Tag Archives: att

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.
WebsitePhone
AT&T855–220–5211
Charter844–579–3743
Comcast855–846–8376
Cox800–234–3993
Frontier877–578–8367
Suddenlink888–633–0030

Accidentally honest AT&T tells CPUC to grab the horse by the tail and face reality

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Chp horses capitol 3feb2016

Unintentionally, an AT&T witness injected an insight of startling clarity into the debate over whether or not broadband is a common carrier service. It happened during a hearing to determine if the company should be held in contempt of California Public Utilities Commission orders. The witness was discussing the difference between legacy digital methods for transmitting telephone calls and contemporary Internet protocol technology.

He said…

It’s like the difference between a horse and buggy, and an automobile.

Just so.

That difference is one that the California legislature reckoned to be irrelevant more than 100 years ago, when it rewrote the regulations for common carrier passenger road transportation.

Today, if you want to offer point to point road transportation service in California, you need to be certified as a “passenger stage corporation” by the CPUC. Passenger stage now includes passenger buses and passenger vans, but stage is a term that goes back to Gold Rush days and beyond, when horsepower meant horses. Originally, it referred to segments of a journey. Over time, it became the name of the horse drawn vehicle being used – stagecoach turned into stage.

Transportation was undergoing the same, radical technological shift in the early decades of the twentieth century that telecommunications is today. What didn’t change was the even older concept of a common carrier service, one that was available to all at published prices and level terms.

The California legislature decided in 1917 that it’s the service that’s important, and not the underlying technology. It passed a law defining a transportation company as any person or corporation that owned or operated “any automobile, jitney bus, auto truck, stage or auto stage used in the transportation of persons or property as a common carrier for compensation over any public highway in this state between fixed termini or over a regular route”, unless it was completely within the borders of a city. The “railroad commission of the State of California” – later to become the CPUC – was “vested with power and authority to regulate every transportation company in this state”.

As we say these days, the law was technology neutral. The details of the statute have changed over the years, but the fundamental principles and terminology haven’t. Regardless of what powers the vehicle, companies carrying people and cargo for hire are providing a legally identical, common carrier service.

Horse and buggy or automobile. TDM or IP. Candlestick phone or VoIP modem. It doesn’t matter.

It’s the same service.

Streaming video hurts cable, but it’s killing AT&T

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Elmer fudd

The traditional, linear subscription TV business is in a nose dive. In the fourth quarter of 2019, AT&T shed 945,000 subscribers, mostly from DirecTv but also from its legacy Uverse service and its new AT&T TV platform. Add in the 219,000 subscribers who dumped its AT&T TV Now streaming service, and more than million customers walked away from AT&T’s video products.

Comcast and Charter lost TV subscribers, too. But for both companies, they each lost fewer subs over the 12 months of 2019 than AT&T lost in the last three. And both gained broadband subscribers and market share, as consumers move to higher speed service that better meets their needs than slow, DSL-based offerings from AT&T and Frontier Communications.

Like the need to watch streaming video.

Google figured out how to solve the linear TV problem. They’re not going to offer the service any more…

Google Fiber will no longer offer a linear TV product to new customers. For our current TV customers, we know you have come to rely on Google Fiber TV and we will continue to provide you with traditional TV service. And we’ll be happy to help everyone explore other options to get their favorite programming the way TV is watched now — over the Internet, with the virtually unlimited choice and control online viewing provides.

AT&T is pinning its hopes on the new HBO Max streaming service it plans to launch in May, for $15 per month. It’s beginning to look like a product that will make or break the company. With AT&T’s spending on video assets, like Time Warner, climbing and its video revenue in a nose dive, it’s betting its future on its ability to produce the same kind of instant success that Disney had with its new streaming service launch last year.

Investment analysts say AT&T, Frontier, others padded bottom line with FCC broadband subsidies

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote today on a new ten year, $20 billion broadband subsidy program called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) that will mostly benefit rural communities. The proposal on the table would set the U.S. minimum broadband standard at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. That’s a lot better than California’s pathetic standard of 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up, and a significant improvement over the 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up minimum that the FCC established for the Connect America Fund II program (CAF II), which RDOF will replace.

