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New Bipartisan Bill Would Deliver $40 Billion to Expand Rural Internet Access, Subsidize Service for Poor Americans

Sen. Portman

Three moderate senators will reintroduce the latest in a line of broadband funding initiatives later today that would allocate $40 billion to expand rural internet access and provide subsidies to make service more affordable for income-challenged Americans.

The Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy Act (BRIDGE Act), is a bipartisan measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Democrat Michael Bennet of Colorado, and independent Angus King of Maine. Originally introduced in 2020, the measure has been expanded this year to combine rural funding of broadband projects with direct subsidies to keep service affordable for poorer Americans. The measure is considerably smaller than the Biden Administration’s own proposal to spend $100 billion on broadband initiatives, the $94 billion broadband proposal from Congressional Democrats, and the $65 billion compromise plan Republicans tentatively reached with the Biden Administration before talks were called off.

Funding would be provided to internet providers prepared to expand broadband service, but only using technology capable of providing speeds starting at 100/100 Mbps — gigabit being even better. The bill would also invalidate state laws that impede or prohibit the development of municipal/public broadband projects. This could eventually lead to additional competition in rural areas not adequately served by existing providers. Funding would also be used to reduce the retail cost of internet service for those qualified as economically disadvantaged.

The reduced cost of the bill would limit the number of rural subsidy projects and would likely not be enough to provide service to all unserved Americans.

 

Call to Action: Ohio Residents! Urgent Need for Calls to Stop Anti-Broadband Bill

Urgent CALL TO ACTION for ALL OHIO RESIDENTS!

The Ohio Senate has inserted an amendment (AM4546-1) into the state budget bill that, if adopted, would ban almost all community and municipal broadband projects in the state.

We need everyone to make a quick phone call to their state senator to demand the amendment be removed immediately! A full vote on this is expected tomorrow, so you MUST make that phone call today or early tomorrow morning. It will take less than five minutes of your time.

Here is what you can say:

“Hi, I’m calling to ask Senator _________ to vote no on Amendment AM4546-1 that has been attached to the budget bill. This amendment would seriously harm efforts to get broadband service to rural residents of Ohio and is essentially a project killer amendment. If it is adopted, municipalities that have been contemplating bringing internet access to their communities would find it nearly impossible to do so. This amendment is nothing more than protectionism for big cable and phone companies and I object to it. We need more broadband service in this state, not less. Please ask the senator to reject this amendment.”

Contact information:

If you do not know who represents you, visit the Ohio Senate website and enter your address information and you will be given details.

Because time is short, please CALL your senator at the number below. Just ask the secretary to take a message for the senator and, if you need to know what to say, see the above sample script. Always be polite, professional, and persuasive and thank the secretary for their time. 

Ohio State Senators 

Antani, Niraj

Senator – 6-R

614-466-4538

 

Antonio, Nickie J.

Assistant Minority Leader – 23-D

614-466-5123

 

Blessing III, Louis W.

Senator – 8-R

614-466-8068

 

Brenner, Andrew O.

Senator – 19-R

614-466-8086

 

Cirino, Jerry

Senator – 18-R

614-644-7718

 

Craig, Hearcel

Assistant Minority Whip – 15-D

614-466-5131

 

Dolan, Matt

Senator – 24-R

614-466-8056

 

Fedor, Teresa

Senator – 11-D

614-466-5204

 

Gavarone, Theresa Charters

Senator – 2-R

614-466-8060

 

Hackett, Robert

Senator – 10-R

614-466-3780

 

Hoagland, Frank

Senator – 30-R

614-466-6508

 

Hottinger, Jay

President Pro Tempore – 31-R

614-466-5838

 

Huffman, Matt

President – 12-R

614-466-7584

 

Huffman, Stephen

Senator – 5-R

614-466-6247

 

Johnson, Terry A.

