Tag Archives: broadband

Cable, fiber systems deliver broadband service at or near advertised speeds, DSL generally doesn’t, FCC report says

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Fcc 2018 broadband report download

The FCC’s primary broadband metric is now the 80/80 benchmark: the minimum speed that 80% of users experience, 80% of the time during primetime viewing hours. When evaluated against that benchmark, cable modem and fiber-to-the-home systems do a reasonably good job of delivering service at advertised speeds. Among Californian providers, only Comcast fell noticeably short, with actual download speeds hitting around 90% of what they promise.

Telco DSL-based service doesn’t do so well. According to the FCC’s latest field tests, AT&T’s and Frontier Communications’ legacy DSL services – the kind you often find in rural California – deliver speeds that are about 60% of what they promise. AT&T’s advanced DSL systems – the upgraded kind that go into high potential neighborhoods – score around 90%.

On the upload side, cable and fiber providers generally meet or exceed their promised speed levels, but telco copper systems do even worse, again with the exception of AT&T’s upgraded systems.

Fcc 2018 broadband report upload

People use Internet service differently now than they did seven years ago, so the Federal Communications Commission added consistency metrics to its annual report on broadband performance in the U.S. It’s an acknowledgement that a steady stream of data, to support online video viewing, is more important than the occasional bursts of speed that old school web browsing requires…

We found that for most ISPs, actual speeds experienced by subscribers nearly meet or exceed advertised service tier speeds. However, since we started our MBA program, consumers have changed their Internet usage habits. In 2011, consumers mainly browsed the web and downloaded files; thus, we reported average speeds since they were likely to closely mirror user satisfaction. By contrast, by September 2016, the measurement period for this report, many consumers streamed video for entertainment and education. Both the median measured speed and how consistently the service performs are likely to influence the perception and usefulness of Internet access service.

The FCC bundled all of its telecoms and media research – wireline and mobile broadband, and video – into one giant data dump. The report includes a well-deserved shout out to the CalSpeed mobile broadband speed testing program. It’s run by the California Public Utilities Commission and even the FCC considers it a valuable and independent source of information about what mobile carriers (and, soon, wireline ISPs) actually deliver.

Much of the data was held back by the FCC for up to two years. John Brodkin has a good write up on that problem in Ars Technica. Ajit Pai won’t explain why this is the first time the broadband speed and availability analysis was released since he became FCC chair.

In some ways, Pai is remarkably open about FCC deliberations compared to his predecessors. He routinely releases draft decisions three weeks before commissioners vote. In the past, drafts were kept out of the public eye, although lobbyists with sufficiently deep pockets always seemed to know what was coming. But Pai is also cagey about what he releases, holding back this latest round of broadband data, as well as details regarding the millions of apparently bogus emails uploaded to FCC servers during the net neutrality debate.

Commissioners are scheduled to formally adopt the findings at their meeting on Wednesday.

FCC Communications Marketplace Report Collected Appendices, 4 December 2018 (this is the big document with the interesting data)

FCC draft Communications Marketplace Report, 21 November 2018

Cable to defend Californian monopolies with attacks on independent projects

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Comcast, Charter Communications and other cable companies are demanding the right “to challenge each and every application” for broadband infrastructure subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). Their lobbying front organisation, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association (CCTA), made their perpetual litigation plans clear in a new round of comments on the California Public Utilities Commission’s plan to reboot the program.

The cable companies also want to be able to block independent projects by cherrypicking homes and neighborhoods census blocks using the right of the first night right of first refusal given to them by the lawmakers they’ve generously funded in return. CCTA called universal service requirements advocated by other organisations “especially unreasonable”.

Like the cable lobbyists, AT&T repeated many of it previous arguments in its comments. But it did make one statement about funding middle mile facilities that is both true and useful for developing economically viable broadband projects…

If a CASF applicant and middle-mile provider cannot agree on access rates, terms, and conditions through arm’s-length negotiation, that alone is evidence that the middle-mile provider’s proposed rates, terms, and conditions are not commercially acceptable for the project at issue, and that building middle-mile infrastructure is “indispensable” to the project.

Middle mile infrastructure that connects local, last mile networks to central Internet hubs, such as those found in Silicon Valley, is essential. Incumbents – AT&T included – have used their control over those choke points to keep broadband prices high and competitors out. The CPUC should subsidise more middle mile fiber construction whenever possible, but that money should come with the same strings attached to last mile projects: grant recipients should offer it on the open market at published rates.

