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Cuomo Administration Capitulates on Affordable Broadband Law; State Laws Cannot Regulate Broadband Pricing

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As expected, New York’s efforts to lower broadband pricing through a state mandate has been effectively killed in a Brooklyn federal court, putting an end to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to require providers to offer a $15 broadband tier to income-challenged state residents.

U.S. District Judge Denis R. Hurley, who signed a preliminary injunction preventing the mandate from taking effect on June 15, signaled the concept was likely unlawful in a memorandum attached to the injunction. Several telecom companies challenged the mandate in a lawsuit heard in Hurley’s courtroom, claiming states have no regulatory authority to set broadband terms or pricing. Hurley was clearly persuaded in their direction, and was pessimistic the state could ever show a legal way to regulate internet pricing, something currently reserved to the FCC. As a result, a settlement has been proposed dropping the affordable pricing mandate.

Hurley was also moved by arguments from several smaller New York providers that claimed the new mandate would force them to sell service below cost. Empire Access, a fiber to the home overbuilder based in Prattsburgh, filed a declaration with the court threatening to cancel a major expansion project to wire customers in Livingston and Broome counties, including the city of Binghamton, if the mandate was implemented, because it would likely lose federal funding.

Because of the state’s definition as to who would have qualified for the affordable broadband tier, many smaller companies in rural, economically challenged area of upstate New York claimed they would face substantial economic losses to their businesses. Empire claimed it would lose “approximately $2 million per year,” Heart of the Catskills claimed top-line revenue would decrease $1,364,000 annually, Delhi Telephone claimed it would lose at least $90,000 per month, and the Champlain Telephone Company notified the court that “nearly half (48%) of its existing broadband customers will qualify for discounted rates,” causing the company to lose money on each customer.

“While a telecommunications giant like Verizon may be able to absorb such a loss, others may not,” Judge Hurley wrote in his order.

Gov. Cuomo bristled after learning of the lawsuit, threatening to revoke the franchise of any company that refused to implement the  state’s affordable broadband program. But the governor has made empty threats before, including a promise in 2018 to revoke the merger of Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable because the company failed to live up to the deal commitments it made to state regulators. A settlement was eventually reached between the cable giant and the state, and it appears a settlement between the plaintiff telecom companies and the state will also end this dispute and lawsuit. It appears the state has capitulated and plans to walk away from the affordable broadband proposal, although it reserved the right to appeal the case.

Stop the Cap! predicts the state will work with larger providers to increase public knowledge of the companies’ existing affordable internet programs, which usually have similar qualifications to the affordable internet law Cuomo proposed. Cuomo Administration officials will also likely lobby the Biden Administration to toughen federal oversight of broadband service and suggest a possible federal mandate for an affordable service tier and a return to net neutrality under a regulatory framework that opens the door for future price and service regulation.

The court decision signals states the solution to broadband affordability will not be found in state laws or mandates that attempt to regulate broadband pricing, at least until the current federal law changes.

Frontier: Only the Customers With the Fastest Internet Speeds Get the Emergency Broadband Benefit

Some financially challenged customers subscribed to legacy DSL from Frontier Communications are finding they cannot qualify for the Biden Administration’s emergency internet discount program because their internet service is too slow.

WHEC-TV’s Jennifer Lewke heard from one Rochester, N.Y., area Frontier customer frustrated to discover the phone company refused to accept their application.

The discount comes from the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a temporary program offering financially distressed consumers $50 off their monthly internet bill until the funding for the program runs out.

The roadblock comes from Frontier, which created its own rule that only customers with 25 Mbps or faster internet service subscribed to select tiers of service can qualify for the discount. That eliminates many of Frontier’s most loyal DSL customers that have stayed with the company for over a decade, despite often getting internet speeds less than 10 Mbps.

News10NBC:

John Derycke of Rochester relies on the internet for a lot.

“My [Frontier] plan is $54.99 and then they tack on a $6.99 infrastructure charge,” he told News10NBC.

[…]

“I went to the site to verify eligibility, I qualify and that was on May 11, I called Frontier and I spoke to Monique and she told me everything’s great we’re good to go,” Derycke said.

But when his bill came the next month, there was no credit.

He didn’t like what he was told when he called.

“After being put on hold for 20 minutes, I finally got back with the woman and she immediately said you don’t qualify because you have 24 MB and you need 25,” Derycke said.

He says he then asked to talk with a supervisor who basically told him the same thing.

Derycke says he searched the EBB page and information and couldn’t find a requirement that a customer have a plan with a certain level of megabits to qualify.

Based on that phone call with Frontier, Derycke would have to switch to the dominant internet provider in western New York, Charter Spectrum, just to get the $50 monthly credit. Based on current promotions, that would likely leave Derycke paying nothing for internet service until the EBB program runs out of money, likely by the end of this year. After his Spectrum new customer promotion expires, Derycke would likely have a higher internet bill than he started with from Frontier. 

