Tag Archives: att

AT&T blows off net neutrality as it zero rates HBO Max

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Marvin fire

AT&T is giving its HBO Max streaming service a free ride on its mobile broadband network. The bandwidth consumed by AT&T mobile customers while watching HBO Max programming won’t be counted against their monthly data caps. According to a story in The Verge by Nilay Patel, AT&T’s streaming competition won’t get the same zero rating treatment…

HBO Max, AT&T’s big bet on the future of streaming, will be excused from AT&T’s mobile data caps, while competing services like Netflix and Disney Plus will use up your data…

AT&T…confirmed to The Verge that HBO Max will be excused from the company’s traditional data caps and the soft data caps on unlimited plans.

The story goes on to say that AT&T offers other streaming platforms the opportunity to pay for the bandwidth their subscribers consume, but none have found the deal compelling enough to take it. It works for AT&T because it’s just taking money out of its HBO Now pocket and putting it into its AT&T mobile pocket.

Whether it’s a privilege it reserves for itself or one it sells to others, AT&T’s zero rating tactic is the kind of conduct that network neutrality rules are intended to stop. If there were network neutrality rules. The current Federal Communications Commission thinks zero rating and pretty much anything else AT&T does is just fine – that’s why the republican majority voted in 2017 to repeal the net neutrality rules established during the Obama administration.

It’s different in California, sorta. A law passed in 2018 bans “zero-rating some Internet content, applications, services, or devices in a category of Internet content, applications, services, or devices, but not the entire category”, or accepting payment to do so. Unfortunately that law – senate bill 822 – is on ice right now. California attorney general Xavier Becerra agreed not to enforce it while appeals of the FCC’s 2017 decision work their way through the federal courts.

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. refused in February to reconsider its earlier decision (mostly) upholding the FCC’s net neutrality rollback. The nominal 90-day deadline for taking it to the federal supreme court passed without action last month. The net neutrality battle could be back in California soon.

AT&T rejects California disaster response obligations

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

AT&T is striking back at covid–19 emergency relief measures adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission. Flanked by Verizon and T-Mobile (via the mobile industry’s lobbying front organisation), AT&T wants the CPUC to repeal rules that require the company to waive things like installation or remote call forwarding fees when people are forced to relocate because of the covid–19 emergency. Those are CPUC mandates that also apply to any other “housing or financial crisis due to a disaster”. AT&T calls that “an act in excess of the Commission’s jurisdiction”.

Those rules also obligate mobile telephone companies to deploy temporary cell sites and other equipment when disaster strikes a particular community, and to provide WiFi access “in areas where impacted wireless customers seek refuge” and mobile phones “for customers seeking shelter from a disaster to use temporarily at a county or city designated shelter”.

AT&T’s landline-oriented arguments against mandatory disaster relief boil down to the CPUC can’t tell us to do that, and if it involves VoIP service, the CPUC can’t tell us to do anything. This is AT&T longstanding position, and as a result it is fighting a multimillion dollar fine and accusations of obstreperous behavior during massive power outages last year. The company is unapologetic and makes the bizarre claim that “VoIP service is not a telephone service”.

The mobile industry’s lobbyists characterise the disaster response measures imposed by the CPUC as “unlawful”, because mobile telecoms are regulated by the federal government and because the Federal Communications Commission is trying, with varying degrees of success, to prevent any state or local control over broadband service.

AT&T and most other big, monopoly model telecoms companies stepped up with voluntary and temporary consumer relief offers during the covid–19 emergency. But unlike other regulated utilities, broadband providers and telcos don’t have to, as Frontier Communications’ refusal to match low income service offers shows. As lockdowns ease and people go back to work, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile don’t want the CPUC, or anyone else, interfering with whatever plans they have for recovering their covid–19 response costs and collecting from customers temporarily unable to pay their bills.

