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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)

Rural New York Legislators Slam Charter Spectrum’s Request to Limit Rural Broadband Funding

With an estimated 90,000 New Yorkers stranded without broadband service, a proposal from Charter Communications to block funding for future projects is coming under fire from a bipartisan group of rural legislators.

Charter, which does business as Spectrum, filed a request with the Federal Communications Commission to exclude certain census blocks for funding under the agency’s new $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The cable company claims it intends to privately fund expansion of internet service in those areas, and does not welcome government-subsidized competition.

“Good cause plainly exists to grant the waiver to avoid overbuilding areas in which Charter has already begun the process of deploying service and is investing private capital well in excess of $600 million,” company officials wrote. “This will ensure scarce universal service support is deployed to close the gap/digital divide in actually unserved areas. The commission has previously granted rule waivers where, as here, the purposes of the rule would be disserved by its strict application, and where waiver would affirmatively serve the public interest.”

Many of the rural homes Charter claims it intends to serve have been waiting for internet access for well over a decade. Many were hopeful that wait would end shortly after the cable company agreed to expand service to an additional 145,000 rural New York households as part of an agreement with state regulators approving its merger with Time Warner Cable. But a March 2020 audit conducted by the Comptroller of New York found Charter was not meeting its commitments:

“[…] 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. 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.”

Barrett

Some New York legislators believe Charter is out of line asking the FCC to exclude funding for other rural broadband projects while taking its time meeting its own commitments.

“Charter’s waiver request is simply self-serving and will in no way benefit the residents of upstate New York who, even in the year 2020, are struggling to access adequate broadband by any provider,” Rep. Didi Barrett (D-Hudson) wrote in a letter to the FCC. “Charter’s petition is a blatant attempt to reduce competition and leave consumers with no choice but to wait around for Charter to finish a job that should already be complete. In Upstate New York, tens of thousands of residents and businesses are still waiting for internet service because of Charter’s years-long effort to renege on their obligations to New York State and the people who live in rural communities. We must continue to call Charter out until every household and business is served as planned under their agreement with New York State.”

Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik from Schuylerville agrees with many of Barrett’s views, blasting Spectrum for seriously delaying its rural rollout commitments. Stefanik worked with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to change the qualification requirements for the RDOF program, which originally would have excluded New York from receiving funding. If the FCC adopts Charter’s request, it would block much of her district from receiving broadband funds, either because Charter previously indicated it would (eventually) offer service or because the state previously supplied broadband subsidies, which would also seem to disqualify RDOF grants.

“I have heard directly from constituents and local elected officials that this decision would have a severe impact on their ability to gain rural broadband access, which is essential, especially during this time of crisis,” Stefanik said. “Charter’s request would exclude parts of the North Country from this critical federal funding, and I will work with my upstate colleagues and the FCC to keep it available.”

WNYT in Albany reports rural New York communities like Stillwater have waited years for Charter Spectrum to provide broadband service. The addresses Spectrum grudgingly will serve in the area are routinely quoted installation fees starting at $8,000. (2:16)

AT&T’s WarnerMedia Sets HBO Max Launch Date: May 27

Phillip Dampier April 21, 2020 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, HBO Max, Online Video No Comments

Get ready for another huge streaming platform, America. HBO Max from AT&T’s WarnerMedia is scheduled to debut Wednesday, May 27th with over 10,000 of content encompassing the libraries of HBO, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Crunchyroll, CNN, Looney Tunes, Rooster Teeth, TBS, TNT, truTV, and Turner Classic Movies.

HBO Max will replace HBO Now — the premium movie network’s subscription service for cord-cutters, and will remain priced at $14.99 a month. Those who currently subscribe to HBO through Charter Spectrum, AT&T TV (and TV Now), or DirecTV will get access to the HBO Max service at no additional cost.

WarnerMedia is positioning the service as a general interest streaming platform and super-sized HBO offering, sold as “Where HBO meets so much more.” It will combine legacy network TV content with original HBO movies and shows, and productions made especially for HBO Max.

“Our No. 1 goal is having extraordinary content for everyone in the family, and the HBO Max programming mix we are so excited to unveil on May 27th will bear that out,” said Bob Greenblatt, chairman of Warner Media Entertainment and Direct-To-Consumer. “Even in the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, the all-star teams behind every aspect of HBO Max will deliver a platform and a robust slate of content that is varied, of the highest quality, and second to none.”

HBO Max is likely to face challenges that its closest competitors — Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video do not. First, the service will launch with a premium price – $14.99 a month, which is more than double what Hulu charges and more than streaming leader Netflix, which suffered a growth slowdown after the last price increase brought its most popular plan to $12.99 a month. Second, the streaming market has become saturated with services that launched before HBO Max, which may potentially limit enthusiasm in these times of economic uncertainty. Disney+ launched with heavy discounting and comes free to a number of customers through cross-promotions with other companies. A subscription service asking for $15 a month at launch may prove a difficult sell, especially to those with no interest in HBO. Third, the HBO brand conveys an impression to would-be customers about the platform’s content. HBO has been criticized for its “male-centered” programming, replete with violence and sexual content. The brand itself may be a hard sell in conservative households with younger children, despite the fact it will feature a large roster of classic and new Looney Tunes cartoons, a Sesame Street original, and other family-friendly programming.

