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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.

Cable’s DOCSIS 4.0 – Symmetrical Broadband Coming

Phillip Dampier June 25, 2019 Broadband Speed, Consumer News No Comments

The next standard for cable broadband is now due by 2020.

CableLabs is working on the next generation of broadband over existing Hybrid Fiber-Coax (HFC) networks, finally achieving identical upload and download speed and supporting more spectrum on existing cable lines, which could mean another leap in broadband speed.

DOCSIS 4.0 is still evolving, but according to Light Reading, the next upgrade will fully support Full Duplex DOCSIS, allowing customers to get the same upload speed as their download speed, and will fully implement Low Latency DOCSIS which could reduce traffic delays to under 1 ms. The new standard will also introduce Extended Spectrum DOCSIS, which will open up broadband traffic on frequencies up to 1.8 GHz — 600 Mhz more bandwidth than available today. That additional spectrum will allow for speed increases in excess of 1 Gbps, support IP video traffic, and backhaul for wireless applications like small cells. 

According to Light Reading, people familiar with the development of the cable broadband specification believe much of the work will be complete by the end of 2019, with the spectrum expansion specification expected before mid-2020. This would allow the introduction of DOCSIS 4.0 modems for purchase beginning in 2021.

Cable operators are largely taking a break on large investments this year, with few planning major infrastructure changes beyond some projects underway at Comcast and Altice-Cablevision’s ongoing replacement of its HFC network with fiber to the home service. In 2020, operators will make crucial decisions about their next upgrade commitments. Comcast and Altice will have the easiest time delivering symmetrical broadband because Comcast will support the “Node+0” design that eliminates amplifiers between the nearest node and the customer’s home. This will facilitate the introduction of symmetrical speeds. Altice is dropping the DOCSIS standard as it moves to fiber service, which already supports symmetrical speeds.

Other cable operators are not currently committed to removing amplifiers from their networks, supporting alternate designs like “Node+1,” “Node+2,” etc., which are similar to today’s cable system designs. Instead, they are hoping to leverage Extended Spectrum DOCSIS to boost their speeds. Most will likely offer significant speed bumps for uploading, but those speeds won’t match download speed. For example, Charter Spectrum or Cox might upgrade customers to 500/100 Mbps service, on the theory that 100 Mbps upload speed will still be a welcome change for customers, and not noticeably slower for most current applications, such as uploading videos or file storage in the cloud.

Industry trade association NCTA reports that Comcast, Charter, Cox, Mediacom, Midco, Rogers (Canada), Shaw Communications (Canada), Vodafone (Europe), Taiwan Broadband Communications, Telecom Argentina, Liberty Global (Europe/Latin America) are all implementing the industry’s 10G initiative, with lab trials already underway, and field trials beginning in 2020. DOCSIS 4.0 will ultimately be a part of that project.

CableLabs is already making plans for DOCSIS 4.1 (our name, not theirs), that will further extend DOCSIS spectrum up to 3 GHz — a massive upgrade in usable spectrum. Whether that will be technically plausible on aging cable systems last rebuilt in the 1990s isn’t known, and probably won’t be for two or more years. But if it proves technically feasible, DOCSIS 4.1 could be one of the last DOCSIS standards before cable systems consider abandoning HFC in favor of all-fiber networks.

CableLabs has proved itself to be adept at squeezing every bit of performance out of a network that was originally built with simple coaxial copper cable and designed to distribute analog TV signals. DOCSIS 4.1 would support speeds potentially as high as 25 Gbps downstream and 10 Gbps upstream. Customers would require new cable modems and cable systems would have to tighten standards to take aging infrastructure out of service more frequently. Upload traffic would likely be assigned spectrum below 1 GHz, with 1-3 GHz reserved for downloads. By then, television, phone, and internet services would likely all be a part of a single broadband pipe.

Cable systems have enjoyed enormous cost savings over the last 20 years deploying DOCSIS upgrades instead of scrapping their existing HFC networks in favor of all-fiber. Charter Spectrum admitted the cost to upgrade from DOCSIS 3.0 to DOCSIS 3.1 was just $9 per subscriber.

