Location B) is on the northeast corner wall of the home — Mr. Vickery’s preferred location. Mr. Lancaster states “this is the location the Compass installers would have chosen by default and as a standard installation”. In relation to Location B, Mr. Lancaster states “it is obviously at risk due to close proximity to the existing tree/shrub planted boundary, being approximately three metres above ground level.” He states that to retain adequate signal at this location, a window would be required in the shelter belt hedge — the trees in issue in this case.

In light of the independent expert evidence, I do not accept the Judge erred in concluding there was no undue interference with the Vickerys’ Wi-Fi signal. It is important to reiterate that not only does the expert evidence not indicate an interference, but the standard required by the legislation is an “undue” interference in any event. The expert evidence confirms this threshold has not been met.

Accordingly, while it is true that Mr. Vickery’s preferred location for the Wi-Fi transponder would be on the wall of the home, there is clearly an alternative location which is currently being used and which is considered by Mr. Lancaster to be adequate. There is also a further alternative and adequate location (Location C). And although this location would require cabling, this would not in my view be unreasonable in the circumstances.

I accordingly do not consider the ground of appeal concerning Wi-Fi has been made out.

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