Fixed, mobile North American broadband speeds will more than double by 2023, Cisco study says

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Cisco forecast 2018 2023

More and more people around the world will have access to faster and faster broadband connections, with speeds for fixed and mobile service doubling and tripling by 2023, due in large part to increased global deployment of fiber to the premise and 5G technology, according to a white paper recently published by Cisco. Although North America will continue to beat world broadband speed averages, the U.S. will not be among the leaders in advanced infrastructure deployment.

Cisco’s research indicates that the average North American mobile broadband connection in 2018 ran at 22 Mbps, and that will nearly triple to 58 Mbps by 2023. 5G networks will own a large share of that increase, but the U.S. won’t earn a podium spot…

The top three 5G countries in terms of percent of devices and connections share on 5G will be China (20.7%), Japan (20.6%), and United Kingdom (19.5%), by 2023.

Globally, fixed broadband speeds will also jump, particularly in countries that, unlike the U.S., are focused on making fiber infrastructure ubiquitous…

The global average broadband speed continues to grow and will more than double from 2018 to 2023, from 45.9 Mbps to 110.4 Mbps…Several factors influence the fixed broadband-speed forecast, including the deployment and adoption of Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH), high-speed DSL, and cable broadband adoption, as well as overall broadband penetration. Among the countries covered by this study, Japan, South Korea, and Sweden lead in terms of broadband speed largely because of their wide deployment of FTTH.

North America’s average fixed broadband download speed will be comfortably above the global average at 142 Mbps by 2023, according to the white paper. That only earns us second place on the world league table, though. Asia will still be tops at 157 Mbps, and higher growth rates – 30% annually or better – in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa mean that the gap between U.S. broadband speeds and those in the developing world will continue to close.

Cable companies promote free Internet access for locked down Californians, telcos not so much

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Home alone

Update, 19 March 2020: AT&T announced today that the first two months of its Internet package for low income homes – Access from AT&T – is free to new subscribers.

The four major cable companies in California are offering free Internet access for a limited amount of time to low income households during the corona virus emergency, but not the two big telcos.

Charter, Comcast, Cox and Suddenlink seem to have figured out that what amounts to a one or two month promotional offer is a good way to attract new subscribers. Charter’s offer applies to any of their Internet access packages, while the others are limited to their low income-only plans. Unless a customer jumps through the hoops to disconnect, they’ll be billed for ongoing service after the free period ends.

AT&T and Frontier have discounted packages for qualifying low income households, but no free offer. A summary of the offers and contact information is below.

All six companies have also signed on to the Federal Communications Commission’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge, which calls for them to open up their WiFi hotspots to everyone, not disconnect customers who don’t pay and waive late frees.

Local independent Internet service providers are stepping up too. In Santa Cruz County, Cruzio is offering free service for three months to customers who qualify for its low income service, which otherwise costs $14.95 per month.

A major difference between cable and telephone companies is the availability of video service. Cable companies can – and typically do – try to up sell people who enquire about discounted Internet service into pricey video bundles. That’ll be a particularly attractive pitch to people who are stuck in their homes for the duration. Frontier and AT&T have some video service available, but only in limited parts of their service territory.

ISPPlan nameDetails
AT&TAccess from AT&T$10 per month for qualifying low income households.
CharterSpectrum Internet Assist$17.99 per month ($22.99 with WiFi capability) for qualifying low income households. During the corona virus emergency, the first 60 days is free for all plans in areas where schools are closed.
ComcastInternet Essentials$9.95 per month for qualifying low income households. Until April 30,2020 the first 60 days is free.
CoxConnect2Compete$9.95 per month, During the corona virus emergency, the first 30 days is free.
FrontierFundamental Internet$19.99 per month for qualifying low income households. No free service is available
SuddenlinkAltice Advantage Internet$14.95 per month for qualifying low income households. During the corona virus emergency, the first 60 days is free.

CPUC says telcos, cable companies, mobile carriers shouldn’t cut off customers during corona virus crisis

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Corona virus

Edit: The title of this post originally contained a (serious) typo. It’s fixed now. I can blame jet lag but, really, sometimes my fingers don’t do what I think they’re doing. Sorry about that.

Communications companies should declare “moratoriums on disconnections” in California, according to a letter sent yesterday by the California Public Utilities Commission to executives of landline telcos, mobile carriers and cable companies. It warns telecoms companies that the “CPUC plans to take action to provide emergency customer protection measures for customers in California to prevent disconnections for unpaid bills” during the corona virus emergency.

The warning letter leave a big question unanswered: what sort of communications service is affected?

