Tag Archives: att

Unless it’s AT&T or Verizon, telco capital investment is at life support levels

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As with subscriber numbers, there’s a big gap between the two biggest telcos in the U.S. – AT&T and Verizon – and the rest of the field when it comes to capital spending. Both companies are planning multi-billion dollar investments in their networks in 2018, according to a story by Sean Buckley in FierceTelecom, with AT&T planning to spend $25 billion on capital upgrades in 2018, while Verizon is looking at the $17 billion to $18 billion range.

That includes spending on their mobile networks as they move toward 5G upgrades. It’s a much different story for pure wireline plays.

Number three on the list – CenturyLink – barely hits a dime on the dollar versus AT&T, with $2.6 billion spent last year and a 2018 capital budget pegged at 16% of revenue, whatever that turns out to be. Its priority will be integrating newly acquired Level 3 Communications into its overall operations. According to the FierceTelecom story

“We have to keep driving profitable growth,” said Glen Post, CEO of CenturyLink during the fourth quarter earnings call. “Most of it will be success based. The allocation of capital [will] shift harder in making sure it’s for return profiles that are higher, take advantage of our on-net footprint, and are predictable whether it’s a cost reduction or driving profitable margin growth.”

Translation: regardless of what we said in order to get regulatory approval of the deal, we’re going to bundle Level 3’s long haul fiber assets into CenturyLink’s monopoly business model. Adios dark fiber.

Frontier is a distant fourth, with a 2018 capital budget of between $1 billion and $1.5 billion and a number one priority of “finding ways to reduce costs”. In other words, it’s going to spend money on its infrastructure only when it absolutely has to – replace burnt out poles in Santa Barbara County, maybe? – or to meet self liquidating commitments, such as those it made to get $2 billion in federal Connect America Fund subsidies. Given Frontier’s possible plans to exit California, that might well be the best it can do.

Wyoming’s legislature bows to telco, cable lobbyists, but not as deeply as California’s

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Following California’s lead, Wyoming lawmakers grabbed their ankles and took what cable and telco lobbyists gave them: a law that subsidises broadband infrastructure, but only to the extent that incumbents want. Even so, Wyoming is not buying into the 1990s service levels that lobbyists for Frontier Communications, AT&T, Comcast and Charter Communications bribed convinced Californian assembly members and senators to accept.

As described by Phillip Dampier in Stop the Cap, what started out as an effort to give communities the option of pursuing their own broadband projects turned into an incumbent right of first refusal, secretly rewritten by lobbyists for Charter and CenturyLink. Which prompted a sharp response from Cheyenne mayor Marian Orr…

The substitute bill is substantially different than the original bill. And it wasn’t posted on-line or anywhere for anyone except insiders to have access to. CenturyLink and [Charter] are bullies. It’s wrong, and they are hurting Cheyenne and other WY communities from gaining affordable access.

Orr pushed back, but it wasn’t enough. According to Karl Bode, writing in DSL Reports, Wyoming legislators approved the bill this week.

That said, Wyoming’s legislators did not completely prostrate themselves, as California’s did. If no private ISP is interested in serving a Wyoming community, even with subsidies, then a local government can step in.

Perhaps even more importantly, Wyoming’s residential broadband standard is pegged at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. That’s equal to the federal agriculture department’s minimum for rural communities, and the Federal Communications Commission’s benchmark for “advanced services” capability. In larger communities, the standard for business service is even higher – 50 Mbps down/5 Mbps up.

California’s lawmakers thought that was too generous. Blindly accepting the campaign cash poor mouth arguments offered by AT&T, Frontier and cable companies, they decided last year that 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up is good enough for every Californian.

State of Wyoming, Senate File No. SF010, Economic diversification-broadband services

AT&T CEO explains why net neutrality is necessary

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Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chief executive officer, offered a hell of good example of why he can’t be trusted to do the right thing and refrain from using his position as a dominant, monopoly-centric broadband service provider to benefit his equally hefty video content business.

In an interview with CNBC, Stephenson complained that his online competition is beating him up…

“Reality is, the biggest distributor of content out there is totally vertically integrated. This happens to be something called Netflix. But they create original content; they aggregate original content; and they distribute original content. They have 100 million subscribers,” Stephenson said on CNBC. “Look at Amazon. They’re doing the exact same thing. Amazon Studios, creating, aggregating, distributing; Google, YouTube, Hulu, this thing is prolific.”

