Tag Archives: broadband

Pai offers net neutrality rules custom made for AT&T’s, Comcast’s business models

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Pai shapiro 1 ces 7jan2020

Ajit Pai’s three-year delayed debut at CES as Federal Communications Commission chair last week was a friendly, and at times lighthearted, conversation with Gary Shapiro, the CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which produces the show. Pai used the opportunity to float what he seems to thinks are consensus network neutrality rules. What he’s really proposing is to cement major ISPs and mobile carriers’ monopoly model business plans into federal law.

Shapiro led off by asking Pai about the FCC’s decision to scrap network neutrality rules two years ago. Pai endorsed net neutrality legislation. But of a sort…

Let’s focus on the things that we can actually agree on, those core principles of an open internet that we all agree upon – no blocking, no throttling, no anticompetitive conduct, transparency – I’ve just described in five seconds a bill that should sail through congress, but this has become more of a political issue than a policy one.

He left a couple of items off the list, at least the list that net neutrality advocates keep: paid prioritisation and zero rating. Those are two related practices that big, monopoly model Internet service providers – AT&T and Comcast, for example – and mobile carriers dearly want to hold onto.

When an ISP zero rates particular content, it doesn’t count the bytes consumed against a user’s monthly data cap. Paid prioritisation happens when an ISP creates a fast lane for content it owns – say, AT&T sending you Road Runner cartoons that it owns faster than Disney movies that it doesn’t – or charges the owner a fee for the same treatment.

Both practices create a hierarchy of content, as a result of an ISP’s ability to manipulate data streams to suit its bottom line. There’s not a meaningful difference between deliberately speeding some content up, versus deliberately slowing – throttling – other content down. Limiting legislation to a carefully wordsmithed consensus allows telcos and cable companies to write U.S. telecoms policy, and lock in privileges for decades to come.

Newsom’s broadband budget language doesn’t translate to infrastructure

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

San benito pole route 13apr2019

Broadband references are sprinkled into California governor Gavin Newsom’s state budget proposal but, taken at face value, he’s focused on shifting money from hard capital infrastructure projects to soft programs and annual operating budgets.

Although tagged as an infrastructure investment in Newsom’s budget summary, his “Broadband for All” initiative is about operations, comprising four elements: mapping, education spending, “optimising” existing resources and “prioritising connectivity across executive actions and policies”.

The California Public Utilities Commission already has a fine mapping program, which Newsom wisely intends to expand. It’s the brightest broadband item in his budget. If the CPUC is allowed to combine availability data with comprehensive network maps, inventories of state owned facilities and construction cost data, and make it public, then independent broadband infrastructure projects become more feasible.

Feasible, but not funded.

Consistent with past practice, Newsom proposes to spend $261 million on broadband facilities and information technology acquisitions for schools over the next five years, which is praiseworthy (as are many other items in the $153 billion budget) but has rarely improved broadband infrastructure that’s directly available to consumers and businesses. Keeping broadband top of mind in state government is likewise a good thing, and when agencies look outward and cooperate with private sector telecoms companies – Caltrans’ dig once program is a good example – the general public benefits. More often, though, connectivity improvements are limited to meeting agencies’ internal IT needs. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

It’s Newsom’s third bullet point – “optimising use of existing resources” – that threatens to divert what little money California spends on general broadband infrastructure development to other purposes. As his budget summary explains…

Informed by GIS-based mapping, the state will review existing fund sources available for broadband adoption and activities. This review will include the California Teleconnect Fund, the California Advanced Services Fund [CASF], and federal funding opportunities to maximize the return on existing investments. In total, these funds provide approximately $900 million over the next five years that can be targeted to critical broadband activities statewide.

The California Teleconnect Fund subsidises broadband service for schools and other organisations. Federal broadband funds are speculative at best – so far, California is shut out of the federal agriculture department’s newest broadband infrastructure subsidy program.

What’s left is CASF. Which holds the only money – somewhere around $300 million – that California earmarks for general broadband infrastructure construction. Which isn’t specifically listed as one of California’s “critical broadband activities”.

Adoption – digital literacy and broadband subscriber acquisition programs – gets a mention. Schools are in for a lot of love. Libraries and state IT departments get a nod too. Broadband for businesses and consumers? Nada.

Schools and community programs are wildly popular; government operations are Sacramento’s core business. Subsides for independent broadband infrastructure are neither, and are opposed by monopoly model incumbents who pay lawmakers millions of dollars to pay attention. Newsom’s budget offers no challenge to that status quo.

