Tag Archives: att

Marginal copper upgrades won’t bring afforable broadband to rural California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Leaning pole

Fiber matters, particularly in rural California where copper telephone lines are rotting on the poles and where cable companies can’t rake in the high level of monopoly profits they can in denser and richer urban communities.

It’s about speed, capacity and cost.

Technically, it’s possible to push 10 Gbps through some kinds of copper cable under the right conditions. It means operating at the ragged edge of what’s possible, though. Whether a cable or telephone company could actually achieve that in a rural area, given the age of their overall plant, their willingness to invest and the availability of backhaul is an open question that they can’t answer until they actually build it, although they will make promises regardless. Even 1 Gbps is iffy for copper if the conditions aren’t right, and they are rarely, if ever, right in rural and low income communities where returns on investment are low.

A single pair of fiber strands can easily support 100 times that, and 1,000 times that is within the limits of current technology. Of course, when you build fiber, you don’t install a single pair. These days a 288 strand cable is considered minimal, and 432 strands moderate. There’s little extra cost involved in increasing the strand count, but it’s a lot of money if you have to go back and redo it. So high strand counts are the norm. In terms of capacity, consistency and reliability there is no comparison between copper cable and fiber.

Likewise, there’s a night and day difference with provisioning. With fiber, there’s no bottleneck – you can run as much bandwidth through it as you have available. If it’s fiber backhaul all the way to a major node like Silicon Valley or downtown Los Angeles, then the potential bandwidth is unlimited as a practical matter.

The business model is the real killer. If you buy a circuit sold as 1 or 10 Gbps from a monopoly model cable or telephone company, that’s it. That’s all you get. The company owns whatever is built and no one else can access it. It’s only useful for economic development or other purposes to the extent that it’s also sold to other users – everyone shares the same bandwidth and pays the same monopoly price.

AT&T kills wired broadband service for half a million Californians

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

AT&T’s decision to stop selling legacy DSL service – the sort that uses 1990s technology and rides on regulated phone lines – affects 547,000 Californians, 1.4% of the state’s population. 67,000 of them will completely lose the ability to buy residential wireline broadband service from a commercial provider. Rural counties will be hit hard, with Tuolumne County taking the stiffest punch: 3.4% of its population will no longer be able to get wireline broadband service at any speed. Those that have it can keep it for now, but no one can buy it any longer. The full table is below.

These numbers are based on the most recent broadband service reports published by the California Public Utilities Commission, which are current as of 31 December 2018. The reports filed by AT&T show that legacy DSL service is its only wired broadband offering in 6,600 census blocks with a total population of 547,000 people. However, people living in most of those blocks can get broadband service from a cable company or an independent fiber to the premise provider.

Subtract them out, and there are 67,000 people in 1,300 census blocks in California where AT&T is pulling the plug on new customers with no cable company or independent wireline ISP to fill the gap. A few of those census blocks could be split between AT&T and another telco, so the actual number of people affected might be a bit lower. But not by much.

AT&T reports providing broadband service in 52 of California’s 58 counties. It has legacy DSL systems in 43 counties. The nine fully upgraded counties include several rural ones where AT&T has a minimal presence – e.g. Plumas County where it serves a single census block – or where independent rural telephone companies, such as Pinnacles Telephone in San Benito County, serve the remotest areas.

About half of the soon-to-abandoned census blocks are outside of an incorporated city or an unincorporated “census designed place”, which usually means the area is rural. The remaining half includes many unincorporated rural communities as well.

