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Republican Majority Votes 3-2 to Maintain Repeal of Obama-Era Net Neutrality Rules

Phillip Dampier October 27, 2020 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters No Comments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Tuesday to maintain its 2017 repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules, even after a federal court directed a review of some provisions of the repeal.

The 2015 net neutrality rules barred internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing internet content or offering paid “fast lanes.” Under President Donald Trump, the 2017 FCC order granted ISPs sweeping powers to recast how Americans use the internet, as long as they disclose changes.

A federal appeals court in October 2019 largely upheld the FCC’s repeal of the rules, but ordered the agency to reconsider the repeal’s impact on public safety; regulations on attachments to utility poles; and the FCC’s ability to provide subsidies for broadband service. The FCC majority opted to leave the order unchanged.

The net neutrality repeal was effective in June 2018. ISPs have not changed how users access the internet, but consumer groups fear that they could move to raise prices or slow speeds selectively for some customers.

“It is patently obvious to all but the most devoted members of the net neutrality cult that the case against the (net neutrality repeal) was a sham,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Tuesday.

ISPs and other advocates of the net neutrality repeal say the new rules have boosted investment. Consumer groups and other critics of the dispute the assertion that loosening net neutrality rules led to new investment.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said, “this agency is not interested in getting it right. Instead, it doubles down, rather than recognizing the realities of the world around us.”

Democrats have made net neutrality repeal a campaign issue. Presidential candidate Joe Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, is expected if he wins to designate an FCC chair who would move to would reinstate net neutrality.

Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, said “without net neutrality protections, it’s just a matter of time before big broadband providers start raising prices, slowing down internet speeds, and making it harder for families, small business, and students to access the opportunities to recover and rebuild from this pandemic.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio

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.

W.V. Orders Frontier to Improve Service to Address Over 1,300 Complaints in Last 12 Months

Phillip Dampier September 30, 2020 Consumer News, Frontier, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband 1 Comment

Frontier is the dominant phone company in West Virginia.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission has ordered Frontier Communications to make significant improvements in its aging copper wire telephone network after a comprehensive investigation found the company’s landline phone service and broadband to be lacking.

The order comes two years after the state began investigating the phone company and six months after a service audit was completed. In the last year, 1,342 complaints about poor service were filed with the state’s Public Service Commission.

“Frontier customers in this state remain plagued with service problems even as the customer base – and the corresponding revenue – declines. The Focused Management Audit was designed to find the underlying service quality problems, and possible solutions, in the hopes of placing Frontier on a better path,” the report concluded.

Over the past two years, Frontier gradually implemented some of the recommendations made by the state, particularly a more robust tree-trimming program to pre-emptively reduce tree-related outages and an automated system that can detect service issues and outages before customers call to complain. But Frontier’s larger problem is its lack of investment in network upgrades, particularly related to replacing old copper wire infrastructure with fiber optics. The study identified the 25 worst exchanges in the state most plagued by service outages and complaints and demanded that Frontier rehabilitate or upgrade those areas to improve service. But the company has refused the Commission’s request to deploy fiber optic connections to every cross-box in the state, which connects Frontier’s network to neighborhood phone lines. Such an upgrade would dramatically reduce Frontier’s reliance on copper wiring and improve phone and internet service.

Frontier rejected the idea as “unfeasible,” claiming it would cost $100 million to complete fiber connections to each of Frontier’s 3,255 existing cross box locations. If the company moved to digital phone service across those fiber lines, the cost would rise to $200 million, according to Frontier, adding it would have no choice but to pass these costs onto customers in the state.

“Given the exorbitant expense associated with such a comprehensive endeavor, the cost of voice service would consequently increase to unsustainable levels,” the company claimed.

Yet earlier this spring, at the height of the pandemic and after declaring bankruptcy, Frontier paid out $38 million in retention bonuses to its top executives, urging the same people who presided over the company as it went bankrupt to remain on the payroll at least until the bankruptcy was discharged.

The state was given an early warning about Frontier’s decreasing performance in July 2019 after an auditing firm found the company financially troubled and had cut back dramatically on ongoing maintenance spending. The auditor also reported Frontier was likely losing customers fast and would soon feel the financial pressure of lost revenue. Just as bad, the auditor reported Frontier’s ability to stay ahead of its service problems could be compromised further by the likely retirement of more than half of the company’s most experienced service technicians in the next five years.