Subscribers will find content on the platform including:

Classic TV Shows: “Friends,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “South Park”

Movies: all Studio Ghibli films, films from Warner Bros., New Line and DC like “Joker,” “Suicide Squad,” “Wonder Woman,” “The Matrix,” “Casablanca” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

Originals: Comedy series “Love Life” starring Anna Kendrick, documentary “On the Record” about accusations of sexual harassment and rape against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons; “Legendary,” an underground ballroom dance competition series; “Craftopia,” hosted by YouTube star LaurDIY; an all-new “Looney Tunes Cartoons” from Warner Bros. Animation; and Sesame Workshop’s “The Not Too Late Show with Elmo.”

Watch the trailer from HBO Max original “Love Life,” starting May 27. (1:57)

Crackpots Link 5G to COVID-19; Several Cell Towers Set on Fire in UK to Stop “Murder Vibrations”

(Image: Science Blogs)

A preacher in the United Kingdom told parishioners that the cell tower erected within sight of his church was transmitting 5G “murder vibrations” directly responsible for the country’s outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus. A Nigerian pastor told viewers the central government locked down two major cities in the country to secretly install 5G cell towers and warned other lock downs were coming soon to allow cell phone companies to install more towers. Woo incubator “Goop” has hatched more than a few 5G conspiracy theories, including contributor Habib Sadeghi’s claim that every pandemic over the last two centuries is directly caused by the “electrification of earth.” Singer M.I.A. suggests recovery from COVID-19 is being hampered by 5G radio waves which “confuse or slow the body down in healing process as body is learning to cope with new signals, wavelengths, frequencies, etc.” As the coronavirus crisis deepened across the United Kingdom, M.I.A. blasted the government for not forcing 5G services to shut down, pointing out she is not feeling well and “my symptoms match the 5G symptoms.”

For more than a year, conspiracy theories about the health effects of 5G wireless networks have grown. RT, the Russian state broadcaster, even called it the “5G Apocalypse.” On the other side of the political spectrum, conspiracy group Q-Anon, which believes entrenched politicians are conspiring within the “deep state” to sabotage the presidency of Donald Trump, claims 5G is a vital tool to lull people into complacency with mind control.

A Q-Anon supporter:

I am in disbelief that these people would risk extinction of the human race for a buck. But remember these people are evil. The power of 5G is scary. It will give them the ability to control all AI they will literally dictate your life, what MEDIA you are exposed to your privacy your health everything. But is 5G worth so much that someone would be willing to murder someone for it. How about hundreds. We know the Evil behind 911 possible to cover up the 200 trillion dollar military fraud meeting at the pentagon #Qanon #TheGreatAwakening @40_head

In reality, 5G is nothing more than an overhyped wireless technology upgrade that can either be slightly faster than existing 4G LTE networks, or considerably faster if adequate wireless spectrum is available for short distance communications. In either case, the energy emitted by traditional cell towers or small cells is infinitesimal compared to much stronger local TV and radio stations. In fact, the fastest 5G networks operate on millimeter wave frequencies that cannot penetrate walls and doors and are capable of reaching only a few blocks away at most.

As people shelter in their homes to avoid spreading the virus, newly available free time apparently triggered a few believers of 5G conspiracy theories. An unknown number took to the streets last weekend to set several cell towers in the United Kingdom on fire.

CNBC reports four Vodafone cell towers were attacked over the weekend, with a video widely circulated on the internet showing another cell tower owned by EE damaged by fire in Birmingham.

“This site served thousands of people in the Birmingham area, providing vital 2G, 3G and 4G connectivity as it has done for many years,” an EE spokesperson told CNBC. “We will try to restore full coverage as quickly as possible, but the damage caused by the fire is significant.”


London radio station LBC talks with a representative from FullFact, a non-profit independent fact-checker, to debunk claims that 5G signals are helping spread the coronavirus. (23:47)

Spectrum Technicians Both Spread COVID-19 and Get Exposed to It By Customers

Phillip Dampier April 2, 2020 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Video No Comments

Improvising hand sanitizer, with a bucket, water, and Dawn dishwashing detergent.

Letting a cable technician into your home may expose you, your family, or the technician to the COVID-19 coronavirus, according to multiple reports of people catching the virus during service calls.

Technicians have complained for weeks about inadequate protection for workers that visit customer homes. Several told Stop the Cap! they lack a steady supply of gloves, face masks, and hand sanitizer, and one noted they were forced to improvise with plastic buckets obtained from Lowe’s filled with dishwasher soap and water.