5G adoption begins a slow ramp up in the U.S. in 2020

by Steve Blum • , ,

Cta 5g projections 5jan2020

Source: CTA

Mobile 5G broadband service adoption starts to grow in the U.S. in 2020, but it won’t be a breakout year. A couple of near term 5G market predictions were offered at CES in Las Vegas over the past couple of days, by the show’s organiser, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and by Qualcomm, which is the mobile industry’s primary chipmaker. Taken together (and at face value), the picture that emerges is of a global 5G market that 1. will launch for real over the next 12 months and 2. won’t be U.S.-centric.

Qualcomm predicts that 200 million 5G smartphones will be produced worldwide in 2020, growing to 750 million units shipped in 2022. CTA’s projections of annual smartphone shipments pegs the U.S. 5G handset total for 2019 at 1.6 million units and predicts 20.2 million 5G smartphones shipped in 2020.

Those are estimates of the pipeline, not the installed user base. Yet.

Although historical seasonal consumer electronics sales patterns have weakened, particularly for telecoms-related products, manufacturing ramp up rates still operate on a upward curve. The biggest chunk of the annual output for a new product will come in the last three or four months of the year, and it takes time for products to move from the factory loading dock to a consumer’s hands. So CTA’s shipment projections for 2019 are an indication of what the U.S. 5G user base will be by, say, mid–2020.

In very round numbers, that means less than 1% of U.S. mobile broadband subscribers will have 5G-capable smartphones in their hands by mid–2020, and less than 10% by mid–2021. For the next three years, CTA predicts that smartphone makers will be pumping out more 4G smartphones in the U.S. than 5G ones. It won’t be until 2022 that 5G overtakes 4G unit shipments, so 5G consumer smartphone upgrades won’t outstrip 4G handset upgrades until 2023.

CTA’s timeline for 5G smartphone production tracks with U.S. mobile carriers’ likely 5G deployment rate. Although carriers continue to hype their 5G build outs – and those build outs will accelerate in 2020 – widespread availability in the U.S. is still three to five years away.

It’s a different story in Asia. Qualcomm talked a lot about Chinese manufacturers at its CES press conference. Asian carriers, particularly in South Korea, are aggressively deploying 5G infrastructure. That would seem to be where the bulk of next year’s 200 million 5G smartphone shipments will go.

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.

AT&T, Comcast “continue to frustrate” CPUC inquiries “even on safety matters”

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

AT&T and Comcast blew off demands for information about broadband pricing from California Public Utilities Commission staff, so now the public advocates office, which requested the data, is asking the commission to force the companies to comply and to acknowledge their legal responsibility to fully answer questions about service, safety and other issues.

The PAO sent a detailed questionnaire to Internet service providers in California, including telephone companies and cable operators, during an ongoing inquiry into the affordability of broadband and other essential utility services in California. According to the “motion to compel responses to data requests” filed by the PAO, Charter Communications and Cox answered, but Comcast and AT&T lawyered up (the filing doesn’t mention Frontier Communications, the other member of California’s Big Five ISP club).

Although AT&T and Comcast provided some information (see below), the bulk of their responses boiled down to you people don’t have any jurisdiction over broadband, but if you’re really interested, check out our website.

The jurisdiction question was answered, if not completely settled, by a ruling from Clifford Rechtschaffen, the commissioner who is leading the inquiry. He took the uncommon step of issuing a ruling that asserted “a significant role for the commission” in managing California’s broadband ecosystem.

Besides being dismissive, answering a data request with a link to a sales-focused website isn’t enlightening and could be dangerous, according to the filing…

The presentation of pricing on the AT&T website does not provide all relevant combinations of service bundles and speeds. Websites also produce selective company information that are in no way responsive to the data requests or comparable to other communication companies’ information. For instance: What is the lowest price for the user-defined combination of services at the user-defined speed across all communication companies?…

Telecommunication companies continue to frustrate the Public Advocates Office’s efforts to understand their continually evolving operational landscape and how it affects California consumers, even on safety matters.

There’s no particular timeline for when – if – action will be taken on the PAO’s motion.