The auditor correctly predicted Frontier’s financial health. The company declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April and is reorganizing. The company claims it will exit bankruptcy in much better financial shape, with much of its debt discharged or renegotiated by creditors. In turn, Frontier has promised to boost investment in network fiber upgrades, but has not been specific about what areas it will target. A hearing to discuss some of these matters is scheduled for Oct. 28.

Even with Frontier’s imminent exit from bankruptcy, West Virginia officials remain concerned about the phone company’s commitments and whether the new management will continue to honor earlier agreements with state officials.

 

Windstream Emerges from Bankruptcy, Promises More Fiber Broadband

Phillip Dampier September 22, 2020 Consumer News, Rural Broadband, Windstream No Comments

Windstream’s new logo

Windstream has emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a new privately held company controlled by Elliott Management Corporation, an activist hedge fund known for squeezing expenses out of companies and eventually selling its stake and exiting the business.

As a restructured company, Windstream shed almost two-thirds of its debt, amounting to more than $4 billion. The company will almost immediately tap $2 billion in new capital, targeting more spending on shedding copper wiring in several of its service areas, replaced by gigabit fiber that will primarily target its business customers. Windstream’s budget to upgrade residential customers is reportedly considerably less, but some customers will see upgrades in the future.

“Today marks the start of a new era for Windstream as an even stronger, more competitive company,” Windstream president & CEO Tony Thomas said in a statement released late Monday. “With the support of our new owners and current operational momentum, Windstream will continue advancing our long-term growth objectives while providing our customers with quality and reliable services.”

Thomas

The most immediate change most customers will notice is a new logo, which the company says aligns with the three segments of the business: consumer broadband, business customers, and wholesale/reseller clients.

Paul Sunu, who used to serve as the CEO of FairPoint Communications before it was sold to Consolidated Communications, is Windstream’s new chairman of the board.

“Tony and the Windstream team have made significant strides in the last 18 months to better position the company to compete for the long term,” Sunu said Monday. “The new board and I are confident that we have the right management team and right strategy to accelerate Windstream’s transformation, return to growth and drive sustainable value creation.”

Windstream was a publicly traded company since its 2006 spinoff from Alltel Corporation. As a private company, it will now answer primarily to its debt holders who acquired the company’s old debt in its bankruptcy.

Google Fiber To Offer 2 Gbps Internet for $100/Month

A week after the cable industry signaled it was slowing down speed and system upgrades, Google Fiber has once again antagonized the cable industry with word their customers will soon be able to upgrade to 2 Gbps speeds for $100 a month, $30 more than what customers pay for Google Fiber’s 1 Gbps plan.

Google Fiber is testing its new 2 Gbps tier with interested “trusted testers” in Nashville, Tenn., and Huntsville, Ala., along with a new Wi-Fi 6 router and mesh extender capable of supporting reliable gigabit Wi-Fi speeds. Regular customers in those cities will get access to the faster tier sometime later this year, with Google Fiber and Google Fiber Webpass customers in other cities getting 2 Gbps available in early 2021.

“This year has made this need for more speed and bandwidth especially acute, as many of us are now living our entire lives — from work to school to play — within our homes, creating unprecedented demand for internet capacity,” according to an article on Google Fiber’s blog. “2 Gig will answer that challenge. At $100 a month, it’s double the top download speed of our 1 Gig product (with the same great upload speed) and comes with a new Wi-Fi 6 router and mesh extender, so everyone gets a great online experience no matter where they are in the house.”

Google Fiber also emphasizes the tier will come with no data caps or speed throttling. Google’s announcement may have come in part because cable and phone companies have gotten comfortable with their existing product offerings and have opted to slow down investment in upgrades. Some industry observers predict Comcast, and possibly Charter and Cox will perceive Google’s announcement as a competitive threat and reconsider plans to delay the introduction of DOCSIS 4, which allows cable operators to offer up to 10 Gbps. The announcement also calls out competitors for their anemic upload speeds, which are still a fraction of download speeds on cable broadband platforms. Google Fiber’s new tier will support 2 Gbps uploads.

Google Fiber is enrolling people to help test its 2 Gbps service, starting in Nashville and Huntsville next month and in our other Google Fiber cities later this fall. Customers can join the Google Fiber Trusted Tester program to get early access to the new speed tier.  Sign up here to be among the first to test 2 Gbps in your Google Fiber city.

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