Californians losing access to AT&T wireline broadband service

County Total people served by AT&T People losing AT&T wireline service People with no wireline alternative due to AT&T DSL cutoff % of population with no wireline service due to AT&T DSL cutoff
Alameda 1,573,061 13,828 497 0.0%
Alpine 105 0 0 0.0%
Amador 14,598 0 0 0.0%
Butte 183,055 45,429 5,022 2.2%
Calaveras 17,709 28 0 0.0%
Colusa 5 0 0 0.0%
Contra Costa 1,088,834 22,576 644 0.1%
El Dorado 128,560 8,191 2,343 1.2%
Fresno 803,675 15,466 3,048 0.3%
Glenn 21,224 486 486 1.7%
Humboldt 86,232 11,399 709 0.5%
Imperial 148,639 13,751 329 0.2%
Kern 703,290 9,792 836 0.1%
Kings 101,888 4,458 211 0.1%
Lake 46,392 6,655 745 1.1%
Los Angeles 6,179,464 55,625 2,709 0.0%
Madera 99,716 1,186 11 0.0%
Marin 199,469 2,542 151 0.1%
Mariposa 1,606 0 0 0.0%
Mendocino 49,021 2,686 443 0.5%
Merced 198,755 5,947 687 0.2%
Monterey 388,645 2,931 1,195 0.3%
Napa 127,595 574 258 0.2%
Nevada 66,444 9,354 1,580 1.6%
Orange 2,407,283 84,192 11,428 0.4%
Placer 182,212 7,414 793 0.2%
Plumas 62 0 0 0.0%
Riverside 731,484 5,156 383 0.0%
Sacramento 1,085,698 12,762 1,146 0.1%
San Benito 52,816 0 0 0.0%
San Bernardino 482,342 2,994 37 0.0%
San Diego 3,052,279 41,182 7,283 0.2%
San Francisco 859,146 1,172 0 0.0%
San Joaquin 579,627 12,449 2,296 0.3%
San Luis Obispo 210,845 39,685 9,319 3.3%
San Mateo 734,801 9,273 262 0.0%
Santa Barbara 129 0 0 0.0%
Santa Clara 1,671,193 17,486 173 0.0%
Santa Cruz 222,320 9,348 1,028 0.4%
Shasta 120,847 27,814 3,301 1.8%
Sierra 265 0 0 0.0%
Siskiyou 20,247 72 0 0.0%
Solano 393,273 5,760 565 0.1%
Sonoma 450,890 4,933 1,074 0.2%
Stanislaus 491,163 9,921 941 0.2%
Sutter 88,143 906 229 0.2%
Tehama 34,867 0 0 0.0%
Tulare 347,408 9,846 686 0.1%
Tuolumne 22,571 2,309 1,872 3.4%
Ventura 322,334 3,692 39 0.0%
Yolo 196,167 1,210 626 0.3%
Yuba 62,478 4,434 2,045 2.6%
California 27,050,870 546,914 67,427 0.2%

CWA union says AT&T redlines poor communities. California’s stats confirm the pattern, if not the extent

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) – the primary telecoms union in the U.S. – claims that AT&T is doing fiber upgrades in high income communities and redlining low income ones. A white paper published by CWA and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance claims…

The analysis of AT&T’s network reveals that the company is prioritizing network upgrades to wealthier areas, and leaving lower income communities with outdated technologies. Across the country, the median income for households with fiber available is 34 percent higher than in areas with DSL only – $60,969 compared to $45,500. A similar disparity exists for households where AT&T does not meet the FCC speed threshold [of 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speeds].

In California, AT&T reports providing broadband service in census blocks with a total of 9.6 million homes, according to the most recent data available (which isn’t very recent, it’s current as of 31 December 2018). A (very) rough comparison of median household incomes in AT&T’s California service area shows a smaller, but still significant gap of 6% between the earnings of households where fiber to the premise (FTTP) service is available ($80,000) and where it is not ($76,000) – where only DSL service of one kind or another is offered.

(Caveat: I’m averaging an average, and attributing high level census tract data to low level census blocks. As I said, very rough).

But that gap widens to 23% when the median household incomes of FTTP homes and homes without upgraded DSL service ($65,000) are compared.

AT&T’s systems use three different generations of DSL technology: 1990s legacy DSL, ADSL2 from the early 2000’s (which it’s phasing out) and VDSL, which it began to deploy in the 2010s. The VDSL tech that AT&T deploys is capable of delivering much faster speeds than the older stuff – as much as 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload under the right conditions. That’s partly because AT&T has extended its fiber networks closer to homes, and uses copper for the last few hundred meters. AT&T tries to position VDSL as a fiber service and, in fact, it’s not clear whether CWA is following that playbook too.

The median household income in AT&T’s VDSL homes is virtually the same as that in FTTP homes. In other words, the income gap between homes with upgraded service and those left stranded with ageing systems is about $15,000 – 23% – in California.

CWA’s national figure of a 34% gap in household income is more grim, but not far off the numbers I ran for California, if you only look at older DSL technologies. It’s also a pattern that the California Public Utilities Commission has called out, for both AT&T and Frontier Communications.

Statistical analysis provided by a labor union should be treated as sceptically as those coming from a corporation – they both want to make a case that furthers their interests. In this case, though, CWA’s numbers are in the ballpark.

AT&T abandons rural broadband systems as it stops selling 1990s era DSL tech

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

AT&T will no longer sell new connections to old school DSL service, although it claims it will continue to support customers who already have it. It notified customers of the change via the last cycle of bill statements. In one respect, it’s a rational and proper decision – AT&T offers much better service via newer technology – but in another respect it’s bad news: wireline networks in rural communities redlined by AT&T haven’t been sufficiently maintained, let alone upgraded, to support modern systems.

