Tag Archives: ATT

Subsidise what we’re already doing, telecoms companies tell CPUC

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Give me the money!

Big telecoms companies don’t want California broadband infrastructure subsidies to go to potential competitors, and they don’t want to be pushed into spending any more capital on upgrades than they’ve already budgeted. AT&T, Frontier Communications and the cable industry’s California lobbying front took a defensive posture in comments regarding broadband development priorities drafted by the California Public Utilities Commission. It was in response to a staff white paper that took a first shot at a quantitative analysis of how to get the greatest benefit out of the roughly $60 million still available for infrastructure grants in the California Advanced Services Fund.

AT&T wants the CPUC to put middle mile projects at the bottom of the list and to turn a blind eye to last mile technology. The former is not surprising, since last mile competition flows from middle mile projects, and competition is the last thing that AT&T wants in rural and inner city markets where it has monopoly control. With that kind of dominance in rural and inner city areas, AT&T plans to rip out copper networks and replace them with wireless systems, which is why it wants the CPUC to look kindly upon that kind of technology. If it loses its monopoly grip, though, competition would severely dent, if not kill, its wireless local loop business model.

Both Frontier and the cable industry’s Sacramento lobbyists also want the CPUC to back away from funding potentially competitive projects, although they express it in terms of avoiding areas where promises have been made to eventually upgrade service or where federal programs will subsidise broadband infrastructure. Substandard broadband service, it should be noted. The 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds allowed under the Federal Communication Commission’s program are below the CPUC’s current minimum, and far less than the FCC’s own 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up standard for advanced service. Which is what the, um, California Advanced Services Fund is supposed to be about.

Rural telephone companies, aka small LECs (local exchange carriers), take a warmer approach to the CASF program overall, and had generally good things to say about the criteria and methodology used in the white paper. Echoing others’ comments, including the response I wrote on behalf of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, the small LECs asked the CPUC to apply any new criteria to future projects, and not toss out the current batch of proposals, most of which have been languishing for more than a year. They urged a more qualitative approach – not surprising since the quantitative, bang-for-the-buck analysis in the draft largely leaves out their sparsely populated service territories.

More low income homes are smartphone-only as homework gap grows

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Barely more than half of U.S. households with incomes less than $30,000 a year have bona fide broadband service, and disproportionately rely exclusively on smart phones for Internet access. A report published by the Pew Research Center shows a growing gap between the quality and quantity of broadband access they have to rely on, and that enjoyed by higher income households, those with $100,000 or more in annual earnings. This disparity impacts their ability to find jobs and get an education…

In 2016, one-fifth of adults living in households earning less than $30,000 a year were “smartphone-only” internet users – meaning they owned a smartphone but did not have broadband internet at home. This represents an increase from 12% in 2013. In contrast, only 4% of those living in households earning $100,000 or more fell into this category in either year…

This reliance on smartphones also means that the less affluent are more likely to use them for tasks traditionally reserved for larger screens. For example, lower-income smartphone owners were especially likely to use their mobile device when seeking out and applying for jobs, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report.

The disparity in online access is also apparent in what has been called the “homework gap,” or the gap between school-age children who have access to high-speed internet at home and those who don’t. Some 5 million school-age children do not have a broadband internet connection at home, with low-income households accounting for a disproportionate share.

It’s worth keeping in mind as incumbent telcos that are also mobile carriers – here in California, that would be AT&T – dispatch lobbyists to talk up wireless plans while scheming to yank out wireline service in rural and inner city communities. The same communities where lower income Californians can be disproportionately found.

AT&T’s national 911 wireless fail is business as usual

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Consider this your notification.

No one knows yet why AT&T’s mobile phone customers couldn’t connect with 911 centers on Wednesday night. AT&T refuses to explain and the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t know either, saying only that its “public safety professionals are on the case”. The extent of the outage is unknown as well, with reports varying from “nationwide” to “likely thousands. Maybe millions”.

It appears that AT&T let a few public safety agencies know about the outage, but not all and probably not most. And the notifications were cryptic. One simply referred to “a service outage that is impacting the ability to deliver AT&T Mobility wireless 911 calls in your area”.

The outage came as California lawmakers are considering senate bill 566 which would require companies that provide telephone service – cable and VoIP companies as well as telcos – notify the state office of emergency services when 911 connectivity goes down in rural areas. AT&T’s Wednesday night silence in most cases, and dismissive responses in others, is Exhibit A in support of why that bill is necessary.