Senator – 14-R

614-466-8082

 

Kunze, Stephanie

Senator – 16-R

614-466-5981

 

Lang, George

Senator – 4-R

614-466-8072

 

Maharath, Tina

Minority Whip – 3-D

614-466-8064

 

Manning, Nathan

Senator – 13-R

614-644-7613

 

McColley, Robert

Majority Whip – 1-R

614-466-8150

 

O’Brien, Sandra

Senator – 32-R

614-466-7182

 

Peterson, Bob

Senator – 17-R

614-466-8156

 

Reineke, William

Senator – 26-R

614-466-8049

 

Roegner, Kristina Daley

Senator – 27-R

614-466-4823

 

Romanchuk, Mark

Senator – 22-R

614-466-7505

 

Rulli, Michael

Senator – 33-R

614-466-8285

 

Schaffer, Tim

Senator – 20-R

614-466-8076

 

Schuring, Kirk

Majority Floor Leader – 29-R

614-466-0626

 

Sykes, Vernon

Senator – 28-D

614-466-7041

 

Thomas, Cecil

Senator – 9-D

614-466-5980

 

Williams, Sandra

Senator – 21-D

614-466-4857

 

Wilson, Steve

Senator – 7-R

614-466-9737

 

Yuko, Kenny

Minority Leader – 25-D

614-466-4583

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

BREAKING NEWS: Comcast Introducing 1.2 TB Data Cap in Northeast, Mid-Atlantic Regions

Comcast has quietly updated its online customer support website to reflect the forthcoming introduction of data caps to the last remaining major regions of the country where it has avoided imposing them for years.

The nation’s largest cable company will debut its 1.2 TB data cap usage plan on January 1, 2021 in Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and West Virginia.

“Customers in select markets can take the months of January and February to understand how the new 1.2 TB Internet Data Plan affects them without additional charges,” Comcast wrote on its new customer FAQ page. “We’ll credit your bill for any additional data usage charges over 1.2 TB during those months if you’re not on an unlimited data plan. It does not apply to Xfinity Internet customers on our Gigabit Pro tier of service, Business Internet customers, customers with Prepaid Internet, or customers on Bulk Internet agreements.”

But effective March 1st, residential customers will begin facing overlimit fees for exceeding their data allowance at a rate of $10 for each 50 GB of excess usage, up to a maximum of $100 a month. Customers will not be credited for unused data, cannot rollover unused data, or be charged less than $10 in overlimit fees, regardless if one used 1 MB or 49 GB over the 1.2 TB allowance.

Customers approaching their usage limit will receive email, text messages, and Xfinity X1 on-screen notifications upon reaching 75% (email only), 90%, and 100% of 1.2 TB of data usage. Overlimit fees that subsequently start accumulating will be noted in email and X1 on-screen notifications for each additional 50 GB of usage over 1.2 TB, up to the maximum overage charge of $100.

Customers can return to the unlimited data plan they had before January 1st by paying an additional $30 a month for an unlimited add-on plan.

Comcast imposed data caps on residential customers in other parts of the country for years, but had avoided doing so until now in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states where Verizon FiOS is a frequent competitor. Verizon does not impose formal data caps on its residential customers. The introduction of data caps by Comcast is likely to result in a shift of some customers towards Verizon, if FiOS is available.

Comcast is certain to be criticized for expanding data caps in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as the number of cases explodes in the United States, pushing more people than ever to work from home. The resulting increased usage will expose a growing number of Comcast customers to overlimit fees, starting at $10 additional a month. Usage caps are also not expected to slow the company’s ongoing rate increases. One of Comcast’s most successful businesses is selling residential broadband, often with no significant competition, and with customers unlikely to drop service there is plenty of room to raise prices further.

Protesters in front of the Time Warner Cable in Rochester, N.Y., protesting the introduction of data caps in 2009.

Fighting Back

The most effective ways to combat data caps are:

  1. Switch providers and tell Comcast you are leaving because of the imposition of data caps. Reject any arguments that suggest usage allowances will impact only a handful of customers. Ongoing studies show a growing number of consumers are exceeding these arbitrary “allowances”, forcing them to pay unjustified overlimit fees or subscribe to a costly unlimited plan for as much as $30 more a month. Usage caps are unnecessary in 2020. Comcast itself claims it has plenty of capacity across its network, including areas where no caps are currently imposed. But they now think it is appropriate to introduce caps in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Organize a noisy but legal protest in front of a local cable store or Comcast’s headquarters and contact newspapers, radio and TV stations in advance to invite them to cover the event. Be sure to carry signs and designate one or more members to be interviewed by the media about the unacceptability of data caps. We can supply talking points on request.
  3. Contact your local, state, and federal representatives and complain about Comcast imposing data caps. This is especially effective when tied-in with local protests, which may attract elected officials to the cause. There is precedent for companies backing down if consumers coordinate with elected officials and loudly protest. Tell officials your community’s digital future should not be dictated by Comcast and its unwanted data caps. More competition is needed, and until it substantially exists, ask them to ban “data plans” for home broadband service. Ask them to support municipal solutions, such as public/municipal internet service.
  4. Remind everyone that internet availability is not the only issue. Affordability is also a growing problem that puts much needed internet service out of reach of low-income citizens. Imposing data caps is just another way of raising prices and deterring innovation.

