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Stop the Cap’s Comments on the Proposed Settlement Between Charter Spectrum and NY PSC

July 8, 2019

Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess
Secretary to the Commission
New York State Public Service Commission
Three Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12223-1350

Re: 15-01446/15-M-0388 Joint Petition of Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable for Approval of a Transfer of Control of Subsidiaries and Franchises, Pro Forma Reorganization, and Certain Financing Arrangements – Settlement Proposal

Dear Secretary Burgess,

Stop the Cap!, a party in this proceeding that has regularly contributed to the record since the original application by Charter Communications to transfer control of cable systems formerly owned and operated by Time Warner Cable, is pleased to provide our comments regarding the April 19, 2019 proposed settlement between the Department of Public Service/Public Service Commission and Charter Communications, Inc.

Our organization and our members remain actively interested and engaged on this transaction and the impact it has had on consumers and businesses in New York State. We believe that all New Yorkers were harmed as a result of Charter’s lack of compliance with the 2016 Merger Order.

Stop the Cap! believes the existing settlement proposal lacks adequate compensation for the millions of New Yorkers that are now paying higher prices for internet service, receiving compromised service in the New York City area due to an ongoing, unsettled strike action, rural residents still waiting for Charter to meet its commitments to expand its network, and those low income New Yorkers that have been disadvantaged by the difficulty of obtaining affordable internet service. At the time of this submission, nearly half of Charter’s national footprint provides twice the internet speed New Yorkers now receive, making a mockery of the claim that Spectrum provides best-in-class service in this state.

Therefore, we believe the current settlement proposal as offered is insufficient and does not provide adequate compensation to New York consumers and businesses.

Cost Concerns and Charter’s Impact on New York’s Digital Divide

Stop the Cap! objected to the 2016 merger because of our fears it would result in higher prices for internet service for consumers in New York, exacerbating the digital divide. We believe there is now strong evidence to back our concerns.

Since the DPS/PSC issued the original 2016 Merger Order, New Yorkers now pay substantially more for internet service than was the case with Time Warner Cable. Although Charter has significantly raised broadband speeds in New York State, it has also reduced the number of budget-priced options ordinary customers have for broadband service.

In 2016, prior to the Merger Order, Time Warner Cable charged customers as follows (rates applicable to customers in Rochester, N.Y.)[1]:

  • Everyday Low Price Internet ($14.99)
  • Basic Internet ($49.99)
  • Standard Internet ($59.99)
  • Turbo ($69.99)
  • Extreme ($79.99)
  • Ultimate ($109.99)

In 2019, Spectrum offers faster speeds than Time Warner Cable, but at a higher cost[2]:

  • Spectrum Internet ($65.99)
  • Spectrum Ultra ($90.99)
  • Spectrum Gig ($125.99)

The broadband options for low-income New Yorkers have been drastically reduced by Spectrum. Faster speed is of little concern to low income residents that cannot afford the service. New Yorkers saw their cable bills rise as a direct result of this merger, as we predicted. The minimum cost for standalone broadband service from Spectrum for the majority of consumers is now $65.99 a month, and the company has become far more reticent about negotiating customer retention deals that discount the cost of service than its predecessor Time Warner Cable. In fact, Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge made a point of promising to end the “Turkish bazaar” of pricing promotions at Time Warner Cable after the merger[3]. Customers are now subjected to “take it or leave it” pricing[4].

Spectrum’s concern for low income customers in New York is dubious. Stop the Cap! recommended, and the PSC adopted a condition in the 2016 Merger Order temporarily extending the availability of Time Warner Cable’s $14.99 “Everyday Low Price Internet” (ELP) tier of service, available on a standalone basis to any consumer without pre-qualification. However, after Spectrum announced its own plans and pricing, the company never significantly marketed the option of ELP service to its New York customers. In fact, while the company heavily promoted its own conditional Spectrum Internet Assist (SIA) package, consumers informed us they could not subscribe to ELP in New York because Charter customer service representatives misinformed them the service was no longer available, or they confused it with SIA and told them they were not qualified for discounted internet service. It is our testimony that only the most persistent and well-informed customers were likely to successfully sign up for the ELP program, often requiring multiple attempts to do so[5].