Several other groups submitted comments, also mostly restating earlier positions. The North Bay North Coast Broadband Consortium weighed in for the first time, urging the commission to hold incumbents accountable when they exercise a right of first refusal but don’t build out, and to give priority to projects that offer faster broadband speeds than the pathetic 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload service that the California legislature agreed to subsidise.

North Bay North Coast Broadband Consortium
CPUC Public Advocates Office (formerly known as the office of ratepayer advocates)
Greenlining Institute
TURN

AT&T
California Cable and Telecommunications Association (lobbyists for Comcast, Charter and other cable companies)
California Emerging Technology Fund
Geolinks
Race Telecommunications
Small Local Exchange Carriers (small, rural telcos)

Links to other documents – decisions on other issues, drafts, comments and more – are here.

Comcast and Charter fight for right to charge “exorbitant prices” for broadband connectivity

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Comcast’s and Charter Communications’ lobbying front in Sacramento – the California Cable and Telecommunications Association (CCTA) – doesn’t want the California Public Utilities Commission to require companies that receive broadband infrastructure subsidies to make any commitments about the prices consumers will be charged, or to offer an “affordable broadband plan for low income customers”.

In comments they submitted regarding the CPUC’s proposed reboot of the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) broadband infrastructure subsidy program, the cable lobbyists claimed that the requirements – some of which have been in place for many years – are illegal.

The lobbyists also told the CPUC that it can’t limit Charter’s and Comcast’s right to charge “exorbitant prices” for middle mile connectivity and, in the process, block competition by independent broadband providers.

CCTA objected to a new rule that would allow streamlined review of middle mile proposals in “a situation where a provider…only offers service at exorbitant prices”. Their claim is that “affordability” has nothing to do with the “availability” of middle mile service.

Bullshit.

Middle mile service links a local broadband provider – aka the “last mile” – to a major hub, such as a data center in Silicon Valley, where interconnections between networks are thick and the magic of the Internet happens. If an independent Internet service provider wants to build a last mile network in a poorly served community, the middle mile connectivity problem has to be solved in way that makes economic sense. When incumbents, like Charter, Comcast, AT&T or Frontier, kill an independent’s business model by jacking up middle mile prices – as they are allowed to do – they are deliberately making that service unavailable.

CCTA also continued to argue for the right to perpetually and continually challenge proposed projects. Derailing project applications with late challenges, sometimes based on false claims, is a tried and true tactic that incumbents use to protect their monopolies in communities where 1. their service is poor, and 2. so are residents.

The cable companies have never liked the CASF infrastructure subsidy program, and they have handed bags of cash offered cerebral arguments against it to California’s lawmakers in largely successful attempts to cripple it.

CCTA’s comments are worth reading as a reminder of why the CASF program was created in the first place.

Links to CASF reboot documents – decisions on other issues, drafts, comments and more – are here.

I drafted and submitted the comments filed by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Telcos, cable companies should face consequences for filing false California broadband data

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

AT&T, Frontier Communications, Charter Communications and Comcast have to file reports with the Federal Communications Commission detailing where they offer broadband service, how fast it is and what technology they use. The California Public Utilities Commission uses that information, along with other sources of data, to determine if particular areas or communities are eligible for broadband infrastructure subsidies, via the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) program.

The CPUC is rewriting the rules for those subsidies, as a result of the generosity of California lawmakers who rigged CASF so that big, monopoly model telecoms companies get a shot at hogging all the cash.

The availability data that those incumbents provide is of dubious quality. It’s largely based on marketing claims, and not on actual speed tests or subscriber information. The CPUC’s proposed new rules highlight comments that I drafted and filed in May on behalf of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium in which we called out, as an example, obviously false data that AT&T submitted about fiber to the home service.

The CPUC draft diplomatically attributes AT&T’s false reports to “miscoding”. We filed comments last week suggesting that this isn’t the time to be speculating on AT&T’s motives or possible excuses for giving the CPUC and the FCC bad information…

We did not attribute this false data to miscoding. AT&T has established “AT&T Fiber” as an “umbrella brand” which includes technology such as “the former AT&T GigaPower network” which does not, in all regards, meet the Form 477 definition of “fiber to the home or business end user”. It is reasonable to posit a connection between AT&T’s brand positioning and its Form 477 submissions.

