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Digital TV Upgrade Will Make Room for a New Over-the-Air Slimmed Down Pay TV Package

Phillip Dampier August 25, 2020 Competition, Consumer News, Evoca, Online Video, Video No Comments

The forthcoming conversion of digital over-the-air TV stations from ATSC 1 to ATSC 3.0 will open up space for a new pay TV service that will bundle dozens of local and national channels with a video on demand service selling for as little as $20 a month.

Evoca is launching a consumer trial of its new service in Boise, Ida. in September, with plans to gradually expand service to small and medium-sized communities around the country.

Parent company Edge Networks is still negotiating with programmers, but will eventually sell a package of over 80 channels at a price it claims will be “less than half the cost of cable” TV. New customers will be offered a temporary promotional rate of $20 a month, but the service will eventually cost $49.95 a month. How can it afford to charge less? By offering customers a receiver that combines free, over the air local channels with a lineup of pay cable networks and, eventually, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Evoca won’t have to pay local station retransmission fees since customers will be watching those channels directly over the air.

About half of Evoca’s lineup will be delivered over two existing ATSC 3.0 low power TV stations owned by Cocola Broadcasting and leased to Evoca in Boise, compressing 20 encrypted digital channels on each station (KBSE-LD on Channel 33 and KCBB-LD on Channel 34). Boise is located in the Treasure Valley, an optimal place to receive unobstructed low power television signals. Evoca’s set-top box has a connection for a UHF-TV antenna. A basic indoor antenna is offered by the service. ATSC 3.0 signals are expected to be more reliable in fringe reception zones than the existing ATSC 1 standard, which gives Evoca confidence it can supply quality reception. Evoca will also carefully identify which zip codes are likely to receive good reception from the two stations and will not sell the service in areas that cannot get good reception.

The rest of Evoca’s lineup will be delivered over the customer’s home internet connection (at least 5 Mbps recommended). An included set-top box integrates everything together, so customers won’t know or care if they are watching a standard over the air signal, one of Evoca’s compressed and encrypted ATSC 3.0 channels, or a video stream from the internet.  Evoca claims to support both HD and 4K video, where available.

Evoca’s launch market of Boise was not chosen randomly. The company is based in Boise. It will seek to offer the service in cities where cable companies have either given up on selling television packages or charges above average rates for a below average lineup. Most Boise residents are currently served by Sparklight, formerly Cable One, which was among the first to deprioritize selling television service. Sparklight’s still available TV package is costly and many subscribers have dropped it.

Evoca also has an edge attracting older viewers because it will bundle dozens of digital networks like Cozi and Me-TV that favor classic TV shows and movies. These digital over the air channels are often not included on cable lineups.

Evoca TV Trial for Boise Residents

If you live in Boise, you could be among the 200 customers selected for “early access” to Evoca when it launches September 1. Early adopters will receive a free receiver (a $100 value), free antenna, an Evoca t-shirt, and a preview package of 60+ channels for $20 a month until the end of 2021. On January 1, 2022 the price will increase to $49/month. For more information, visit the Evoca website. At the moment, the most compelling channels are those already provided over the air for free, and there are a handful of on-demand services to fill some sizeable gaps in the current lineup. Evoca claims it is close to reaching deals with more familiar cable networks and will bring those to the lineup in the coming months. A cloud based DVR service is also planned for sometime in the future.

Assuming the service achieves success in Boise, expect it to expand to other cities in Idaho and Montana first, then Nevada and Utah, and finally parts of Texas and Oklahoma. The company claims it is interested in providing nationwide service, but that will highly depend on its ability to lease at least two low power television stations in each market it intends to serve. Considering the fact many low power stations are owned by hedge funds or other investors that have parked home shopping or other free-to-air networks on their stations hoping to monetize them later (or offer to close them down so the spectrum can be used by cell phone companies), Evoca may not have too much trouble finding other partners to support an expansion. But reception of low power signals can vary widely, especially in difficult terrain areas.

Evoca produced this video demonstrating how to set up the service. (1:30)

Verizon Launches 4G LTE Home Broadband Service Without Data Caps, Starting at $40/Month

Verizon is introducing a new wireless home broadband service that will target customers that can get good cell phone reception from home but are stuck with slow speed DSL from the phone company, or no internet access at all.