The outage should also cause concern for any policy maker – California legislators, the California Public Utilities Commission, the FCC, and the list goes on – that has to weigh AT&T’s pious claims of technological prowess and reliability against its headlong rush to rip out wireline networks and replace them with wireless systems that are built on the same platforms that crashed on Wednesday.

Technology fails. At times. That’s been true since the first caveman hit control-alt-delete and rebooted a frozen stone axe. What’s changed is that a shrinking number of companies have increasingly greater monopoly control over telecoms networks that are 1. paid for with taxpayer subsidies and 2. vital to the health and safety of those taxpayers.

AT&T’s deceit is not unique, but few of its peers match its arrogant disdain for customers and its cynical manipulation of the political process.

Competition, and something more, drives Comcast upgrade in Huntsville

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Demand.

Chalk up another win for broadband competition. Comcast announced that it was expanding its next generation – DOCSIS 3.1 – cable modem footprint to Huntsville, Alabama, and would be offering gigabit-level service to at least some customers. Details on service locations, roll out schedule and prices were lacking, though.

What clearly isn’t lacking is a competitive threat. Huntsville’s publicly owned electric utility is in the process of building a fiber to the home network that will be operated by Google Fiber and offer gigabit service at about half the price that Comcast charges in the four cities where it’s already offering it. Those cities include Nashville and Atlanta, where Google Fiber is also deploying fiber to at least some neighborhoods, Chicago, where Google-affiliate Webpass is present, and Detroit, which has neither.

Comcast similarly responded to plans in Santa Cruz to build a municipally-backed FTTH system by upgrading its plant.

AT&T previously announced that it would be offering gigabit service in Huntsville. It, too, has reliably followed Google Fiber’s lead as it prioritises the capital investments it makes in service and infrastructure improvements.

Although Comcast and AT&T are certainly playing defence and trying to prevent competitors from gaining a foothold, there’s also something like a virtuous circle effect going on. Google is – or, at least, was – identifying communities that were favorably disposed towards ultra-fast Internet service and then pumping up enthusiasm even further. For example, according to a story by Lee Roop on Al.com, Google reps spoke at a recent meeting of Huntsville entrepreneurs. One talked up the potential for small businesses and “another Google representative said homeowners can expect a $5,000 increase in their homes’ value if they add fiber optic cable”.

The more enthusiasm and awareness, the greater the market potential for high end broadband service. Competition feeds demand which draws even more competition. That’s how Huntsville is staying on the right side of the digital divide.

5G for fixed service is so ordinary says T-Mobile

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It’s like I said, their view never changes.

There’s a war of words between T-Mobile and its larger competitors, AT&T and Verizon, over using advanced mobile technologies – 5G is the undefined buzz word – as a DSL replacement to provide fixed Internet service to homes and businesses. Neville Ray, T-Mobile’s chief technology officer, says 2017 isn’t the year to get excited about 5G, particularly AT&T’s and Verizon’s version of it

No one’s more excited about this brilliant technology than I am. But it will take several more years for 5G to be meaningful for mobile. The carriers’ current vision for 5G is mind-numbingly limited. 5G’s potential is so much larger than replacing in-home broadband and IoT. But they can’t see beyond their own wallets. AT&T wants to “connect your world” – including your bank account – to AT&T. Verizon’s grand vision is that you Netflix at home with wireless Verizon broadband. How is that game changing?

Of course, with their copper networks, AT&T and Verizon have a different business model and motivation than wireless-only T-Mobile. According to a story in Fierce Wireless by Mike Dano, the two legacy carriers are moving ahead with or without a firm 5G spec…

Both AT&T and Verizon are moving forward with plans to at least test and potentially commercially deploy fixed wireless services that would leverage initial 5G technologies (industry executives expect the 3GPP’s [ the 5G standards body] to finalize the initial standard for fixed 5G in the coming months). Verizon, for example, has already installed 5G equipment for fixed wireless services in more than 10 U.S. cities. However…Verizon may have to upgrade its physical equipment at its sites in the 10 cities in order to ensure that its services work with the 3GPP’s forthcoming 5G standard.

AT&T also has fixed wireless tests in the works, including its so called wireless local loop technology that it plans to use as a replacement for wireline service in rural California.

Haven’t seen the facts about AT&T, Time Warner merger, Trump says

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Translation: never mind.

