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FCC Approves Verizon’s Acquisition of TracFone

The Federal Communications Commission today approved Verizon’s acquisition of low-cost carrier TracFone Wireless, which will bring a familiar brand for prepaid wireless service under the wireless giant’s corporate umbrella.

Sources indicate there were enough votes in favor of the deal late last week for FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to distribute an approval order on Friday ahead of the formal vote.

The approval means Verizon will control the country’s largest wireless carrier for low income subscribers enrolled in the federal government’s Lifeline program, which offers substantial discounts on phones and service. About 1.7 million customers currently use TracFone under the Lifeline program, and Verizon committed to the FCC that it would continue participating in the program for at least the next seven years. The company also promised to maintain TracFone’s existing rate plans for at least three years and would continue to promote and educate consumers about Lifeline service.

A separate agreement with the California Public Utilities Commission commits Verizon to provide subsidized wireless service to low-income California residents for at least 20 years, and a free phone to qualified customers starting in late 2022.

“Verizon welcomes the FCC’s approval today of our TracFone acquisition,” said Kathy Grillo, Verizon SVP & DGC, public policy and government affairs, in a statement. The deal will provide customers with the best of both worlds: more choices, better services and new features thanks to Verizon’s investment and innovation. Customers will benefit with enhancements in devices, network performance and innovative products and services — as well as a continued commitment to Lifeline.”

TracFone was one of the country’s largest independent wireless brands. The company was formerly a unit of Mexico’s America Movil, controlled by billionaire Carlos Slim.

Spectrum Drops Gigabit Install Fee to $19.99, Was $50-200

Phillip Dampier November 17, 2021 Broadband Speed, Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 1 Comment

New customers in competitive service areas can pay less for gigabit service, but anyone can get the higher speed tier for a $19.99 “activation fee.”

Charter Communications has slashed its arbitrary installation and activation fee for Spectrum’s gigabit broadband service to $19.99 for new and upgrading customers.

For years, customers paid fees ranging from $49.99 to $199.99 just to sign up for gigabit internet speed. Ongoing service pricing ranges from a promotional price of $89.99 a month in competitive service areas to $134.99 a month for broadband-only service where competition is lacking or non-existent.

Real world speed tests show Spectrum Internet Gig performing at around 940 Mbps for downloads and just shy of 40 Mbps for uploads.

Current customers might be able to order the speed upgrade online through Spectrum’s customer service portal. No service call is required.

Some customers might need a new modem to take advantage of gigabit speed. Spectrum can swap out existing modems at their cable store locations or by mail.

Spectrum Mobile Cuts Pricing on Multi-Line Unlimited Data Plans

Charter Communications this week reduced prices on multi-line unlimited data plans.

A customer with one line of unlimited data service will continue to pay $45 a month for the plan, but each additional line of unlimited data will now cost $29.99 a month — a $15 reduction from Spectrum’s old pricing.

Xfinity Mobile, Comcast’s similar wireless service, already cut multi-line unlimited pricing to $30 a month back in April 2021.

Rutledge

Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge told investors last spring that he wanted to drive customer growth in Charter’s mobile phone offering by slashing mobile service pricing.

“Our goal is to do the same with mobile in our service area as we did with wireline voice, where we made Charter the predominant wireline phone carrier by reducing consumer telephone bills by over 70%, meaning Charter can grow for a long time because we remain under-penetrated and our growth will reduce customer costs,” Rutledge said.

For several years, Charter charged most bundled customers $10 a month for a flat-rate, unlimited long distance home phone line. The company raised prices $3 a month for landline service earlier this year, but claims it still delivers significant savings over traditional landline service.

Both Charter and Xfinity Mobile operate their wireless mobile services using a combination of Wi-Fi calling and roaming on Verizon’s 4G and 5G networks. Customers must agree to bundle home broadband service to get the lowest mobile pricing. If a customer drops internet service, mobile pricing increases $20/mo per line.

Charter’s new pricing undercuts T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon:

Service pricing for two-line unlimited data plans

  • Spectrum Mobile: $75/mo
  • T-Mobile: $105/mo
  • AT&T: $125/mo
  • Verizon: $130/mo

Cox Waives Its Own Data Cap When It Faces Unlimited 5G Home Wireless Competition

Phillip Dampier September 22, 2021 Broadband "Shortage", Competition, Consumer News, Cox, Data Caps No Comments

With unlimited home wireless broadband from T-Mobile and Verizon starting to take a dent out of Cox Communications’ customer base, the cable operator is shoring up a defensive position by waiving its arbitrary data cap for existing customers signed up for gigabit speed service in select areas.

