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House Democrats Blast Telecom Companies for Data Caps, Rate Hikes

House Energy & Commerce Committee

Democrats serving on the House Energy & Commerce Committee today blasted the nation’s largest internet service providers for price increases and data caps placed on consumer broadband services at the height of a global pandemic, questioning the industry’s commitment to keeping Americans connected.

“Over the last ten months, internet service became even more essential as many Americans were forced to transition to remote work and online school. Broadband networks seem to have largely withstood these massive shifts in usage,” wrote Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr (N.J.), Mike Doyle (Penn.) and Jerry McNerney (Calif.). “Unfortunately, what cannot be overlooked or underestimated is the extent to which families without home internet service — particularly those with school-aged children at home — have been left out and left behind.”

Pallone

The congressmen questioned nine providers after reading media coverage of rate hikes and the implementation of data caps by Comcast and the potential for Charter Spectrum to impose data caps as early as May 2021.

“This is an egregious action at a time when households and small businesses across the country need high-speed, reliable broadband more than ever but are struggling to make ends meet,” the three Democrats wrote.

In March 2020, many cable and phone companies relaxed a number of restrictions on customers in response to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. Many volunteered to suspend data cap overlimit fees, provide affordable broadband options to the economically disadvantaged, offer free months of service, open restricted Wi-Fi hotspots, and discontinue collection efforts or service disconnects on customers falling behind on bills.

Despite the pledge, consumers filed a significant number of complaints with the Federal Communications Commission alleging the companies broke their promises, by far most often for not following through on free service offers or continuing aggressive collections of past due bills and shutting off service.

Consumer complaints filed with the FCC regarding the “Keep America Connected” pledge, received from March-November 2020. (Source: FCC)

The Energy and Commerce Committee has now sent letters to the CEOs of many providers, seeking answers to these questions as part of ongoing oversight of the industry:

  • Did the company participate in the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge?
  • Has the company increased prices for fixed or mobile consumer internet and fixed or phone service since the start of the pandemic, or do they plan to raise prices on such plans within the next six months?
  • Prior to March 2020, did any of the company’s service plans impose a maximum data consumption threshold on its subscribers?
  • Since March 2020, has the company modified or imposed any new maximum data consumption thresholds on service plans, or do they plan to do so within the next six months?
  • Did the company stop disconnecting customers’ internet or telephone service due to their inability to pay during the pandemic?
  • Does the company offer a plan designed for low-income households, or a plan established in March or later to help students and families with connectivity during the pandemic?
  • Beyond service offerings for low-income customers, what steps is the company currently taking to assist individuals and families facing financial hardship due to circumstances related to COVID-19?

The full letters are available below:

Altice USA

AT&T

CenturyLink/Lumen

Charter Communications

Comcast Cable Communications

Cox Communications

Frontier Communications

T-Mobile US

Verizon Communications

Verizon Expands Both 5G “Ultra Wideband” and Nationwide Dynamic Spectrum Sharing 5G

Verizon customers in over 1,800 cities across the United States can now get a speed boost with the launch of Verizon’s nationwide Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) 5G, which runs simultaneously with existing 4G LTE on the same lower band spectrum, giving customers with 5G-capable devices faster service.

DSS technology is important to Verizon as it shares the limited amount of 4G spectrum it has in some cities with a slowly growing number of 5G customers. Now both can share the same spectrum without Verizon having to dedicate scarce low band frequencies exclusively to 5G service. The tradeoff is that low band DSS 5G service will not deliver the speed boost Verizon’s “Ultra Wideband” millimeter wave 5G service can offer.

Verizon simultaneously announced the addition of several cities now slightly covered by Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, which can now reach up to 4 Gbps speed in some locations with the use of carrier aggregation. The rollouts are very limited, often covering just a few neighborhoods, a park, or shopping center, so check verizon.com/coverage-map for current coverage information.

Anaheim, Calif.

Where Available: West Anaheim, Downtown Anaheim (along Harbor Boulevard), Betsy Ross Park, Chaparral Park.

Baltimore, Md.

Where Available: Inner Harbor, Downtown, Power Plant Live, Camden Yards & M&T Bank Stadium, Towson University, and Cockesville.

Hartford, Conn.

Where Available: Trinity College, Frog Hollow and City Hall.

Jersey City, N.J. 

Where Available: Bayside Park, The Heights, and Journal Square.

Las Vegas, Nev.

Where Available: Las Vegas Strip, Mirage Volcano, Bellagio Lake, Welcome to Vegas Sign, and Paris/Eiffel Tower.

Oklahoma City, Okla.

Where Available: Quail Springs Mall, OU Medical Center, and near Hidden Trails Country Club.

Philadelphia, Pa.

Where Available: Temple University, South Philadelphia Sports Complex, Logan Circle, Broad Street, and Hawthorne.

Raleigh, N.C.

Where Available: Triangle Town Center, outside Duke Raleigh Hospital, and Crabtree Valley Mall.

Richmond, Va.

Where Available:  Scott’s Addiction, near VCU, and Church Hill.

San Francisco, Calif.

Where Available: Mission Bay, Yerba Buena Gardens, Marina Green Park, outside Oracle Park, Palace of Fine Arts, and Huntington Park (Nob Hill area).

Sarasota, Fla.

Where Available: Burns Square, along N Lemon Ave, and Rosemary District.

Syracuse, N.Y.