According to a story in FierceTelecom that cites research by MoffettNathanson, it appears that major telcos pocketed some of the CAF II subsidies they received over the six years of the program, which began in 2015 and ends this year. CenturyLink was the big winner with more than $3 billion total, but AT&T and Frontier Communications weren’t far behind…

Other top beneficiaries of CAF II awards include AT&T, which has received $428 million per year [$2.6 billion total] since 2015; Frontier, which has received $332 million per year [$2.0 billion] during the same time frame; and Windstream, which has received $175 million per year. In exchange for the free government money, the recipients agreed to deploy broadband service with at least 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream to specific rural locations. MoffettNathanson reports that the CAF II money that the incumbents received was typically more than the cost of the network builds, so the telcos ended up with extra money to pad their bottom lines.

Based on availability reports and statements by the companies, it appears that AT&T and Frontier minimised capital investment and, consequently, minimised service levels – they were required to upgrade their systems to the point that 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up speeds were possible, but the de facto service standard they had to meet was only 8 Mbps down/800 Kbps up.

RDOF represents a second chance for the FCC to get broadband subsidies right. This time around, the plan is to conduct reverse auctions, and not simply award money to incumbent, monopoly model telcos on the basis of an arcane formula. We’ll have some idea later today what the FCC did with the draft decision that was circulated three weeks ago, and we’ll probably see the final version in the next few days.

Internet magic means phone calls aren’t phone calls, AT&T tells CPUC

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Alice tall 625

We’re all mad here.

On Thursday in San Francisco, AT&T defended itself against charges that it’s in contempt of California Public Utilities Commission orders and that it broke CPUC rules and state law. AT&T is admitting that California law no longer bars the CPUC from regulating Internet protocol enabled service such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), but doesn’t appear to be giving up the fight. Instead, it’s falling back to a second line of defence that was thoughtfully provided by the Federal Communications Commission.

The dispute centers on next generation 911 service, but it’s also the first test of the CPUC’s ability to regulate services that ride on Internet technology since the expiration of a state law that previously blocked such regulation. I sat in on the AT&T contempt hearing for a few minutes – would’ve spent more time, but that wasn’t the way my day went. It was just a brief taste, but the flavor was consistent with AT&T’s written response. Which was mostly dry arguments about who provides each piece of the increasingly complex communications path between the public and 911 answering centers, and how that maps to the equally complex web of California’s regulatory obligations and AT&T’s deliberately byzantine corporate structure. Links to AT&T’s filing and the hundreds of pages of exhibits are below.

Previously, AT&T’s defence rested, in large part, on the California legislature’s 2012 decision to bar the CPUC from regulating VoIP and similar, Internet-delivered services. No longer. Its latest response mentions that now-expired law only in passing, and in the past tense.

But AT&T prepared a fallback position. In an attachment, AT&T tries to define next generation 911 service as an “information service”, as opposed to 911 service based on legacy technology , which it admits is a “telecommunications service”. This nonsense is the result of the Federal Communications Commission’s 2017 decision to repeal network neutrality rules and declare, in Alice in Wonderland fashion, that transporting data from point A to point B via the Internet isn’t telecommunications.

AT&T jumped down that same rabbit hole by claiming, in effect, that phone calls that ride on that one, particular kind of digital transportation aren’t phone calls. Unfortunately, AT&T isn’t trying to make its case to the Queen of Hearts.

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

AT&T’s Response to Administrative Law Judge’s Ruling Regarding Order to Show Cause, 6 January 2020
Exhibit 1
Exhibits 2 through 8
Exhibits 9 through 15
Exhibit 16

Keep broadband slow so we can ditch copper, AT&T, Frontier tell FCC

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The Federal Communications Commission heading toward a vote later this month on the structure of the new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which is the reboot of the Connect America Fund (CAF) broadband subsidy program designed for rural communities (although urban and suburban areas sometimes qualify, too). In their eternal quest for more public money and less public service, AT&T and Frontier Communications, among others, are urging the FCC to lower speed standards for subsidised broadband, so they can rip out ageing copper lines and replace them with limited capacity wireless systems.

The good news is that there doesn’t seem to be much push back on the FCC’s plan to raise the broadband service floor to 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds, from the CAF program’s slow 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up level. What has Frontier, AT&T and their Washington, D.C. lobbying front in an uproar is the preference the FCC proposes to give to higher levels of service. As with their successful legislative pocket stuffing intense lobbying effort in California, which resulted in an even lower standard for rural broadband, they’re particularly upset with higher upload speeds.

