Home » FCC » Recent Articles:

AT&T To Strand Some DSL Customers With Fixed Wireless; Rural Areas Unlikely to See Fiber Upgrades for Years

AT&T CEO John Stankey is still looking to wring costs out of the business, and the company’s rural landline customers are next to take the cut.

At this morning’s J.P. Morgan Technology, Media and Communications Conference for investors, Stankey said AT&T is considering mothballing landline facilities in rural parts of its service area and offer wireless service instead.

“We have a voice replacement service now, so that allows us to look at our options around the footprint […] and begin the work of starting to shed some of that footprint and reduce the number of square miles that have that fixed infrastructure in place [where] you’re never going to have an incentive to ultimately upgrade to fiber,” Stankey told investors, quickly correcting himself over use the word ‘never’ in favor of “the next several years.”

“The best way to serve them is with robust wireless infrastructure and stepped up investment in that case and we will do that,” he added.

AT&T has been testing fixed wireless replacement phone service in parts of the southern United States for several years, to very mixed reviews. In these trials, AT&T rural landline customers receive a wireless modem that connects with existing home phone lines. Internet service is provided over AT&T’s 4G LTE network.

Stankey

AT&T ceased marketing its DSL service last October, although some Stop the Cap! readers claim they still occasionally receive targeted invitations for DSL service in some areas. The company has allowed its current rural DSL customers to keep their service, but many don’t. The company lost almost 39,000 DSL customers in the first three months of this year, with so signs of stopping. Across AT&T’s landline footprint, which extends from the Great Lakes region to the South as far west as Texas and east to Florida, there are only about a half-million AT&T DSL customers remaining. Most of those customers keep the service because they have no other options.

If AT&T wins FCC approval to decommission its wired network in rural areas where it has no plans to provide fiber to the home service, customers will lose traditional landline phone service and DSL.

Stankey said any serious effort in that direction is unlikely to begin until 2023, largely because AT&T will not make the investments to bolster its rural wireless infrastructure until then.

The CEO also foreshadowed no immediate plans to follow Verizon into the 5G wireless home internet business. In fact, Stankey admitted AT&T’s network is likely inadequate to support the data demands of home broadband customers.

That leaves rural customers in AT&T’s service areas with no hope of high-speed upgrades unless a community broadband provider launches or a cable operator agrees to wire rural areas. There are still questions about the capacity next generation satellite internet service will have in rural areas and whether service will be adequate to meet today’s data demands.

AT&T’s customers in urban and major suburban areas have a brighter future, however. Stankey told investors AT&T will expand its fiber to the home service to another three million households in 2021 and at least four million more in 2022. Overall, AT&T plans to provide fiber service to around 30 million homes and businesses in its wireline service area. If adequate returns on investment can be realized, along with reduced upgrade costs to reach each home, Stankey suggested another 10 million customer locations could one day see fiber service as well.

$50 Emergency Broadband Benefit Is A Windfall for Telecom Companies, a Headache for Consumers

Confusion, frustration, and fine print are all a part of the deal signing up for the $50 Emergency Broadband Benefit, customers complain.

The Biden Administration’s efforts to help economically challenged Americans with their broadband bills is actually a windfall for some of the nation’s largest telecommunications companies, which will pocket the money earned while forcing some customers off discounted promotional and legacy plans they claim do not qualify for bill relief.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), rushed through in the early days of the new administration, is a $3.2 billion program that will offer qualifying consumers $50 off their monthly internet bill, at least until this fall when the money funding the program is expected to run out. Internet service provider participation is voluntary, but with billions of free money to be collected, most cable and phone companies are on board with the program. In fact, several are using the new benefit to earn even more money, by writing program rules that cynically exploit their income-challenged customers.

To qualify for the benefit, an individual is eligible if one member of the household:

  • Is a participant in one of the qualifying Lifeline programs: Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, FPHA, Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit;
  • Is a resident on a Tribal reservation and participates in one of the following programs: Bureau of Indian Affairs general assistance; Tribally administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF); Head Start (only those households meeting its income qualifying standard); or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR);
  • Has applied for and been approved to participate in the National School Lunch Program: receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision;
  • Has gross household income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers. This includes those who are unemployed or experienced unemployment in 2020 and/or were furloughed.