In most, if not all, of those redlined communities, AT&T is the monopoly wireline broadband provider, and it is guarding that exclusivity fiercely and aggressively extracting monopoly rents.

Phasing out 1990s DSL service in favor of newer ADSL2 (2000s vintage) and VDSL (2010s) technology makes sense. It’s slow – at best 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds – and inefficient. Gaining access to access to the faster speeds offered by newer DSL flavors is good for consumers and businesses.

If they can get it.

It’s a big if. Deploying ADSL2 and, particularly, VDSL service means upgrading copper networks that have been decaying for decades in many rural communities in California. It also means pushing fiber deeper into those networks, to handle the increased traffic and to compensate for the shorter ranges associated with modern systems. One advantage of older DSL technology is that it is robust enough to travel (relatively) long distances over crappy wires. The newer stuff is more finicky.

Going by what AT&T has said in the past, and claims to have done in an increasing number of rural communities, ADSL and VDSL upgrades won’t be its solution. Instead, expect more aggressive deployment and selling of low speed, limited capacity wireless service, i.e. its so called wireless local loop technology, which pushes connections based on 4G technology through a small slice of dedicated spectrum to homes and businesses that can receive it.

AT&T has been on this path for many years. It based its successful 2015 bid for federal broadband subsidies on wireless local loop service, and it tried and failed to get the California legislature to give it permission rip out copper networks that no longer meet its return on investment goals and to block regulation of modern systems. But it did convince lawmakers to end an attempt to improve rural broadband service in California this year.

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile accuse each other of spectrum hoarding and market domination

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tmobile los angeles spectrum

T-Mobile is building up its inventory of mobile bandwidth, first by leasing low band, 600 MHz spectrum from a private investment firm and then, it hopes, by buying more capacity when the Federal Communications Commission auctions off C-band frequencies later this year.

That bothers AT&T and Verizon, which have formally registered their annoyance with the FCC. Although neither company publicly opposed T-Mobile acquisition of Sprint (what their lobbyists and lawyers do behind closed doors is often a different story), they’re both complaining that T-Mobile is already holding too much spectrum – exceeds the spectrum screen as the jargon goes – and shouldn’t be allowed to buy or lease any more, until AT&T and Verizon have a chance to catch up. Presumably by buying spectrum at auction without having to compete against T-Mobile’s bids.

In a blog post, an AT&T staff lobbyist argued…

In the wake of its acquisition of Sprint (in which the FCC declined to require any divestitures), T-Mobile itself now exceeds the Commission’s screen by an unprecedented margin throughout much of the country. And T-Mobile continues to add additional spectrum to its hoard. Additional spectrum leases with Dish will cause T-Mobile to exceed the 250 MHz screen by as much as 136 MHz.

Given this unprecedented level of spectrum concentration in the hands of a single carrier, we have entered a new era for the FCC’s spectrum acquisition analytical tools. The Commission must now take action to reaffirm the importance of a spectrum aggregation tool and define a meaningful approach going forward.

T-Mobile’s CEO, Mike Sievert, blasted back in a blog post of his own

Verizon, as the holder of the most spectrum in the U.S. marketplace by far, which they gained through their own financial dominance, has the anti-competitive instincts and sheer audacity to complain that a much smaller T-Mobile has too much. After holding massive spectrum advantages over T-Mobile and others for decades, Verizon and AT&T just can’t stand the idea of anyone else being ahead of them or having a fair shot in an auction where they plan to use their financial might to do what they have always done – dominate.

This squabbling is worth watching. Maybe a beefed up T-Mobile will be a competitive counterweight to AT&T and Verizon. Or maybe the three will settle into a comfortable state of non-competitive tension.

AT&T delivers low quality service to low income Californians, but lavishes fiber on the rich

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Att outages by hh income

AT&T provides the highest quality service in the highest income neighborhoods of California, and the lowest quality in communities with the least income, according to a network quality study done by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The study’s initial findings were released last year. The top line conclusion was that AT&T and Frontier Communications are deliberately choking off investment in ageing copper phone systems, particularly in rural areas – now-bankrupt Frontier because it had no money for upgrades; AT&T because it could get away with it.

Chapters of the study are being released piecemeal. Some of the details are startling. The final conclusions and recommendations chapter expands on the initial summary’s description of AT&T’s economic redlining strategy. The average annual income in places where AT&T has upgraded its systems to full fiber to the premise technology is $72,000, versus $61,000 where it’s left copper networks in place.