The differences between ELP and SIA are stark. ELP required no pre-qualification and customers could keep the package as long as they liked. SIA is limited to customers that qualify for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Community Eligibility Provision of the NSLP, or seniors 65 and over that qualify for Supplemental Security Income[6]. Customers must re-qualify at set intervals to continue eligibility, leaving out low income households without school-age children or seniors on limited incomes but lack SSI eligibility. More importantly, Charter protects its revenue stream by denying eligibility to all customers with pre-existing Spectrum internet service. To qualify, a customer would have to disconnect internet service for at least 30 days, have no outstanding debt with Charter within one year prior to applying for service, and once an SIA customer be sure not to have any outstanding debt with Charter subject to Charter’s “ordinary debt collection procedures.”[7] ELP service, in contrast, was available as an option at any time, to anyone.

Charter’s Speed Gap

New York residents do not uniformly benefit from the best in class service available from Charter Communications. Nearly half of Charter’s footprint outside of New York now offers customers entry-level download speeds of 200 Mbps at the same price most New Yorkers pay for 100 Mbps[8].

Failure to Comply With Rural Broadband Buildout Obligations

The PSC’s decision to rescind approval of the 2016 Merger Order between Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications was done after substantial evidence showed Charter had failed to meet the important obligations to rural New Yorkers required of it to make the merger meet the public interest test.

These failures were systemic and have compromised our rural economies by delaying much-needed internet access. It is for this reason that much of the settlement must be focused on correcting these deficiencies and, as a penalty for underperformance, broaden the number of required passings to deliver service to an even greater number of residents and businesses.

We welcome the settlement proposal to target penalties to help fund further broadband expansion. After years of talking to rural New York residents, it is clear New York’s rural broadband problem will continue after the conclusion of the state’s own broadband expansion program. We have heard from New Yorkers that are deeply concerned because the providers originally designated to serve their rural addresses have now refused to offer service or wrongly claim it will be made available by another provider. There is significant confusion and we fear many rural addresses are likely to “fall through the cracks” and end up serviced by no one.

Therefore, guaranteeing that rural New Yorkers have access to 21st century broadband service should be of the highest priority.

More than 78,000 New Yorkers have been assigned inferior internet access through HughesNet, a satellite internet provider[9]. HughesNet will allow those New Yorkers designated for satellite service through the Broadband Program Office (BPO) to use up to 100 GB of data per month before throttling service speeds to 1-3 Mbps for the balance of the billing period[10]. HughesNet also cannot guarantee to meet the FCC’s minimum speed definition of 25 Mbps and more importantly, provides an inadequate usage allowance[11].

Spectrum does not cap data usage or utilize speed throttles, while HughesNet severely throttles internet speeds of customers exceeding a data allowance we consider paltry. Recent research reports the average U.S. household now consumes 282.1 GB per month in areas where flat-rate internet service is offered. This leaves addresses designated for satellite service at a significant disadvantage[12].

The BPO has indicated that addresses assigned to the HughesNet program came as a result of a lack of suitable bids to service those addresses with traditional wireline service. There is clear evidence that providers are dissuaded from serving these high cost areas as a result of a lack of return on investment. Therefore, incentivizing Charter Communications to consider servicing as many of these addresses as practical is in the best interests of New Yorkers.

It is our view that cable broadband service is far superior to many current wireless, satellite, and copper-based DSL services, and we believe that technological capability should be a factor in considering whether to credit Charter for an overlapping new passing. We strongly recommend that Charter be encouraged in every way possible to extend service to as many customers currently designated for satellite internet service as possible. Although the proposed settlement does not punish Charter for extending service into these areas, it is reasonable to assume that the company would not otherwise extend service to these locations without receiving some direct or indirect financial benefit or subsidy. Therefore, we argue that Charter should be credited for any and all new passings in satellite-designated areas, without limit. However, we also believe the 30,000 minimum passing requirement is too low, as is the allowed designation of “substantial compliance” after passing 28,500 homes.

