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AT&T's 1 Gbps Hitting Some Parts of Dallas 'This Summer' -

Thu, 24 Jul 2014 16:00:53 EDT

Back in March AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson insisted that AT&T's 1 Gbps "Gigapower" service would arrive in Dallas sometime this summer, but like much of the company's 1 Gbps deployment, specifics (deployment areas, total cost, number of users) was left ambiguous. Today AT&T got a little more specific, stating the company would be offering the ultra-fast service in "Dallas, Fort Worth, and surrounding cities" before the summer is out.

According to the announcement, Highland Park and University Park in the Dallas area will be the first to see 1 Gbps. After that, details of how many AT&T U-Verse users will actually get 1 Gbps speeds remains murky. AT&T indicates many areas in Dallas will see 100 Mbps initially (no mention of upstream speed), with 1 Gbps a potential down the road:

Other parts of Dallas and surrounding cities will launch this summer at up to 100 Mbps, and customers will be eligible to upgrade to speeds of up to 1 Gbps by the end of 2014. Surrounding cities launching at up to 100 Mbps will include Allen, Fairview, Irving, and McKinney. In Fort Worth, initial deployment will launch at up to 100 Mbps, and customers will be eligible to upgrade to speeds of up to 1 Gbps by the end of 2014. Additional cities around Fort Worth where up to 100 Mbps will also launch this summer include Arlington, Euless, Granbury, North Richland Hills, Weatherford, and Willow Park.
AT&T has repeatedly made clear Gigapower is primarily focused on targeting higher-end developments, and that the deployments won't meaningfully impact the company's CAPEX (read: most AT&T users will never see 1 Gbps). AT&T certainly doesn't want people in their hometown of Dallas thinking that they are being outperformed in their core business by a search engine company (aka Google Fiber).
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It's Put Up or Shut Up Time For FCC On Community Broadband -

Thu, 24 Jul 2014 15:11:16 EDT

New FCC boss Tom Wheeler has now stated several times he's going to take aim at incumbent-ISP state laws that ban or prohibit towns and cities from deploying their own broadband -- even in cases where nobody else will. Chattanooga utility EPB broadband is ready for Wheeler to actually start following through with this promise any day now, and is giving the FCC boss the opportunity to show his rhetoric on the subject isn't empty.

The city utility wants to expand their successful 1 Gbps municipal broadband service to additional users, but finds themselves running up against protectionist Tennessee laws literally written and purchased by the likes of Comcast. This week EPB formally filed a request with the FCC (pdf) urging them to overturn a portion of Tennessee's law, one of twenty such laws nationwide.

Under said law, EPB is allowed to offer voice service anywhere in the State, but the law prohibits the company from using those very-same lines to offer broadband outside of their current electrical area. That restriction obviously only really benefits Comcast, who tried to sue the project out of existence before turning to the state legislative process.

The group, via lawyer Jim Baller (who I've talked to about this issue many times over the last decade), argues that the FCC's mandate is to ensure the deployment of broadband "in a reasonable timely basis," and as such they can and should declare the restrictive portion of the law unenforceable:

EPB petitions the Commission to find that advanced telecommunications capabilities, including high-speed broadband services, are not being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis in communities near EPB s electric service area because of the territorial restriction in Section 601 that limits EPB s deployment of Internet and video programming to its electric service area. The Commission should find that, absent Section 601 s electric service area limitation, broadband investment would occur on a reasonable and timely basis in the areas surrounding EPB s current footprint. The Commission should therefore take immediate action to remove the barrier created by the territorial restriction contained in Section 601 and declare it to be unenforceable.
Comcast and AT&T have quickly moved to stop the FCC's potential assault on their protectionist laws via both lawsuit threats via proxy groups, and via politicians like Martha Blackburn, who, after receiving campaign contributions from PACs tied to both companies -- has passed a bill in the House threatening to strip FCC funding if the agency dares to act. It's not a fight that would be easy, but it's a fight the FCC should win -- and it's a long-overdue fight that must be had if we're to finally start taking broadband competition problems seriously.