Although the number of AT&T service outages climbed everywhere over the seven years of the study, high income neighborhoods also have more reliable service. Customers whose household income averages $42,000 a year or less experience nearly twice the number of “out of service incidents” as those who make $88,000 a year or more.

The study concludes that AT&T is holding people in low income communities hostage to deteriorating copper-based service and milking them for all they’re worth…

Those areas with the lowest household incomes tend to have the highest trouble report rates, the longest out-of-service durations, the lowest percentages of outages cleared within 24 hours, and the longest times required to clear 90% of service outages…wire centers that have experienced the smallest [legacy copper phone service] drop-off rates have exhibited the poorest performance on all service quality metrics. Clearly, those communities that AT&T perceives as the most captive are afforded the lowest levels of attention by the company. Since, as we have also found, wire centers that have received fiber upgrades exhibit superior performance on all of the service quality metrics, the fact that these upgrades have favored higher income communities may well explain the apparent inverse relationship that we have observed as between household incomes and service quality overall.

Recommended solutions include tightening service quality standards – including treating small, rural facilities the same as large, urban ones – and increasing fines when those standards aren’t met. Although the study points to the CPUC’s cynical policy of allowing AT&T and Frontier to effectively pay fines to themselves as part of the problem, it doesn’t explicitly recommend changing it.

For more background documents, click here.

Mobile carriers use arbitration board to debunk each other’s ads

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The three major U.S. mobile carriers are fighting each other’s advertising claims via an arbitration process run by the Better Business Bureau. First, it was T-Mobile who successfully challenged AT&T’s 5GEvolution scam. The BBB’s National Advertising Division (NAD) said that putting a 5G label on 4G service was misleading, and the appeals board run by BBB agreed.

Verizon objected to T-Mobile’s wide-ranging claims of wide ranging 5G coverage and NAD agreed, albeit while blessing verbiage about the superior building penetration ability of the low band spectrum it’s using.

To round out the set, earlier this month the appeals board upheld an earlier NAD ruling – the result of a complaint by AT&T – that Verizon shouldn’t be calling its service “the most powerful 5G experience”…

The evidence in the record does not clearly demonstrate what consumers understand “powerful” to mean in “the most powerful 5G experience” in the contexts shown. The panel found that the claim “most powerful” conveys a broad superiority message and that the advertiser would need to demonstrate consumer understanding of the term “powerful” in order to make the claim.

The panel therefore concluded that absent this evidence of consumer understanding of the term “powerful,” Verizon did not have proper support for the claim “Verizon is building the most powerful 5G experience for America” and recommended that it be discontinued. The panel did note, however, that the claim would have been supported had it been non-comparative because the evidence in the record demonstrated that Verizon’s future 5G network when generally available will provide the essential network metrics, whether one accepts NAD’s interpretation or Verizon’s interpretation of “powerful.”

There’s no enforcement mechanism attached to any of these opinions. Verizon said it will pull the offending adds, and T-Mobile is taking its case to the appeals board. AT&T effectively ignored that board’s decision, and continues to identify its 4G service using a 5GE icon.

Meaningless fines lead to AT&T’s, Frontier’s deplorable quality in California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Verizon taft 2dec2014

A study of AT&T’s, Verizon’s and Frontier Communications’ telephone network quality conducted by the California Public Utilities Commission shows that overall performance is poor across California. Low income communities have worse service and more outages than high income ones, but it’s not particularly good anywhere

Maximum Customer Trouble Report Rates of 6%, 8% or 10% of switched access lines per month (based on wire center size) are unduely generous because failure rates as high as these can hardly constitute acceptable service quality.

The apparently overly generous standard adopted…for Trouble Reports per Hundred access lines is in stark contrast to the requirement…that 90% of all out-of-service conditions are to be cleared within 24 hours. In fact, with the exception of the unique situation extant during the months of February and March 2016, this requirement has never been met by either AT&T or by Verizon/Frontier either on a companywide or on an individual wire center basis.

Although AT&T and Frontier, which now owns Verizon’s wireline systems, face fines, in theory, in practice they don’t: the CPUC allows them to spend the money on system maintenance and upgrades. In theory, it’s supposed to be extra maintenance and upgrade spending, but the loose accounting standards the CPUC applies makes that requirement meaningless.