The exceptional amount of confidentiality surrounding Plans of Record among the different providers, including Charter, is not in the public interest and prevents impacted New Yorkers from fully participating in this important process. Since these areas have been historically underserved or unserved, there is little, if any, competitive risk by divulging the Plans of Record publicly. Charter’s rural buildout plans and progress reports should be publicly available. As it stands today, we remain unclear about how many already-passed or planned-to-be-passed homes are a part of the 30,000 the Commission proposes to count. Having that information is crucial to offering informed views about the proposed settlement.

With respect to wireline service overlap, we believe that consumers should benefit from the best possible service provider. We recognize that with limited funds available, duplicative service should be avoided. However, if Charter overlaps with another provider, and if the broadband speed Spectrum offers is superior to what is available from the incumbent wireline provider, it should receive credit for that passing even if in excess of 9,400 addresses, so long as that area is designated as rural and underserved.

Incremental Build Commitment

Stop the Cap! strongly approves of the settlement recommendation to establish a fund for supplementary broadband expansion beyond the original commitments defined in the 2016 Merger Order.

However, we offer some recommendations that we believe will make the fund’s purpose more practical to address the real-life experiences rural New Yorkers encounter when requesting that Charter extend service to a presently unserved address.

Charter Communications, like all cable companies, has a confidential formula to determine a reasonable return on investment when considering whether or not to expand service to a currently unserved address. Cable operators designate an amount the company is willing to pay out of pocket to cover construction/expansion costs. That number is often different for residential and commercial subscribers.

The proposed ceiling of $10,000 is very low in our opinion. Rural New York residents seeking Spectrum cable service are frequently quoted prices far in excess of this amount to extend service from a nearby served location. We believe this ceiling should be at least doubled to $20,000 and should be separate from the amount of money Charter routinely self-funds for qualified buildouts. For example, if Charter is traditionally willing to self-fund up to $2,500 of the cost of supplying service to a new residential or commercial customer, a project budget up to $22,500 would be acceptable to proceed, with $2,500 in funds coming from Charter and the remaining $20,000 coming from the Incremental Build Account.

We also recommend that any address rejected for consideration for service expansion for cost reasons be formally notified and offered an opportunity to participate in the process and permitted to optionally finance any cost in excess of the ceiling amount. The current proposal lacks any provision for the participation of residents and businesses in this process. At least some might choose to voluntarily participate in a cost-sharing opportunity to extend cable broadband service to their address.

Impact of Ongoing Strike in the New York City Area

For more than two years, at least 1,500 Spectrum employees affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 have been on strike in the New York City area. As a result, Spectrum customers have been subjected to a declining level of service as highly-qualified technicians remain off the job[13]. Charter Communications’ merger with Time Warner Cable was only approved in New York if it met a public interest test, and there is significant evidence New York City customers are not getting the level of service they would otherwise receive if there was no strike action[14].

As a result, the PSC should carefully study the impact of the strike on New York City customers and find any means available to compel a fair settlement and end this historically long labor dispute. Customers are caught in the middle, and there is evidence Charter may not be employing an entirely local workforce to service its customers in the New York City area. This strike would likely have not occurred had Time Warner Cable still been the incumbent cable provider.

Stop the Cap!’s Recommendations for a Revised Settlement Between Charter Communications and the Department of Public Service/Public Service Commission

