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Cable Industry Spending Freeze Causes Cisco to Halt Investment in Full Duplex DOCSIS

Despite assurances from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that the repeal of net neutrality would inspire cable operators to increase investment in broadband, a year-long virtual spending freeze by the nation’s top cable operators has resulted in a major vendor pulling out of the next generation cable broadband standard until there are signs cable companies are prepared to spend money on upgrades again.

Cisco Systems has confirmed to Light Reading it has ceased investment in Full Duplex DOCSIS technology that would allow cable customers to get the same upload speed as download speed.

“Cisco has internally communicated that we are suspending further investment in Full Duplex DOCSIS (FDX) until the market timing, ecosystem development and size of the opportunity can be quantified,” a Cisco spokesperson said in a statement to Light Reading.

The news is a significant blow to the cable industry’s plans to upgrade to 10 Gbps capacity and a growing desire by customers to get much faster upload speeds than are currently available.

Cisco blamed its pullback on the cable industry’s lack of investment in broadband upgrades and an uncertain timetable when major cable companies including Comcast, Charter, Cox, and others will announce specific plans for future upgrades.

FDX has already been the victim of delays. Originally planned as an incremental upgrade for DOCSIS 3.1, FDX is now scheduled to be included in CableLabs’ DOCSIS 4.0 specification, which is not expected to be released for a few years. FDX will be one of several new features incorporated into the next cable broadband standard, which will allow for low latency connections and an expanded amount of coaxial cable spectrum that can be devoted to broadband services.

The cable industry has been taking a sober look at the costs associated with adopting FDX, which includes scrapping a significant amount of coaxial cable and pushing fiber optic technology much closer to customers. Cable systems that want to move towards FDX will have to remove amplifiers that maintain signal strength between the fiber optic connection and the coaxial cable entering customers’ homes. In some cases, this will mean removing multiple amps from the cable system and stringing new fiber optic cables deep into neighborhoods. This is known as node+0 architecture. Moving towards node+0 is expected to be both costly and labor intensive, and some large cable systems and investors are balking.

“There are a lot of operators who have no intention of getting to a node+0 environment in next 10 years,” Tom Cloonan, chief technical officer of Arris’ Networks Solutions unit, told Multichannel News last fall. “It’s going to take a while to run fiber deep enough to get to node+0.”

To date, the only major cable operator that has definitively backed moving to node+0 is Comcast. Other cable companies, notably Cox Communications, are seeking a much cheaper solution to manage upgrades.

Extended Spectrum DOCSIS (ESD)
Image courtesy of: Huawei

An emerging alternative concept has emerged that can be implemented at a lower cost. Extended Spectrum DOCSIS (ESD) would essentially repurpose much of the bandwidth available over a coaxial cable solely to broadband service. DOCSIS 3.1 currently dedicates 1.2 GHz of spectrum for broadband. FDX would increase that to more than 1.8 GHz. ESD would devote as much as 3 (or possibly 6) GHz of spectrum for data transmissions. The cable system would devote as much as half of that spectrum for downstream traffic, the other half for upstream. Theoretical speeds in the future could be as high as 60 Gbps, and ESD will not require cable systems to ditch existing amplifiers. It will, however, force some cable systems to evaluate and replace at least part of their older coaxial cable network. ESD will be less forgiving of deteriorating cable than DOCSIS 3.1 is.

Unfortunately for Cisco, and other cable broadband equipment suppliers, ESD is still more theory than fact, and with cable operators demonstrating they are in no rush to move to either FDX or ESD, it will likely be several years before either technology becomes available to customers. Cloonan predicts ESD will not be implemented by cable systems until the mid-2020s.

The muddy waters over where the cable industry will ultimately plant the flag on next generation broadband upgrades means a lot of uncertainty for companies like Cisco, which has resulted in the company pulling out of developing FDX until there are assurances the cable industry has a timetable to implement it. The decision has also cost several Cisco employees their jobs. Multiple industry sources told Light Reading job cuts included 5-7 engineers dedicated to FDX, and some sources also report at least 40 employees in the cable access division of Cisco have also been let go.

If certainty does not return to the cable broadband market soon, Cisco could ultimately jettison much of its cable broadband technology division to focus on other technology growth areas.

The cable industry’s investment freeze is ironic because the Trump Administration’s FCC trumpeted its decision to repeal net neutrality, claiming it would inspire cable operators to accelerate investment in network upgrades. It appears the exact opposite has occurred.