In its comments, Race Communications, which has received several CASF grants to build FTTH systems in rural communities, urged the CPUC to hold companies accountable for their data…

The [proposed decision] properly notes that these errors have major consequences for the CASF program, because corrections are time-consuming for the Communications Division Staff, and errors cause confusion and frustration for communities and CASF applicants who must rely on the maps for eligibility decisions. Race contends that the Commission should take a more aggressive enforcement stance if data is consistently provided to the Commission that is erroneous and/or overstated by a particular existing provider. Providing erroneous data on coverage is a [CPUC rule] violation and should be treated as such.

The rule in question says that AT&T – and everyone else who does business with the CPUC – must agree “never to mislead the Commission or its staff by an artifice or false statement of fact or law”.

Just so.

Links to CASF reboot documents – decisions on other issues, drafts, comments and more – are here.

AT&T, Frontier tell CPUC to loosen broadband subsidy rules for them, but make it harder for everyone else

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The arm wrestling over how California should manage its primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program – the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) – is nearly complete. Ten organisations filed comments on a draft of new rules offered by commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves last month. The rewrite is necessary because the California legislature changed the way CASF is structured, giving incumbent telcos – particularly AT&T and Frontier Communications – privileged access to the money and another layer of protection from independent providers that propose to offer modern levels of broadband service to rural communities. Not surprisingly, AT&T and Frontier want the CPUC to make it easier for them to scoop up taxpayer money and harder for everyone else.

AT&T urges the commission to loosen the draft rules so it can get 100% subsidies for infrastructure wherever it wants – the CPUC’s draft would target low income communities and areas with nothing but dial-up service for full funding. The company also claims that it’s illegal for the commission to consider whether there are any existing subscribers in an area before deciding that it’s eligible for subsidies. A provider’s claim that it offers broadband service at particular speeds should be enough, AT&T argues.

Frontier added an amen to those prayers, saying in its comments that it “opposes setting specific criteria linked to funding levels” and that the commission should take its word for what service it offers.

Both companies also object to a requirement that they update the CPUC on the progress they’re making on federally subsidised broadband upgrades. The state law that they paid key lawmakers big bucks for convinced public-spirited legislators to pass gives them an exclusive right to Californian subsidies in those areas for a couple of years, if they actually do the promised work. How dare the CPUC ask them if they’re meeting those obligations?

A coalition of rural telephone companies – small, often locally owned incumbent providers that serve remote communities – echoed some of those comments. They, too, object to the use of actual subscriber data to validate marketing claims and to the requirement for a reduced cost plan for low income households.

The lobbying front organisation that pushes Comcast’s and Charter Communications’ agenda at the CPUC as well as at the state capitol also filed comments – I’ll have more to say about that on Monday.

There’s one more round of reply comments due next week, then commissioners will vote on the final draft. That could happen in a couple of weeks, at their next meeting on 13 December 2018.

Central Coast Broadband Consortium
CPUC Public Advocates Office (formerly known as the office of ratepayer advocates)
TURN and Greenlining Institute joint comments
AT&T
California Cable and Telecommunications Association (lobbyists for Comcast, Charter and other cable companies)
California Emerging Technology Fund
Frontier Communications
Geolinks
Race Telecommunications
Small Local Exchange Carriers (small, rural telcos)

Links to other documents – decisions on other issues, drafts, comments and more – are here.

I drafted and submitted the comments filed by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Booming prime time video peaks will slam broadband networks over the next five years

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Three-quarters of all Internet traffic is video and that share will grow to 82% over the next five years, according to the latest update to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, which is an ongoing broadband tracking study published by the company. Cisco also projects that global Internet traffic will more than triple over that time.

In other words, video is why there’s rapidly rising demand for faster broadband service speeds, and greater capacity. Not just because there’s more of it, but also because people don’t watch it consistently over the course of the day: the ballooning volume of video traffic is crammed into prime viewing hours. Cisco also predicts that the busiest hour of any given Internet service provider’s day will get even busier, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 37%, versus a 24-hour average CAGR of 30%…

Video is the underlying reason for accelerated busy hour traffic growth. Unlike other forms of traffic, which are spread evenly throughout the day (such as web browsing and file sharing), video tends to have a “prime time.” Because of video consumption patterns, the Internet now has a much busier busy hour. Because video has a higher peak-to-average ratio than data or file sharing, and because video is gaining traffic share, peak Internet traffic will grow faster than average traffic. The growing gap between peak and average traffic is amplified further by the changing composition of Internet video. Real-time video such as live video, ambient video, and video calling has a peak-to-average ratio that is higher than on-demand video.