  1. In recognition of the fact Charter has exacerbated the digital divide by pricing internet service higher than its predecessor, Charter must agree to further extend the availability of its Everyday Low Price Internet ($14.99/month) service to new customers for an additional five year period, reset existing New York customer pricing for this package to $14.99 for the same period, and publish a regular notice in bill statements about the availability of this tier, including the fact it is available to all customers on a standalone basis.
  2. In recognition of the fact Charter places unreasonable restrictions on qualifying for its Spectrum Internet Assist program, the settlement agreement should require that for the next five years Charter remove the restriction preventing New York customers from enrolling in the SIA program if they already have Spectrum internet service.
  3. In recognition of the fact Charter is not supplying all New York residents with best-in-class service, Charter must immediately boost the download speed of its basic Spectrum Internet package from the current 100 Mbps to 200 Mbps in all service areas in New York State, which matches the speed offered in nearly half of its national footprint. For a period of not less than five years, Charter must agree to provide New York State customers with access to any other speed improvements or upgrades as soon as they become available in any other state serviced by Charter.
  4. In recognition of the fact Charter has failed to meet its obligations to expand service to rural New York locations, the Commission should move forward with the revised buildout plan that includes additional new passings beyond what was specified in the 2016 Merger Order, and establish the proposed Incremental Build requirement and associated Spectrum-funded Build Account of not less than $6 million.
  5. In recognition of the fact New York addresses designated to receive HughesNet satellite internet service will be at a substantial disadvantage because of slower internet speeds and a usage allowance of 100 GB, well below the national data consumption average, the DPS/PSC do everything possible to compel and/or encourage Charter Communications to extend its service to overlap satellite-designated areas and receive credit towards its buildout requirement for doing so.
  6. In recognition of the fact some wireline providers offer superior internet service over others, any formula counting the number of homes provided overlapping wireline internet coverage from Spectrum and an existing incumbent wireline provider should consider the capabilities of both providers. If Spectrum offers superior internet speeds, it should be counted as a new passing. If the incumbent matches or exceeds Spectrum’s available speeds, Spectrum’s new overlapped passing should not be counted.
  7. In recognition of the fact that rural consumers and businesses have been left in the dark about the status of their designated internet provider, Plans of Record from Charter Communications under this settlement, as well as other BPO-fund recipients should be made public, including the name and contact information of the designated provider and estimated date of service availability.
  8. In recognition of the fact cable companies designate a maximum amount they are willing to pay out of pocket to establish service at a new address/location, that amount should continue to be paid out of pocket by Charter, with additional expenses above that amount, up to $20,000, covered by the Incremental Build Account if designated as an incremental buildout project. Any address considered for a new passing must be notified in advance if the proposal would otherwise be rejected because the estimated cost to extend service is beyond the $20,000 ceiling and the amount Charter would typically pay out of pocket. That resident or business would then be offered the opportunity to optionally pay the specified excess amount within a reasonable period of time to allow the project to move forward.
  9. In recognition of the fact that Charter technicians and employees in the New York City area have been on strike for over two years, potentially impacting the quality of service Spectrum customers receive in the area, the DPS/PSC should study the impact of the strike on service quality and do all it can to encourage Charter to settle the strike at the earliest opportunity.

We appreciate the Commission and its staff’s hard work on this matter, and hope you will seriously consider our input and ideas, demonstrating once again that the New York Public Service Commission takes its obligations to the citizens of New York seriously.

Very truly yours,

Phillip M. Dampier

President and Founder

Stop the Cap!

 

[1] http://stopthecap.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/twc-2016-rate-card-rochester.jpg

[2] http://stopthecap.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Charter-Spectrum-2019-Rate-Card-Information.pdf

[3] https://www.fiercevideo.com/cable/charter-s-rutledge-pre-merger-twc-offered-a-turkish-bazaar-promo-offers

[4] https://www.syracuse.com/news/2017/05/thousands_of_time_warner_cable_video_customers_flee_spectrums_higher_prices.html

[5] https://www.reddit.com/r/Spectrum/comments/ab02cu/spectrum_deceiving_customers_about_everyday_low/

[6] https://www.spectrum.com/browse/content/spectrum-internet-assist.html

[7] https://www.spectrum.com/browse/content/spectrum-internet-assist.html

[8] https://newsroom.charter.com/news-views/2018-twas-the-year-of-gig-50-million-locations-and-counting/

[9] https://nysbroadband.ny.gov/new-ny-broadband-program/phase-3-awards

[10] https://www.hughesnet.com/node/102201

[11] http://legal.hughesnet.com/SubAgree-03-16-17.cfm

[12] https://www.telecompetitor.com/report-u-s-household-broadband-data-consumption-hit-268-7-gigabytes-in-2018/

[13] http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2017/aug/10/spectrum-strike-affects-us-all/

[14] https://www.pressconnects.com/story/money/2018/08/08/charter-spectrum-cable-new-york-consumers/898780002/

Cable’s DOCSIS 4.0 – Symmetrical Broadband Coming

Phillip Dampier June 25, 2019 Broadband Speed, Consumer News No Comments

The next standard for cable broadband is now due by 2020.