NY PSC Clarifies Broadband Speed Requirement Merger Terms

Charter Communications is not obligated to upgrade New York internet customers to a minimum internet speed of 300 Mbps, according to a letter of clarification directed to Stop the Cap! and received today from the New York State Department of Public Service.

DPS:

In the Commission’s 2016 order, Charter was required to offer broadband internet service with speeds up to 100 Mbps to all customers served by its New York networks (including its Columbia County systems) by the end of 2018; and offer broadband internet service with speeds up to 300 Mbps to all customers served by its New York networks by the end of 2019. At the time of the Commission’s decision, although Time Warner operated some systems in New York that were already capable of offering customer speeds up to 300 Mbps, the majority of Time Warner customers in Upstate New York were limited to broadband speeds of 50 Mbps.

Charter was therefore required to upgrade its network to be able to offer broadband service at speeds up to 300 Mbps by the end of 2019 but was not required to increase its minimum service offering to 300 Mbps. Charter has reported that it has complied with this condition ahead of schedule and Department of Public Service Staff has begun the process of independently field-testing Charter’s network to verify compliance with the condition.

Stop the Cap! raised this issue with the Commission as part of the recent settlement agreement between New York State and Charter Communications, and sought an official clarification. Approximately 40% of Charter’s national footprint now receives 200 Mbps download speeds while most New Yorkers receive just 100 Mbps for the same price, putting the state at a disadvantage.

Dampier

“The Commission’s language in the original merger agreement was unclear, because Time Warner Cable had already embarked on a statewide upgrade to its so-called ‘Maxx’ service tiers, which included free speed increases, negating most of the benefits of the state’s condition requiring Charter to upgrade broadband speeds as part of its terms to approve the merger,” said Phillip Dampier, founder and president of Stop the Cap! “In fact, this merger made things worse for New Yorkers because customers would have been getting Time Warner Cable Maxx speeds as much as a year earlier than what Spectrum finally delivered across the state, and customers would have been offered a number of options for less costly internet service that Spectrum dropped.”

Shortly after the merger was approved, Charter placed a moratorium on Time Warner Cable Maxx upgrades and spent months attempting to knit Charter’s existing systems with the much larger Time Warner Cable.

Time Warner Cable Maxx speeds were well on the way throughout Upstate New York before Charter acquired the company and issued an upgrade moratorium.

“Consumers already know from their cable bills that this merger was just another bad deal for New York, and now nearly half of Spectrum’s national service area gets twice the speed Upstate New York gets for the same price, and there is no pressure on the company to deliver any additional upgrades,” Dampier added.

Stop the Cap! also urged the Commission to do all it could to make life easier for customers in the New York City area, where Charter has been trying to rid itself of union technicians that have been on strike for over two years.

“For all the talk by state officials, including the governor, it appears there is no end in sight for this strike and customers are caught in the middle,” Dampier said. “We hear frequently from New York City consumers about substandard repair work and unacceptable installations that suggest the company is not using the best available workforce to take care of customer needs. Charter is making loads of money in profits and can afford to offer a square deal to workers to end this strike and get these technicians back to work.”

New York State Awarded $39.2 Million to Connect 15,442 Rural Upstate Homes to 100/20 Mbps Internet

The FCC has awarded New York’s rural broadband authority over $39 million to bring at least 100/20 Mbps broadband service to 15,442 underserved or unserved rural homes in Upstate New York over the next several years. In conjunction with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New NY Broadband Program, the funds will be used to continue expansion of internet service until the state is satisfied that any resident that wants internet service can get it.

Providers can begin tapping funds as early as this month, if they agree to complete their buildouts to not less of 40 percent of designated addresses within three years. Providers will have up to six years in total to complete each project. The recipients now being funded:

  • $854,652 for GTel Teleconnections in Germantown, to extend service to 260 residents in the Capital Region
  • $4.27 million will go to MTC Cable/Margaretville Telephone Co, Margaretville for 1,659 rural addresses in the Capital Region, Mid-Hudson, Mohawk Valley, and Southern Tier
  • Just under $4.3 million was awarded to Otsego Electric Cooperative of Hartwick for 1,146 addresses in the Mohawk Valley
  • $11.3 million awarded to SLIC Network Solutions of Nicholville for 4,610 rural premises in the Capital Region and North Country
  • $18.5 million will go to Verizon Communications of New York to bring fiber to the home service for 7,767 rural premises in the Capital Region, Central NY, Mohawk Valley, North Country, and the Southern Tier

Most of these projects were previously designated as “Phase 3 Awardees,” but the FCC will now supply the funds needed to begin construction through the Connect America Fund.