Where Available: In the Northside Neighborhood, near Schiller Park, outside St. Joseph’s Health Center.

Tucson, Ariz.

Where Available: Downtown, Historic Fourth Avenue and University of Arizona.

Verizon Announces Expansion of Rural Unlimited 4G LTE Wireless Home Internet to 189 Markets

Verizon has announced a significant expansion of its 4G LTE Home Internet service, now reaching 189 markets in 48 states.

“This summer, we introduced LTE Home Internet in select pilot markets, and the response from customers was incredible,” said Frank Boulben, senior vice president of consumer marketing and products at Verizon. “It’s clear the need for connectivity has never been greater during these challenging times, that’s why today, we’re expanding LTE Home Internet to even more customers in rural areas of America who may not have access to broadband internet.”

Indeed, most of the zip codes covered by Verizon’s wireless home broadband service are in rural communities where demand on Verizon’s 4G mobile network is likely much lower, with capacity to spare. The service is designed primarily for those living where DSL or cable broadband is not available.

For $40 a month for existing Verizon mobile customers ($60 for non-customers), customers receive unlimited data with no data caps or throttles at download speeds between 25-50 Mbps. A $240 LTE Home router is also provided, after a $10 a month device payment plan promotional credit that lasts for 24 months. In other words, you technically owe $240 for the router, with a balance reduction of $10 for each month you stay a customer. If you remain a customer for two years, that $240 is reduced to $0.00. If you cancel before that, you owe whatever balance remains. Verizon promises the service is easy to self-install.

The list of available zip codes is extensive, so you can download the current list here. Or verify precise availability by visiting: www.verizon.com/home/lte-home-internet.

Verizon’s “Unlimited” Confusion Plus Plan Now Really Means 30 GB Data Cap, Except When Its 50 GB

Verizon wireless plans: now more confusing than ever.

The concept of “unlimited data” rarely means unlimited on mobile plans and it can get very confusing for consumers trying to figure out what each carrier defines as “unlimited.”

Verizon has announced some plan changes that are not helping resolve this confusion.

As of late last week, Verizon introduced a new version of its “Unlimited Plus” plan, which attaches to existing wireless plans for an extra $30 a month. Then, if you would like to connect more devices to your plan beyond your phone, you can sign up for an unlimited connected device plan and upgrade to Unlimited Plus for another $10 a month. If you have a tablet or hotspot, Verizon will sell you another unlimited plan for those for an extra $20 a month.

What? Confusing!

Customers enrolled in the older standard “Unlimited Plus” plan received unlimited data up to 15 GB before a speed throttle kicked in. The new “Unlimited Plus” offers unlimited-unlimited 5G and up to 30 GB of “premium” 4G LTE data. So it appears you get double the unlimited data as well as an infinite amount of 5G service which is probably not provided in your area (or if you turn the corner, or go indoors in an area that has the service). But if you are connecting a hotspot, laptop, or tablet to your plan, then Verizon redefines unlimited again, this time to mean up to 50 GB of 5G data (almost not available anywhere) and then you get speed throttled to 3 Mbps for the rest of the billing cycle, but just on those devices.

Oh by the way, if you have an Apple Watch, Verizon has a plan for that as well, now priced at $10 a month, which gets you 15 GB of premium data, presumably on the watch.

Verizon Buying Prepaid Mobile Provider Tracfone in $6.25 Billion Deal

Phillip Dampier September 14, 2020 Competition, Consumer News, Reuters, TracFone, Verizon 2 Comments

(Reuters) – Verizon Communications said on Monday it will buy pre-paid mobile phones provider Tracfone, a unit of Mexican telecoms giant America Movil in a $6.25 billion cash and stock deal.

Tracfone, which serves about 21 million subscribers through more than 90,000 retail locations across the United States, said more than 13 million of its subscribers rely on Verizon’s network under an existing agreement. Verizon is the largest U.S. wireless carrier by subscribers.

The U.S. wireless industry is concentrated in the hands of three mobile carriers due to several mergers in recent years: T-Mobile, which in April completed its $23 billion merger with Sprint to solidify its position in the United States; AT&T, and Verizon.

America Movil, which was created from a state monopoly, is Mexico’s largest telecoms operator by far and is controlled by the family of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the Latin American nation’s richest man.

Verizon has not historically invested in prepaid compared with its rivals, such as T-Mobile, which revamped its MetroPCS prepaid brand and bought Sprint, which had a large prepaid business.

Verizon’s purchase of Tracfone comes at a time when the pandemic has ravaged the economy and Americans are cutting back on spending.

Tracfone had become popular with the lower end of the ultra-competitive U.S. telecoms consumer market and Verizon plans to provide new products for that segment after this “strategic acquisition,” said Hans Vestberg, chairman and chief executive of Verizon.

“This transaction firmly establishes Verizon, through the Tracfone brands, as the provider of choice in the value segment, which complements our clear leadership in the premium segment,” added Ronan Dunne, executive vice president and group CEO, Verizon Consumer Group.

Shares of Verizon were up more than 1% in morning trading. American Movil shares jumped more than 3.5% when the Mexican market opened.

The deal includes $3.125 billion in cash and $3.125 billion in Verizon stock.

Credit Suisse is acting as financial adviser to Verizon on the deal, which is expected to close in the second half of 2021.

Reporting by Ayanti Bera in Bengaluru and Drazen Jorgic in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Sheila Dang; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi, Will Dunham and Dan Grebler

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Stop the Cap!