CableLabs is working on the next generation of broadband over existing Hybrid Fiber-Coax (HFC) networks, finally achieving identical upload and download speed and supporting more spectrum on existing cable lines, which could mean another leap in broadband speed.

DOCSIS 4.0 is still evolving, but according to Light Reading, the next upgrade will fully support Full Duplex DOCSIS, allowing customers to get the same upload speed as their download speed, and will fully implement Low Latency DOCSIS which could reduce traffic delays to under 1 ms. The new standard will also introduce Extended Spectrum DOCSIS, which will open up broadband traffic on frequencies up to 1.8 GHz — 600 Mhz more bandwidth than available today. That additional spectrum will allow for speed increases in excess of 1 Gbps, support IP video traffic, and backhaul for wireless applications like small cells. 

According to Light Reading, people familiar with the development of the cable broadband specification believe much of the work will be complete by the end of 2019, with the spectrum expansion specification expected before mid-2020. This would allow the introduction of DOCSIS 4.0 modems for purchase beginning in 2021.

Cable operators are largely taking a break on large investments this year, with few planning major infrastructure changes beyond some projects underway at Comcast and Altice-Cablevision’s ongoing replacement of its HFC network with fiber to the home service. In 2020, operators will make crucial decisions about their next upgrade commitments. Comcast and Altice will have the easiest time delivering symmetrical broadband because Comcast will support the “Node+0” design that eliminates amplifiers between the nearest node and the customer’s home. This will facilitate the introduction of symmetrical speeds. Altice is dropping the DOCSIS standard as it moves to fiber service, which already supports symmetrical speeds.

Other cable operators are not currently committed to removing amplifiers from their networks, supporting alternate designs like “Node+1,” “Node+2,” etc., which are similar to today’s cable system designs. Instead, they are hoping to leverage Extended Spectrum DOCSIS to boost their speeds. Most will likely offer significant speed bumps for uploading, but those speeds won’t match download speed. For example, Charter Spectrum or Cox might upgrade customers to 500/100 Mbps service, on the theory that 100 Mbps upload speed will still be a welcome change for customers, and not noticeably slower for most current applications, such as uploading videos or file storage in the cloud.

Industry trade association NCTA reports that Comcast, Charter, Cox, Mediacom, Midco, Rogers (Canada), Shaw Communications (Canada), Vodafone (Europe), Taiwan Broadband Communications, Telecom Argentina, Liberty Global (Europe/Latin America) are all implementing the industry’s 10G initiative, with lab trials already underway, and field trials beginning in 2020. DOCSIS 4.0 will ultimately be a part of that project.

CableLabs is already making plans for DOCSIS 4.1 (our name, not theirs), that will further extend DOCSIS spectrum up to 3 GHz — a massive upgrade in usable spectrum. Whether that will be technically plausible on aging cable systems last rebuilt in the 1990s isn’t known, and probably won’t be for two or more years. But if it proves technically feasible, DOCSIS 4.1 could be one of the last DOCSIS standards before cable systems consider abandoning HFC in favor of all-fiber networks.

CableLabs has proved itself to be adept at squeezing every bit of performance out of a network that was originally built with simple coaxial copper cable and designed to distribute analog TV signals. DOCSIS 4.1 would support speeds potentially as high as 25 Gbps downstream and 10 Gbps upstream. Customers would require new cable modems and cable systems would have to tighten standards to take aging infrastructure out of service more frequently. Upload traffic would likely be assigned spectrum below 1 GHz, with 1-3 GHz reserved for downloads. By then, television, phone, and internet services would likely all be a part of a single broadband pipe.

