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Google Fiber Expansion in North Carolina Draws Complaints from Angry Neighborhoods

Phillip Dampier June 18, 2019 Consumer News, Google Fiber & Wireless, Video No Comments

Third party contractors hired to install fiber optic infrastructure that will deliver Google Fiber internet service in parts of North Carolina are getting an increasing number of complaints from frustrated residents upset with the pace of the work, the mess it creates, and disruptions caused when crews accidentally damage existing utilities.

In Cary, construction crews are testing the patience of residents on Kilarney Drive, who have endured multiple power outages caused by Google’s contractors digging up the streets in the area.

In one neighborhood, crews removed a section of a sidewalk and installed a utility cabinet in its path. In others, cabinets were installed on the wrong side of the street. In some areas, Google’s contractors are still experimenting with shallow dug fiber installations. Some residents reported they unearthed their underground Google Fiber connection after raking their lawns. Others claimed their home’s water service line was cut by construction crews. Last winter brought multiple outages when snowplows dragged up fiber lines buried just an inch or two into the pavement and held in place with foam.

This summer’s service disruptions are coming at inopportune times, Cary residents complain. Recently, crews mistakenly cut through cables providing power, phone, and cable service, knocking out power for four hours and cutting off air conditioning on a 92 degree day.

Watching the crews slowly move through the neighborhood also has some residents concerned.

“It took them a week or two to do a couple hundred yards,” Cary resident Ed Fillback told WRAL-TV. “How long is it going to take to do the town?”

Google Fiber officials shared a response to the disruptive work in a prepared statement.

“Building a brand new fiber network is a big and complex project, and we’re sensitive to the impact construction has on a community. We want to be good neighbors, and do everything we can to minimize disruption, respond to residents, and resolve issues quickly.”

WRAL in Raleigh reports neighborhood frustration with Google Fiber’s buildout in North Carolina is growing. (2:56)

Frontier Bails on Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington in $1.35 Billion Cash Deal

Frontier Communications is selling its wireline and fiber assets in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington in a $1.35 billion all-cash deal with two private investment firms.

Frontier will continue operating its FiOS and traditional landline networks in the four states until the transaction closes with regulator approval.

The buyers are WaveDivision Capital, a private investment firm run by the founder of Wave Broadband, an independent broadband provider serving the Pacific Northwest and Searchlight Capital Partners, a Wall Street investment firm seeking to “accelerate value creation” for its investors. The new owners plan to launch a new company to service existing Frontier customers and will honor existing contracts and service commitments.

“The sale of these properties reduces Frontier’s debt and strengthens liquidity,” said Dan McCarthy, Frontier’s president and CEO, in a statement. “We are pleased to have a buyer with extensive experience building and operating advanced fiber-based communications assets in these regions. We will be working very closely with the new owners to ensure a smooth, successful transition for our customers and the communities we serve.”

About 150,000 fiber, 150,000 copper and 35,000 fiber video customers are impacted by the sale in the four affected states. Frontier’s service area in the region is made up of large former Verizon service areas, many upgraded to fiber-to-the-home service, and a significant number of rural telephone exchanges operating with traditional copper wire networks. WaveDivision Capital claims it wants to invest in Frontier’s existing network to upgrade service and potentially retire additional copper infrastructure in favor of fiber.

Frontier service areas in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

“We are excited to transition these operations to a local ownership team and to invest in building out the network of next generation fiber throughout our region,” said Steve Weed, CEO of WaveDivision Capital, and founder and former CEO of Wave Broadband. “We are big believers in the Northwest’s future growth opportunities and that future runs on broadband. As the former leaders of another successful Northwest internet provider, Wave Broadband, we know what it takes to bring fiber and other advanced services to residential and business customers, give them choices, and keep them happy.”

Frontier, which has been struggling with a tremendous debt load and underinvestment in its network, sees the sale as a way to improve its balance sheet and cut both debt and expenses. The Pacific Northwest is a difficult region to serve because it is sparsely populated and can be a high cost area because of difficult terrain or long distances between customers. Although Frontier had committed to spending on upgrading its fiber customers, it promised little for its copper wireline customers still relying on low-speed DSL. Weed says his company hopes to change that.

“Our plan is to invest further in our markets, specifically by extending fiber to more homes and businesses, to bring them the high speeds they want,” Weed said in a statement.

Frontier’s Montana operations are in the northwest corner of the state, near the Kootenai National Forest.

The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals by the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), applicable state regulatory agencies, and certain local video franchise authorities where Frontier FiOS operates. Frontier expects little opposition to the deal.

Weed’s involvement in Wave Broadband is no more, but at the time he left the company, Wave had reached 140 cities and towns in Washington, Oregon, and California. Wave was formed in 2003 with a series of strategic acquisitions of “distressed” independent cable systems and those owned by pre-bankruptcy Charter Communications, Northland Communications, and Cedar Communications. In May 2017, Wave Broadband was sold to TPG Capital for $2.36 billion, and today operates under TPG’s leadership with its close cousins RCN and Grande Communications.