AT&T continues 5GEvolution scam despite advertising industry’s slapdown

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Att customer evolution

A self-regulating body set up by the advertising industry slapped down AT&T’s strategy of conning mobile subscribers into thinking that they’re getting 5G service when they’re really connected to a 4G network. The National Advertising Review Board (NARB), which is run by the Better Business Bureau, concluded that AT&T’s decision to slap a “5G Evolution” label or, more confusingly, a 5GE icon, on its LTE service is misleading and that “consumers may well interpret “Evolution” in the challenged claims as signifying that AT&T’s technology has already evolved into 5G”. Which it hasn’t yet, and won’t for many years to come.

Not fully.

NARB recommended that AT&T pull the offending ads. AT&T isn’t obligated to follow the recommendation, and it didn’t.

Not fully.

A Lightreading.com article by Mike Dano reports that AT&T will drop the offending ads, but will still display the deceptive 5GE icon on phones that are connected to its 4G LTE network…

“AT&T respectfully disagrees with the reasoning and result reached by the panel majority,” the operator said in a statement to Light Reading. “AT&T’s customers nationwide continue to benefit from dramatically superior speeds and performance that its current network provides. As a supporter of the self-regulatory process, however, AT&T will comply with the NARB’s decision.”

But AT&T said the NARB’s recommendation only applies to its advertising and therefore will not affect the one element that really matters: Its service icon.

AT&T’s justification for the 5GE branding is that its 4G network is so wicked fast that it might as well be 5G. That’s not true, as independent testing has shown. But that’s not something that weighs heavily on the minds of AT&T’s corporate brand managers, or that will be obvious to the vast majority of its customers.

It should be noted that AT&T is not the only mobile carriers making dubious advertising claims. A quick look at recent NARB decisions shows that T-Mobile (which filed the original complaint against AT&T) and Verizon have likewise attracted its disapproval.

We’re doing better than Bangladesh, so give us money, telcos tell U.S. senate

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

India utility pole

Telephone companies don’t appear to having the same success cable companies have had with broadband promotions during the covid–19 emergency. The head of telco’s primary Washington, D.C. lobbying front organisation asked a U.S. senate committee on Wednesday to “keep providers on sound financial footing” and urged the use of existing, incumbent-friendly federal programs to distribute subsidies directly to them.

California’s two major telephone companies – AT&T and Frontier Communications – aren’t offering service at the 25 Mbps at $15 or less per month covid–19 benchmark set by California Public Utilities Commission president Marybel Batjer. AT&T has a 10 Mbps or less for $10 offer for low income customers, while bankrupt Frontier tops out at 12 Mbps for $20 for legacy copper customers.

As lobbyists do, USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter told of the hardships his clients face and lavished accolades upon them for persevering nonetheless. That list includes AT&T and Frontier, as well as Verizon, Centurylink and lots of small telephone companies. But not major cable companies. When Spalter spoke about their performance during the emergency, though, it was more like damning with faint praise…

Even as traffic has at times soared more than 25 percent higher than pre-crisis levels, the performance of our networks remains seamless for our nation’s citizens. Indeed, according to one recent study, “[o]f the top 10 countries in the world by population, the U.S. is the only [country] that recorded no download speed degradation on average in the month of April.”

So who are AT&T, Frontier and friends beating? China, for one, which is the world’s most populous country. Not far behind is India – both countries have more than a billion residents. It’s a long drop to third place, which belongs to the U.S. with 333 million people. The remaining seven are in the 100 million/200 million range: Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Brazil, Bangladesh, Russia and Mexico.

Yes. Our broadband networks are holding up better than their’s.

U.S. house democrats propose $50 monthly broadband subsidy for low income homes, AT&T and Comcast will be happy to take it

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

With covid–19 pandemic lockdowns continuing in most states, albeit with gradual loosening underway, democrats in the house of representatives in Washington, D.C. want to pump $5.5 billion into broadband access subsidies to ensure that people and institutions can remain connected to the online resources they will be depending on, likely for months to come. It’s one of the opening shots in the negotiations over what might be a second stimulus bill in the trillion dollar range to keep the U.S. economy afloat.