Increased Investment and Fierce Competition Brings 1.5 Gbps Internet to Western Canada

Phillip Dampier November 12, 2020 Broadband Speed, Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Shaw, Telus No Comments

Shaw is western Canada’s dominant cable operator.

While American cable companies have cut back investing in their high-speed broadband services as competition languishes, a price and service war has erupted between western Canada’s biggest cable and phone companies, with consumers winning the benefits of increased investment and fierce competition.

Shaw Communications, the largest cable company west of Ontario, has just upped the ante with the introduction of 1,500/100 Mbps unlimited internet service for $127 (all prices in $US) a month. The new speed tier, known as Fibre+ Gig 1.5,  is delivered over Shaw’s existing DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband network, and is already available in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Victoria, and is gradually expanding outwards to smaller cities, including Banff in Alberta, and Burnaby and Dawson’s Creek in British Columbia. Shaw also offers a traditional gigabit unlimited plan in most of its service area, offering 940/25 Mbps for $88/month. Both high-speed plans include a two-year contract.

“The hard work and investments we’ve made in building, upgrading and expanding our Fibre+ and Fast LTE networks and services — nearly $22.8 billion over the past seven years — allow us to deliver these ultrafast speeds to western Canadians over our existing infrastructure,” said Zoran Stakic, chief operating officer and chief technology officer. “These ongoing investments are the foundation to providing our customers service beyond one gigabit today and ultrafast speeds to more places in the future.”

“We know that there’s a growing segment of people — including heavy gamers, content creators and super streamers — who need access to ultrafast internet services, and that need has only increased during the pandemic as many of our customers manage the reality of having multiple people working from home and sharing bandwidth,” said Paul Deverell, president of Consumer, Shaw Communications. “With the launch of our Fibre+ Gig 1.5 product, we are delivering the speeds and capacity needed by today’s super users and data-heavy customers, while confirming Shaw’s position as the western Canadian leader in gigabit speed deployment.”

Telus is western Canada’s largest phone company.

Shaw’s increased investment is designed to fend off its chief competitor, Telus. In 2020, Shaw discovered a growing number of its broadband customers defecting in favor of Telus, the region’s telephone company. Telus is expanding its own high-speed offering, which relies on fiber to the home service. In some areas, Telus offers 940/940 Mbps service on a two-year contract for $76 a month and a 1,500/940 Mbps plan for $127 a month — which matches Shaw’s price but vastly exceeds Shaw in upload speed. To further sweeten the deal, Shaw gives its premium-speed internet customers discounts on Shaw Mobile services — including the exclusive rate of $25 per month on Unlimited Data wireless plans for Shaw Fibre+ Gig 1.5 and Fibre+ Gig internet subscribers.

Shaw claims its infrastructure has made it possible to offer gigabit service to at least one million more western Canadians than Telus. Telus has been gradually scrapping its legacy copper wire network in favor of fiber optics, but will likely take over a decade to complete the transition in significantly populated communities.

While Canadian cable companies are pushing DOCSIS 3.1 to the limit, American cable companies have taken it easy this year, reducing estimated budgets for network investment, returning to data caps, and putting further upgrades to next generation DOCSIS 4.0 on hold for at least a year or two. With AT&T and Verizon distracted and focused on spending billions to build 5G wireless networks, both companies have stopped significant expansion of fiber-to-the-home service for residential customers, reducing competitive pressure on cable operators. This reduced competition allows cable companies an opportunity to raise rates on broadband customers, and Charter Spectrum has done exactly that, announcing a general $5/month increase on residential internet service to take effect by the start of 2021.

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