As with consumer advocate requests that ISPs be reclassified as utilities as a solution to neutrality concerns, this is another area where Wheeler can prove he's either thrown aside his long-history of industry lobbying and is ready to fight for consumers, or is just another in a very long line of FCC bosses too timid to meaningfully challenge deep-pocketed campaign contributors and the status quo.

Update: The city of Wilson, North Carolina has filed their own request for the FCC (pdf) calling for FCC action against a similar bill bought and paid for by Time Warner Cable in that state.
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ISP Group Threatens Suit if FCC Thwarts Protectionist State Laws -

Thu, 24 Jul 2014 13:37:08 EDT

Insisting they're interested in protecting states rights, the rather official-sounding "National Conference of State Legislatures" this week sent a letter (pdf) to the FCC, saying it intends to file a lawsuit if the agency acts to pre-empt state bans on community broadband builds.

FCC boss Tom Wheeler has lately proclaimed several times he intends to take actions against such bans, which are usually written and lobbied for by incumbent ISPs, eager to thwart the faster, cheaper services such networks can provide.

These bills are the very worst sort of protectionist legislation -- legislation that strips away the right from citizens to make infrastructure and investment decisions for themselves. While it remains wholly unclear how Wheeler would do it (or if he's just paying empty lip service to the idea), eliminating them would give the power back to the states -- something that should technically appeal to those with Conservative values.

Still, politicians flush with cash from the likes of AT&T and Comcast (like Martha Blackburn) have rushed to the defense of these bills, pretending to be breathlessly protecting state rights. Blackburn recently successfully passed a bill in the House that would strip FCC funding if they take any action against these state measures.

As for the NCSL, they too insist the group is solely interested in states rights.

"As you consider your course of action on this matter, we encourage you to heed the principles of federalism and caution you of the numerous decisions by the United States Supreme Court with regard to the relationship between the state and its political subdivisions," states the group. "Such an attempt disregards the countless hours of deliberation and votes cast by locally elected lawmakers across the country and supplants it with the impulses of a fivemember appointed body in Washington, DC."

Granted if you look at the NCSL's sponsor list, you'll notice some very familiar names including AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable -- all of which were responsible for writing the very protectionist laws the NCSL is trying to protect on behalf of "states rights."
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Sorry Verizon, The Deaf Support Title II ISP Reclassification -

Thu, 24 Jul 2014 11:26:47 EDT

A few months ago I noted how Verizon had been claiming that we shouldn't have tough consumer net neutrality protections -- because they could harm deaf people and the disabled. To hear Verizon tell it, banning the creation of "fast lanes" would in turn harm services for the deaf and disabled, though as I noted at the time this was quite the straw man and red herring (straw herring?) that even the disabled didn't agree with.

Now Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica directs your attention to the fact that some additional deaf and disabled groups have responded to Verizon's recent claims, and they're not particularly impressed with Verizon's use of their disability as a revenue-protection tool. In comments filed with the FCC, a number of deaf advocacy groups like the National Association of the Deaf make their positions clear:

"We also take this opportunity to express our concern over the reported contentions of at least one broadband provider that the Commission should facilitate 'fast lanes' essentially permitting paid prioritization for the sake of accessibility. While we strongly believe that Internet-based services and applications must be made accessible, we also believe that doing so is possible on an open network and without the need for broadband providers to specifically identify traffic from accessibility applications and separate it out for special treatment."
Not only do the deaf groups disagree with Verizon's bogus contention that Verizon's fighting net neutrality on their behalf, groups ranging from the National Association of the Deaf ranging to the American Association of People with Disabilities also strongly support the reclassification of ISPS as utilities under the Communications Act, something Verizon and other large ISPs have vehemently opposed.
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Usage Caps, 'Next' Upgrade Program The New AT&T Cash Cows -

Thu, 24 Jul 2014 08:30:14 EDT

AT&T has released the company's second quarter earnings report, indicating the company posted a net profit of $3.55 billion on revenues of $32.6 billion. The company added 1 million net postpaid subscribers on the quarter, most of them being smartphone subscribers.

Not too surprisingly, wireless data surcharges continue to drive overall revenues. 56% of AT&T's customers are now on the company's Mobile Share plans, slightly off from a study this week comparing how "well" carriers have driven away grandfathered unlimited users (Verizon leads the industry, despite some very aggressive tactics against these users on AT&T's part).