The language is largely identical to letters sent to electric and water company executives, and is directed at “utility companies (electric, gas, water, sewer) and communications providers”. It refers to an executive order from California governor Gavin Newsom which asks the CPUC to “implement customer service protections for critical utilities, including but not limited to electric, gas, water, Internet, landline telephone, and cell phone service”. But it doesn’t define “communications provider” or mention specific services.

Two CPUC decisions from last year are cited in the letter. The first requires electric and gas companies to “suspend disconnection for nonpayment” during emergencies, and water and sewer companies to minimise disconnections. The second decision is aimed at telecoms companies that provide subsidised Lifeline service or access to 911 centers – telephone service in other words – but it doesn’t specifically require suspending customer disconnections for nonpayment. It applies to legacy wireline companies like AT&T and Frontier, as well as cable companies and mobile carriers.

Presumably whatever emergency decision is eventually approved by the commission will be more tightly written. Although there’s little doubt that the CPUC has jurisdiction over access to 911 service, its power to tell cable, telephone and wireless companies how to otherwise manage customer accounts is debatable. It has vestigial authority over legacy wireline telco service, but even that might not be enough to keep the diminishing number of plain old telephone service customers connected if they don’t pay their bills. Cable companies and mobile carriers usually take the position that the CPUC can’t regulate their consumer services, as do telcos when voice over Internet service or broadband service is involved.

Even so, the letter and the eventual decision might have the desired effect. Telecoms companies are voluntarily signing up to consumer-friendly suggestions made by the Federal Communications Commission, and they might do the same with the CPUC’s measures, while making it clear they don’t have to if they don’t want to.

Frontier’s slow video streaming platform is too fast for most of its California copper customers

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Outer limits intro

Fewer than half of Frontier Communications’ legacy copper, i.e. DSL-only, homes in California can watch more than one high definition stream at a time on its chosen video streaming platform, Philo. More than a quarter can’t even watch one HD stream, and 14% will get jerky, low quality video, if they can get anything at all. That’s my conclusion after crunching Frontier’s most recent (as of 31 December 2018) broadband availability figures, and comparing them to Philo’s bandwidth requirements and the actual performance estimates used by other streaming services.

The first clue that Frontier is trying to dumb down customer expectations instead of providing modern broadband speeds is that Philo doesn’t offer 4K quality video, which is the 2020 consumer video standard. Philo’s service is limited to 1950s standard definition (SD) and 1990s high definition (HD) video formats. Philo’s website provides a helpful guide to the bandwidth needed to watch those streams…

13 Mbps – Recommended for reliable HD streaming, even with multiple streams or other devices using the same network.

7 Mbps – Stream one HD video. If multiple devices are streaming or using the network at the same time, there may be buffering issues.

3 Mbps – Stream SD quality video.

Under 3 Mbps – Video quality is reduced. Philo may load slowly or rebuffer.

Frontier, like other Internet service providers, advertises its broadband speeds as “up to” a particular level. Netflix discounts advertised speeds when advising its customers. It recommends they subscribe to a service advertised at 25 Mbps download speeds in order to watch 4K video, which streams at 15 Mbps. Applying that Netflix discount to Philo’s recommendations for its lower quality service results in:

  • 22 Mbps – multiple HD streams.
  • 12 Mbps – single HD stream.
  • 5 Mbps – SD stream.
  • Less than 5 Mbps – SD streams will be slow and jerky.

Frontier reports it advertises either 1 Mbps, 6 Mbps, 12 Mbps or 25 Mbps download speeds to the 1.3 million housing units in California it serves with DSL-only broadband service. It also claims to provide fiber to the home (FTTH) service to 1.6 million Californian homes at 100 Mbps download speeds. And there’s a significant number of homes that are in Frontier’s telco monopoly territory that can’t get any kind of broadband service from Frontier. The analysis below just looks at the homes that can get Frontier service via DSL, but not FTTH:

Frontier philo video service by county 31dec2018 data

Siskiyou and Tehama counties lose out completely on family style, high definition video viewing – 12 Mbps is the best it can deliver via DSL there. More than a quarter – 26% – of Frontier’s Tuolumne County DSL homes can’t watch Philo video at all or, if they can, it’s poorer quality than the original mass market television standard that was set more than 60 years ago.

CPUC plans to police Sprint merger requirements, but T-Mobile might not play along

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Jack webb 625

Improved mobile broadband coverage, workforce increases and other California-specific requirements proposed in a draft California Public Utilities Commission decision as conditions for approving the T-Mobile/Sprint merger are meaningless without enforcement. The proposed decision, published last week, takes a big step towards putting real teeth behind those requirements, but that won’t guarantee compliance by the new, bulked up T-Mobile.