Cable systems have enjoyed enormous cost savings over the last 20 years deploying DOCSIS upgrades instead of scrapping their existing HFC networks in favor of all-fiber. Charter Spectrum admitted the cost to upgrade from DOCSIS 3.0 to DOCSIS 3.1 was just $9 per subscriber.

Cable Industry Has Low Latency Software Upgrade for DOCSIS 3.1; <1ms Possible

Phillip Dampier June 24, 2019 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Cox 1 Comment

CableLabs has published a new specification for the DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband platform that will support <1 ms latency, optimal for online gaming and virtual reality.

The new specification, dubbed low-latency DOCSIS (LLD), costs little to implement with a simple software upgrade, but some cable companies plan to charge customers nearly $15 a month more to enable the extra performance.

CableLabs Blog:

VR needs incredibly low latency between head movement and the delivery of new pixels to your eyes, or you start to feel nauseated. To move the PC out of the home, we need to make the communications over the cable network be a millisecond or less round trip. But our DOCSIS® technology at the time could not deliver that.

So, we pivoted again. Since 2016, CableLabs DOCSIS architects Greg White and Karthik Sundaresan have been focused on revolutionizing DOCSIS technology to support sub-1ms latency. Although VR is still struggling to gain widespread adoption, that low and reliable DOCSIS latency will be a boon to gamers in the short term and will enable split rendering of VR and augmented reality (AR) in the longer term. The specifications for Low Latency DOCSIS (as a software upgrade to existing DOCSIS 3.1 equipment) have been released, and we’re working with the equipment suppliers to get this out into the market and to realize the gains of a somewhat torturous innovation journey.

Your provider may already have LLD capability — the updates were pushed to cable operators in two stages, one in January and the most recent update in April. It will be up to each cable company to decide if and when to enable the feature. Additionally, low latency is only possible if the path between your provider and the gaming server has the capability of delivering it. Cable companies may need to invite some gaming platforms to place servers inside their networks to assure the best possible performance.

Cable operators are already conceptualizing LLD as a revenue booster. Cox Communications is already testing a low-latency gaming add-on with customers in Arizona, for which it charges an extra $14.99 a month. But reports from customers using it suggest it is not a true implementation of LLD. Instead, many users claim it is just an enhanced traffic routing scheme to reduce latency using already available technology.

A Cox representative stressed the service does not violate any net neutrality standards.

“This service does not increase the speed of any traffic, and it doesn’t prioritize gaming traffic ahead of other traffic on our network,” said CoxJimR on the DSL Reports Cox forum. “The focus is around improving gaming performance when it leaves our network and goes over the public internet, like a Gamer Private Network. No customer’s experience is degraded as a result of any customers purchasing Cox Elite Gamer service as an add-on to their internet service.”

CableLabs is treating LLD as a part of its “10G” initiative, expected to upgrade broadband speeds up to 10 Gbps. Among the next upgrades likely to be published is full duplex DOCSIS, which will allow cable operators to provide the same upload and download speeds.

Frontier Wrestles Worst ISP in America Award Away from Mediacom

“Frontier offers a level of suckage that cannot be proportionally compared with any other company in America. Stabbing yourself with knitting needles is less painful than their snail slow internet service and dealing with customer service agents that formerly served as prison guards at a Syrian detention camp.” — A deeply dissatisfied Frontier DSL customer in Ohio

Frontier Communications has achieved a new low in customer satisfaction, wrestling away the award for America’s worst ISP from perennial favorite Mediacom, in a newly released American Customer Satisfaction Index.

No internet service provider did particularly well in customer satisfaction, but Frontier managed to alienate more of their customers than any other this year, ranking poorly in speed, reliability, and customer service. Customers also complained about being given inaccurate information, inaccurate billing, and surprise charges on their bill.