“Every service call is risky these days,” said Ralph, a Spectrum technician serving a city in Upstate New York. “You have no idea what you will run into. For the first week we honestly were not too concerned because the number of customers testing positive outside of New York City was not too high, but we’ve traded stories about coughing customers and those still in bed (obviously ill) as we work around them in bedrooms.”

Ralph says Spectrum pre-screens customers with questions if they have to set up a service call, but customers are obviously not always being honest.

“If my internet and TV was out and I was stuck at home, I guess I can understand why some people are desperate to get their service fixed,” Ralph told us. “They deduced that if they admitted they were self-quarantined or ill, we wouldn’t send anybody out, so they sometimes lie.”

The company has seen an uptick in service calls as people take advantage of Spectrum’s offer of free internet service for students, which has resulted in a number of new customers.

“One lady coughed repeatedly at me as she tried to move some of her personal property out of the way so I could drill a hole to bring in a cable line,” Ralph said. “She started turning blue and her husband had to help her to a chair. I couldn’t get back to my truck fast enough that morning. I have a wife and three kids and the last thing I need to do is bring this virus back to them.”

Pleas for more personal safety equipment have met with shrugs.

“My supervisor said we are on our own until the company comes through, or we could buy our own supplies,” Ralph said. “The PR from this company is frankly bullshit. We are expected to show up and do the work without complaining. I need the job so I keep my fingers crossed I don’t get the virus.”

Another technician anonymously shared his own experiences on Reddit:

I am a field tech currently going through self quarantine for exposure to COVID-19.

I was in a customer’s home working when they handed me a mask. I asked multiple times if them or anyone in the house was sick as for my safety. They responded “I am healthy” every single time. I needed into the Master Bedroom Closet to look at the smart panel. Customer wouldn’t let me in there. I figured someone was sleeping or it was a mess (happens to us frequently).

I finally said, “I need in there to do the free internet install you ordered, either that or we can reschedule for a time someone can go in there.” It turns out her husband was in quarantine because he wasn’t feeling well for a few weeks. I instantly walked outside and called my supervisor and was told “harm was already done and to finish the job.”

I’ve been home with a 100°F+ fever coughing and wheezing for the past week and [today] got a call stating that the customer called in to inform a confirmed case and to notify the tech (me) about the possible exposure. I was there last Monday and continued to work until that Thursday and have possibly contaminated multiple other families. I haven’t been to work since last Thursday but am told without an official test I have to return Sunday. But also, I am being told by my primary care doctor that they need a fever of over 10 days to request a test.

Spectrum technicians are being offered a weekly $25 restaurant gift card if they agree to brave service calls in customer homes.

“It’s really insulting,” said Ralph. “The bosses who came up with this wouldn’t do it for a gift card and frankly $25 off at Olive Garden isn’t going to do me any good if I am in the ICU or dead.”

In North Carolina, a Spectrum technician may have introduced the virus into a Charlotte family’s home during a service call, with dangerous results.

Emily Beaty’s twins were born 26 weeks premature, so she was extremely concerned about admitting strangers into her home. Unfortunately, her internet service was not working well, and fixing it meant a service call.

Beaty told WSOC-TV she carefully went over the steps Spectrum was taking to protect customers from the coronavirus.

“They were taking this situation very seriously,” Beaty was told. “They were prescreening their employees and all of their employees were healthy,” the Spectrum representative claimed.

The technician spent most of the service call working outside, but stepped inside briefly to test his repairs. Four days later, Spectrum called to inform her the technician had just tested positive for the coronavirus. Now the family is in voluntary quarantine.

“I just don’t feel like they were doing a proper screening,” Beaty told the TV station. “I mean, they sent a tech out to my house that had a cough and not two days later, he is being tested for coronavirus.”

Spectrum responded in a statement:

“We have confirmed that one of our Charlotte-based technicians has tested positive for COVID-19. We immediately contacted the customers recently served by this technician, as well as the technician’s co-workers.

“We learned this technician was not feeling well on March 25 (Wednesday) and sent the technician home immediately. The technician sought medical attention and was subsequently tested. When we confirmed the positive test on March 27 (Friday), we began contacting customers served by this technician and co-workers.

“We are continually communicating and educating our staff on best practices according to the CDC health and safety guidelines, such as proper hygiene and social distancing. We are encouraging all technicians to take their temperature at home before reporting for work. We have made clear, including in a message directly from our chairman and CEO to all employees that any employee who is sick, or who is caring for someone who is sick, should stay home.

If an employee needs to self-quarantine, they will not need to use their paid sick leave, but will continue to be paid and receive full benefits while under quarantine. The company also has given every worker an additional 15 days of COVID-19-related paid time off, and hourly workers who do not use this time during the COVID-19 pandemic will be paid out the remaining unused days at the end of the year.”


WSOC-TV in Charlotte reports on one family that was exposed to the coronavirus by a Spectrum technician during a service call. (3:01)

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