According to a letter filed with the FCC by Frontier on behalf of its colleagues (h/t to Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica for the pointer), giving extra weight, and subsequently money, for service at 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up, is a bad idea because, hey, rural people don’t need that kind of juice…

When considering network build-out using fixed wireless technologies, an upload target of 20 Mbps likely drives significant additional deployment costs – up to two to three times as high – compared to a 10 Mbps upload target. At the same time, a 20 Mbps upload target provides little to no additional benefits to the end user customer as all key upload use cases, including HD streaming, video conferencing, and gaming can similarly be accomplished with 10 Mbps.

AT&T’s own comments push a similar line – who needs all that speed, anyway?

Urban and suburban customers do. At least cable companies are putting their money behind that proposition. But cable companies shy away from rural communities where cash flows aren’t at white water levels. Rural customers think they need that level of service too – research done by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (which I helped with) demonstrate that.

The FCC should listen to them, and not to monopoly model telcos intent on fencing off rural Californians.

Penalties, but not prevention, for deceptive ISP billing practices

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Consumer reports cable billing 3oct2019

It’s common practice for big, monopoly model broadband providers to promise low prices to new subscribers, then tack on arbitrary fees after they’re locked into long term contracts. AT&T was recently slammed for adding a property tax surcharge to some customers’ bills – no one has figured out yet why AT&T thinks it can do that in the first place, let alone why it more than doubled the charge – California property tax rate hikes are tightly restricted. Frontier Communications also adds fees on top of the rates customers have agreed to.

Comcast is a frequent target of consumer billing complaints, and state attorneys general are listening. Just about a year ago, the Minnesota attorney general took Comcast to court over billing practices. The case was settled on Wednesday. According to the Minnesota AG

Part of being able to afford your life means knowing the full cost of what you’re getting, getting what you were promised, not being overcharged for things you didn’t ask for, and not being unfairly charged to get rid of things you didn’t ask for. But when people signed up for Comcast, that’s what happened to them…This settlement will help put money back in Comcast’s customers’ pockets where it should have been in the first place. Just as importantly, it provides millions of dollars’ worth of debt relief. And we’ve made sure that going forward, Comcast customers will know exactly how much they’ll pay for service before they sign up for it. That should put an end to unpleasant surprises.

Another deceptive billing case in Washington state last year resulted in Comcast being hit with a $9 million fine, plus orders to make refunds to customers.

It’s not just broadband service – arbitrary fees are added to the full range of products and services that telephone and cable companies provide. A study by Consumer Reports showed that the typical cable TV customer pays an extra $450 a year, just because. The graphic above breaks that down.

So far, little has been done to stop deceptive billing practices in the first place. That could change. The Federal Communications Commission’s declaration that broadband isn’t a telecommunications service passed the buck to the Federal Trade Commission, which might or might not get around to doing something about it. State governments also have a role to play – a federal appeals court opened the door to broadband consumer protection laws and other state-level regulation last year. So far though, no one in Sacramento has shown much interest in walking through it.

AT&T faces contempt hearing as CPUC defines VoIP regulatory role

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Bluto pencils

The first shot in what could be the defining regulatory battle over broadband in California was fired in the closing days of December by the California Public Utilities Commission. An administrative law judge (ALJ) ordered AT&T

To show cause, if any, why [AT&T] should not be:

  1. Found in contempt of [a 2019 CPUC decision regarding disaster preparedness].
  2. Found in violation of the Public Utilities Code and [a CPUC rule requiring telcos to file price/service terms (aka tariffs)].
  3. Fined, penalized, or have other sanctions imposed for failing to comply with a Commission decision, [commission rules], and the Public Utilities Code.

The dispute began last Spring when CPUC demanded that AT&T file a notice – an “advice letter” – detailing its terms for “Next Gen” 911 service, which will run over an Internet protocol connection, like other Internet data, rather than using legacy copper network switching and other 20th century technology.

AT&T first blew off the demand, and then said it’s none of your business

[Mark Berry, AT&T regulatory director] spoke with [CPUC] staff and relayed the following in response to the question of why AT&T had not filed an advice letter:

  1. AT&T does not offer the services referred to in the letter and even if it did offer these services, AT&T does not agree that the CPUC can require a tariff because under [a now expired public utilities code section], the CPUC does not have authority to regulate IP-enabled services.
  2. If AT&T offers Next Gen 911services in the future, it will not file tariffs because the CPUC does not have authority over these services.

The CPUC and AT&T exchanged more such pleasantries, until AT&T finally filed some paperwork, without answering the questions asked. So AT&T executives were ordered to appear at a hearing later this month to explain themselves.