Stop the Cap! has received a few dozen letters from consumers that thought qualifying under the ‘substantial loss of income’ condition would be easy. Instead, they are sharing horror stories about providers unilaterally rejecting their applications, quietly canceling promotional packages, forcing some off less expensive, grandfathered service packages no longer being sold, or requiring customers to upgrade to more costly packages that ultimately left them with a bigger bill than they started with.

In some cases, poor training of customer service representatives seems to be the biggest impediment between you and a cheaper monthly bill. Some companies, including Sparklight, did not seem to even be aware of the highly publicized program. Others, notably Charter and Comcast, gave different answers depending on the representative you reach.

The most cynical provider of them all, however, is Verizon. No ISP makes participation in the EBB program more difficult. The phone company dominates as the largest wireline phone company in the northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and Verizon Wireless is one of the three major wireless carriers. It appears to be using the EBB as a marketing opportunity to upsell customers or drive them off older legacy plans that cost less, even if that is the only plan available.

“Verizon told me flat out ‘no’ that DSL customers cannot receive the $50 discount,” said Ted Rogers. Verizon is his only option for internet service, and only barely so. “We get about 6 Mbps from Verizon, no cell signals at all, and cable internet is just a dream. We live almost a mile from the nearest neighbor.”

Rogers lost his job as a result of the pandemic and is now working two part-time jobs to make ends meet. He told us the broadband benefit would be nice, but in the end is not worth fighting the phone company to get.

“You really have nowhere to go when they reject you, because the program is voluntary,” Rogers told us. “The FCC just passes the complaint back to Verizon and the PSC says it does not regulate internet service.”

Collect the $50, and then even more by forcing customers to switch to more expensive service plans.

Early FiOS customers who signed up for plans they have kept for years are also running straight into a firm “no” from Verizon. The Washington Post shared the stories of several Verizon fiber customers who were told they must upgrade to a more costly plan to qualify for the $50 discount. One customer in Massachusetts would have to give up his internet-only plan costing $62 for basically the same service under a different name — for $79 a month. While the $50 discount will make his internet bill much lower through the summer, when funds run out, he will end up paying $17 more a month indefinitely.

A Virginia customer was told she would have to walk away from her current Verizon internet plan costing $79 a month and switch to a new one for $95 a month, just to get a $50 discount over the next 3-6 months. That is a $16 more a month. In Pennsylvania, a Verizon customer was told she could not get the $50 a month broadband benefit unless she signed up for a costlier TV package and start renting some set top equipment as well. Her bill, after the EBB benefit expires, will be “at least $50 a month higher.”

“In my case, it seems like EBB only benefits Verizon,” she told the Post.

Unlike most telecom companies that claim these kinds of stories are simple misunderstandings or confusion on the part of their customer service team, Verizon spokesman Alex Lawson stepped up to boldly confirm that yes, indeed, the $50 benefit was only good on “qualifying plans.” For everyone else (our phrase): tough luck. But Lawson claims these newer plans allow customers to drop home phone service and typically save customers money. But not always, especially on legacy plans that include all the services a customer wants and special promotional packages which are lost when customers switch plans.

For the record, Verizon limits EBB benefits to these service plans. Notice DSL is excluded and prepaid wireless customers have to speak to a representative to find out if they can qualify:

Mobile:

Verizon Mix & Match Unlimited
Start Unlimited
Play More Unlimited
Do More Unlimited
Get More Unlimited
Above Unlimited
Beyond Unlimited
Go Unlimited (Some Go plans may not be eligible- inquire with rep.)
Standalone Mobile Hotspot plans
Unlimited and Unlimited Plus plans (Standalone mobile hotspot service offerings are those without a smartphone line on the account).

