Home » internet service » Recent Articles:

Internet Service Tax Ending on July 1 in 7 States, But Will Streaming Services Be Targeted Next?

Phillip Dampier June 15, 2020 Consumer News, Online Video, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

Residents of Hawaii, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin will get a slight reprieve on their internet bill starting July 1, as taxes on internet access will end in the few remaining states that have been taxing service since 1998.

The Internet Tax Freedom Act prohibits states and local municipalities from taxing internet access, but seven states already taxing service at the time the law was passed were permitted to phase out the tax over several years. Time is up for those states on July 1st, the first day the internet tax ban will apply in all 50 states.

If providers did not pass taxes along to subscribers, those cable and phone companies will pocket up to $500 million in tax savings annually. If taxes were passed along to subscribers, they could see a lower internet bill starting next month.

The seven states are likely to take a significant budget hit as a result of the lost taxation. Revenue officials estimate Texas will lose at least $500 million a year in tax revenue, while Ohio will take a hit of up to $207 million annually. In Wisconsin, $170 million less taxes will be collected, while New Mexico will collect $81 million less. The amounts in North and South Dakota will be $20-25 million for each state, and Hawaii will emerge relatively unscathed, as their internet tax collects less than $1 million annually.

But a growing number of states hungry for tax revenue might make up revenue shortfalls by implementing new taxes or fees on streaming services instead.

Steve Lacoff, formerly with The Walt Disney Co. and Comcast, is now general manager of communications at Avalara, which provides cloud-based SAAS (software as a service) tax compliance. He told Multichannel News, “You are starting to see jurisdictions impose streaming-specific taxes on things like Netflix and Disney+ subscriptions. Roughly half the states [in the country] are applying sales and use taxes, and seven or eight of them are applying streaming ‘comm style’ taxes.”

Such fees can add 6-10% to the monthly cost of a subscription to services like Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, and others.

Lacoff thinks the seven states losing the ability to tax internet service could soon join many others now surcharging online streaming services to find more tax revenue.

“I think that is absolutely an issue that states are actively considering as the tax revenue base continues to decline,” Lacoff said. “Some of these [taxes] are statewide, some are in specific municipalities. For example, Chicago has an amusement tax whose origins, I think, go back to fairs and they have used this as a means to tax streaming service.”

This Internet Provider Earned a 94% Customer Satisfaction Score, and It Isn’t Comcast or Spectrum

One of America’s internet service providers managed to achieve a customer satisfaction score of 94%, an unprecedented vote of approval from consumers that typically loathe their cable or phone company.

What also makes this provider different is that it is owned by the public, and administered by the City of Fairlawn, Ohio. Fairlawn is a suburb of Akron, with a population of around 7,400 people. Akron is dominated by Charter Spectrum for cable and AT&T for telephone service. But the suburbs have been underserved by both companies for decades. As with many northeastern cities, the economic shift away from manufacturing towards high-tech businesses requires robust connectivity. But many communities are stuck with a cable company that will not service less populated areas in town and a phone company that is willing to leave many customers with low-speed DSL and nothing better.

When a community finds it cannot get gigabit fiber optic service for residents, it can either live with what is on offer instead or decide to do something about it. Fairlawn decided it was time to establish FairlawnGig, a municipal broadband utility that would provide gigabit fiber service to every resident in town, if they wanted it.

Broadband Communities reports local residents love the service they are getting:

The online survey results reveal overall satisfaction with FairlawnGig at an astoundingly high number of 94% with more than 3 out of 4 (77%) saying they are “very satisfied.”

Additionally, FairlawnGig 94% of residential customers rated the service they receive from FairlawnGig as “excellent” or “very good.”

FairlawnGig offers two plans to residents: 300/300 Mbps service for $55 a month or 1,000/1,000 Mbps service for $75. Landline phone service is an extra $25 a month, and the municipal provider has pointed its customers to online cable TV alternatives like Hulu and YouTube TV for television service. Incumbent cable and phone companies usually respond to this kind of competition with cut-rate promotions to keep the customers they have and lure others back. Spectrum has countered with promotions offering 400 Mbps internet for as little as $30/mo for two years. Despite the potential savings, most people in Fairlawn won’t go back to Spectrum regardless of the price. FairlawnGig’s loyalty score is 80, with 85% of those not only sticking with FairlawnGig but also actively recommending it to others.

Residents appreciate the service, deemed very reliable, and that technicians are local and accessible. The City says it works hard to ensure that customer appointments are kept and on time and representatives are available to assist customers with their questions and technical support needs. FairlawnGig claims its technicians spend extra time teaching customers about their services.