To keep pace, broadband providers will have to offer faster speeds to meet the heavier bandwidth requirements of live video and higher definition formats such as 4k television, and increase network capacity to maintain those speeds during the nightly viewing spikes.

Fiber-to-the-premise networks can scale like that. Some copper systems can probably keep pace too, if ISPs spend enough on upgrades. Those are investments that can pay off in the high potential areas monopoly-model telecoms companies, such as AT&T and Comcast, focus on. But fixed wireless systems, particularly of the sort that AT&T and Frontier plan to deploy in rural areas using federal subsidies, cannot.

Investor-owned electric utilities won’t be California’s competitive broadband hope

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The door has officially closed on expansions of Pacific Gas and Electric’s and Southern California Edison’s telecommunications businesses. It’s a small issue compared to the wildfire disasters that both companies are grappling with, but it could have a significant and ongoing effect on California’s uncompetitive broadband services market.

At its last meeting, the California Public Utilities Commission voted to allow PG&E to withdraw its application to become a certified telecommunications company. It applied last year, hoping to make better use of the 2,600 miles of fiber optic routes it owns in northern California. It ran into the same knee-jerk reaction from so called consumer advocates, who don’t seem to realise that electric customers and broadband subscribers are the same people, as SCE did when it unsuccessfully asked for permission to streamline telecoms business requirements placed on it by the CPUC.

The CPUC’s decision rewards the efforts of the consumer groups and industry lobbyists who intervened in its review of PG&E request. The decision specifically allows them to apply for “intervenor compensation”, which has to be paid by PG&E, even though no decision was reached on the merits of the case. The decision calls their efforts a “substantial contribution” that expanded “the scope of this proceeding from the usual scope of applications for [telecom company certification]”.

They certainly did that. By making a grab for any likely profits PG&E (and SCE) might make from putting valuable dark fiber on the market and from offering other telecoms services that would offer competition to monopoly model telephone and cable companies, the intervenors and the commissioners who accepted their arguments killed the business case. It’s a victory for the lawyers and lobbyists who can now send their bills to PG&E, and for companies like AT&T, Comcast, Charter and Frontier, who would prefer to keep California’s telecoms market under their control.

It’s a defeat for everyone else.

FCC embraces 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up standard for faster rural broadband

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The biggest, by far, broadband service and infrastructure program in the U.S. is the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund, which is handing out $3 billion$590 million in California – over the next decade. It’s been paying that money to Internet service providers – mostly incumbent telephone companies – who promise to provide a minimum service level of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds.

That standard is about to be raised to 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds for some telephone companies because, an FCC draft decision says, “we recognise that access to 25/3 Mbps broadband service is not a luxury for urban areas, but a necessity for all”.

Just so.

It’s good news, and the republican majority on the FCC deserves credit for putting it on next month’s meeting agenda: approval is a virtual certainty. It’s a big step in the right direction, but it’s not mission accomplished yet.

In its draft, released just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, the FCC proposes to offer additional money to telephone companies that fall under the “rate of return” rules, if they upgrade their broadband infrastructure to support the 25/3 standard. There are different scenarios for how they might qualify for the extra money, and doing so is largely optional – the FCC would still subsidise 10/1 service.

“Rate of return” telcos are those that are still regulated based on costs and a particular return on their investment. The two biggest telcos in California – AT&T and Frontier Communications – do not fall into that category. They operate under the newer and inappropriately named “price cap” rules that let them charge as much as they want for broadband service (there are limits on telephone service charges, but not so strict that it makes a significant difference). A third, mid-sized telco in the Sacramento area, Consolidated Communications, is similarly unregulated, as is CenturyLink, which serves a few dozen homes along the Oregon border in Modoc County.

Small, rural telephone companies are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission under the “rate of return” rules, though, and the new FCC incentives would apply to them.