The study recommends that “fines imposed due to an ILEC’s failure to meet service quality standards should be high enough so as to have the same financial consequences as poor service quality under competitive market conditions”. It doesn’t say how high that should be, but Verizon’s “unique situation” proved that telcos can perform when real money is on the line…

Verizon had actually cleared 91.58% and 92.64% of [out of service] conditions “within 24-hours of receiving notice of the out of service condition” for the months of February and March 2016, respectively, thus seemingly meeting the…requirement as the Commission had directed to be achieved as a precondition for the closing [of the sale of Californian systems to Frontier]. Faced with a powerful $10.5-billion financial incentive to do whatever was necessary to meet this condition, Verizon managed to make it happen – perhaps by importing personnel from some of its other…operations outside of California. However, this two-month compliance…was clearly an anomaly. When Frontier filed its…report for the second quarter of 2016…it showed 24-hour completion percentages for April, May and June 2016 of only 42.92%, 20.85%, and 72.35%, respectively.

It’s time for the CPUC to disavow its cynical decision to allow AT&T and Frontier to keep the money they would otherwise have to pay out in fines.

For more background documents, click here.

AT&T guilty of obfuscation, delay, deception, inaccuracy, evasion, omission and contradiction regarding 911 service, CPUC says

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Bluto pencils

AT&T has to pay a $3.75 million fine because of its “pattern of obfuscation, delay, and deception” in dealing with the California Public Utilities Commission, and the “inaccuracy, evasion, omission, and contradiction” in its description of its 911 service. The core issue was whether AT&T is required to file particular paperwork regarding next generation 911 services. The answer from the CPUC is an emphatic yes. AT&T’s refusal to do so and the manner in which it refused earned it the multimillion dollar fine.

The CPUC’s unanimous vote upholds a ruling earlier this year by an administrative law judge. AT&T appealed to the commission, claiming it had done no wrong because it merely slipped through legal loopholes created by differences in technology.

It’s a claim AT&T continues to make, most recently when it objected to new CPUC disaster readiness rules. That argument was debunked by the commission’s decision, which reiterated that 911 service is 911 service, regardless of how it’s provided or what network segment of the 911 system is being provided…

The Commission seeks to protect Californians who need safe energy delivery and reliable communications through the natural and man-made disasters to which California is increasingly prone. The Commission’s need for “accurate information from the utility in order to, among other things, ensure that it is providing just, reasonable and safe service” is acute, given the inherent information asymmetry between regulator and regulated entity. AT&T has not provided accurate information pertaining to the issues before us…

Emergency service tariff violations are not garden-variety regulatory misfeasance. The transport of emergency communications is a life and death matter. The difference between transport that guarantees 98%, 99.9% or 99.999% availability for a given trunk line can well mean the difference of an ambulance or fire truck that arrives on time and one that does not.

If anything, the decision said, the $3.75 million fine “may even be too modest” because of AT&T’s “financial resources” and the severity of its violation of “the public trust attendant on the utility services it provides”.

Commissioners made one significant change to the penalty. Originally, AT&T would have been given 30 days to file the necessary paperwork, and if it didn’t, the fine would have doubled to $7.5 million. Instead, AT&T will be fined $15,000 for every day it’s late.

Frontier’s California outage complaint rate triple that of AT&T, electric companies

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Cpuc complaints 15mar 13jun2020

Frontier Communication’s service outage problem is three times bigger than any other major California utility, judging by consumer complaints submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission during the covid–19 emergency. On a per customer basis the bankrupt telco’s wireline outage complaints were triple those of AT&T, and greater than Southern California Edison’s or Pacific Gas and Electric’s on an absolute basis, despite having fewer than half the number of customers as either of the two electric companies.

CPUC commissioners were briefed on utility customer complaints at their meeting last week. The presentation followed two landmark votes that declared broadband to be public utilities – one setting 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds as the “essential service quantity” of broadband and another requiring wireless companies to maintain “basic internet browsing” capability “during a disaster or commercial power outage”.

That’s an obligation that generally applies to Internet service, CPUC president Marybel Batjer said…

These are definitely difficult times and, as we all know, the pandemic has altered our lives in so many ways, as people are trying to adjust to what we’re calling this new normal. And I appreciate that the CPUC is making sure that residents are able to keep the lights on and more easily get access to the Internet, for work and for school. And we are committed to meeting our core responsibility of ensuring the safe delivery of our services that Californians so rely on to conduct their daily lives.

The CPUC received 49 complaints about unplanned service outages from Frontier customers between 15 March 2020 and 13 June 2020, which comes out to 22 complaints per one million customers. AT&T generated more outage complaints – 69 – but it has nearly five times as many wireline customers as Frontier. PG&E and SCE drew fewer unplanned outage complaints – 38 and 20, respectively – and fewer total complaints per one million customers.

Money – disconnections due to non-payment and payment arrangements – was the biggest source of complaints about PG&E. SCE caught the most flack for planned service outages, which would have been for maintenance – there haven’t been any public safety power shutoffs for wildfire prevention purposes so far this year.