Donald Trump is backing off from his stated opposition to the AT&T – Time Warner transaction. According to the Axios blog, Trump said in an interview

“I have been on the record in the past of saying it’s too big and we have to keep competition. So, but other than that, I haven’t, you know, I haven’t seen any of the facts, yet. I’m sure that will be presented to me and to the people within government.”

Wall Street’s optimism about a kinder attitude toward big mergers in Washington, DC appears to be a safer bet.

Yuge telecoms companies expect to get yuger

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Big money is leaning in the direction of a permissive, rather than populist, Trump presidency, at least when it comes to big telecoms mergers. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson met with Trump last week. Although both AT&T and Trump’s team insist that the pending acquisition of Time Warner wasn’t discussed, Stephenson continues to project optimism that federal regulators – the justice department’s anti-trust unit and, possibly, the Federal Communications Commission – will allow it to go forward. That’s despite Trump’s initial – and probably knee jerk – public opposition to it.

Now comes word that Verizon wants to buy Comcast or Charter. That’s a much different beast. According to a story in the New York Post, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam is on the prowl for a big cable company

The CEO told friends at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month that he wants to buy into cable, one source said.

“They need it for 5G,” said a second source, confirming McAdam’s interest.

The most likely targets would be “Charter or Comcast,” the source noted.

“Altice is too small,” the source speculated.

To be sure, Verizon is not in talks with any cable company and may not ever make such a move.

A vertical integration play, like AT&T and Time Warner, is one thing. The Obama administration allowed Comcast to vertically integrate with its acquisition of NBC-Universal. But up until now, there’s been a limit on large scale horizontal combinations – Comcast wasn’t allowed to buy Time Warner Cable (although Charter, a smaller company, was) and neither Sprint nor AT&T gained permission to hook up with T-Mobile.

In addition to the Verizon rumor, there’s renewed speculation about another try at a T-Mobile and Sprint combo, or maybe even a three-way Comcast-Charter-Cox takeover of T-Mobile. The mere fact that the possibility is taken seriously says that Wall Street analysts and big company CEOs – arguably the people who know Trump best – see him as the deal maker he’s always been rather than the anti-establishment candidate he became.

Update: Trump is backing off from his stated opposition to the AT&T-Time Warner transaction. According to the Axios blog, Trump said in an interview

“I have been on the record in the past of saying it’s too big and we have to keep competition. So, but other than that, I haven’t, you know, I haven’t seen any of the facts, yet. I’m sure that will be presented to me and to the people within government.”

A smartphone is a poor, and the poor’s, choice for broadband

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If a smartphone was the killer Internet access solution that AT&T claims it is – usually when trying to divert attention from substandard or even non-existent wireline service in rural and inner city communities – then you’d expect to see something like an even spread of usage cases across demographic groups.

The Pew Foundation’s latest research shows that is clearly not the case.

Overall, 12% of U.S. adults own a smartphone, but do not otherwise use the Internet at home. A deeper dive into those numbers indicates, though, it’s not a matter of style or choice. Only 5% of high earners rely solely on a smartphone, while 21% of those in the lowest income bracket – less than $30,000 a year – do.

The gap is even bigger when education is factored in. Again, 5% of highly educated adults are smartphone-only, versus 27% of those without a high school diploma.

There is also stratification by age and race. Blacks (15%) are more likely than whites (9%) to be smartphone reliant, and latinos even more so (23%). Pew didn’t provide cross tabs, but I’ll speculate that if the numbers were broken out by income and education levels, those would be the significant factors.

The age spread is less, but still significant. Adults under 30 years old come in at 17%, while 7% of those 65 and up are in the smartphone-only category. Again, income and education levels are likely more determinative, but the basic gating question – does a person use the Internet or not? – is probably the main explanation for the gap. There’s a big age divide between those two age groups when it comes to Internet adoption – at home or on a smartphone – 99% versus 64%.

There’s no gender difference in smartphone-only rates – men and women are both at the overall average of 12%. There’s also no significant difference between urban and suburban (both 12%) and rural (14%) areas, although differences in availability were not factored into Pew’s numbers.

Some U.S. adults probably do rely solely on smartphones as a matter of choice, but the income and education gaps indicate that necessity – a simple lack of economic choice – is the real driver.

AT&T waves a weed whacker at FCC staff

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Which side of the dirt do you want to be on?