The conditions, which are largely intended to fix some of the worst anti-competitive effects of the deal, include hiring an “independent monitor” to closely watch T-Mobile over the next ten years. That’s a welcome change from recent practice, which left enforcement of conditions imposed on major telecoms mergers to third parties, which often have a greater interest in maintaining cash flow from the companies they’re supposedly bird dogging, or to regular CPUC procedures, which are more geared toward punishing violations rather than preventing them in the first place.

Whether this new approach will work is an open question, though. Although the CPUC’s proposed decision makes a strong case for its authority to, in effect, regulate the behavior of a mobile carrier, T-Mobile is equally adamant that no such power exists. The company has always framed its promise of the amazing wonderfulness of the Sprint deal as a voluntary commitment, rather than something it can be held accountable for by a state agency. There’s nothing preventing T-Mobile from accepting the CPUC’s permission to acquire Sprint, while ignoring everything else. Such a move would likely lead to years of litigation at the CPUC and, eventually, state and federal courts, but that’s just a cost of doing business for a big, multinational telecoms company.

The first indication of T-Mobile’s true intentions could come when (assuming the draft decision is approved by commissioners in April) the CPUC tries to hire the independent monitor. Supposedly, the cost of that person (or firm) will be paid by T-Mobile. We’ll know then if it intends to pay any attention at all to the CPUC’s requirements.

Links to arguments and exhibits filed at the CPUC and elsewhere are here.

My clients include California cities who do business with T-Mobile. I like to think that has no bearing on my commentary. Take it for what it’s worth.

Becerra lines up with CPUC on mitigating “anticompetitive” effects of T-Mobile/Sprint deal

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

A proposed California Public Utilities Commission decision published on Wednesday and scheduled for a vote on 16 April 2020 would allow T-Mobile to take over Sprint, and become the dominant mobile carrier in many Californian communities. The merger “is presumably anticompetitive” in at least some of those areas, according to advice from California attorney general Xavier Becerra requested and received by the CPUC…

We find that T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint will likely harm competition in 18 specific California markets for retail mobile wireless telecommunications services, resulting in higher prices and fewer choices for California consumers. However, certain conditions could be developed with the potential to alleviate in part some of the harms.

Becerra agreed to a separate settlement with T-Mobile that covers politically popular items like low cost mobile service plans and benefits for schools, but left the heavy regulatory lifting to the CPUC. The conditions proposed by the draft CPUC decision, which include broadband buildout and availability requirements and an increase of 1,000 employees in T-Mobile’s Californian workforce, track with Becerra’s advice. He wanted the CPUC to impose…

Coverage and speed requirements as measured via drive-by tests; clear commitments with respect to LifeLine service; enhanced commitments to public safety; commitments to maintain and increase California jobs; monetary penalties for failing to meet these conditions; an independent monitor to evaluate compliance; and the ability for the CPUC and the California Attorney General to enforce compliance in a California court under California law.

An agreement between T-Mobile and the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) which outlined weaker and vaguer coverage and service requirements, and included a $35 million payoff to CETF in exchange for its support of the merger, was not particularly useful, Becerra said…

While the CETF Agreement could be beneficial to California consumers, the inability of CETF to meaningfully enforce the terms of the agreement renders many of these benefits illusory. T-Mobile and CETF failed to follow any of the procedural requirements of Article 12 (Settlements) of the California Public Utilities Commission’s Rules of Practice and Procedure (Rules), which requires notice of the settlement, public settlement conferences, reasonableness requirements, and a finding from the Commission that the settlement is in the public interest…

Because the CETF Agreement is merely “a common position” by CETF and T-Mobile, it gives CETF minimal ability to find relief if T-Mobile’s view of the “common position” turns out to be in dispute.

Becerra also expressed doubt about whether DISH will, as it kinda sorta said it would, build out 5G mobile infrastructure in rural California. “DISH testified that it intended to focus on large urban markets, which makes Los Angeles a likely beneficiary of any DISH network, but not Imperial County”, the opinion said.

Proposed Decision Granting T-Mobile Application and Approving Wireless Transfer Subject to Conditions, 11 March 2020
Attachments 1 to 5
Opinion of the Attorney General on Competitive Effects of Proposed Merger of T-Mobile USA, Inc. And Sprint Communications Company L.P. (attachment 5 to proposed CPUC decision, dated 11 March 2020)
Settlement Agreement between T-Mobile and the State of California, 9 March 2020

Links to arguments and exhibits filed at the CPUC and elsewhere are here.