Frontier’s worst performance is delivered in legacy DSL service areas, where its aging copper wire network is often incapable of delivering 21st century broadband speeds. In many areas, speeds drop well below 10 Mbps during peak usage. Even worse, company officials signaled that the company had few plans to improve its wireline network or service experience in 2019. As a result, many customers switched providers, if one was available. If Frontier is the only option, customers often have no options.

“For several years we have had no internet options except for Frontier. We receive 10 to 20% of the service we pay for time and time again,” wrote one customer in a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. “The service has even diminished over time, [and] whenever my work demands me to log online, I often have to leave my home at different times of the day or night to a location where I can get free Wi-Fi or drive 24 miles to my job. This is totally unacceptable. Every single weekend and every night my internet shuts off. I mean every night. Nothing has been done from a customer’s view to improve service.”

What seems to have driven Mediacom out of last place was not so much an improvement in their network or service.

“Mediacom has the second-lowest score among subscription TV services at 56, but has one of the highest-rated mobile apps, both in terms of quality and reliability,” the ACSI found.

Frontier has an improved website, but still offers many potential subscribers a severe disappointment when shopping for internet plans, and finding only one:

Bronx, Monroe Counties Among the Worst in New York for Urban Broadband Users

Broadband service is available to 99.1% of the Bronx and 99.8% of the Rochester and its suburbs, but just 38.5% of Bronx residents are using the internet at broadband speeds (at least 25/3 Mbps) and only 54% of Monroe County residents are receiving a true broadband experience.

These two New York communities, one in the dense New York City area, the other straddling the Finger Lakes region and Western New York, are examples of the FCC’s vast over-count of consumers getting suitable broadband service and speed, according to Microsoft. The problem is much worse in rural areas where DSL speeds predominate and providers like Verizon and Frontier are in no hurry to upgrade their rural networks.

“These significant discrepancies across nearly all counties in all 50 states indicates there is a problem with the accuracy of the access data reported by the FCC,” Microsoft said about its findings. “Additional data sources like ours, as well as work by others to examine data in a few states or regions, are important to understanding the problem.”

Microsoft’s performance data is not alone representative of a local cable company not delivering advertised speeds. For example, in the Bronx, affordability issues mean that more residents rely on their cell phones and mobile connectivity for internet access. In Rochester, where true broadband speeds usually cost $50-65 a month depending on the provider, affordability is also a factor. But there is also the presence of local telephone company Frontier Communications, which has saddled Rochester with inferior DSL service it has no concrete plans to upgrade. Frontier DSL usually offers substandard speed of 12 Mbps or much less, making its customers part of Microsoft’s estimation of those underserved.

Schumer

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) complained about the state of broadband in New York, claiming internet speeds are “horrible” in much of the state and broadband providers are not being honest about advertised speed.

“When there’s slow internet, it drives you crazy​.​ ​You just sit and wait and wait and wait. It’s horrible,” Schumer said at a news conference held Sunday in Manhattan. “There’s a new report out that says our internet here in New York may​ ​be moving more like molasses than like lightning.”

Schumer is taking direct aim at the recent positive report from the FCC that broadband has dramatically improved in the United States, a conclusion the Republicans serving at the FCC took credit for, explaining policies of deregulation and elimination of net neutrality spurred private investment and better internet service for all.

“But Microsoft did its own report, and it shows that over four and a half million New Yorkers and Long Islanders are not getting the speed on the internet that the carriers say they’re getting​, [and] that’s a real problem,” Schumer argued, adding that most consumers are not getting consistent access to at least 25/3 Mbps service. “It’s like paying for the speed of a car but getting the speed of a bicycle.”

Schumer wants the FCC to hold providers to account for their broadband speed and performance. But last week, the FCC had other ideas, delaying broadband performance testing requirements until 2020 for internet service providers receiving taxpayer or ratepayer funds to build out their networks.

“T​he FCC is falling down on the job,” Schumer said. “I don’t think it’s nefarious but the providers, to upgrade to the required speed​,​ would have to pay for more equipment. They should. We’re all paying big bills for that.”

 

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