Reality is, Stephenson has a choke hold on their necks. AT&T is a gatekeeper – for hundreds of thousands of Californians, the only gatekeeper – between those online video platforms and their subscribers.

He intends to make good use of that power, too. The “Internet bill of rights” that AT&T published, and claims to honor, conspicuously fails to include paid prioritisation on the list of network management tactics it promises not to use. Voluntarily promises not to use – there’s nothing preventing it from posting another version of what, reality is, a declaration of AT&T’s rights.

Even if all AT&T does is play the paid prioritisation game, it will gain a big competitive advantage over video platforms that don’t share the top-to-bottom supply chain control it hopes to gain from its proposed purchase of Time Warner’s content and distribution business. AT&T can raise the price of Internet fast lanes to the point where it forces the likes of Netflix and Amazon to either reimburse it for any profits lost to the competition they present, or concede the fight to DirecTv Now and other in-house content engines. Even if the established players can adjust, new video ventures would be blocked. High prioritisation prices won’t matter much to AT&T – it’ll just shift money from one pocket to another.

Reality is, what reality is.

AT&T’s FirstNet deal means more but slower broadband in rural California

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Governor Brown’s decision to join the federal FirstNet public safety radio system has pluses and minuses for rural broadband development in California. The system is intended to provide data connectivity and interoperable communications for police, fire and other first responder agencies across the U.S. The federal government awarded a $6.5 billion contract to AT&T to build and operate it.

As a part of the deal, AT&T is getting 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band. It’s allowed to use it for consumer broadband service so long as public safety communications have priority. The company plans to combine the FirstNet build out with deployment of its rural fixed wireless broadband service, which runs on a similar slice of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz band and promises 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds.

Both FirstNet and AT&T’s wireless local loop service are based on 4G LTE technology, and not the next generation 5G standard that’ll be the basis for urban mobile broadband service upgrades.

On the plus side, it means that AT&T has to extend its wireless broadband reach to pretty much every remote corner of California. AT&T will likely lease existing facilities or contract out operations in some cases, but it will be doing a lot of construction work too. Since the core technology it’s deploying supports both public safety and consumer users, any place it plants a FirstNet tower should also get at least a minimum level of wireless broadband service. Should.

On the minus side, the deal will turbocharge AT&T’s campaign to rip out rural copper networks and replace them with low speed wireless broadband systems. The federal government is already subsidising that effort with its Connect America Fund program. The combination of FirstNet’s extra dollars and spectrum, and the regulatory grease that comes with public safety projects makes it even cheaper and easier for AT&T to fence off rural communities from competition while offering substandard service at monopoly prices.

AT&T still fails at FTTH, but slowly figures out how to make it work

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AT&T hasn’t fully embraced fiber to the home service yet. At least not judging by my experience setting it up in a newly built, fully fibered apartment complex. But they are making progress.

Originally, AT&T only offered homes in FTTH islands the same service packages that they offered to surrounding copper customers. That still might be going on in single family home developments or in redlined neighborhoods, but they’ve developed genuine fiber packages of up to a symmetrical gigabit for multi-dwelling units. Unfortunately, their customer service reps and installers aren’t all onboard.

Since this wasn’t for my primary residence, I wanted AT&T’s cheapest, bare bones Internet service, in this case, 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload with no contract, at $50 per month and a $99 installation fee, as their website led me to believe. No surprise, AT&T made it hard for me to buy it. As it turned out, they didn’t even sell it.

No contract service isn’t available online, even when you try to order it via an online chat. The call center reps are nearly as clueless. After the obligatory up sell attempt, The first rep I spoke with took my order and told me it would cost $40 per month. That set off alarm bells, since that’s the 12-month contract price. I asked her if that’s the no-contract price and got an uh-hum in return.

Anytime a call center rep answers with uh-hum, it means I don’t know but I’d like you to assume I’m saying yes.

I asked to speak to a supervisor and, after some argument, finally got one. He confirmed what I thought: the $40 rate came with a contract and no-contract service was $50 for 50 Mbps, symmetrical as it turned out. Done deal. A installation appointment was set.

I could expend a couple thousand words describing what came next. The highlight was a surprise early morning service call from an installer who tried to tell me the optical network terminal he had was the WiFi equipped modem I’d ordered. When I pointed out he was installing it in a metal cabinet without an ethernet connection, he just said “it’s pretty powerful”. Right.

Six truck rolls later, I had Internet.