Weed has a reputation for successfully deploying fiber networks in a region where capital can be difficult to find and easy returns on investment are rare, so there is considerable good will he will successfully upgrade Frontier service areas that have been neglected for years.

Although the transaction could deliver temporary fiscal relief for Frontier, shareholders remain displeased with the current leadership team at the company, and there are still significant signs Frontier remains in serious financial and operational distress, especially because of its ongoing customer losses. Frontier is likely to be pressured to find other sales opportunities, assuming it can find willing buyers.

AT&T Expects to Offer “Nationwide” 5G and Fiber Broadband Service Within 3-5 Years

Stephenson

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson on Tuesday told investors that AT&T will deploy a combination of fiber optics and 5G wireless and be able to sell a “true, high-speed internet network throughout the United States” within the next three to five years.

“In three to five years out, there will be a crossover point,” Stephenson told investors. “We go through this all the time in industry. 5G will cross over, performance wise, with what you’re seeing in home broadband. We’re seeing it in business now over our millimeter-wave spectrum. And there will be a place, it may be in five years, I think it could be as early as three, where 5G begins to actually have a crossover point in terms of performance with fiber. 5G can become the deployment mechanism for a lot of the broadband that we’re trying to hit today with fiber.”

Although the remarks sound like a broadband game changer, Stephenson has made this prediction before, most recently during an AT&T earnings call in January, 2019. Stephenson told investors he believed 5G will increasingly offer AT&T a choice of technology to deploy when offering broadband service to consumers and businesses. In high-cost scenarios, 5G could be that choice. In areas where fiber is already ubiquitous, fiber to the home service would be preferred.

Stephenson’s predictions about nationwide service will depend in part on the commercial success of millimeter wave 5G fixed home broadband, which will be required to satisfy broadband speed and capacity demands. Verizon Wireless has been offering fixed 5G in several markets with mixed results. The company’s early claims of robust coverage have been countered by Verizon’s own cautious customer qualification portal, which is more likely to deny availability of service to interested customers than offer it.

But Stephenson remains bullish about expanding broadband.

“So all things considered, over the next three to five years, [with a] continued push on fiber, 5G begins to scale in millimeter-wave, and my expectation is that we have a nationwide, true, high-speed internet network throughout the United States, [using] 5G or fiber,” Stephenson said.

Whether anything actually comes of this expansion project will depend entirely on how much money AT&T proposes to spend on it. Recently, AT&T has told investors to expect significant cuts in future investments as AT&T winds down its government-mandated fiber expansion to 14 million new locations as part of approval of the DirecTV merger-acquisition. In fact, AT&T’s biggest recent investments in home broadband are a result of those government mandates. AT&T has traditionally focused much of its spending on its wireless network, which is more profitable. For AT&T to deliver millimeter wave 5G, the company will need to spend billions on fiber optic expansion into neighborhoods where it will place many thousands of small cell antennas to deliver the service over the short distances millimeter waves propagate.

AT&T could sell a fixed 5G broadband service similar to Verizon Wireless, confine its network to mobile applications, or offer fixed wireless service to commercial and manufacturing users in selected areas. Or it could offer a combination of all the above. AT&T will also need to consider the implications of a fiber buildout outside of its current landline service area. Building fiber optic networks to provide backhaul connectivity to AT&T’s mobile network would not antagonize its competitors nearly as much as the introduction of residential fixed 5G wireless as a home broadband replacement. The competitive implications of that would be dramatic, especially in communities skipped by Verizon FiOS or stuck with DSL from under-investing independent telephone companies like CenturyLink, Frontier, and Windstream. Should AT&T start selling 300+ Mbps fixed 5G wireless in these territories, it would cause significant financial distress for the big three independent phone companies, and could trigger a competitive war with Verizon.

Wall Street is unlikely to be happy about AT&T proposing multi-billion dollar investments to launch a full-scale price war with other phone and cable companies. So do not be surprised if AT&T’s soaring rhetoric is replaced with limited, targeted deployments in urban areas, new housing developments, and business parks. It remains highly unlikely rural areas will benefit from AT&T’s definition of “nationwide,” because there is no Return on Investment formula that is likely to work deploying millimeter wave spectrum in rural areas without heavy government subsidies.

For now, AT&T may concentrate on its fiber buildout beyond the 14 million locations mandated by the DirecTV merger agreement. As Stephenson himself said, “When we put people on fiber, they do not churn.” AT&T has plenty of runway to grow its fiber to the home business because it attracts only about a 25 percent market share at present. Stephenson believes he can get that number closer to 50%. He can succeed by offering better service, at a lower price than what his cable competitors charge. Since 5G requires a massive fiber network to deploy small cells, there is nothing wrong with getting started early and then see where 5G shakes out in the months and years ahead.

FiOS Expansion is Still Dead: New Jersey’s Efforts to Win Over Verizon for Naught

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still, still, still, still, and still dead.