This kind of arm wrestling over filing and disclosure requirements is nothing new. Business as usual would be a good description, although it usually doesn’t get this far. This case is significant because the primary legal basis for AT&T’s refusal expired at the end of 2019. It was a law enacted in 2012 that banned the CPUC from regulating Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or other “Internet protocol enabled” services. Back then, VoIP was still a developing technology, and telcos and cable companies hadn’t gone all in on it as a replacement for legacy copper service and as a way to get out from under the regulatory oversight that comes with it.

AT&T and other monopoly model telecoms companies tried to get the ban extended last year, but ran into a brick wall in Sacramento, also known as the Communications Workers of America. The betting is that they’ll try again this year – why spend billions on service quality when a few million in the pockets of lawmakers will get you off the hook?

So it’s up to the CPUC to figure out how VoIP fits into California’s regulatory ecosystem. One way the commission can do that (relatively) quickly is to litigate disputes like this one, and bake new case law into the resulting decision.

Some people aren’t buying the false data big ISPs sold to the FCC

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Microsoft oregon analysis 5dec2018

The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband testing program evolved from a engineering-driven performance assessment when it was launched in 2012 to a marketing tool for monopoly model Internet service providers. That’s partly the result of the FCC republican majority embracing a role as a cheerleader for big telecoms companies, but it also reflects tensions in the program that date back to when it began under a democrat-majority commission.

Jim Warner, who recently retired from a long career as the network engineer for the University of California, Santa Cruz and still chairs the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s technical expert group, helped design the FCC’s program, along with several others from the academic side of the house as well as industry representatives. He says there’s a split between the two groups, with industry more concerned with selling service than delivering it…

While the research community has been continuously engaged in measurement activities as part of high performance networking, the commercial side of the business has been plodding along on its own measurement efforts. Our goals are to improve performance (or at least understand its limits). On the commercial side, the goal is more along the line of making money and, if performance got better, that was OK, too.

The ISPs – especially AT&T – were unwilling to accept the results of the program’s measurements and fought hard to get poor results removed from their totals to improve their score.

The lack of hard information about where and what kind of broadband service is available, particularly in rural areas, is sore spot in Washington, D.C. There’s bipartisan support for a couple of bills that would put more money behind broadband measurement and mapping programs, and set higher standards. Maybe, just maybe, enough support to make it into law in the coming weeks.

FCC allows big ISPs to add performance enhancing juice to speed tests, WSJ says

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Syringe

The fast, reliable broadband service claims endorsed by the Federal Communications Commission are based on test data that’s been doctored by California’s monopoly model Internet service providers, according to a Wall Street Journal article Shalini Ramachandran, Lillian Rizzo and Drew FitzGerald (h/t to Jim Warner for sending me the link).

Annual speed measurements taken to evaluate U.S. broadband service are “juiced” by AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and others, who know ahead of time where the tests are run and afterwards lobby the FCC to suppress bad results and hype good ones, the story says…

[AT&T] pushed the Federal Communications Commission to omit unflattering data on its DSL internet service…

In the end, the DSL data was left out of the report released late last year, to the chagrin of some agency officials. AT&T’s remaining speed tiers notched high marks…

Comcast a few years ago upgraded speeds in some regions without notifying the FCC, making test results look stellar, people close to the FCC program said. The FCC discovered the changes after spotting anomalous data and adjusted the numbers.

This September, amid an FCC test, Comcast rolled out speed upgrades for many customers in several states…

Charter-Time Warner Cable oversold its network to the point where 200 Mbps and 300 Mbps households “would achieve speeds that were only a half to a third of their promised speeds,” the New York attorney general alleged [in a 2017 lawsuit]. Yet Time Warner Cable’s FCC speed-test results in the two years prior averaged 100% or more of promised speeds.

Even so, the FCC’s VIP treatment isn’t good enough for AT&T. It pulled out of the testing program and will submit performance data it gathers itself.

The story also reports that measurements of Cox Communications’ broadband service showed a 37% actual-versus-promised consistency mark. It blamed the wholesale provider it chooses to work with, so the FCC relegated the results to a footnote, even though Cox – or any other last mile ISP– is responsible for properly provisioning middle mile connectivity and raw Internet protocol bandwidth.

The FCC broadband measurement program is a mess. Earlier this year, the FCC pulled back claims of widespread gigabit availability after a thorough debunking by a broadband advocacy group and Microsoft. That’s what happens when a regulator turns into a cheerleader for the industry it’s supposed to oversee.