Verizon’s new LTE Home Internet will offer customers speeds of 25-50 Mbps without data caps on Verizon’s already built 4G network. The service launched this week in Savannah, Ga., Springfield, Mo., and Tri-Cities, Tenn./Va./Ky. Starting today, Verizon says it will expand home internet access to customers outside of its existing Fios and millimeter-wave 5G Home footprints, primarily to reach rural customers.

“With LTE Home Internet, our most awarded 4G LTE network will provide internet connectivity for customers in more rural parts of America who may not have access to broadband internet service – a critical need, especially now, when so many are counting on reliable connectivity for remote work and educational needs,” said Frank Boulben, senior vice president of Consumer Marketing and Products at Verizon.

The service and equipment are sold at different prices depending on how much business you already do with Verizon:

LTE Home Internet Service Pricing

  • If you do NOT have an active Verizon mobile plan and DO NOT WISH to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $70/month.
  • If you do NOT have an active Verizon mobile plan or one that costs less than $30/month and ARE WILLING to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $60/month.
  • If you DO have an active Verizon mobile plan that costs $30/month or more and DO NOT WISH to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $50/month.
  • If you DO have an active Verizon mobile plan that costs $30/month or more and ARE WILLING to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $40/month.
  • The required LTE router costs $240 or $10/month for 24 months (0% interest) on Verizon’s Device Payment Plan. If you order the router using “device payments,” you will receive a $10/month promotional credit for the next 24 months, making the router free of charge if you stay with the service for two years. If you cancel service early, the remaining payments will become due immediately.

Although the service cannot match the speeds offered by modern cable and fiber broadband networks, Verizon’s wireless speeds do appear to qualify as “broadband service” and for the first time on a 4G LTE network, do not include any data caps or sneaky speed throttling, making it a potentially respectable option for those in rural areas looking for something better than phone company DSL.

Verizon offers this coverage check tool to determine if service is available in your area. If not, you can leave your e-mail address and phone number and Verizon will contact you as the service expands.

This Verizon-provided video introduces the company’s new LTE Home Internet service, a wireless broadband option without data caps for those looking for rural access or something better than phone company DSL. (1:25)

Telecom Industry Lobbyist Gets Friendly Reception on C-SPAN

The cable industry’s public affairs network — C-SPAN, gave a friendly reception to a top telecom industry lobbyist over the weekend, responding to soft ball questions about rural broadband and telecommunications public policy debates.

Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom appeared on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators” to answer questions about broadband service in the era of COVID-19. USTelecom’s members, primarily telephone companies, have been strong proponents for government funding of rural broadband expansion, are opposed to telecom industry regulation and net neutrality policies, and argues that the more oversight and regulation the industry deals with, the less investment Wall Street will direct towards broadband networks.

Spalter was asked about how American broadband networks handled the work/learn-from-home requirements during the coronavirus pandemic. Spalter said networks handled the increased traffic well, but noted many rural Americans still lack access to high-speed internet. Some Democrats have proposed regulating broadband service as a utility to deal with issues of access and affordability, an idea that Spalter rejects.

“To wrap it in the red tape of regulatory strictures, the overhang of bureaucracy that would be required if we were to make it a utility, would take us backward,” Spalter said, adding he prefers “light touch” regulation. But Spalter had no objection to spending taxpayer dollars to pay for-profit telephone companies to expand broadband service in high-cost rural areas. Spalter called estimates that it would cost $100 billion to bring high speed internet service to all Americans “adequate.”

Jonathan Spalter, USTelecom’s president and CEO, talked about the coronavirus’s impact on telecommunications, regulatory issues, and solving the problems of rural internet access. (28:52)

Wilson, N.C.’s Fight for Better Internet Found Lots of Opposition from Big Telecom and Republicans

If you’ve ever lived in small-town America, you know how bad the internet can sometimes be. So one town in North Carolina decided: If we can’t make fast internet come to us, we’ll build it ourselves. And they did, despite laughter and disbelief from Time Warner Cable (today known as Spectrum).

When the city started installing fiber optics, the incumbent cable and phone companies did not like the competition and fought back, hiring an army of 40 lobbyists. The telecom companies enlisted the support of the now Republican-controlled state legislature, often with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other conservative groups. Together, they hammered home scare stories with suspect studies critical of municipal broadband written by not-so-independent researchers ghost-funded by many of the same big cable and phone companies.