Home:

Fios Mix & Match Internet, any speed
Verizon 5G Home Internet
Verizon LTE Home Internet

Comcast representatives offered a range of responses to customers inquiring about signing up for EBB.

“Talk to one representative, get one story, hang up and call back and you get a completely different story,” said Sha’qwanda, a Comcast customer in Baltimore. “They told me I don’t qualify because I am 15 days late on my bill, then another person told me the plan was only for people on Medicaid, then another person told me I would have to give up my promotion plan they rate locked for a year. My bill would have gone up $54 a month. I can’t afford that. Who is really getting rich here?”

A Philadelphia customer told us Comcast completely messed up their account trying to apply the benefit, canceling their services and charging them for unreturned equipment.

“We lost service the following morning,” the customer wrote us, wishing to remain anonymous. “When we called up, the representative couldn’t figure out what happened, except he saw in the notes we were signed up for EBB, then the account was closed. Our final bill was over $400.”

The Xfinity social media account reached out to us earlier today to clear up the misunderstanding.

If you are a Comcast customer and are having trouble enrolling in EBB, we suggest you tweet a message to @Xfinity and get assistance. We suspect the problem here is insufficient training of customer service representatives to manage enrollments properly.

Charter/Spectrum is using the EBB program as a pry lever to push stubborn customers still holding on to legacy Time Warner Cable or Bright House service plans to switch to Spectrum internet plans and pricing. If you do not make the switch, you won’t qualify for EBB benefits. This is a choice by Charter management, not a limitation imposed by their billing system. Some customers on other legacy plans were also told they do not qualify.

“I am still a subscriber of New York’s Everyday Low Priced Internet service that used to be $15 a month. They have raised the price since, but also effectively jailed me by saying I have to abandon this plan if I want to get the $50 a month off my internet bill,” said Jay, a customer in New York City. “I can never go back either they tell me. Who wrote the rules for this program? The cable companies are using this to force people like me into upgrades I do not want and cannot afford. It’s scandalous.”

Another customer wishing to remain anonymous noted the same month EBB became available, Charter announced rate increases on equipment rentals and the Broadcast TV Fee paid by cable television customers.

“They will be back to raise internet prices again soon, I am sure,” the customer predicted.

AT&T, not to be left behind, also insists that customers choose from a limited menu of premium price plans and can never return to the plan they gave up. Even worse, customers complain you have to call to enroll, and the lines are jammed:

“I waited an hour on hold and then AT&T hung up on me twice,” said Kate Derry from Chicago. “It’s busy signals or waiting on hold forever. It’s like calling the unemployment office during the pandemic. AT&T has decided it should not be easy to enroll in this and I wonder how many people just give up.”

Jon, an AT&T Fiber customer in Dallas seems to agree.

“I finally got through at around 8am Texas time and listened to a representative fumble their way through disclaimers and conditions,” Jon told Stop the Cap! “Several times she had to put her hand over the microphone and ask her supervisor for help. It took an hour to get everything set up, not including the time needed to assemble the qualifying documentation. I really doubt many people are going to go through all this for a few months of savings. There is no excuse for this not to be available for online enrollment.”

Congressman Clyburn Plans to Reintroduce $100 Billion Rural Broadband Expansion Fund Bill

Clyburn

Congressman James Clyburn (D-S.C.) plans to reintroduce a bill offering $100 billion dollars to provide rural high speed internet service in unserved and underserved parts of the United States and to provide subsidies as needed to ensure that internet service is affordable.

The return of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act will be welcomed by the House Rural Broadband Task Force and other groups appealing for rural broadband funding to resolve the pervasive lack of high-speed internet access in unprofitable service areas.

Clyburn notes that in his home state, one in ten rural South Carolinians lack access to suitable broadband service, despite years of more modest funding programs. His bill went nowhere in the 2020 session as part of the Democrats’ $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, dubbed the Moving Forward Act. With the election of President Joe Biden and the razor thin Democratic majority control of the U.S. Senate, some form of expanded infrastructure spending bill is likely to emerge in Congress this spring, which will include rural broadband funding.