Mommy might have said no, but daddy is going to whack your weeds. That’s the message AT&T delivered to Federal Communications Commission staff who had challenged the legality of allowing customers who buy a package of DirecTv programming to watch it without incurring data charges or burning through data caps. The practice is called zero rating and it was left in a regulatory grey area by the FCC’s 2015 decision to classify Internet access as a common carrier service.

You can read the letter the FCC sent to AT&T here, and AT&T’s reply here. FCC staff aren’t exactly saying the practice is illegal, but that’s where they’re clearly heading, saying that AT&T is exploiting its control of the network to create barriers to video competitors, who would be forced to pay a “sponsored data” charge to get the same treatment…

As consumers increasingly use mobile video services – a process which the practice of zero-rating mobile video usage will accelerate – these Sponsored Data charges could reasonably be expected to increase even more. By contrast, AT&T incurs no comparable cost to offer its own DIRECTV Now service on a zero-rated basis. If we understand these facts correctly, AT&T seems to present the unaffiliated provider with a choice that is unreasonable on its face: either pay a Sponsored Data rate (resulting in a $16-$47 per month – or higher – incremental cash cost not incurred by AT&T) that would make it very difficult, if not infeasible, to offer a competitively-priced service, or instead require its customers to pay significant amounts for their own usage of data while AT&T’s zero-rated DIRECTV Now service offers customers the same usage for free.

AT&T’s reply makes a perfunctory attempt to pick apart those arguments, and then finishes by saying it’s the FCC that’s breaking the law and then playing the, well, trump card…

Any doubts on that score were put to rest when two FCC Commissioners, both of whom will remain in office after the imminent change of administration, criticized this investigation and warned the Bureau against unlawfully usurping core policymaking powers that only the Commission may exercise. Those Commissioners also observed that whatever judgment the Bureau purports to pass on this program before January 20 will very likely be reversed shortly thereafter. Their remarks confirm that the Bureau lacks delegated authority to pull the plug on Data Free TV and disrupt service to the millions of customers who now enjoy that feature.

We trust that the Bureau will acknowledge that point and await further action by the Commission itself.

There’s a fair debate to be had about whether and to what extent zero rating and sponsored data plans violate the common carrier rules that now apply to AT&T mobile data service. But it’s clear that AT&T has no interest in participating in that discussion because it expects the Trump administration will appoint a biddable FCC that will “fire up the weed whacker” on rules it doesn’t like.

Like it or not, that looks like a safe bet.

AT&T in no hurry to fix problems ahead of CPUC vote on tougher outage rules

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Carrier of last resort.

Later this morning, the California Public Utilities Commission, in its last regular meeting of the year, is scheduled to considered tightening the rules on what and when telephone companies have to report information about service outages. The proposed decision by commissioner Catherine Sandoval would also clamp down on the occasional practice by telephone and cable companies of attaching lines to trees in rural areas, rather than installing utility poles.

I’ve already written a couple of posts about the proposed decision, the result of an investigation into problems that rural residents have with completing calls and otherwise receiving phone service. You can read the overview here, and if you’re interested in some specifics regarding AT&T, you can find that post here.

Sandoval published a revised version of the decision late yesterday afternoon, and it contains no major surprises or changes. In the no surprise category was an observation that phone companies still don’t get it…

We are concerned that after publication of the Proposed Decision customers in Mendocino County, the Big Sur area, and other parts of California still report difficulty obtaining prompt repair to out‐of‐service or very poor line complaints, and in some cases report resistance by a [carrier of last resort] to providing basic telephone service when requested. We remind carriers of their duty under California law to carry and complete calls, to provide safe, reliable service at just and reasonable rates, to maintain high quality service throughout California, not to maintain unreasonable differences in services or facilities between localities or classes of service, and to provide access to 9‐1‐1 service, among other duties.

In case you’re keeping score, Big Sur is served by AT&T, as are the Mendocino County customers who reported continuing problems.

This morning’s meeting might be the last time the current five commissioners will all meet together. Sandoval’s term and that of fellow commissioner Mike Florio expire at the end of the year, and governor Brown has not announced whether he will reappoint them. If you have an opinion on the subject, a note to the governor would not go amiss.

Revised draft (14 December 2016) of commissioner Sandoval’s proposed decision investigating rural call completion issues.

Redlined version of the revised draft (15 December 2016), if you just want see what’s new.