Cable Industry Has Low Latency Software Upgrade for DOCSIS 3.1; <1ms Possible

Phillip Dampier June 24, 2019 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Cox 1 Comment

CableLabs has published a new specification for the DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband platform that will support <1 ms latency, optimal for online gaming and virtual reality.

The new specification, dubbed low-latency DOCSIS (LLD), costs little to implement with a simple software upgrade, but some cable companies plan to charge customers nearly $15 a month more to enable the extra performance.

CableLabs Blog:

VR needs incredibly low latency between head movement and the delivery of new pixels to your eyes, or you start to feel nauseated. To move the PC out of the home, we need to make the communications over the cable network be a millisecond or less round trip. But our DOCSIS® technology at the time could not deliver that.

So, we pivoted again. Since 2016, CableLabs DOCSIS architects Greg White and Karthik Sundaresan have been focused on revolutionizing DOCSIS technology to support sub-1ms latency. Although VR is still struggling to gain widespread adoption, that low and reliable DOCSIS latency will be a boon to gamers in the short term and will enable split rendering of VR and augmented reality (AR) in the longer term. The specifications for Low Latency DOCSIS (as a software upgrade to existing DOCSIS 3.1 equipment) have been released, and we’re working with the equipment suppliers to get this out into the market and to realize the gains of a somewhat torturous innovation journey.

Your provider may already have LLD capability — the updates were pushed to cable operators in two stages, one in January and the most recent update in April. It will be up to each cable company to decide if and when to enable the feature. Additionally, low latency is only possible if the path between your provider and the gaming server has the capability of delivering it. Cable companies may need to invite some gaming platforms to place servers inside their networks to assure the best possible performance.

Cable operators are already conceptualizing LLD as a revenue booster. Cox Communications is already testing a low-latency gaming add-on with customers in Arizona, for which it charges an extra $14.99 a month. But reports from customers using it suggest it is not a true implementation of LLD. Instead, many users claim it is just an enhanced traffic routing scheme to reduce latency using already available technology.

A Cox representative stressed the service does not violate any net neutrality standards.

“This service does not increase the speed of any traffic, and it doesn’t prioritize gaming traffic ahead of other traffic on our network,” said CoxJimR on the DSL Reports Cox forum. “The focus is around improving gaming performance when it leaves our network and goes over the public internet, like a Gamer Private Network. No customer’s experience is degraded as a result of any customers purchasing Cox Elite Gamer service as an add-on to their internet service.”

CableLabs is treating LLD as a part of its “10G” initiative, expected to upgrade broadband speeds up to 10 Gbps. Among the next upgrades likely to be published is full duplex DOCSIS, which will allow cable operators to provide the same upload and download speeds.

Frontier Wrestles Worst ISP in America Award Away from Mediacom

“Frontier offers a level of suckage that cannot be proportionally compared with any other company in America. Stabbing yourself with knitting needles is less painful than their snail slow internet service and dealing with customer service agents that formerly served as prison guards at a Syrian detention camp.” — A deeply dissatisfied Frontier DSL customer in Ohio

Frontier Communications has achieved a new low in customer satisfaction, wrestling away the award for America’s worst ISP from perennial favorite Mediacom, in a newly released American Customer Satisfaction Index.

No internet service provider did particularly well in customer satisfaction, but Frontier managed to alienate more of their customers than any other this year, ranking poorly in speed, reliability, and customer service. Customers also complained about being given inaccurate information, inaccurate billing, and surprise charges on their bill.

Frontier’s worst performance is delivered in legacy DSL service areas, where its aging copper wire network is often incapable of delivering 21st century broadband speeds. In many areas, speeds drop well below 10 Mbps during peak usage. Even worse, company officials signaled that the company had few plans to improve its wireline network or service experience in 2019. As a result, many customers switched providers, if one was available. If Frontier is the only option, customers often have no options.

“For several years we have had no internet options except for Frontier. We receive 10 to 20% of the service we pay for time and time again,” wrote one customer in a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. “The service has even diminished over time, [and] whenever my work demands me to log online, I often have to leave my home at different times of the day or night to a location where I can get free Wi-Fi or drive 24 miles to my job. This is totally unacceptable. Every single weekend and every night my internet shuts off. I mean every night. Nothing has been done from a customer’s view to improve service.”