It’s a big leap from the $375 million for broadband that was included in the first, $2 trillion pandemic stimulus bill approved by congress in March. But it’s also broadband funding of a different sort. In March, the money went to supply-side uses, such as $100 million for broadband infrastructure via the federal agriculture department’s ReConnect program. This time around, house democrats want the money to feed the demand side – $4 billion is earmarked to subsidise monthly Internet bills for low income families, up to $50 per month per household. The remaining $1.5 billion would go to school and libraries to pay for mobile network-enabled WiFi devices and service, and other expenses necessary for keeping kids connected to school lessons.

Ultimately, that money will hit the bottom lines of major, monopoly model incumbent Internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast, Charter and the rest. If the bill sets a de facto base price of $50 per month for Internet service, then that’s what those companies will charge. It’s a lot easier to up sell customers from what are, in effect, low income loss leader promotions such as the $10 per month Comcast Internet Essentials or Access from AT&T packages, and move them into expensive long term contracts when someone else is picking up the tab. But $4 billion only lasts so long. When the subsidies run out, those households will be stuck with higher bills for a long time.

The odds of this latest proposal making it into law as is are pretty slim, though. What house democrats seem to doing is setting up for negotiations with U.S. senate republicans and the white house. The D.C. beltway sausage machine is about to crank into high gear.

AT&T blasts loopholes as it tries to escape $3.75 million fine in California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

As expected, AT&T appealed a 3.75 million fine levied by a California Public Utilities Commission administrative law judge for “wilful disregard” of its public safety obligations. The penalty followed months of wrangling with CPUC staff over what kind of information AT&T is required to provide about services, such as 911 emergency calls, that ride on voice over Internet protocol technology (VoIP).

AT&T’s appeal dives headfirst into the minutia of how 911 service is provided now, and how it will be provided once it’s completely switched over from legacy plain old telephone service (POTS) to modern digital technology. It also twists and turns through the legal technicalities of when and how it’s supposed to keep the CPUC informed, and whether breaking a particular rule is one time thing or a continuing violation. Maybe that tactic will work. If, say, AT&T can convince commissioners, or maybe a California court down the road, that there’s a loophole that allows them to refuse to give the CPUC information about rates and terms for a particular service, then that might enough to get them off the hook.

But that won’t answer the fundamental policy question of whether the CPUC can and should regulate modern telecommunications platforms that provide similar – if not the exact same – service as old school POTS. In its appeal, AT&T did not repeat its previous Alice in Wonderland argument that telephone calls made with one kind of digital technology are a telecommunications service, while identical calls made with another kind are not. It did, however, cite a California law that expired at the end of last year that generally blocked the CPUC from regulating VoIP or other Internet protocol enabled services. As the CPUC defines its role in regulating VoIP and other de facto digital telecommunications services, AT&T and other monopoly model telco and cable incumbents will be back in Sacramento, trying to resurrect that ban.

Cable, satellite TV companies build business plans on fear and ignorance

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The future, if you want to call it that, of traditional, linear subscription television services will depend on customers who don’t understand, and consequently fear, online video services. Martin Peers, a reporter for The Information, looked at his mother-in-law’s Comcast bill and discovered a stack of add on fees and increasing monthly rates for services that can be had for less money via over-the-top video platforms.

The reason she’s writing unnecessarily high checks each month? “She’s nervous of changing what she’s got”, Peers writes, and that fear is at the base of the profit-maximising strategies adopted by Comcast, Charter Communications, DirecTv and DISH…

[Comcast chief financial officer Michael] Cavanagh acknowledged that recent price rises imposed by Comcast will drive an increased rate of subscriber losses this year. Comcast’s average customer bill rose 3.6% this year, a little more than last year…

Comcast is not alone in focusing more on customers willing to pony up for cable and letting others in search of budget solutions cancel. DirecTV’s owner, AT&T, has had fewer price promotions for the satellite TV service as it focuses on high-value customers. Charter, the third biggest cable service, has a similar philosophy. Comcast, Charter, DirecTV and Dish lost a combined 5.1 million subscribers in 2019, 71% higher than the losses of 2018.