Stop the Cap Asks New York PSC for Clarification About Charter’s Internet Speed Obligations

 

 

July 15, 2019

Mr. John C. Rhodes
Chief Executive Officer, NY State Dept. of Public Service
Three Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12223-1350

Re: 15-01446/15-M-0388 Settlement Agreement: 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

cc: Hon. Kathleen Burgess

Dear Mr. Rhodes,

We are writing to receive clarification regarding the “Order Adopting 2019 Settlement Agreement and Reconsidering Other Related Actions” (issued and effective July 11, 2019).

On page 28 of that document, the Commission comments on Stop the Cap’s recommendation that Spectrum customers in New York State benefit from an immediate upgrade in download speed to 200 Mbps, which is presently available in approximately half of Charter Communications’ national footprint.

The Commission rejected our recommendation, commenting in response:

“Moreover, its request for internet speed upgrades are also beyond the scope of the 2019 Settlement agreement, but the Commission notes that Charter is already required to increase its network speed to 300 Mbps by the end of 2019.”

That response suggests the Public Service Commission considers Charter’s original merger obligations not yet achieved, because the current speed received by most Spectrum customers is 100 Mbps, not 300 Mbps.

However, Charter Communications considers its speed obligations to New York complete, and ahead of the scheduled deadline, as noted in its May 20, 2019 “Annual Update” to the PSC[1]:

“Moreover, under Condition I.A.2, by December 31, 2018, Charter was required to offer broadband service with download speeds up to 100 Mbps to all customers served in New York (including Columbia County) and speed levels up to 300 Mbps by the end of 2019. Charter has far exceeded these conditions, through its Spectrum Internet Gig service offering, which provides all customers throughout New York access to download speeds of up to 940 Mbps. Accordingly, Charter is pleased to report that its implementation of network modernization and broadband speed increases have been completed ahead of the specified the Merger Condition deadlines.”

We are writing to receive clarification about the Commission’s interpretation of the Merger Order and its definition of “network speed.”

The Commission made it a requirement that Charter “increase its network speed” to 300 Mbps by the end of 2019. We would like to know what the Commission considers “network speed.” Does that refer to speed a cable system is capable of optionally providing customers (that presumably choose to pay more for a premium service tier) or was that to be the defined minimum base speed of Spectrum’s entry-level residential broadband product (excluding Spectrum Internet Assist)?

Charter has interpreted the Merger Order to mean “download speeds up to 100 Mbps” for all customers and “speed levels up to” 300 Mbps, but only optionally, by the end of 2019.

Time Warner Cable operated cable systems in New York City, Central New York, and parts of the Hudson Valley and Capitol District that were already capable of offering customers the option of 300 Mbps service before the merger between Charter and Time Warner Cable was announced[2].

Does the Commission accept Charter’s interpretation of the Merger Order or does it believe Charter has a yet unfinished obligation to raise the base internet speed to all New York customers to at least 300 Mbps by the end of 2019?

We would greatly appreciate receiving clarification on this point, because it is apparent Charter is currently disadvantaging New York broadband customers with broadband service at half the speed offered in other states.

Very truly yours,

Phillip M. Dampier
President and Founder

[1] Charter Communications, Inc. Annual Update 2019, May 20, 2019 p. 3

[2] https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150714005039/en/Time-Warner-Cable-Announces-Expansion-%E2%80%98TWC-Maxx%E2%80%99 (July 14, 2015)

New York PSC Approves Settlement Deal With Charter Communications

The New York Public Service Commission on Thursday approved its final settlement proposal with Charter Communications in a 3-1 vote, allowing Spectrum to continue as the dominant cable operator in New York State.

The Commission rejected all recommended changes from consumer groups (including Stop the Cap!), industry trade associations, and service providers, preferring its own Settlement Agreement.

In July 2018, the PSC voted to rescind approval of the 2016 Merger Order that allowed Charter to assume control of Time Warner Cable franchise areas in New York. The Commission found that Charter had violated a key merger condition requiring the cable operator to expand its service area on a timely basis to reach 145,000 rural homes and businesses that lack broadband service. The Commission found Charter was attempting to count newly constructed condos and multi-dwelling units in the New York City area towards that commitment, which the Commission claimed violated the terms of the agreement. After Charter argued it had the legal standing to define its network buildout more broadly and on its own terms, the Commission held an emergency meeting where it took the unprecedented step of voting to de-certify the merger and throw the cable company out of New York.

The Commission and Charter’s lawyers began private negotiations almost immediately after the vote, signaling the Commission was amenable to settlement talks.