Wireless carriers desperately wanted replacements for the cash cows that are voice minutes and SMS rates, and they appear to have found them in the form of early-upgrade device financing programs, and significant data caps and overages.

AT&T, like other companies, notes that subscribers are quickly moving away from subsidized devices and toward device financing -- even if the latter may wind up costing users more in some instances. AT&T says the company had 3.1 million AT&T smartphone sales via their "Next" frequent upgrade program in the second quarter, and that Next sales accounted for around 50% of all smartphone sales on the quarter.

While T-Mobile's doing some impressive things in the industry in turns of consumer benefits, neither AT&T or Verizon are seriously feeling T-Mobile's competitive impact, no matter how much press attention John Legere receives for his rebellious caricature. According to AT&T, they're operating with a 0.86% churn (customer defection) rate, which is now even better than Verizon Wireless' industry-leading 0.94%.

People historically claim to dislike the dynamic duopolistic duo, but they don't seem to be voting that sentiment via their wallet.
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Want to Try the EFF's New Open Source Router Firmware? -

Thu, 24 Jul 2014 08:29:49 EDT

As I noted last month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been cooking up a new open-source firmware that the group claims will make it easier for users to more securely share their Wi-Fi connection. The EFF's new firmware is now available for download, though the group warns the firmware (based on the CeroWRT fork of OpenWRT) is a "work in progress and is intended only for developers and people willing to deal with the bleeding edge." If any of our numerous bleeding edge readers are willing to experiment with the firmware, we'd love to pay you to share your thoughts with the DSLReports community.
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Verizon's New 'Free' FiOS Speed Upgrades Not so Free For Some -

Wed, 23 Jul 2014 17:45:17 EDT

Billing glitches for Verizon's new "free" symmetrical FiOS upgrades are resulting in rate hikes for some users. Verizon recently announced that the company would be bumping FiOS upstream speeds so they match the company's downstream speeds, effectively making all FiOS tiers symmetrical.

Even though FiOS prices have jumped significantly in recent years, Verizon's move is a significant competitive jab at cable operators, who have lagged in delivering faster upstream speeds despite their recent round of DOCSIS 3.0 upgrades.

While the upstream speed boost is absolutely and undeniably welcome, users in our FiOS forum are noticing a few abnormalities in Verizon's billing process at sign up. While the upgrade is supposed to be free, a number of users have noted that signing up for the faster speeds has bumped their broadband bill, or has involved Verizon pushing them back onto long-term contracts. Notes one user:

I got my "free" speed upgrade by joining the rewards program yesterday. As I always do, I went online this morning to check my account for any changes. To my dismay, I find that my bundle price increased $10. I immediately contacted Verizon and was told my One Bill discount "somehow" dropped off my account. The rep sent the info onto their "offline" team for remediation and denoted my account. I'll keep my fingers crossed as to whether Verizon will keep to their word of fixing everything. If my next bill is incorrect, I will have to call back to get a manual discount applied -- a royal pain in the a$$.
States another:
Having 75/35, I just got off the phone with a CSR, who put through the upgrade, and assured me the price would remain the same. Not being satisfied, I kept grilling him, and as he dug deeper, he found my taxes increased by about $5, so I backed off.
Here's another:
I renewed my triple play (with symmetrical speeds) & was suppose to stay at $159.99, then saw $179.99 on my estimated 1st bill. This morning went into my verizon to see my services since order was to complete today and now it shows $198.99. Thankfully the rep is suppose to call me to go over my bill when it comes in the next few weeks, but I was ready to call when I saw the price jump yet again.
Accurate billing has never really been Verizon's forte, so this may be more incompetence and early billing glitches than malice (I've fired off an inquiry to Verizon). Just be aware that Verizon may erroneously bill you when you try to nab these new upgrades -- and you should try to get a rep to promise your price stays the same in writing if possible. I'll note many users don't appear to be seeing rate hikes, and in some instances have negotiated lower rates.

Update: Verizon had this to say about the higher rates some users are seeing:
When we say free, we mean free. This is an error in the system that is being corrected. We apologize to the customers who have experienced this problem but we will correct it and these customers will remain (at their current price points).