It’s a classic case of haves and have nots. Consumers who feel comfortable navigating the online world can take advantage of competitive video pricing. Those who don’t share that awareness – a group that disproportionately includes low income and elderly people – get soaked for high monthly subscription fees that include a raft of services they don’t need or use.

That strategy is the driving motivation behind the scorched earth tactics cable companies use to defend their grasp on low income communities. Maintaining effective monopolies isn’t just about blocking competitive broadband providers. It’s also about keeping vulnerable customers fenced in.

Telcos struggle as subscribers dump legacy video and copper subscriptions

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

San benito pole route 13apr2019

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for big wireline telcos. Frontier Communications’ bankruptcy led the parade of dismal news. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission made a couple weeks ahead of going into bankruptcy, Frontier pinned the blame for its problems on its legacy copper business and the less-than-lucrative rural customers who depend on it. But that was no surprise.

AT&T’s and Verizon’s troubles weren’t exactly a shock, either. Some business lines, like video and copper-based broadband service, have been fading for some time. The covid–19 emergency accelerated that trend. In the first three months of 2020, AT&T lost 897,000 video subscribers and nearly 300,000 DSL customers. Even though its broadband business added 209,000 fiber subs, it still saw a net loss of 73,000 broadband accounts overall. Verizon lost 84,000 FiOS video subs, while gaining 59,000 fiber broadband customers.

AT&T gained wireless subscribers in the first quarter, while Verizon lost some, blaming the store closures forced by the covid–19 lockdown. The real numbers to watch, though, will be the results of the now big three mobile operators in the second quarter. By July, we’ll know if the shift to in-home mobile network-enabled hotspots is significant.

Both companies “withdrew financial guidance”, which means they’re not willing to make any predictions about how shareholders will fare over the next few months.

AT&T’s captain is jumping ship. In a move that’s been long expected, CEO Randall Stephenson will hand off to COO John Stankey in July. Stankey has been working for AT&T for 35 years. He’s been running Warner Media since AT&T took it over, and is in charge of launching HBO Max, which is a streaming video service that’s supposed to compete with the likes of Netflix and Disney. That would be difficult for any executive, but for someone with no history and no apparent friends in the entertainment business, and who spends a lot of time talking about things like “headcount rationalization” – AKA firing people – it would be a miracle.

CPUC asks ISPs to give Californians a break, but all it can do is ask

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Please sir

Broadband service is too expensive for many families, but it’s a necessity nonetheless, according to a letter sent on Friday to Californian Internet service providers by California Public Utilities Commission president Marybel Batjer. Saying “not every household could or can continue to afford $50 a month for a quality, high-speed Internet connection”, Batjer asked ISPs to…

  • Provide service sufficient for all family members to work and learn from home: Subscription in the range of $0–15 a month, offering a minimum of 25 Mbps, and eliminate or waive data caps and overage charges.
  • Provide expansive program eligibility: Eligibility must be as broad as possible…
  • Make signing up easy: Allow customers to immediately sign-up for the plan online or over the phone before requiring eligibility verification. Eligibility can be verified at a later date.
  • Remove barriers: Eliminate any requirement that customers have no unpaid balances. Supply new customers with a low or no cost modem and Wi-Fi router either to own or lease.

It’s just a request. The CPUC has near zero authority over broadband service providers, even when they want something from the commission. And it can’t offer much in the way of incentives. Batjer pointed to the federal lifeline program that offers a $9.25 a month subsidy for fixed broadband service, with lots of strings attached, and she also held out hope that the CPUC’s lifeline program might also support broadband service. Some day.

Batjer wants ISPs to do two things: offer low income households 25 Mbps service for $15 or less a month with no data caps, and make it easy to sign up. The table below shows how poorly California’s major ISPs stack up against the $15/25 Mbps/no cap ask.

Suddenlink nails all three criteria, but charges $20 for installation. Comcast and Cox get price and speed right, but impose a standard 1TB cap that’s only waived for the moment. Charter meets the no cap and speed marks, but charges $23 per month (yeah, it’s $18 without WiFi but it’s also pretty useless without WiFi for most). AT&T makes it on price, but fails on speed and data caps, although it’s also waiving caps temporarily. Frontier offers unlimited data but its speed is limited by its decaying networks and for that it charges $20 a month.

