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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)

Cox Returning to Usage Caps, But With a Bigger Data Allowance

Phillip Dampier June 29, 2020 Consumer News, Cox, Data Caps 1 Comment

Cox will return to data capping its broadband customers on Wednesday, July 1 but with a bigger usage allowance from now on.

Most Cox customers now face a data cap of 1 TB (1,000 GB) per month. Starting this week, Cox will raise the allowance 25% to 1.25 TB.

“Since the start of the pandemic we provided unlimited data to all customers because we did not know the impact that learn and work from home might have on our customers,” Cox said in an email to Light Reading. “After reviewing data consumption since the coronavirus crisis, we know that nearly 90 percent of customers would not have been charged for going over their 1 TB data plan.”

The other 10% of customers would find at least a $10 additional charge on their bill for an additional allotment of 50 GB of data usage, and another $10 for each additional block of 50 GB. Data caps and overlimit fees are arbitrary and do not reflect the actual cost an internet provider incurs for usage. But it can be a shock when customers open their bill.

 

Frontier & Suddenlink Are America’s Worst Phone and Cable Company

Phillip Dampier June 11, 2020 Altice USA, Consumer News, Frontier No Comments

Frontier Communications and Suddenlink are America’s most disliked phone and cable company, ranking dead last in respective categories in the 2020 American Customer Satisfaction Index, cited for bad customer service, confusing billing, and unreliability.

Frontier achieved a satisfaction score of 55 out of 100, achieving last place in categories including in-home Wi-Fi, internet service and, where available, video-on-demand offerings. Frontier notably declared bankruptcy earlier this year and is in the process of reorganizing. The company has also been investigated in several states for poor quality phone and internet service, lengthy repair times, excessive outages for county 911 services, and broadband speeds that fall far short of what the company advertises.

On the cable side, Suddenlink, owned by Altice USA, saw marked declines in its scores in 2020, giving a reprieve to the usual perennial favorite for worst place — Mediacom (which now scores third worst).

“Suddenlink remains in last place and customers find its bills harder to understand than any other pay TV provider,” the ACSI annual report states. The company’s internet service saw a 5% drop in the ACSI ratings, the steepest decline of all providers. Customers point to increasing dissatisfaction with service outages, which have increased in frequency and length. Customers now have more reasons to contact customer service, a category where Suddenlink’s rating drops even further.

“Across all providers, Suddenlink rates worst in class for staff courtesy and helpfulness,” the report indicates.

Overall, the ACSI reports most phone and cable companies are improving their customer service operations and network reliability during the COVID-19 pandemic. Work from home initiatives usually mandate high quality internet access, and providers are responding, according to ACSI. At a time when the economy is under significant stress, telecommunications companies are trying to protect revenue by keeping customers satisfied so they remain loyal subscribers.

Telcos Without Fiber to the Home Service Face Crisis As Their Market Share Will Erode to Zero

Phillip Dampier June 3, 2020 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News 2 Comments

The death of DSL?

If your local phone company does not offer fiber-to-the-home service, it risks seeing its market share as a broadband competitor drop to zero, according to new research from Wall Street analyst firm MoffettNathanson.

As the cable industry prepares to deploy DOCSIS 4.0, capable of much faster upload speeds in the gigabits and downloads as fast as 10 Gbps, the future of telephone companies that have under-invested in their networks for years is dire. The research firm’s “Equilibrium Forecast” sees DSL’s market share in areas where cable broadband is available dropping to zero. Phone companies that have invested in fiber half-measures, including fiber to the neighborhood, IP-DSLAM, and VDSL technology that traditionally delivers internet speed between 25-75 Mbps are not far behind. Only true fiber-to-the-home service stands a chance at protecting phone company broadband market share.