Like last year’s bill, the 2021 version will likely include:

  • $80 billion in direct subsidy funds to build out high-speed rural internet access to homes and businesses.
  • $5 billion set aside for low interest broadband deployment loans
  • $5 billion for distance learning programs
  • Funding for Wi-Fi service in school buses
  • The creation of the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to monitor, promote, and assist rural communities and those economically disadvantaged in getting affordable high-speed internet service established in their community.
  • Funding for digital equity programs to train those not yet connected in how to use the internet.
  • A requirement that the FCC track and analyze national broadband pricing and ensure price transparency.

Clyburn’s 2020 bill also knocked down state barriers on building and expanding municipal broadband networks.

According to the FCC, 21 million Americans and 10 million school-age children do not have internet access. Low-income households are the least connected in America, and, not surprisingly, rural communities are the least served. What might surprise us all is that the data reveals a 75% correlation between median household income and broadband access In 2019, US Representative Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) created the Rural Broadband Task Force to close the digital divide, with the goal of all Americans having high-speed internet access by 2025. The digital era is to the 21st century what electricity was to the 20th, argues Clyburn. Bridging the digital divide is something we must address if we are going to reset the US economy for all. Featuring Jim Clyburn in conversation with Naomi Nix. (9:21)

Charter Spending $5 Billion to Expand Its Rural Footprint; Carolinas, Wisconsin, Ohio, E. Texas Will See Biggest Expansions

Charter Communications will spend almost $5 billion a part of a multiyear, 24-state broadband buildout to deliver high-speed internet service to more than a million unserved homes and businesses.

Approximately $1.2 billion of the cost to serve these low-density, mostly rural communities will come from the federal government’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which is subsidizing some of the expenses associated with providing service in areas deemed unprofitable to serve.

Preparation and planning for Charter’s RDOF Phase 1 broadband buildout has already begun, with an additional 2,000 employees and contractors expected to focus on Charter’s rural expansion efforts in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The biggest expansions in coverage area appear to be in North and South Carolina, North and Eastern Wisconsin, East Texas, Ohio, and Eastern Tennessee.

Charter’s RDOF Expansion Project Map

The network Charter will build in these rural areas will offer Spectrum 1 Gbps high–speed broadband access to all newly served customer locations with starting speeds of 200 Mbps, with no data caps, modem fees, or contracts. Customers will also be able to subscribe to Spectrum TV, home phone and wireless mobile service.

Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge said one of the most important factors governing when service will become available is how well the cable company will be received by the owners of utility poles in the various regions.

“The more cooperation we have with the pole owners and utility companies, the faster we can connect these communities with high-speed internet services,” Rutledge said in a company news release. “We look forward to working with local municipalities, electric cooperatives, and investor-owned utilities to ensure that permits are obtained in a timely, fair and cost-effective fashion.”

Mediacom Warns Top 0.05% of Uploaders to Cut It Out, Cites Network “Stress”

Phillip Dampier January 27, 2021 Broadband "Shortage", Consumer News, Data Caps, Mediacom 3 Comments

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding traffic growth has apparently taken its toll on network capacity at Mediacom, forcing the company to reach out to a growing number of its heavy uploaders and telling them to reduce usage or face a speed throttle or the possible closure of their account.

An East Moline, Ill. Mediacom broadband customer of 10 years was offended to receive a phone call from Mediacom’s “Fraud and Abuse Department” telling him he was overusing his gigabit internet account, which includes a 6 TB data cap. The customer was certain he never exceeded Mediacom’s data cap, and in fact recorded 2.5 TB of usage over the last month, well below his data allowance.

Mediacom’s representative explained the problem was not with how much he downloaded.

“He told me my upload was 450 GB over their average and if I didn’t reduce my usage they would either throttle or disconnect me,” DSL Reports‘ reader poonjahb wrote. “I argued that I used less than half of the total data allowed by my plan, but he said my 1.2 TB of upload was too much and that this was my warning.”