Comcast
Comcast pricing jan 2019

AT&T
Att broadband pricing 2019
Att legacy dsl pricing 2019

Video entertainment “should not be considered essential” says AT&T. Amen say Comcast, Charter

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Darth leia 625

For a company that paid $85 billion to become a video entertainment giant, AT&T has an odd idea of what’s essential and what’s not. In objections to a California Public Utilities Commission staff proposal, AT&T argued that “video entertainment” should play no role in determining what level of broadband service is “essential” and whether it’s affordable or not. It specifically targeted Netflix and ESPN+ as examples of non-essential services that are not “appropriate essential functions” and should not be included in calculations of what level of broadband speeds and data caps are necessary for Californians to conduct their every day lives.

In reply comments, the lobbying front organisation that Comcast, Charter Communications and other cable companies use to push their interests in Sacramento and at the CPUC endorsed AT&T’s position, paraphrasing it as “entertainment service such as Netflix is not essential”. It’s easy for the California Cable and Telecommunications Association to trash talk Netflix; the Walt Disney Company – ESPN’s majority owner – not so much.

AT&T and its amen corner got it wrong, for at least a couple of reasons. First, the CPUC staff white paper in question identified fixed broadband service at 20 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds as the minimum necessary for a Californian household to meet its “basic needs” such as education, telehealth and safety, and enjoy “full participation in society” by doing such things as “completing job applications and accessing government assistance programs”. Netflix and ESPN aren’t on the list. Neither is HBO Max, which AT&T is hoping will pull it out of the video subscriber death spiral it’s in, or Spectrum TV Essentials or Xfinity Instant TV. Calling out entertainment services is a red herring.

It’s also arrogant.

I’ve sat in many meetings in Sacramento and listened to telco and cable lobbyists speak with contempt about people who are misguided enough to think they ought to be able to watch video via the Internet, if they don’t provide sufficient profit to be worth it to those companies to deliver modern broadband service. Full participation in society requires more than just getting email or reading a web page. It includes access to the full range of online information and social and political interaction that’s available – and essential – to those of us who are fortunate enough to have it.

Collected documents from the CPUC’s investigation into essential service and affordability metrics for utilities are here.

CPUC commissioner asserts “a significant role” over broadband affordability and essential service

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Rechtschaffen 2 20may2019

In a ruling issued on Friday, CPUC commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen ended any doubt over whether an inquiry into the affordability of utility services includes the cost and quality of broadband access: it does. The decision puts wind in the sails of an analysis of broadband pricing and service speeds prepared by California Public Utilities Commission staff, and meets strident objections from AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and other monopoly model incumbents head on…

This amended scoping memo confirms that communications services, such as broadband internet access, are included within the scope of this proceeding. This amended scoping memo finds that [California Public Utilities] Code Sections 709, 280, 281, 275.6, and the Moore Act all demonstrate that the Legislature contemplated a significant role for the Commission in closing the digital divide in California and bringing advanced communications services, including broadband internet access, to all Californians. This proceeding may assist in that goal.

The California Cable and Telecommunications Association, which is a Sacramento lobbying front organisation for Comcast, Charter and other cable companies, argued that the CPUC shouldn’t look into the affordability of broadband service because it is “an interstate service governed by federal law, and defined as an “information service” and not a “telecommunications service”. In reply comments, AT&T agreed, saying “broadband is not a public utility service”. A joint filing by small rural telephone companies said much the same thing.

Unfortunately for them, the primary legal basis for their objections – the Federal Communications Commission’s blanket preemption of state broadband regulations was overturned by a federal appeals court. So long as the FCC says that broadband is an information service, it can’t wield its telecommunications authority as a magic weed whacker to chop down state regulations.

In his ruling, Rechtschaffen also set next June as the deadline for CPUC action on affordability and service standards for broadband and other utilities, including electricity, water, gas and voice services.

Collected documents from the CPUC’s investigation into essential service and affordability metrics for utilities are here.

Newsom vetoes California broadband development bills

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Governor Gavin Newsom killed the only two bills on his desk that might have improved broadband infrastructure and service in California. The bills would have given broadband development mandates, of a sort, to three key state agencies: Caltrans, the department of water resources (DWR) and the department of food and agriculture (DFA). Newsom vetoed assembly bill 1212 last week, and AB 417 was one of dozens that died as he cleared his desk this weekend, ahead of the 30 day deadline for acting on this year’s legislation.

AB 1212 and AB 417 were the only broadband-related bills of any consequence that made it out of the California legislature’s 2019 session. Bills that would have more directly tackled California’s broadband gaps died in committee, as did AB 1366, an AT&T-backed bill that would have effectively ended telecoms regulation and widened the divide between the states haves and have nots.