City officials candidly admit they were willing to build and launch the municipal fiber service even if it did not recoup its original investment for years to come. That is because the municipal fiber network has benefited the city in other ways:

  • It has attracted new residents to town and kept them there.
  • Several businesses launched or moved to be within FairlawnGig’s service area. Most are white collar businesses, such as IT firms, software and hardware engineers, and consultants.
  • A new orthopaedic hospital is being developed in the town, in part because FairlawnGig can provide connectivity up to 100 Gbps for things like medical imaging and video conferencing.
  • As businesses move in, so do workers looking for a shorter commute. Property values in the town have increased and realtors make a point to alert would-be buyers when a property is within FairlawnGig’s service area.

In short, Fairlawn officials see providing internet access as more than just a profit center. It is a public service initiative that is paying back dividends that will eventually exceed the $10 million investment taken from the city’s general fund to build the network. Taxes did not increase as a result of FairlawnGig either. Now other towns around Fairlawn and the city of Akron itself are showing interest in how to join forces to expand the public service well beyond Fairlawn’s town borders.

WOIO in Akron covered FairlawnGig back in January 2019 in this report explaining how a publicly owned fiber to the home service was delivering gig speed to this northeastern Ohio community. (2:31)

Siberia May Have Better Rural Internet Access Than You Do

Russian satellite television provider Tricolor, in collaboration with Eutelsat Networks, has launched satellite broadband service throughout Siberia, with data plans offering speeds up to 100 Mbps.

Customers can choose from packages of internet and television service or just go broadband-only. A one time fee of $136.75 gets the customer a startup package including a satellite receiver and data modem. Customers can pick up equipment from stores in Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Barnaul, Irkutsk and Kemerovo or have it direct shipped to their home address.

Customers can choose between three “unlimited” data packages: 40/10 Mbps for $75/mo, 20/5 Mbps for $45/mo, or 10/5 Mbps for $27/mo. Like many satellite providers, Tricolor reduces data speeds during peak usage times for customers using over 50, 25, and 15 GB of usage per month, respectively. But Tricolor says speed reductions will not be as severe as some providers that reduce speeds to less than 1 Mbps. A faster, usage-limited tier with speeds up to 100 Mbps is also to be introduced, and customers can get discounted subscriptions by agreeing to usage caps on the three aforementioned speed tiers.

Tricolor provides solid reception across the Russian Federation, including the vast expanse of Siberia. Wiring a country the size of Russia is a daunting task, so satellite and wireless internet services are likely to be a major offering across the country for years to come.

Tricolor’s coverage map.

Comcast’s Data Caps Remain Suspended Until June 30

Phillip Dampier April 27, 2020 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Data Caps 1 Comment

Comcast today announced it will extend its COVID-19 crisis commitments until the end of June, including a continued suspension of its 1 TB data cap.

“These extended measures will continue to keep Americans safe and ensure that households are equipped for students to learn and stay informed at home as the nation copes with this unprecedented disruption to our daily lives,” said Dave Watson, Comcast Cable CEO. “Our services have never been more important, and we’re doing everything we can to keep people connected to the internet.”

Here is a reminder of Comcast’s commitments:

  • No data caps: All customers have unlimited access until at least June 30, 2020. Make sure you are not paying Comcast extra for an unlimited data plan everyone can now get for no extra charge.
  • No disconnects or late fees: To qualify, customers MUST contact Comcast and explain they are having difficulty paying bills because of current economic conditions. Those that do will not have their service suspended and late fees will be waived.
  • XFINITY Wi-Fi: Is open to anyone that wants to use a Comcast Wi-Fi hotspot. You do not need to be a customer.
  • Internet Essentials: If you qualify as a low-income household, you can get internet service from Comcast for $9.95 a month, with the first 60 days free.

Audit Critical of NY Public Service Commission’s Performance Holding Telecom Companies Accountable

New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC) has come under fire in an audit by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for “falling short” monitoring Charter Spectrum, Altice-Optimum, and Windstream, some of the state’s largest telecom companies.

“When New Yorkers flip on the lights, log in or make a call, they should be confident that someone is making sure these service providers are living up to their promises,” DiNapoli said. “My auditors found the state Public Service Commission was not doing enough to make sure utilities are holding up their end of the deal. PSC lacked critical equipment to do its job and rarely inflicted financial consequences when companies did not deliver. This has to change.”

The audit found that the regulator was often arbitrary in its orders, frequently failed to verify compliance of conditions imposed on providers, and quietly dropped compliance penalties including fines and merger revocation orders when the Commission faced pushback from companies.