The FCC said its decision to begin raising the standard was “informed by our recent auction to award universal service support in eligible areas”. In that auction, ISPs submitted bids to provide a particular level of service in return for a particular subsidy, with higher speeds and better quality getting preferential treatment. According to the FCC, 99.7% of the homes and businesses getting subsidised service as a result will be able to get 25/3 speeds or better.

The FCC’s move matches an earlier decision by the federal agriculture department to raise the minimum standard for its rural broadband subsidy programs to 25/3.

We are not so lucky in California, though. AT&T, Frontier, Comcast, Charter Communications and other big telecom companies paid key lawmakers tens of thousands of dollars each, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in aggregate, this past legislative session. In return, lawmakers approved a $300 million broadband subsidy program, courtesy of Californian taxpayers, that lowered California’s minimum acceptable broadband speed to 6 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up.

FCC’s broadband market share data shows urban/rural technology divide and decline of DSL

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

There’s a lot to chew over in the Federal Communications Commission’s latest report on broadband subscribers in the U.S. Just one of the many charts (pictured above) tells an interesting story about how people in the U.S. get fixed broadband service in their homes. Two conclusions jump out immediately: cable companies are winning the fight for broadband market share, but the availability of cable modem, fiber to the premise or other wireline service depends population density.

In other words, high density urban areas, and medium to high density suburbs are likelier to have high speed service via direct fiber or coaxial cable service, while people in rural areas are likelier to have to depend on fixed wireless or satellite providers.

DSL service, of whatever generation of technology, is fading into irrelevance. It is significantly less popular than cable modem service. Nationally, 62% of all fixed residential broadband service (defined as better than 200 Kbps in at least one direction) is delivered via cable modem, while telco style DSL accounts for 24%, and FTTP for 12%. But when usable service levels are examined, telco DSL craters, accounting for 13% of connections at 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds or better, and only 4% at speeds of at least 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. The former is the FCC’s minimum for its $3 billion broadband subsidy program – the Connect America Fund – while the latter is the FCC’s and federal agriculture department’s minimum benchmark for what they call “advanced services” and what everyone else considers to be run of the mill Internet use in 2018.

The overall trend in California is the same, according to the study, which is based on reports filed by service providers as of 30 June 2017. It doesn’t break out residential and business connections, but market share figures for total connections tell a similar story: cable accounts for 64% of all broadband connections, telco DSL is at 28%, FTTP is at 8% and fixed wireless has about 1%.

CPUC opens investigation into consumer broadband prices and other utility rates

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The cost burden of consumer broadband service will be evaluated by the California Public Utilities Commission, as part of a larger inquiry into the affordability of all types of utility services. A “scoping memo”, released by commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen on Monday, outlines the issues on the table as the CPUC tries to develop common metrics and methods for evaluating the affordability of all utility services under its jurisdiction.

The idea was floated in July, and utilities had a chance to offer their opinions on what should be considered and how it should be done. Not surprisingly, big telecommunications companies wanted to be left alone completely, because the CPUC does not directly regulate the prices they charge, unlike water, electric and gas rates (for privately owned utilities) and for small, rural telephone companies.

Rechtschaffen rejected their recommendations…

Affordability issues across Commission-jurisdictional utility services, including water, energy, and telecommunications services, will be considered. The stated intent of the [investigation] is to develop affordability metrics across utility industries to reflect the cumulative bill impacts since a customer often pays for electricity, gas, water, and telecommunications services under a single household budget. Although the Commission does not regulate rates for all telecommunications services, the Commission oversees a number of low-income and universal access programs for telecommunications services and also imposes surcharges for these programs…

The affordability considerations for telecommunications services may be different than for energy or water services but it is worth considering whether common definitions and metrics can be developed and it is within the Commission’s jurisdiction to consider these affordability issues.

Broadband isn’t specifically mentioned in the scoping memo, but the initial notice published in July points the investigation directly at telephone, cable and mobile companies “providing voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), wireless, or broadband internet access service in California”. The CPUC doesn’t regulate prices for any of those services, but Rechtschaffen clearly considers them to be within its jurisdiction. The low-income and universal access programs run by the CPUC include several – e.g. the California Advanced Services Fund, the High Cost fund and the California Teleconnect Fund – that subsidise broadband service and infrastructure.

No date was set for finishing the inquiry, except a vague reference to a statutory 18 month limit for such things. It’s a deadline that the commission routinely misses and extends for itself.