What seems to have driven Mediacom out of last place was not so much an improvement in their network or service.

“Mediacom has the second-lowest score among subscription TV services at 56, but has one of the highest-rated mobile apps, both in terms of quality and reliability,” the ACSI found.

Frontier has an improved website, but still offers many potential subscribers a severe disappointment when shopping for internet plans, and finding only one:

Antietam Broadband Under “Concerted Attack” to Bring Provider Down; Months of Outages Annoy Customers

Phillip Dampier June 5, 2019 Antietam Broadband, Consumer News, Video No Comments

For two months, Hagerstown, Md.-based Antietam Broadband, an independent cable company serving Washington County, has been facing an organized effort to bring its broadband business to its knees.

A series of prolonged service outages that the cable company characterized as a “multi-pronged concerted attack” affected both internet and voice service for 40-50% of its customers. A “malicious and targeted attack outside of our network” caused connections to slow, and in many cases stop, the company admitted. The attack flooded the company’s service delivery network with “more than one million malicious hits against our network every 5 minutes,” according to Antietam Broadband president Brian Lynch.

As a result, some customers have been without stable service for over a week at a time, and with the attacks continuing for at least two months, many are growing increasingly frustrated by the repeated outages.

“It has come on for an hour and then gone down again,” said Barbara Ewald of Hagerstown, telling the Herald-Media it was her 11th day of problems with her internet service. “I can’t keep crawling around to reset it. I’m not going to try to set it. It’s not my responsibility. We deserve better than this.”

Other customers have experienced outages up to a dozen times a day, depending on how sustained the attacks are on Antietam’s network.

Letter from Brian Lynch, President of Antietam Broadband.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lynch said. “There’s an entity trying to interrupt communication. The way they’re doing it is very unique; it’s multi-pronged.”

Evidently not a traditional denial-of-service-disruption, Lynch won’t go into much detail about the exact nature of the attack, except to say it targets the company’s cable modems which manage voice and data service.

A recent public meeting at the Washington County Free Library attracted at least 80 local residents to complain about the state of Antietam’s service.

Penny Wolters of Hagerstown told the audience her son was unable to complete a college assignment in time and some of her bills were paid late because of the ongoing service disruptions. Other subscribers who telecommute or operate in-home businesses had to leave Antietam’s service area to find a reliable connection. Calls to customer service were met “with rudeness” according to several complaining customers. A representative told one customer she should be grateful the company offered her any service credit for an outage that had been a problem for over six weeks.

Even with the help of Cable Labs, CommScope/ARRIS and Zcorum, and security experts from around the country, the attacks continued, although they seem to be ebbing. But after two months dealing with the problem, a local grassroots group, “More Cable Options for Hagerstown” launched to find alternatives for Antietam.

“My goal is to give the citizens of Washington County a platform to discuss their frustration with Antietam Broadband,” organizer Cherish Marriott told the newspaper. “I’d also like to give them the tools and information on how to bring other service providers to the area.”

For Lynch, the priority has become repairing the damage to the company’s reputation.

“We want to personally apologize to our customers for the disruption and frustration these past weeks have caused in your life,” Lynch wrote on the company’s Facebook page. “We recognize the internet and phone services we provide are of the utmost importance to you. We would like to thank you for the support and patience you have shown us during this challenging time.”

WDVM in Hagerstown reports on the service outage issues that began in April. Hagerstown’s mayor wonders why the city apologized for the cable company’s problems. (1:31)

To address customer concerns, Antietam provided this recent update to customers:

  • “We have gone two weeks since the last event. We believe that the measures we’ve taken have been effective, and we are closely watching our network in case the attackers try again.”
  • “We are increasing the credit to residential customers from two to three weeks. Credits will be automatically placed on your bill. If you previously received two weeks of credit, on your next bill you will see the additional week of credit. These additional credits will include leased modems and/or routers provided by Antietam.”
  • “We have seen no evidence that the attackers had access to any customer data stored on our systems.”
  • “We will continue to stress test our networks to provide every safeguard available against further cyberattacks.”

Local organizers meet to discuss ongoing problems with Antietam Broadband and what alternatives exist. WDVM reports. (2:00)

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