Most of the audit’s criticism was directed at how the PSC managed the 2016 merger-acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Charter Communications (better known as Spectrum). The merger was approved after Charter agreed to ten deal conditions. But DiNapoli’s auditors found Charter failed to either complete four of these conditions or the PSC failed to verify they were completed. New York also lost the opportunity to collect $5 million from Charter’s failure to meet its rural broadband commitments. Instead, the PSC settled for $1 million and agreed to extend the deadline for Charter to expand its rural footprint, rewarding the company for its failure.

DiNapoli’s audit criticized the PSC’s verification procedures to determine if Charter adequately upgraded its cable systems to all-digital technology and raised broadband speeds by the end of 2018. Instead, the Comptroller found the Commission often took Charter’s word for it because it lacked the equipment and resources to independently verify Charter’s performance.

DiNapoli

The auditors also complained Charter offered scant evidence of compliance with two other terms of its merger approval agreement — wiring 50 community locations for free broadband service and investing at least $50 million to improve service quality for New York customers. The audit found no evidence Charter had wired any community locations for free broadband service, and the Commission failed to verify Charter made suitable investments in service improvements by its May 2018 deadline.

The Commission disagreed with several of the audit’s findings. The Commission claimed it held comprehensive proceedings to review the Charter acquisition of Time Warner Cable, imposed deadlines on the conditions, and eventually threatened to revoke Charter’s cable franchises for the company’s failure to comply with its orders.

“After pursuing escalating enforcement actions, the Commission in mid-2018, revoked the merger authorization,” the Commission responded. “This final enforcement action which revoked the company’s authorization to operate in in the state set an important precedent in New York — and across the nation — as this type of enforcement remedy had not been previously utilized in the regulatory community. Ultimately, the enforcement action was settled in a manner that resulted in a company commitment to expand its network entirely Upstate at an estimated cost of more than $600 million, more than twice the original estimate at the time of the merger approval, and $12 million paid by the company in lieu of penalty for additional network expansion work.”

The settlement effectively rendered the PSC’s fines against Charter for not meeting its rural broadband expansion deadlines moot. The Commission argued New Yorkers benefited more from Charter’s additional commitments to expand its cable footprint even further than originally envisioned.

“The Department utilizes penalty actions in a strategic manner to address violations,” the Commission explained. “It can be more beneficial to the state’s customers to obtain at shareholder expense expanded infrastructure, reductions in rates, or improvements in customer service rather than imposing financial penalties, and when that is the case, the [Commission] does indeed prefer the best response for customers.”

But DiNapoli’s audit noted that utilities are well aware of how to avoid paying fines by delaying their collection indefinitely through legal remedies. The audit slammed the PSC for walking away from collecting the fines owed, noting it “creates a lack of accountability and inspires little motivation to stay in compliance.” It also complained that regardless of what additional remedies the PSC extracted from Charter in a final settlement, tens of thousands of rural New Yorkers remain without the internet service they were promised, and will probably have to wait until as late as 2021 to get it.

“As it has been over three years since the merger was approved, network expansion should have already been provided to approximately 126,875 unserved or underserved premises based on the 2016 Commission Order approving the merger,” the audit found. “As of July 2019, Charter had only extended its network to 64,827 premises. Based on the original Order, 62,048 additional customers should have received access to these services. Charter now has until September 2021 to complete the network expansion of 145,000 premises previously scheduled to be completed by May 2020.”

The PSC also claimed it was distracted by legal actions it was taking surrounding the revocation of the merger’s approval, but after the case was settled, the Commission did undertake random speed testing to verify Charter had raised the broadband speeds as agreed in the merger agreement.

“Staff is confident that, in all areas field tested to date, the Charter network is capable of providing broadband service with download speed in excess of 300 Mbps, and the network itself has the potential to provide download speed beyond 1 Gbps. In fact, the company is marketing 1 Gbps service in much of the New York State service footprint,” the Commission argued.

The Commission confirmed Charter has not yet showed it is providing free broadband service to 50 community service locations, such as libraries, schools, or town halls. Charter initially refused to provide information about the service locations it selected for complimentary service “for privacy reasons.” But since the Commission placed no deadline on complying with this condition, it cannot penalize Charter for not meeting it on a timely basis.

“After multiple discussions, Charter finally provided a list of the 50 Anchor Institutions on July 17, 2019 and included bill copies and/or account screen shots demonstrating no charge for broadband service to these institutions,” the Commission responded. “Staff has been able to independently confirm that 33 of the 50 institutions are receiving broadband service from Charter at no charge. For the remaining institutions, Charter was asked to provide additional evidence that these institutions have been provided this complimentary service. If Charter cannot definitively demonstrate that the 17 institutions are receiving free service, Charter must select a replacement institution in order to fulfill this condition. Once Charter has provided this information, Staff will then begin its independent confirmation.”