“DSL [and] mid-tier [fiber/copper combinations are both] obsolete,” researchers said in a private note to investors. “Broadband is increasingly a two-horse race between cable and telco fiber-to-the-home service, where it exists.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased problems at the nation’s legacy phone companies, as customer losses accelerate in favor of cable company delivered internet. In the first quarter of 2020, cable company broadband sign-ups increased 122% compared to the same quarter last year, while phone companies said goodbye to at least 65,000 subscribers. Last year during the first quarter, telcos managed to add 20,000 customers.

Leichtman Research Group reports that most customers are looking for stable and reliably fast internet service, and phone company DSL delivers neither. Having a speedy and dependable connection has become crucial as tens of millions of Americans work from home to avoid contracting the illness. Sharing that internet connection with kids staying home from school quickly caused a spike in upgrade orders.

“The increased level of usage was enough to convince many customers that they needed higher speeds to handle the number of simultaneous users in their home,” MoffettNathanon wrote.

Many phone companies lacking fiber were unable to deliver on upgrades, and customers that could went shopping for alternatives. At the same time, large DSL providers like Frontier Communications and Windstream have become mired in bankruptcy and have been losing residential customers for years. MoffettNathanson told its investor subscribers it was time to declare DSL effectively dead as a competing technology, with fiber service variants like U-verse and other flavors of VDSL near-dead.

“As with legacy DSL, it is increasingly clear that this segment is simply not competitive anymore. Equilibrium market share in this cohort, if one looks out far enough, is 100/0.”

MoffettNathanson expects cable operators will achieve an 85% market share for broadband service in markets where their chief competitor is a phone company yet to provide fiber-to-the-home service. If phone companies do not embark on immediate fiber upgrades, the damage to their market share could be permanent, especially after DOCSIS 4 arrives, according to the researchers, because the newest cable broadband platform may be able to erase fiber’s speed advantage.

Antietam Broadband Ditches Usage Caps for Good: Pandemic Proved Caps Unnecessary

Phillip Dampier June 1, 2020 Antietam Broadband, Consumer News, Data Caps No Comments

Maryland-based Antietam Broadband has permanently shelved internet usage data caps, retroactive to mid-March, for all of its customers.

An ongoing study of customer usage patterns during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic by Antietam engineers showed data caps were no longer technically necessary. Antietam is one of dozens of telecom providers that temporarily shelved data caps under the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge, a voluntary effort to suspend data caps, late fees, and service disconnections. After three months of collecting data about customer usage patterns and upgrade activity, Antietam Broadband president Brian Lynch said there was no legitimate need to return to usage caps.

Antietam may be the first U.S. provider to drop usage based billing after the FCC’s pledge expires at the end of June.

Lynch said customers appropriately self-managed their accounts, with heavier users (such as those now working from home) moving towards more profitable, higher-speed internet packages on their own. Antietam has traditionally offered seven different speed tiers, each including its own (now defunct) usage allowance:

  • Internet Starter: 5 Mbps down / 1 Mbps up, 500GB per month.
  • Go Fast: 10 Mbps down / 1 Mbps up, 500GB per month.
  • Ultra Fast 30:  30 Mbps down / 5 Mbps up, 600GB per month.
  • Ultra Fast 50:  50 Mbps down / 5 Mbps up, 750GB per month.
  • Ultra Fast 100:100 Mbps down / 5 Mbps up, 1,250GB per month.
  • Ultra Fast 200: 200 Mbps down/ 10 Mbps up, 1,500GB per month.
  • Flight Gigabit Fiber: 1,000 Mbps down/ 1,000 Mbps up, no usage limit.

“These are uncertain times,” said Lynch. “We felt a need to give customers as much certainty over their bill as possible. Eliminating data usage caps means that customers will know the exact amount of their broadband bill every month.”

It also reduces customer confusion by eliminating the need to factor in data usage when selecting the right broadband package. Now, Antietam customers buy based exclusively on speed needs.

The pandemic caused a significant increase in data usage, but Antietam’s network was capable of handling usage demands, Lynch added.

“Since the pandemic began, we have seen as much increase in broadband usage as we generally would see over the course of a year,” said Lynch.

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