A Frontier spokesperson told News10NBC Frontier might find a solution sooner than that:

“While a limited number of customers have a grandfathered Frontier product that is not eligible for the Emergency Broadband benefit, we are committed to transitioning these customers to comparable eligible offerings so they can receive the financial benefits. Frontier is working closing with our customer to resolve the situation.”

Such limitations on the EBB program do not come from the federal government. Internet providers voluntarily participate in the EBB program, and can set whatever restrictions, terms, and conditions they would like to qualify.

WHEC-TV in Rochester, N.Y. reports some Frontier customers with legacy DSL internet service may find themselves locked out of the Biden Administration’s internet benefit program. (3:20)

Optimum/Altice USA Slashing Upload Speeds for Some Cable Customers on July 13

Phillip Dampier June 21, 2021 Altice USA, Broadband Speed, Consumer News No Comments

In an era when cable companies love to tout increasing internet speeds, one cable company is headed in the other direction, turning the clock back by announcing dramatic cuts in upstream internet speeds beginning in mid-July.

Altice USA’s Optimum made the announcement quietly in a footnote on their website, notifying new and existing customers that change service tiers after July 12, 2021 will experience upload speeds formerly as high as 40 Mbps cut in half or more. In one instance, customers that used to get 35 Mbps for uploads will now see that speed reduced to just 5 Mbps:

Optimum’s new downgraded speed plans.

This speed change affects customers still serviced by Optimum’s legacy coaxial cable network. Parent company Altice USA has been gradually replacing that older copper wire network with an all-new fiber to the home network, but customers that live in neighborhoods not yet reached by fiber will have to live with slower upload speeds or switch to Verizon FiOS, the fiber to the home network offered by Verizon in much of Optimum’s service area in suburban New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

You would never know about Optimum’s speed downgrades unless you carefully read the fine print.

Frontier Admits the DSL Service it Sells is Not High-Speed Broadband Service

Frontier Communications told a federal court judge last week that the DSL service it sells across much of its service area in New York State is not remotely “high-speed broadband service” and is not fit for purpose if New York’s Affordable Internet Law takes effect next week and requires Frontier to deliver at least 25/3 Mbps service to state residents.

“Simply put, Frontier New York’s DSL-based service is not a ‘high-speed broadband service’ within the meaning of the statute, and an unreasonable interpretation thereof could be read to mandate the massive efforts and expenditures that would be required to provide the high-speed service standards set forth in the [Affordable Internet] Statute,” Frontier wrote in a filing with the court.

New York’s Affordable Internet Law, now being challenged in federal court, would require internet service providers to deliver at least 25 Mbps broadband service for $15/month to low-income state residents.

Frontier fears that if that new law takes effect, it could face mandatory investments in the tens of millions to upgrade its dilapidated copper wire network across most of its service areas in New York. Frontier told the judge it cannot provide reliable service over its copper wire facilities even at 15 Mbps, and many addresses recently added to Frontier’s internet service area are only getting service at 10 Mbps.

“Any attempt to require the consistent delivery of 25 Mbps through copper loops would require different network architecture, new equipment at Frontier New York’s central offices, new equipment in the field, and alternative methods and procedures,” Frontier complained. “Any such changes would constitute a new service rather than an upgrade to Frontier New York’s existing DSL services. The extensive time, effort and  money required would require the reallocation of capital and resources that are focused on forward-looking projects rather than backward-looking technology.”

Frontier added that the state should look to other providers to deliver service that meets minimal qualifications for broadband — service it does not provide today to most of its New York customers.

“FCC data and mapping indicates that speeds equal to or exceeding 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload through technologies such as cable, fiber, fixed wireless and satellite are available across the state,” Frontier wrote.

Altice USA’s Optimum Selling Gigabit Service for $45 a Month… With a $200 Prepaid Visa Card

Altice USA is pushing hard to grab market share away from Verizon FiOS — its biggest competitor in the northeastern U.S., with a new customer promotion that offers a year of gigabit broadband speed for $45/month, as well as a $200 prepaid Visa gift card just for signing up.

To qualify for this rate, you must be a new Altice customer (or a customer that disconnected Altice service for at least 30 days). To get the gift card, you must be a new customer and have not received an earlier gift card from Altice in the last 12 months. This offer is good for residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

The Bill Breakdown:

  • $50/mo for 1 gigabit service (up to 940 Mbps download/up to 50 Mbps upload) + $5/mo discount for signing up for paperless billing and autopay (total equals $45/mo)
  • $10/mo optional gateway modem/router rental fee
  • $3.50/mo mandatory “Network Enhancement Fee”
  • Your out the door price is $58.50/mo if you use their gateway, $48.50/mo if you bring your own.

Customers can also choose a 500 Mbps tier for $35 a month with similar fees.

If you sign up, you will also be offered the option of multiple TV packages, including a Basic TV package of 50 channels for $15/mo or a Core TV package of 210 channels for $25/mo. Home phone service is also available in this promotion for $10/mo. A bundle including gigabit internet, Core TV and home phone service is priced at $80/mo. There is no installation fee for customers that can manage their own inside wiring if needed.

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