The Commission also claims Charter met its obligation to invest at least $50 million in service improvements.

“In its May 2018 Annual Update, Charter provided a list of expenditures totaling over $90 million to comply with this condition. From that list, Staff identified completed projects totaling approximately $70 million that were dedicated to New York State. To verify these expenditures, Staff requested and analyzed actual invoices to determine whether the expenditures were made,” the Commission claimed.

The audit found some of these same issues also applied to two other telecom merger and acquisition deals impacting New York consumers. Altice’s acquisition of Cablevision’s Optimum cable service received approval with five deal conditions. The audit found the Commission failed to adequately verify compliance with three of those conditions, relating to internet speed and performance, free broadband service to 40 community institutions, and improvements to customer service requiring Altice to fix customer issues within two days. The Commission responded that its belated verification found no non-compliance, but the audit urged the Commission not to delay its verification procedures going forward.

FairPoint is now known under the name of its owner, Consolidated Communications.

FairPoint Communications offers telephone and internet service to 13,700 customers in a few rural communities in New York. Its new owner, Consolidated Communications, was required to implement eight deal conditions, and the audit found it failed to meet two of them. FairPoint was required to invest at least $4 million in network reliability and service quality improvements, including the expansion of internet access service to at least 300 additional locations. FairPoint submitted an expansion plan, and updated reports, including the number of locations completed which is claimed to be over 300.

But the audit found the Commission failed to verify these claims, citing inadequate staffing to visit FairPoint’s rural service areas to perform field inspections. The audit found the Commission didn’t bother to verify service improvements in any location. Another deal condition was designed to protect FairPoint’s “customer-facing” employees from layoffs. Soon after the merger, “FairPoint reclassified 9 of the 39 customer-facing positions and ultimately eliminated them, claiming they ‘duplicated work being performed in other work centers.'” The audit’s initial findings triggered an investigation by the PSC to determine if FairPoint violated the terms of its merger order. Ultimately, the Commission found it did not, but the audit warned the PSC was completely unaware of the employment changes until the audit discovered them.

The Comptroller’s Office made four recommendations the PSC should either implement or improve:

  1. Actively monitor all conditions listed in Orders to ensure all utilities are in compliance.
  2. Develop and issue Orders that include well-defined, measurable, and enforceable conditions. The Orders should also include the consequences for non-compliance, as appropriate.
  3. Verify the accuracy of data submitted by utilities that is used by the Commission or Department to evaluate or make decisions concerning the utilities. This includes data submitted for performance metrics, safety standards, and Utility Service Quality Reports.
  4. Develop policies and procedures that provide employees with standard monitoring steps to perform when overseeing compliance with merger or acquisition Orders, as well as steps addressing the auditing of data submitted in support of Utility Service Quality Reports.

Search This Site:

Contributions:

Recent Comments:

  • Mez: Ive been looking high and low to file a comment on FCC site. Where do I file a comment on that mess of a site. Any help would be appreciated....
  • M Ross: LOL! This is no deal. In order to get streaming you have to get fast internet service and when that special Charter offer for a "...
  • M Ross: I have had Spectrum Select Cable TV with the DVR box for many, many years, so I called to order the additional internet Standard 200 Mbps and the spe...
  • Mike: Frontier keeps raising my monthly residential phone bill with unexplained fees. My bill for 1 land line, and 10mbs speed i...
  • ALF: Frontier had the worst customer service ever. DSL speeds remain mired at about 1 (yes, ONE) Mbps, down, much slower than that, up. I live a few miles ...
  • John Lodge: All Cord Cutters that view only Over the Air Broadcasts with ATSC 1.0 compliant sets and or tuners, they will be able to continue to receive their loc...
  • Robert Deed: 2 years later and Suddenlink is still using Docsis 3.0 :p...
  • Gloria Steiner: Hooray!...
  • Eric: I've had Frontier fiber internet since 2015 and haven't had any problems until Ziply took over. Since Ziply took over, my internet service has been g...
  • Eric: 2.7 and 4.3 are odd numbers.. 4.3 doesn't seem right in the first place....
  • Crazyfrankie56: I don't know about that because there was some speculation that Comcast sent money to Biden's campaign last year before the start of the Presidental p...
  • Crazyfrankie56: We all know that Ajit paihole is going to pull his BS tactics again to try to stop anti data cap comments from being public just like he did with Net ...

Your Account: