Tag Archives: ATT

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.

DSL service hammered in FCC report

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Cable modem service is reliable and fast, and getting faster, but DSL service offered by telcos isn’t. That’s the top line conclusion of the Federal Communications Commission’s 2016 annual report on fixed broadband service across the U.S…

When DSL is used to provide broadband service, the maximum advertised download speeds among the most popular service tiers has increased only slightly since 2011. In contrast, for cable services, the maximum advertised download speeds among the most popular service tiers have increased from 12-30 Mbps in March 2011 to 100-300 Mbps in September 2015.

The increase in cable’s advertised speed is attributed to upgrades from DOCSIS 2 to DOCSIS 3 technology. Cable is also better at delivering advertised speeds…

For subscribers to DSL-based broadband service, the increase in median download speeds has varied among ISPs, with most ISPs showing little or no change. For subscribers to each of the participating cable broadband services, there have been fairly steady and substantial increases in median download speeds…The actual speeds experienced by most ISPs’ subscribers are close to or exceed the advertised speeds. However, DSL broadband ISPs continue to advertise “up-to” speeds that on average exceed the actual speeds experienced by their subscribers.

When consistency of performance is factored in, the difference between DSL and cable modem service is even starker. The chart above shows the difference between advertised speeds and what a user can expect can expect to get consistently (i.e. what 80% of the users tested experienced 80% of the time during peak periods). The actual, consistent speed delivered by most telcos is less than half the advertised speed.

The exceptions are Windstream, which is right around 50% and AT&T’s Uverse service, which delivers advertised speeds consistently about 70% of the time. But AT&T’s legacy DSL is the worst of them all, with actual speed only 35% of advertised. AT&T lobbied the FCC to report those two types of service separately. If AT&T’s overall performance was averaged, it would be in the same range as the rest.

The report also notes falling performance figures for satellite Internet service, which it attributes to increased congestion as more users jump on to limited capacity satellites, and relatively flat results for fiber-based service.

2016 Measuring Broadband America Fixed Broadband Report, a Report on Consumer Fixed Broadband Performance in the United States, Federal Communications Commission, 1 December 2016

AT&T blows off rural Californians, because it can

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Attitude is everything.

Telecoms service and infrastructure in rural California is deteriorating, according to a draft of findings and remedies resulting from a California Public Utilities Commission investigation led by commissioner Catherine Sandoval. Wireline service outages and other problems aren’t being repaired and customers are told that the fix will come from future “technological transitions” – a euphemism for we’ll get back to you after we’ve ripped out the copper and replaced it with wireless.

Much of the trouble seems to lead back to AT&T, which is not surprising or even particularly significant in and of itself, since it’s California’s dominant telco. But the data compiled in the investigation shows a pattern of rural neglect on AT&T’s part, and the company showed little interest in addressing problems or even cooperating with the CPUC’s efforts to find out what’s going on.

The contrast in corporate attitudes between AT&T and Frontier Communications, which took over operation of Verizon’s wireline systems in California in April, could not be clearer. Several public hearings were held in the course of the investigation, and I attended the one in Santa Cruz. Frontier’s northern California management team was there in force, while AT&T sent a local staff lobbyist who, as the draft decision describes, seemed, well, confused…

At the Santa Cruz [public participation hearing] AT&T, California’s representative alleged that the 211 call from the Hoopa Tribe’s [Temporary Assistance from Needy Families] office did not go through because she asserted that those calls came from Trinity County which does not currently have 211.” Tressa Bader, Vice President for Frontier, in Northern California clarified that the Hoopa Tribe and their TANF Office are Frontier customers located in Humboldt County.

There’s not a lot the CPUC or anyone else can do about AT&T’s attitude. The draft decision proposes few remedies beyond beefing up data collection from carriers and consumers. It has yet to be adopted by the commission, and there’s reason to wonder if will be: the CPUC rejected tougher reporting and repair standards in August, and instead voted to allow telcos to, in effect, fine themselves for violations and keep the money.

Spectrum is weak link in AT&T’s copper retirement plan

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Download while you can, that line of sight won’t go so far in spring.

Slowly, we’re learning more about AT&T’s plans to abandon wireline broadband service in rural areas of California, and replace it with what it calls wireless local loop. AT&T has been presenting its WLL roadshow to boards of supervisors around northern California, but the content is misleading – skipping the part about ending copper service, for example – and at times, completely false – federal Connect America Fund subsidies are not limited to wireless service, and may just as easily be spent on fiber.

Rob Osborne, a senior analyst with the California Public Utilities Commission, has been taking a look at AT&T’s plans in his excellent blog. One of the aspects he focuses on is AT&T’s choice of 2.3 GHz spectrum for WLL service, and reserving more robust frequencies, such as the 700 MHz band, for mobile purposes

There are solid engineering arguments why 700 MHz is more valuable than 2,300 MHz for delivering wireless broadband to homes. I’ll address only the line of sight argument. The larger-wavelength 700 MHz frequency penetrates buildings and foliage better than the shorter-wavelength 2,300 MHz frequency. For 2,300 MHz service to reliably deliver broadband, there needs to be line of sight, meaning you can physically see, without obstruction, between cell tower antenna and customer antenna. Without line of sight, service will be less reliable than with 700 MHz. Many parts of rural California are mountainous and have trees, which makes line of sight broadband difficult and expensive to deploy.

In terms of performance, 2.3 GHz is pretty much the same as the 2.4 GHz band used for WiFi. AT&T plans to install outdoor antennas and receivers at customers’ homes, which are absolutely necessary in order to get through walls that block those frequencies. But foliage, particularly when it’s as dense as it is in the mountain areas of California, can stop it just as cold.

In theory, to qualify for the federal money, AT&T has to reliably serve virtually all the homes in the subsidised areas with 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. One thing to watch for: the time of year AT&T does its testing. What’s fine at 2.3 GHz in the dead, grey winter won’t necessarily work when summer comes and everything turns to green.