A week after that, I had a bill for $70. It took several phone calls, each more unpleasant for all involved than the last, to establish that 50 Mbps symmetrical service is $70 on a no contract basis, and all $50 gets you is 5 Mbps symmetrical.

Which is what I now have. And it works, although how it will perform when the complex finally fills up is an open question. AT&T’s FTTH service is a good product. They just need to learn how to sell and install it.

California joins federal FirstNet public safety radio system, run by AT&T

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Governor Brown announced that the state is opting in to the nationwide FirstNet public safety radio system that’ll be run by AT&T, under a contract from the federal government. Yesterday was the deadline, and California was the last state to decide. All 50 states have now opted in.

In his opt-in letter, Brown said he still has reservations about the 25 year project…

This letter serves as notice…that California has decided to participate in the deployment of the nationwide, interoperable broadband network as proposed in the FirstNet State Plan. While California remains concerned that the proposed plan does not address all our State’s needs, California is opting into the plan with the expectation that our concerns will be addressed throughout our partnership

A side letter from the head of California’s office of emergency services, Mark Ghilarducci, outlined those concerns. They include interoperability, particularly while FirstNet is under development and some agencies have it while others don’t, the extra charges AT&T intends to impose for secure communications and the robustness of AT&T’s wireless sites.

Ghilarducci said that the federal government wasn’t offering a genuine choice, “because FirstNet’s regulatory and procedural process makes the opt-out option in California untenable”.

New Hampshire had similar concerns, and originally decided to build its own first responder radio system, but reversed course and announced it is going with FirstNet as the clocked ticked down yesterday. In the end, New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu didn’t believe there was a real choice either. “The additional risk associated with being the only state to opt-out creates too high a barrier for New Hampshire to continue down the opt-out path alone”, he said.

AT&T’s FirstNet system will use 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, and be based on 4G LTE technology.

Wet string delivers faster broadband than AT&T or Frontier for 1 million Californians

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The best broadband that AT&T and Frontier Communications offers to more than one million Californians is advertised at a download speed of 3 Mbps or less, if it’s available at all. That’s slower than the 3.5 Mbps that a British techie achieved using a couple of pieces of wet string and some ADSL gear.

He was sitting around the office one day and decided to give it a go. That earned him serious geek cred with his boss, Adrian Kennard, who runs Andrews and Arnold, an ISP in the U.K. As Kennard describes in his blog

It turns out he needed salty water to get anywhere. A 2m length…

And the result – it works!!! Not even that slow (3½Mb/s down) though slow uplink. Don’t dare touch the string though…

So, there you go, ADSL over 2m of literal “wet string”. Well done all for testing this. It shows the importance of handling faults that seem to just be “low speed”.

As a bonus, fit tin cans to both ends and you get voice as well as broadband on the same wet string!

According to the most recent California Public Utilities Commission data available, 709,000 Californians live in census blocks where the fastest download speed advertised (but not necessarily delivered) by AT&T and Frontier Communications ranges from 768 Kbps to 3 Mbps. Another 367,000 are in census blocks where Frontier and AT&T claimed federal broadband subsidies and offer no service, at any speed.

Although “it was a bit of fun”, the hack highlighted the capabilities of the core technology that delivers broadband over copper-based telco infrastructure. The CPUC should take note as it listens to Frontier and AT&T tell half-truths about wireline problems and magic radio solutions. The potential of rural copper-based networks is higher than AT&T’s and Frontier’s current service levels, and higher than their intended wireless replacements.

It’s even higher than wet string.

AT&T, Frontier talk to CPUC about future networks, without putting all cards on the table

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The California Public Utilities Commission looked at telephone company plans to replace copper networks and plain old telephone service (POTS) with new technology at a workshop in San Francisco yesterday. Representatives from AT&T and Frontier Communications talked about some, but not all, of those plans, as I pointed out in the remarks I prepared, and mostly delivered, at the workshop…

The copper-to-IP transition involves three discrete but inter-related issues. Only two of those issues were addressed today.

The speakers from AT&T and Frontier talked about the benefits of replacing copper networks with fiber, and legacy POTS systems with Internet protocol technology. They did a good job of explaining the technology, the economics and the benefits that fiber and IP-based service brings.

Fair enough.

But they ignored the third issue, despite the fact that it is at the heart of their business strategy. It is at the heart of their plan to use federal and state subsidies to lock rural communities into substandard service at monopoly prices for decades to come.

That unspoken, third issue is the replacement of copper networks, largely paid for with public subsidies, with fixed wireless service, also paid for with taxpayer and ratepayer money.