The final settlement approved last week, nearly one year after the vote, narrowly focuses on Charter’s rural broadband commitment, reaffirms and expands it with a new $12 million rural broadband fund paid for by Charter. The cable company also agreed to stop counting addresses in the New York City area towards it broadband expansion commitment, and will deposit a $2,800 payment to escrow for each address where Charter misses its target construction deadline.

“We’re pleased the PSC has approved the agreement, and we look forward to continuing to serve our customers and expanding the availability of high-speed broadband in New York State,” Andrew Russell, Charter spokesman told the (Albany) Times-Union. “We thank the PSC, Chairman Rhodes, the commissioners and staff for working with us throughout this process.”

The settlement details:

  • Charter will complete the expansion of its existing network to pass 145,000 addresses entirely in Upstate New York. This expansion will not include New York City addresses, which the company had previously planned to include in an earlier buildout plan. To date, Charter has passed approximately 65,000 of the required 145,000 addresses. To comply with the settlement, the Department estimates that the company will invest more than $600 million, more than double the public benefit value estimated by the Commission in its 2016 merger approval.
  • Charter’s expansion will be completed by September 30, 2021, in accordance with a schedule providing frequent interim enforceable milestone requirements, with corresponding reporting and accountability.
  • Charter will also pay $12 million for additional broadband expansion projects at locations to be selected by the Department of Public Service and the New York State Broadband Program Office. Of the $12 million payments, $6 million will be administered by the New York State Broadband Program Office and $6 million will be paid into an escrow fund for work that will be completed by Charter at the State’s direction.

In Rochester, Stop the Cap! was disappointed to learn the PSC had rejected recommendations on improving the settlement.

“We feel all New Yorkers have paid a price for this bad merger, including skyrocketing cable bills and a yet to be determined number of rural residents that will fall through the cracks and end up serviced by no one,” said Phillip Dampier, the group’s founder and president. “We applaud the PSC requiring Charter to serve additional rural households, but every customer should get better service from Charter, including the 200 Mbps download speed that customers in many other states receive, and there must be a better solution for low-income residents that don’t qualify for Spectrum’s restrictive Internet Assist program and cannot afford $65 a month for internet access.”

Stop the Cap! today also filed a clarification request with the PSC about Charter’s internet speed commitment.

“There seems to be confusion about exactly what internet speed Spectrum should be offering its New York customers,” Dampier added. “The PSC seems to imply Charter has not yet met its obligation to increase internet speed to 300 Mbps by the end of 2019, while Charter considers the fact it offers gigabit service as evidence it has completed all of its speed obligations to New York State regulators. We want the PSC to clarify if it still expects Charter to offer 300 Mbps as a base speed to customers by the end of this year or whether the mere availability of speeds at or above 300 Mbps (which Time Warner Cable was already offering a significant part of New York a year before the Charter merger) has satisfied this merger condition.”

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  • Willie C Branagan: iI am continually repulsed by the fact that (WEAK) New York State's Attorney General keeps providing Spectrum with extensions. They are not going to ...
  • Damien Thomas: I disagree...I recently moved back here to Rochester (my hometown) from portland Oregon- my first time out west- and they have comcast which has Xfini...
  • Nona: I would like to lodge a complaint against Spectrum Assist in North Carolina. I called on July 1, 2019 and had my sister approved based on a flier th...
  • Charles Nemitz: I ordered spectrum internet online and was given a price. My first bill had a 9.99 one time charge for self install. I pay you to self install? Somebo...
  • Paul Houle: Funny but I noticed that FTR was doing some work on the lines between my house and the CO. When I took a closer look I saw that they ran a fiber opti...
  • Phillip Dampier: I would definitely suggest people who do not like this change call, complain, and threaten to cancel Comcast unless they offer you a better deal. This...
  • Amy: It's such a scam. According to Comcast data we were using 1.5TB month, Even though we have unlimited phones through Verizon. I refused to pay and now...
  • Renee Myers: Grandfathereing people out of Cinemax is not right at all. Reduce my bill, dont give me a garbage channel that has anything worth watching!...
  • Lauren: Why is it that I got cable/internet through frontier for $90/month, and it ends up being over $180-200 a month. When I finally called they said they w...
  • David: Has anyone looked into filing a class action lawsuit since we contracted for Cinemax and they’ve taken it away without any financial adjustment....
  • Rickon Stark: Hitz is a glorified Encore. We are getting screwed because Comcast it's in a pissing contest with ATT...
  • Bruce: With the speeds they are "purposing" most kids will be out of data in an hour. Are they upping data limits to match the new speeds? I haven't heard a...

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