Other Mediacom customers across the Midwest also received similar letters in early January, and several contacted Stop the Cap! Many were already annoyed Mediacom had earlier imposed a data cap, but were incensed they were now being threatened when usage was well under that cap.

“I am paying for gigabit internet service just to never have to worry about a data cap,” said Cory, a Mediacom customer in Missouri. “It comes with a 6,000 GB monthly allowance, which is way more than I will ever use, but I still received a warning letter claiming I was uploading too much. I discovered I used about 900 GB over the last two months, setting up a cloud backup of my computer. At most I can send files at around 50 Mbps, which they claim is interfering with other customers in my neighborhood. I don’t understand.”

Several filed complaints with the FCC, which the agency forwarded on to Mediacom customer service. Most received form letter replies.

COVID-19 Pandemic Causes Traffic Surge, Mediacom Tells Stop the Cap!

“Mediacom routinely reviews both download and upload usage trends to determine if any customers are using a disproportionate share of bandwidth compared to average users,” explains Thomas J. Larsen, senior vice president of government and public relations at Mediacom. “If a customer falls into the top 0.5% of downstream or upstream capacity users in a given month, they may receive a letter or call from Mediacom regarding their usage. This would apply to both business and residential customers. The reason for contacting the customers is to explain that their usage patterns may be degrading the performance of the network and affecting other users.”

Larsen pointed to statistics from the cable industry’s largest trade group, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, which reported a 31.8% total cumulative growth in downstream internet traffic and a 51.1% increase in upstream traffic since the spring COVID-19 lockdowns back in March 2020.

A Mediacom letter sent to customers complaining to the FCC about the practice cited network “stress” caused by excess upstream traffic. Larsen told Stop the Cap! the company regularly reviews customers’ download and upload traffic trends, looking for outliers that use a disproportionate share of bandwidth compared to average users. Larsen would not admit if heavy users were noticeably affecting other customers with congestion-related slowdowns, but said the company was “reaching out … more frequently than before” to the top 0.5% of traffic generating users anyway. He also noted this policy equally applied to both residential and business accounts.

“This is not the easiest topic to explain because internet usage is growing rapidly in this work from home/study from home environment, so it is difficult to give an exact number that puts a customer into the 0.5% category because that number changes from month to month,” Larsen noted. “Understandably, that may make the policy seem arbitrary when we are really just trying to stay in line with moving usage trends.”

Internet Service Providers Have Wide Latitude to Cut Off Heavy Users

Virtually every internet service provider has a provision in their acceptable use policy allowing them to terminate or restrict service when a customer causes problems for that provider. Mediacom is no exception, telling subscribers “without limitation, customer’s usage of the service cannot restrict, inhibit, interfere with or otherwise disrupt or cause disruption, performance degradation of other users or impair or threaten to impair the operation of Mediacom’s systems or network.” This policy is in addition to whatever data usage plans are in place.

But Larsen insists Mediacom is not trying to alienate its customers.

“[We want to] work with our customers to address this issue in a productive manner,” Larsen told Stop the Cap!

At the moment, the only solution seems to be to reduce usage enough to stay off of the company’s “top 0.5%” radar.

Mediacom’s Warning Letters Uncommon Among Other Providers

Mediacom’s crackdown on heavy usage has not been copied by most other U.S. providers. Although traffic growth has been measured by virtually every provider in the country, most providers are mitigating possible service degradation by aggressively upgrading capacity or quietly node splitting neighborhoods experiencing the highest traffic growth, which immediately eases congestion issues.

The company did not indicate if its usage crackdown was temporary or if any planned network upgrades would allow it to ease restrictions sometime in the near future.

Other small providers dealing with congestion issues found a better solution sending letters to high traffic customers explaining forthcoming upgrades and temporarily requesting they limit upstream traffic during peak usage times, while not penalizing them for any off-peak traffic. That might prove to be a useful compromise between Mediacom and its customers and preserve goodwill.

Search This Site:

Contributions:

Recent Comments:

Your Account:

Stop the Cap!