Despite the passage of favorable legislation deregulating the state’s largest telecom companies, Verizon has thumbed its nose at New Jersey’s efforts to convince the company to expand its fiber-to-the-home service.

“Verizon does not plan to expand its FiOS service footprint,” wrote Tanya Davis, a Verizon franchise service manager for FiOS in New Jersey and New York. “The company remains focused on continuing to meet its franchise obligations, and delivering competitive services, and enhanced consumer choices, where the services are available.”

More than a decade after passing the 2006 Cable TV Act in New Jersey, designed to convince telecom companies to compete more vigorously with each other, Verizon remains uninterested in further expanding its fiber network in New Jersey and beyond.

After successfully lobbying the state to adopt a statewide cable TV franchise policy, making life easier for Verizon by not requiring the company to negotiate a contract with each town serviced, Verizon suddenly stopped caring after announcing a pullback in further FiOS expansion in 2010. The change in heart appears to have started at the top. Then CEO Ivan Seidenberg, who approved FiOS, retired and was replaced by Lowell McAdam, who preferred Verizon invest mostly in its wireless networks.

Vergano

As a result, New Jersey has a telecom industry-friendly deregulatory policy in place with nothing to show for it.

“People want to see competition,” Wayne Mayor Christopher Vergano told the North Jersey Record, citing complaints his office has received about Altice USA’s Optimum service. “Over the years, they’ve seen their cable bills increase. We’re trying to give residents options.”

Wayne’s Township Council passed a resolution asking state lawmakers to review the 2006 Cable TV Act to find a way to coerce Verizon to do more fiber upgrades in the state. In 2006, then Gov. John Corzine got Verizon to commit to wiring 70 towns across New Jersey, and Wayne was not one of them.

Verizon agreed to expand its fiber network to all county seats, as well as areas with a population density in excess of 7,111 residents per square mile.

New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities (BPU) is still allowed to report on Verizon’s progress, but little else, thanks to deregulation. A BPU report stated deployment of FiOS slowed to a crawl between 2010-2013, when only three new towns were reached with fiber upgrades. What little interest Verizon still had in FiOS expansion ended after 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, after which Verizon ended expansion in urban areas of New Jersey as well.

“It’s solely Verizon’s discretion to add municipalities to its system-wide franchise,” a BPU spokesman told the newspaper.

Prior to deregulation, utility boards and regulators could compel companies to offer service instead of shrugging their shoulders and telling state lawmakers ‘it’s all up to Verizon.’

Charter Spectrum Sending Scare Letters Over Google Fiber’s Demise in Louisville

Charter Communications is sending letters to consumers in some Google Fiber cities warning that the hotly anticipated fiber to the home provider is “canceling internet service in Louisville — don’t wait to be the next city.”

But no worries, Charter adds. “Spectrum is here for you.”

Spectrum is offering consumers in cities like Raleigh 400/20 Mbps internet $29.99 a month, price-locked for three years. (Image courtesy: News & Observer)

The letter includes an offer for Spectrum’s best internet deal, available only to addresses identified as already getting high-speed internet competition from at least two other providers — 400/20 Mbps internet service for $29.99 a month, price-locked for three years. In contrast, Google Fiber customers in the Triangle region of North Carolina pay $50 a month for 100 Mbps or $70 a month for 1,000 Mbps. That makes Spectrum’s offer a better deal, with for four times the download speed Google offers on its lower-priced plan.

Raleigh’s News & Observer spoke with Joe Mancini, head of sales for Google Fiber’s Triangle region. Mancini called Spectrum’s letter a “scare tactic.” Spectrum had no comment.

The letter could connect with would-be Google Fiber customers still waiting for service. Since being announced in the area in September 2006, Google Fiber’s first target was the community of Morrisville. As of today, the service is available in selected areas as far east as downtown Raleigh, and in Chapel Hill, southern and downtown Durham, and adjacent areas. But Google Fiber still has a long way to go to reach the entire region.

Google Fiber announced it was pulling out of Louisville, Ky., after a failed experiment microtrenching its fiber optic cables just a few inches underground. That proved disastrous, with cables emerging above ground as a result of incidental digging, erosion, road construction, freeze-thaw cycles, and in some cases, pets. Realizing it would have to scrap the entire project and start anew, Google instead decided to abandon the city, switching off existing customers on April 15.

Google has significantly slowed expansion of its fiber network over the last few years, and at one point signaled its future attention would focus on urban wireless mesh technology that would work like high-speed Wi-Fi. But that project seems to be dragging as well. As a result, some consumers may worry if Google is in the broadband business for the long haul. Mancini says the company is, and has continued expansion into new parts of the region earlier this year.

“I would encourage folks to disregard this obvious scare tactic. Google Fiber is here to stay,” he said in a phone interview with the newspaper. “We love it here, and we are working harder every day to bring faster internet coverage. I am knocking on doors to talk to potential customers right now, and our customer base and the network is growing every month. We served our first customers in Chapel Hill earlier this year and downtown Durham, as well.”

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