“We’re showing our appreciation by giving you free unlimited data for two years,” reads the postcard sent to one of Stop the Cap’s readers in Phoenix. “Now you can stream away without worrying about overages.”

Phoenix residents currently have a choice of up to four different providers — Cox Cable, CenturyLink, Verizon 5G Home Internet, or T-Mobile’s 5G fixed wireless home broadband. Verizon and T-Mobile both offer service with no data caps, but coverage remains selective, especially for Verizon.

Customers must receive the postcard offer and redeem it with Cox to waive their data cap, and the offer is not transferable. It applies only to subscribers with gigabit speed and after 24 months, Cox’s 1.25 TB data cap returns.

The fact Cox is willing to waive its own arbitrary data cap for marketing and competition reasons further demonstrates that artificial limits imposed on internet service have nothing to do with congestion, “fairness,” or network management.

 

CenturyLink Has “Given Up” and Abandoned Its Customers, Leaving Some Without Service for Months

Two months after a late July thunderstorm interrupted phone and internet service for some CenturyLink customers in parts of Albemarle County, Va, some are still waiting for the phone company to restore service.

Multiple CenturyLink customers around the area told The Daily Progress about the extended outage, and the company’s lack of responsiveness in restoring service. Many report their service appointments are unilaterally canceled or a repair technician just never shows up. Others are receiving messages the repairs are complete, but they still have no service.

Mobile phone service is spotty in this part of central Virginia, so many customers keep their landlines to reach emergency services. With service out for nearly two months, making emergency calls or accessing the internet has been difficult.

In August, CenturyLink employee Derek Kelly told attendees at a Albemarle Broadband Authority meeting that at storm brought down almost a mile of CenturyLink’s legacy copper wire network, which has been in place for decades. Kelly noted CenturyLink intended to replace the damaged copper wiring with more copper wiring, instead of upgrading to fiber optics, and because of supply chain issues, customers have been left waiting.

“We ran into logistical issues of being able to find that length of copper,” Kelly said. “I think between COVID and everything else, supplies are limited, so it took us longer than we typically hope for to get the copper in place and get it in town and get it hung back up and spliced in.”

So far, customers are still being billed for service they do not have, and the company has refused to issue automatic credits for customers left without service. Some customers want CenturyLink to compensate them extra for interrupted service as well as for the company wasting their time on unfulfilled service calls and being left on hold, sometimes for an hour, trying to resolve the problem.

Firefly is a service of municipal/co-op power companies in central Virginia.

Albemarle County Supervisor Donna Price has been hearing complaints from local residents for weeks and she is also well aware CenturyLink is in the process of selling a large part of its legacy local phone operations in 20 states to Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm. The phone company will keep its most profitable customers in 16 states — many already served by fiber optics, under its Lumen brand. As that sale waits to close, Price believes CenturyLink has already walked away from their soon-to-be ex-customers.

“I believe that corporate CenturyLink has basically given up and has abandoned their responsibility, which leaves it all upon the individual consumers to either seek some sort of collective relief or basically just suffer until a new provider comes in,” Price told the newspaper. “I think CenturyLink has failed in customer service, in the delivery of service and, I’ll be a little more generous, in the recovery from the storm, because those are really difficult situations.”

Some customers in nearby Fluvanna County who have also experienced multi-month service interruptions from CenturyLink were lucky enough to have a choice of broadband providers, and many have switched to Firefly Fiber Broadband, which also supplies landline phone service. Firefly is owned and operated by a partnership subsidiary that includes the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. That fiber to the home network has survived serious storms in the past without lengthy service interruptions. The member-owned cooperative has also invested heavily in fiber broadband and communications services its members demand, and if something goes wrong, local repairmen answerable to local supervisors are on hand to manage any issues.

Firefly Fiber is currently looking to expand its operations within its central Virginia service area, which includes the counties of Albemarle, Appomattox, Buckingham, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Goochland, Greene, Louisa, and Powhatan.

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