AB 1212 included “telecommunications” as one of the types of infrastructure that Caltrans and the department of water resources (DWR) could include on funding priority lists, which would have to be prepared and submitted to public employee pension boards for consideration as investments.

AB 417 added rural economic development to DFA’s responsibilities, and “increasing broadband access” was on its short list of action items. Unlike the federal agriculture department, the California DFA does not play a significant role in improving rural economies beyond promoting farming and ranching.

There was no overt opposition as the bills moved through the legislative process. But what happens behind closed doors usually matters more in Sacramento.

In a dissembling veto message, Newsom said AB 1212 is “unnecessary” because “existing law already encourages public retirement systems to invest in state infrastructure”. True, but no one has to propose anything, of any kind. Without a specific mandate, Caltrans or DWR are highly unlikely to include broadband facilities in their projects, whether or not they ask for public employee retirement boards for funding, unless it’s something intended for their own use.

He was more pointedly bureaucratic in explaining why he didn’t want DFA involved in rural economic development, saying “establishing the new…responsibilities envisioned by this bill is better done in the budget and in the context of the broader mission of the department”.

The simplest explanation for Newsom’s vetoes is that Caltrans, DWR and/or DFA staff asked him to do it, because those are jobs they don’t want to do. That sort of opposition was why a Caltrans dig once policy bill was watered down in 2016.

It’s tempting to point a finger at lobbyists for AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications, Frontier Communications and other incumbents, who have consistently opposed state support for independent broadband projects while gaming the system to create their own taxpayer funded piggy banks. But there’s no indication – yet – that they were involved. Even so, Newsom’s vetoes bolster AT&T’s and Frontier’s rural monopoly business model, which redlines poorer and less densely populated communities and leaves them with low speed DSL service, if they’re lucky enough to get anything at all.

It’s a long shot bet that any meaningful broadband projects would have resulted from AB 1212 by itself. Likewise, without adding a significant amount of staff and funding – which AB 417 did not do – there’s little chance that DFA would accomplish anything of practical economic development value. But both bills would have created institutional frameworks to build upon. The bills that Newsom vetoed are now opportunities lost.

Long shot broadband infrastructure financing option approved by California legislature

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

East garrison conduit 625

A bill that has the potential to funnel California public employee retirement fund money toward broadband infrastructure investments is heading to governor Gavin Newsom’s desk. AB 1212, carried by Marc Levine (D – Marin) , requires state agencies to send a list of priority infrastructure projects to various public employees retirement boards for their consideration. “Telecommunications” is included in the list of eligible infrastructure types, along with “power, transportation, ports, petrochemical, and utilities”.

The catch is that the lists would come from agencies that are “responsible for infrastructure”. While there’s any number of agencies that might want to build broadband infrastructure for their own use, there isn’t one that pursues public-facing projects. The California Public Utilities Commission funds broadband and telephone projects proposed by others, but doesn’t sponsor them. Still, AB 1212 would crack open the door, and there might be creative ways of walking through it.

AB 417, by Joaquin Arambula (D – Fresno), was also passed on to the governor. It assigns various responsibilities for rural economic development to the California food and agriculture department. How much of it is window dressing is open to debate but one item on the punch list is “making recommendations” for “increasing broadband access” in rural communities. That’s a pretty weak broadband development mandate, but it’s better than none at all. Call it a small step in the right direction. So is AB 488 by Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Yolo). It adds a representatives from the food and agriculture department (as well as the state librarian and the governor’s tribal advisor) to the California Broadband Council.

One promising broadband subsidy bill, albeit for service rather than infrastructure, bit the dust early in the session. AB 1409 by Ed Chau (D – Los Angeles) would have created a fund for “homework gap projects”, which amounted to subsidising take-home wireless hotspots for students and providing WiFi access on school buses. It died behind closed doors in the assembly’s appropriations committee.

Overall, the California legislature ended its 2019 session with a few, relatively minor telecoms policy changes for Newsom to consider. One way of looking at it is that lawmakers did little harm this year, despite AT&T’s best efforts. The relative lack of attention to broadband infrastructure could be a blessing in disguise. The last major broadband infrastructure subsidy bill, 2017’s AB 1665, gutted the California Advanced Services Fund program and turned it into a piggybank for big, monopoly model incumbents.