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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)

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)

Rural New York Legislators Slam Charter Spectrum’s Request to Limit Rural Broadband Funding

With an estimated 90,000 New Yorkers stranded without broadband service, a proposal from Charter Communications to block funding for future projects is coming under fire from a bipartisan group of rural legislators.

Charter, which does business as Spectrum, filed a request with the Federal Communications Commission to exclude certain census blocks for funding under the agency’s new $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The cable company claims it intends to privately fund expansion of internet service in those areas, and does not welcome government-subsidized competition.

“Good cause plainly exists to grant the waiver to avoid overbuilding areas in which Charter has already begun the process of deploying service and is investing private capital well in excess of $600 million,” company officials wrote. “This will ensure scarce universal service support is deployed to close the gap/digital divide in actually unserved areas. The commission has previously granted rule waivers where, as here, the purposes of the rule would be disserved by its strict application, and where waiver would affirmatively serve the public interest.”

Many of the rural homes Charter claims it intends to serve have been waiting for internet access for well over a decade. Many were hopeful that wait would end shortly after the cable company agreed to expand service to an additional 145,000 rural New York households as part of an agreement with state regulators approving its merger with Time Warner Cable. But a March 2020 audit conducted by the Comptroller of New York found Charter was not meeting its commitments:

“[…] It has been over three years since the merger was approved. Network expansion should have already been provided to approximately 126,875 unserved or underserved premises based on the 2016 Commission Order approving the merger. As of July 2019, Charter had only extended its network to 64,827 premises. Based on the original Order, 62,048 additional customers should have received access to these services. Charter now has until September 2021 to complete the network expansion of 145,000 premises previously scheduled to be completed by May 2020.”

Barrett

Some New York legislators believe Charter is out of line asking the FCC to exclude funding for other rural broadband projects while taking its time meeting its own commitments.

“Charter’s waiver request is simply self-serving and will in no way benefit the residents of upstate New York who, even in the year 2020, are struggling to access adequate broadband by any provider,” Rep. Didi Barrett (D-Hudson) wrote in a letter to the FCC. “Charter’s petition is a blatant attempt to reduce competition and leave consumers with no choice but to wait around for Charter to finish a job that should already be complete. In Upstate New York, tens of thousands of residents and businesses are still waiting for internet service because of Charter’s years-long effort to renege on their obligations to New York State and the people who live in rural communities. We must continue to call Charter out until every household and business is served as planned under their agreement with New York State.”

Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik from Schuylerville agrees with many of Barrett’s views, blasting Spectrum for seriously delaying its rural rollout commitments. Stefanik worked with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to change the qualification requirements for the RDOF program, which originally would have excluded New York from receiving funding. If the FCC adopts Charter’s request, it would block much of her district from receiving broadband funds, either because Charter previously indicated it would (eventually) offer service or because the state previously supplied broadband subsidies, which would also seem to disqualify RDOF grants.

“I have heard directly from constituents and local elected officials that this decision would have a severe impact on their ability to gain rural broadband access, which is essential, especially during this time of crisis,” Stefanik said. “Charter’s request would exclude parts of the North Country from this critical federal funding, and I will work with my upstate colleagues and the FCC to keep it available.”

WNYT in Albany reports rural New York communities like Stillwater have waited years for Charter Spectrum to provide broadband service. The addresses Spectrum grudgingly will serve in the area are routinely quoted installation fees starting at $8,000. (2:16)

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