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Why You Can't Take the FCC's ISP Transparency Pledge Seriously - They've Let ISPs Abuse Below-The-Line Fees for a Decade

Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:15:22 EDT

While Verizon's legal victory over the FCC did gut the agency's net neutrality rules, it kept some of the FCC's authority over ISPs intact -- specifically the agency's transparency rules -- which require that ISPs be straightforward about the "network management practices, performance, and commercial terms" of their broadband services.

In a statement issued today, the FCC "reminded" wireline and wireless ISPs alike that those rules are still intact and need to be adhered to, lest the agency lightly slap a wrist or two -- maybe.

"Consumers deserve to get the broadband service they pay for," FCC boss Tom Wheeler said in a statement. "After today, no broadband provider can claim they didn t know we were watching to see that they disclose accurate information about the services they provide."

"We expect providers to be fully transparent about the details of their services, and we will hold them accountable if they fall down on this obligation to consumers," continues Wheeler.

Will they? The transparency rules Wheeler mentions are also supposed to govern pricing, requiring that ISPs are transparent about monthly pricing and various fees tacked on to user broadband bills.

Yet as I've noted numerous times over the last decade, ISPs consistently are allowed to bury all manner of nonsensical fees below the line, allowing them to covertly jack up consumer broadband bills while leaving the advertised price the same. This is technically false advertising, but I've never seen the FCC (or any other regulator) seriously address the practice.

The practice not only fools consumers into paying more for service, it skews telecom policy debate and discussion. Most international and domestic price analysis comparisons use the advertised price. The United States already has some of the most expensive broadband in the world (OECD data); imagine how we rank were one to include fees?

These days of course there's numerous activation, installation, router and modem rental fees, fees for paying your bill in person, fees for paying your bill via credit card over the phone, etc. These fees, usually communicated "transparently" via mouseprint, are all used to jack up the already-high price of US broadband and television services, but at least some of them are tied to actual costs incurred by the ISP. There's numerous other fees charged that involve companies doing absolutely nothing, and exist solely to pad the advertised price post sale.

CenturyLink, for example, charges millions of its users a $1 Internet Cost Recovery Fee and a $1-2 Non Telecom Surcharge that involve the company doing absolutely nothing.

For years, ISPs have also charged users "regulatory cost recovery fees," claiming these non-government mandated fees offset the cost of ambiguous, unspecified regulation (you're to ignore the fact the telecom industry has been massively deregulated over the last decade).

Most cable operators have also started charging something called a "broadcast TV surcharge" to counter soaring retransmission increases, despite the fact users are already supposed to be paying for programming hikes as part of their already-skyrocketing overall TV bill. Verizon covertly jacks up the price of voice service via an "FDV Administrative Charge" to bury programming hikes below the line and keep advertised rates the same. AT&T takes things even further, charging U-Verse users two completely different fees for this same purpose.

Is letting these kinds of fees continue for a decade the kind of tough enforcement the FCC and Tom Wheeler are talking about? Before anybody can take FCC threats of tough transparency enforcement seriously, they'll need to address the fact they've let ISPs engage in aggressive false advertising on price for almost as long as broadband and television have existed.

Want things to change sometime over the next decade? Tell the FCC you consider sneaky fees to be false advertising.
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AARP Attacks Verizon's NJ Removal of DSL, Landlines -

Wed, 23 Jul 2014 11:44:14 EDT

Verizon has been taking a hammering of late for their decision to tell Sandy victims, a year after the storm, that they will never see their POTS and DSL lines repaired. Instead, Verizon foisted a wireless service called Voice Link upon those customers, a service that didn't include data, suffered from numerous feature shortcomings, and generally wasn't much of a replacement for DSL and POTS whatsoever.

In New York, Verizon received a wrist slap from New York's PSC and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for hanging up on storm victims and in the process violating an order by the PSC. In New Jersey, the AARP is trying to impose a one year ban on Verizon doing the same thing in some Sandy-hit neighborhoods:

AARP New Jersey has been seeking to block the change, arguing that the wireless phone option doesn't work with many medical monitoring devices, security devices or sometimes even 911. It supports a bill that would impose a one-year moratorium on the replacement of copper networks and require the Board of Public Utilities to study the issue.