National Public Radio’s “Planet Money” looks at what happened when the City of Wilson decided to try and start its own internet provider, and how it started a fight that eventually spread to dozens of states, a fight about whether cities should even be allowed to compete with big internet providers, and what the effect the outcome might have on working remotely. But the citizens of Wilson seem to love Greenlight Community Broadband, right down to its well-regarded customer service, which includes dropping by elderly customers’ homes during lunch to troubleshoot set-top boxes and nefarious remote control confusion. (22:47)

Canadian Minister Open to Transforming Internet Access Into a Universally Available Public Utility

Only 40% of rural Canadians today have suitable internet access and a Canadian minister is now “open to the idea” of transforming broadband in the country into a universally available public utility.

Minister for Rural Economic Development Maryam Monsef admits that Canada’s current reliance on private cable and phone companies like Bell, Telus, and Rogers has kept large parts of Canada from getting affordable, 21st century internet access. Creating a public broadband utility that would provide universal access may be the best solution to reaching areas considered too unprofitable to serve by private companies.

The impetus to consider creating one of the world’s largest publicly owned broadband providers comes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced millions of Canadians to work from home. But with well under half of rural Canada lacking high speed internet service, educators, medical personnel, and business workers find themselves unable to connect.

Nancy and Jeff Boss of Flamborough, Ont., live 10 minutes outside of Hamilton. They are “off the grid” for high speed internet by just 100 meters. To bring cable broadband to their home, the local cable company quoted an installation price of $27,000. As a result, the Boss family relies on a cell phone data plan that costs $150 a month and offers 100 GB of usage on a 4G LTE network. The family often exceeds its usage allowance, and told CBC’s “The Current” their monthly bill has crept up to $500 in usage charges at times.

Nancy Boss is a school teacher, and life without internet in the COVID-19 era of online classes is difficult.

“I am struggling daily with my lessons, I can’t do live lessons as the minister of education is requiring us,” Boss told CBC Radio, adding that her own children’s education is being affected too. “It’s really hard for our kids to participate in their lessons [and] it’s sad, they can’t chat with their friends who they miss very much.”

Monsef

The Liberals promised $5-6 billion for rural internet expansion in the 2019 budget as part of a party pledge to get 100% of Canadians connected to high-speed internet by 2030. But that was before the pandemic struck, making internet connectivity more essential than ever before.

Broadband advocacy group OpenMedia’s Laura Tribe says the government’s promises are nice, but the target date remains 2030 — a decade away. She argues people need internet access today. Tribe says the weak link is relying on corporate cable and phone companies to do the work to reach rural Canada. Despite repeated funding efforts and ongoing lobbying, Tribe believes many of the country’s largest providers have dragged their feet on rural expansion for years, noting they operate in the interest of shareholders, not rural Canadians. Recently, Tribe believes many of Canada’s largest telecom companies have made rural Canadians “pawns” in a greater debate about deregulation and wireless spectrum for 5G. When providers see their business interests threatened, they warn lawmakers and regulators the result may be further delays in rural internet expansion.

That is why Tribe advocates declaring broadband service to be an essential public utility, putting the onus on the government to complete “last mile” buildouts to individual rural homes and businesses like the Boss family as quickly as possible. On that point, Monsef seemed to agree.

“One of the things that the federal government can do is to invest in that last mile, where the business case for the private providers is not the same,” Monsef, who also serves as the MP for Peterborough-Kawartha said. “Once you do connect Canadians, though, those investments will pay off because that connectivity leads to economic development and a higher quality of life.”

When pressed about her support for declaring broadband service a national public utility, Monsef said she was open to the idea and having a debate on what solution will work best for rural Canada.

“What COVID has done is create an opportunity for a resurgence of good ideas, and that’s a good idea that I’m open to,” Monsef said. “This is among the many good ideas that we are considering: What are the pros? What are the cons? How do we get it done? Who’s on board?”


Minister for Rural Economic Development Maryam Monsef appeared on CBC Radio Ottawa’s morning show to discuss the state of rural broadband in Canada. (9:58)

CBC Radio One’s “The Current with Matt Galloway” spent a half hour exploring the plight of rural Canadians expected to work at home who lack suitable internet access. Is it time for Canada to make broadband service a public utility? (24:07)

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