Although AT&T’s representative ignored it today, the company has made no secret of its plans. It intends to replace copper networks with wireless local loop technology in rural areas, claim it delivers the minimum 10 megabits down and 1 megabit up speeds required by the California Advanced Services Fund and the FCC’s Connect America Fund subsidy programs, and pocket the cash.

Frontier has been less straightforward. Despite promising the CPUC that it was a “dedicated wireline service provider”, during the regulatory review of its purchase of Verizon’s California systems, it is now testing its own version of wireless local loop technology, and its executives are speaking of it of as a means of meeting their Connect America Fund obligations.

At best, the fixed wireless systems that AT&T and Frontier are developing can support broadband service that’s on a par with legacy DSL upgrades; service that’s priced, though, on a par with faster and more reliable copper and fiber-based service. And they want to use regulatory blessings obtained with promises of a fiber future to do it.

Today’s focus on IP technology and fiber networks was driven, in part, by the CPUC’s regulatory authority over voice service. But the CPUC also has a legislative mandate to bridge the digital divide in California and bring fast, reliable and affordable broadband service to all Californians. It also has a new responsibility to monitor AT&T’s and Frontier’s compliance with Connect America Fund commitments.

The CPUC should hold AT&T and Frontier to account for everything they do, not just those things they choose to talk about.

Mobile industry group calls for less 5G hype while standards are established

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A European trade group wants more 5G coordination and less marketing misdirection, while at the same time AT&T is running as fast as it can in the opposite direction. On the one hand, it’s an interesting contrast between the technocratic central planning that European telecoms companies often take comfort in (and often ignore, when it suits them), and the Wild West, grab-it-while-you-can ethic of the U.S. mobile industry.

On the other, it’s a useful reminder that the overheated press releases and aggressive lobbying by U.S. mobile companies, and AT&T in particular, does more than just confuse consumers and policy makers. It also creates needless distractions and delays for technology and infrastructure that relies on international standards and a global supply chain.

The 5G Infrastructure Association is a creature of the European Commission, one of the main governing branches of the European Union. It’s job is to coordinate development, trials and, eventually, full roll out of 5G mobile technology and networks across Europe. It released its latest road map earlier this week, showing true commercialisation of 5G technology coming sometime after 2020, and warning carriers that “it is very important to avoid premature ‘5G’ launch announcements and the subsequent potential fragmentation among the different countries, which would hurt both industry and consumers”.

It’s no shock that an E.U.-sponsored group is calling for more coordination and consumer protection – it’s what they do. Nor is it a surprise that AT&T is completely ignoring them – it’s what they do. The tension between the two helps maintain a balance between innovation and cooperation, both of which are indispensable to the telecommunications industry.

What’s not necessary, though, is misleading hype. More industry groups should follow the 5G Infrastructure Association’s lead and insist on clarity and truth in labelling. Facts are important.

AT&T turns good 4G tech into bad 5G hype and worse public policy

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Minneapolis is AT&T’s latest case study in deceptive, but well-lawyered, public statements. According to a company press release, AT&T is rolling out something that a casual reader might think is 5G…

Minneapolis is one of 20 markets where we plan to bring AT&T 5G Evolution by the end of the year, with this technology already available in parts of Austin and Indianapolis today. 5G Evolution offers customers a taste of the future of entertainment and connectivity on their devices.

In 5G Evolution markets, we upgrade cell towers with network upgrades that include ultra-fast LTE Advanced features like 256 QAM, 4×4 MIMO, and 3-way carrier aggregation.

If you didn’t know that LTE Advanced is 4G technology, you might think that 5G Evolution gets you 5G service on a 5G network. It doesn’t. As AT&T is careful to note, “5G standards are still being finalized”.

It’s a bit of misdirection that’s in line with AT&T’s marketing and lobbying style, similar to its fiber umbrella branding and mislabeling copper-based DSL as fiber-to-the-home service.

The research and development work, including field trials like the one in Minneapolis, that AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint are doing is critical to the eventual deployment of 5G networks. They need room to expand their 4G networks right now. But they also need to be called out when they deliberately try to confuse the two in order to stampede policy makers into giving away publicly-owned property, abandoning responsible management of public right of ways and ignoring valid community standards.

AT&T and the other mobile carriers have a legitimate claim to use public assets to expand and upgrade their networks as market demand continues to increase. They also have a responsibility to be honest about it. Conflating 5G R&D with 4G upgrades is deliberately misleading and should not be rewarded by policy makers.