Its chief utilities advocate, Ken Lindhorst, said the company must provide basic telephone service because it inherited the phone infrastructure originally built in the state in the 1930s and can't make a switch to Voice Link without approval from the Board of Public Utilities.

"The question before our public officials is: Are we going to operate in New Jersey under the rule of law or under Verizon's rules?" Lindhorst said.
Generally speaking, most states tend to follow Verizon's rules. That was demonstrated rather clearly recently in New Jersey when Verizon was allowed to simply walk away from an agreement that gave them millions in subsidies and tax breaks in exchange for even deployment of 45 Mbps fiber broadband.

The deployment never happened, mirroring similar slight of hand Verizon successfully conducted in Pennsylvania years earlier. Now Verizon's looking to walk away from DSL and POTS customers using infrastructure Verizon was paid billions in subsidies to build and maintain, and only a handful of politicians seem concerned in the slightest.
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Verizon The Most Successful At Purging Unlimited Data Users -

Wed, 23 Jul 2014 09:25:56 EDT

It's no mystery that wireless carriers have pushed hard to get users on metered data plans, hoping to raise data revenues as the SMS and voice minute cash cows head out to pasture. After introducing shared data plans carriers grandfathered unlimited usage users, but have used every trick in the book to get those users to switch to metered options.

Want a subsidized handset? You're no longer grandfathered. Want Internet video apps to actually work? You're off unlimited. Interested in moving? Want to use AT&T's insurance plans? You're off unlimited.

Carriers have had varying luck in getting users to migrate to shared data, but according to a new study by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, despite AT&T's specifically aggressive war on unlimited data, it's Verizon that has been the most successful at both getting customers to sign up for shared data plans -- and getting them to pay more money on general.

According to the CIRP report, just 22% of Verizon users remain on grandfathered unlimited plans, compared to 44% for AT&T and 78% for both Sprint and T-Mobile (who both advertise unlimited as a differentiator). Verizon also leads at getting users to pay more: 51% of Verizon Wireless customers paying the company at least $100 per month, compared to 47% at Sprint, 46% at AT&T, and 33% at T-Mobile.
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Comcast Deploying 20,000 X1 Set Tops Per Day -

Wed, 23 Jul 2014 09:25:22 EDT

The inventory issues that plagued Comcast's deployment of their newish X1 set top box late last year are a thing of the past, and the company is speeding up deployment of the more sophisticated set top. Our X1 additions nearly doubled this quarter, and we are looking again at further increasing the eligibility, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said on this weeks earnings call with analysts and the media. Comcast has long offered the set top to triple play customers, and recently started offering it to double play customers.
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Tablets on Shared Data Plans Fuel Verizon's 2Q Earnings -

Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:24:36 EDT

Verizon's second quarter earnings once again topped Wall Street expectations as the company posted a net income of $4.32 billion on revenues of $31.48 billion. The company added 1.4 million postpaid wireless connections on the quarter, most of which were tablet customers taking advantage of the company's shared data plans. The addition of 304,000 net new cell phone subscribers helped the company rebound from a sluggish first quarter that saw significantly slower postpaid phone and prepaid customer additions.

While more savvy users might be content simply buying a Wi-Fi only tablet then tethering it to a Wi-Fi cellphone, Verizon seems to be having great success getting users to buy LTE tablets that get added to their shared data plans. That requires an additional $10 tablet network connection fee, and Verizon clearly wants those users to then drive up their monthly usage allotment.

"Verizon s second-quarter results continue to demonstrate our ability to deliver strong customer growth, with equally strong financial performance, in a dynamic and competitive environment," Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam said in a statement, hinting at added competition from T-Mobile.

Aside from a few cosmetic offers on larger data allotments, Verizon has yet to seriously compete with T-Mobile on price. So far, they really haven't had to; Verizon continues to market themselves as a premium option with better customer support and superior network reach and performance.

On the wired side Verizon continues to (quite intentionally) bleed unwanted DSL customers, while adding 139,000 net new Fios Internet customers and 100,000 net new Fios video customers on the quarter.
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