My clients include California cities who do business with T-Mobile. I like to think that has no bearing on my commentary. Take it for what it’s worth.

CPUC proposes requiring faster rural broadband, wider coverage, more California jobs to approve T-Mobile/Sprint deal

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tmobile san francisco 18may2019

T-Mobile must keep the broadband availability and pricing promises it made, in order to win approval of its merger with Sprint from the California Public Utilities Commission. That’s assuming the commission adopts the proposed decision published yesterday by administrative law judge Karl Bemesderfer. As drafted, the decision would bless the deal but impose conditions that were pulled from commitments T-Mobile made directly to the CPUC during the course of the review, and to federal agencies and private organisations.

Improved broadband service is a key condition. T-Mobile would have to upgrade and expand broadband availability over the next 10 years, reaching 91% of Californians with at least 50 Mbps download speeds by the end of 2023 and building to 100 Mbps service availability to 99% of the population by the end of 2026. Within that, T-Mobile will have to be able to serve 81% of rural Californians with 50 Mbps download speeds by the end of 2023, increasing to 96% by 2030, with 90% able to access 100 Mbps service then.

T-Mobile will also have to live up to its claim that it’ll compete for in-home customers…

New T-Mobile shall offer in-home broadband service wherever 5G service is available. Within 3 years of the close of the merger, T-Mobile shall have in-home broadband service available to at least 912,000 California households, of which at least 58,000 shall be rural. Within 6 years of the close of the merger, T-Mobile shall have in-home broadband service available to at least 2.3 million California households, of which at least 123,000 shall be rural. There will be an affordable plan offering that is priced substantially less than other available in-home broadband service, with no contract, no equipment charges, no installation charges, and no surprises.

Job promises will also have to be kept, without weaseling the numbers

New T-Mobile shall have a net increase in jobs in California, such that the number of full time and full-time equivalent New T-Mobile employees in the State of California at three years after the close of the transaction shall be at least 1,000 greater than the total number of full-time and full-time equivalent employees of Sprint, Assurance Wireless and T-Mobile in the State of California as of the date of the Transaction closing.

The proposed decision also has the CPUC hiring, and T-Mobile paying for, a person (or perhaps, company) to continually monitor compliance with all the conditions. T-Mobile would also have to regularly submit data and reports detailing its efforts.

California attorney general Xavier Becerra also announced a settlement with T-Mobile yesterday. The agreement puts additional California-specific obligations on T-Mobile.

The draft CPUC decision doesn’t directly address anti-trust issues generally, nor does it have anything specific to say about what DISH might or might not do with the assets it will get from T-Mobile. Those are federal problems…

We accept the conclusion of the [federal justice department] that creating a fourth national carrier will over time offset, at the national level, the loss of competition resulting from T-Mobile’s purchase of Sprint. In reaching this conclusion, we note that it accords with the February 11, 2020 decision of the federal district court in the Southern District of New York finding in favor of defendant wireless companies in the anti-trust action brought by a consortium of states.

The 20-day public comment period on the draft is now open. Assuming there are no further glitches, the CPUC will take up the proposed decision at its 16 April 2020 meeting.

Proposed Decision Granting T-Mobile Application and Approving Wireless Transfer Subject to Conditions, 11 March 2020
Attachments 1 to 5
Opinion of the Attorney General on Competitive Effects of Proposed Merger of T-Mobile USA, Inc. And Sprint Communications Company L.P. (attachment 5 to proposed CPUC decision, dated 11 March 2020)
Settlement Agreement between T-Mobile and the State of California, 9 March 2020

Links to arguments and exhibits filed at the CPUC and elsewhere are here.

My clients include California cities who do business with T-Mobile. I like to think that has no bearing on my commentary. Take it for what it’s worth.

4K is the video, and consequently broadband, standard in 2020

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Samsung booth ces 8jan2020

Fears that Internet routers and switches will melt under an onslaught of 8K-enabled cord cutters can be put aside for a few years, according to projections released by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). But the number of U.S. households with 4K screens will continue to grow rapidly, and that will be problematic enough for broadband service providers: 25 Mbps download speeds will be the minimum needed to serve the typical U.S. home.

8K is a big screen technology. According to Steve Koenig, CTA’s vice president of research, those sets are in the 70-inch and up range, which is more limited market – not everybody wants something that big in the living room (although the same could have been said about 40-inch to 50-inch screens a few years ago). He projects half a million 8K screen shipped into the U.S. market in 2020, which is a drop in the bucket, particularly considering that many, if not most, of those will be used for commercial and industrial applications.