Signing up is the real problem, though. Even if you can reach a customer service rep who will admit to knowing about a low income discount program – not a good bet – you will be subjected to arcane documentation demands and credit barriers on the one hand, and vicious up sell attempts on the other. Frontier, for example, has a plan with a $20 introductory rate that ties customers into a long term contract with an escalating price and Frontier’s notorious extra fees. Its reps have been known to stonewall affordable rate enquiries while offering the bait and switch rate as salvation. Customers of other ISPs have similar stories to tell.

ISPPlan nameMonthly rate and terms
AT&TAccess from AT&T$10, 10 Mbps max, 150 GB or 1TB cap depending on technology, WiFi included, for qualifying low income households. Until 30 April 2020, first 2 months are free. 855–220–5211.
CharterSpectrum Internet Assist$22.99 ($5 less with no WiFi), 30 Mbps, no cap, 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. 844–579–3743.
ComcastInternet Essentials$9.95, 25 Mbps, 1TB cap, WiFi included, for qualifying low income households. Until 13 May 2020 the first 60 days is free. 855–846–8376
.
CoxConnect2Compete$9.95, 25 Mbps, 1TB cap, WiFi included, for qualifying low income households with a K-12 student. If signed up by 15 May 2020, service is free until 15 July 2020. 800–234–3993.
FrontierFundamental Internet$19.99, speed depends on available technology, no cap, for qualifying low income households. No free service is available, $9.99 charge to disconnect, deposit may be required. 877–578–8367.
SuddenlinkAltice Advantage Internet$14.95, 30 Mbps, no cap, WiFi implied but not explicitly included, for qualifying low income households. During the corona virus emergency, service is free until 30 June 2020 but installation is $20. 888–633–0030.

CPUC whacks AT&T with $3.75 million fine for “wilful disregard” of public safety obligations

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

AT&T was ordered to pay a $3.75 million fine by the California Public Utilities commission for blowing off demands for information about its 911 service in 2019. Administrative law judge Karl Bemesderfer issued a “presiding officer’s decision” in a disciplinary proceeding launched last year after AT&T refused to file reports detailing its rates and terms for “next generation” 911 services that ride on Internet protocol technology, rather than old style plain old telephone service.

Besides being a sizeable slap to AT&T, the decision is a reminder that defiance of CPUC directives can be expensive. That’s something T-Mobile and Sprint might take notice of: if wrangling over informational filings is worth a fine of a few million dollars, how much does it cost to baldly merge two giant companies without permission?

The decision blasted “AT&T’s wilful disregard for the State of California’s obligation to ensure the public’s safety through oversight of the 911 system”…

We conclude that by their deliberate repeated refusals to respond appropriately to the letters from [CPUC communications division director Cynthia] Walker, their knowing misrepresentations regarding their handling of 911 traffic, and their deliberate ignoring of [a commission decision and general order], and applicable law, Respondents have engaged in conduct that merits a fine…

We conclude that Respondents’ conduct is not so egregious as to merit a maximum fine nor so excusable as to merit a minimum fine. For their repeated refusal to respond to the letters from Director Walker we find that a fine of $10,000 per day or $2.5 million is appropriate; for their misrepresentations regarding the handling of 911 traffic and their deliberate disregard of [a commission decision], we find that a fine of $5,000 a day or $1.25 million is appropriate, for a total fine of $3.75 million.

If AT&T doesn’t immediately file the necessary information, the fine will double to $7.5 million.

The decision doesn’t try to carve out new regulatory territory for the CPUC. Although the service in question is delivered via voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology, which the CPUC was generally barred from regulating until this year, there was an exception for 911 service.

AT&T, or anyone else with a particular interest, have until the beginning of May to file an appeal, and CPUC commissioners can request a review. Assuming AT&T appeals, as it certainly will, the fine will be put on hold until the process plays out.