On the other hand, CTA’s projections show 4K sets hitting a steady state shipment rate in the upper 20 million annual unit range for the next three years, climbing to 32 million by 2023. Using the same, back of the envelope calculations that I used a couple of years ago, that means that about half of U.S. homes have 4K screens now, and that share will climb to at least three quarters by the end of 2021. We’re to the point where 4K resolution is the market standard, and it’ll soon be almost as hard to buy anything less as it is to find a black and white TV set now.

4K video needs a steady 15 Mbps stream to function in real time, and to have a fighting chance of getting that bit rate consistently requires service specced at 25 Mbps download speeds or better. That’s the minimum set for rural homes by the federal agriculture department, and it’s the FCC’s de facto minimum as well.

California’s pitiful 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up standard has to change too.

Caltrans floats “Dig Smart” ideas to put more broadband conduit in the ground

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

California’s department of transportation, AKA Caltrans, is a step closer to actively collaborating with broadband service providers and local governments to put more conduit in California’s thousands of miles of state highways and make it available. It published a Dig Smart white paper that summarises “dig once” policies that have already been adopted by cities and other states. Those policies are intended to ease the way for telecoms companies to install conduit when road construction or utility excavation projects happen, and to encourage them to take advantage of the opportunity.

The white paper doesn’t offer any hard recommendations, but it does outline policies “which may be investigated” by Caltrans as it moves ahead with implementing a law – assembly bill 1549 – which was passed four years ago…

  • Resource Sharing
    • State [departments of transportation] make agreements with service providers to exchange the use of right-of-way
      or existing conduit infrastructure for the use of fiber optic services
  • Joint-Trench Agreements
    • Require providers of broadband services and other utilities to install infrastructure at the same time, in the same trench, or in the same conduit, and share the cost of installing the infrastructure
  • Moratorium on excavation to preserve new roadway construction and encourage utility coordination planning
  • Encourage the use of trenchless technologies, such as:
    • Horizontal Directional Drilling: A trenchless method of installing underground pipes,
      conduits and cables along a prescribed bore path by using a surface-launched drilling rig
    • Micro-Trenching: Digging a small trench just inches under the road surface along the
      curb line to install fiber optic lines
  • Information Sharing
    • Provide access to fiber, conduit and projects maps
    • Notify telecommunication companies of projects where broadband infrastructure can be
  • Reduce permitting costs and wait time for projects which implement coordinated utility planning

If you’re interested in the topic, the white paper provides an interesting overview of dig once programs at the state, local and federal levels. There’s no timeline for adopting a comprehensive dig once, or dig smart, policy, but the agency is moving in that direction. Caltrans is often criticised for being slow to change, but the flip side is that once its gets moving, it moves relentlessly.

I serve on Caltrans’ conduit task force, and I advocated for and helped to draft AB 1549. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.

T-Mobile might have to live up to its own hype to gain California’s approval for Sprint deal

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tmobile 5g small towns 6jan2020

While the California Public Utilities Commission drafts its decision on whether to allow the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, any outsider’s opinion on what the verdict will be is pure speculation.

So I’ll speculate.

If the CPUC follows past practice, it will allow the merger to go ahead but will impose requirements that T-Mobile will have to meet in the coming years. Those conditions might end up being the “voluntary commitments” and other plans that T-Mobile has presented to the CPUC without formally and enforceably promising to fulfil them.

A simple solution would be for the CPUC to take yes for an answer and order T-Mobile to do what it say it will do. Or maybe even do better. And add real teeth to enforcement provisions.

In a last minute lobbying blitz, T-Mobile and Sprint met with advisors to the five CPUC commissioners and once again extolled the incredible wonderfulness of the benefits the new company will bestow on California if the deal goes through.

Those blessings include kinda saturating California with moderately high bandwidth 5G service on mid-band frequencies, as depicted in their proposed coverage maps. I say kinda because if you live in, say, Big Sur or on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada you’ll have to drive quite a way to get yourself saturated.

T-Mobile is also voluntarily offering to not raise consumer service prices for three years after the merger closes and to “commit to achieve” speed levels of up to 300 Mbps via its upgrade 5G cell sites. If the weasel words and time limits were removed, that might go a long way towards easing fears that T-Mobile will join AT&T and Verizon in a comfortable and highly profitable market oligopoly and jack up prices and crank up the marketing hype while laughing off any suggestion that it invest capital anywhere except where customers and revenue are densest.

Like AT&T does with its wireline broadband service.

Links to arguments and exhibits filed at the CPUC and elsewhere are here.

My clients include California cities who do business with T-Mobile. I like to think that has no bearing on my commentary. Take it for what it’s worth.