Tag Archives: charter

Cable companies promote free Internet access for locked down Californians, telcos not so much

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Home alone

Update, 19 March 2020: AT&T announced today that the first two months of its Internet package for low income homes – Access from AT&T – is free to new subscribers.

The four major cable companies in California are offering free Internet access for a limited amount of time to low income households during the corona virus emergency, but not the two big telcos.

Charter, Comcast, Cox and Suddenlink seem to have figured out that what amounts to a one or two month promotional offer is a good way to attract new subscribers. Charter’s offer applies to any of their Internet access packages, while the others are limited to their low income-only plans. Unless a customer jumps through the hoops to disconnect, they’ll be billed for ongoing service after the free period ends.

AT&T and Frontier have discounted packages for qualifying low income households, but no free offer. A summary of the offers and contact information is below.

All six companies have also signed on to the Federal Communications Commission’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge, which calls for them to open up their WiFi hotspots to everyone, not disconnect customers who don’t pay and waive late frees.

Local independent Internet service providers are stepping up too. In Santa Cruz County, Cruzio is offering free service for three months to customers who qualify for its low income service, which otherwise costs $14.95 per month.

A major difference between cable and telephone companies is the availability of video service. Cable companies can – and typically do – try to up sell people who enquire about discounted Internet service into pricey video bundles. That’ll be a particularly attractive pitch to people who are stuck in their homes for the duration. Frontier and AT&T have some video service available, but only in limited parts of their service territory.

ISPPlan nameDetails
AT&TAccess from AT&T$10 per month for qualifying low income households.
CharterSpectrum Internet Assist$17.99 per month ($22.99 with WiFi capability) 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.
ComcastInternet Essentials$9.95 per month for qualifying low income households. Until April 30,2020 the first 60 days is free.
CoxConnect2Compete$9.95 per month, During the corona virus emergency, the first 30 days is free.
FrontierFundamental Internet$19.99 per month for qualifying low income households. No free service is available
SuddenlinkAltice Advantage Internet$14.95 per month for qualifying low income households. During the corona virus emergency, the first 60 days is free.
WebsitePhone
AT&T855–220–5211
Charter844–579–3743
Comcast855–846–8376
Cox800–234–3993
Frontier877–578–8367
Suddenlink888–633–0030

CPUC slaps down Charter’s bid to monopolise low income housing, says owner has “right to choose”

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

John wayne slap

Northern Valley Catholic Social Service (NVCSS) builds, owns and operates more than a dozen public housing communities in the northern Sacramento Valley. It applied for a public housing broadband facilities grant from the California Advanced Services Fund for a new project in Redding, which prompted strident objections from Charter Communications.

Last week, the California Public Utilities Commission approved the grant and told Charter that it can’t block broadband subsidies for low income residents just because it happens in the neighborhood…

In its application, NVCSS stated that the Woodlands II project is a planned low-income housing development (new construction) and not wired for broadband internet. Since then, the housing development has been under construction and to date, the framing of the development is complete. As such, the building is under construction and not wired for broadband internet and therefore no housing units in the project are being offered broadband internet service. Consequently…the project is an unserved housing development…

Accepting Charter’s interpretation that the statute and guidelines require a physically existing “housing unit” for a development to be eligible for [Broadband Public Housing Account (BPHA)] funding, would contradict the statutory intent and overall goal of the program. Indeed, the purpose of the BPHA is to close the digital gap in public housing communities and to address a critical need to connect residents of publicly subsidized properties to high-speed internet…The funds in the BPHA help further this goal by approving projects which are beneficial to low-income residents who would otherwise be without broadband…

Whether Charter “can or will serve” does not mean that it does, in fact, serve the development…

A property owner has the right to choose the entity it wants to install facilities for the broadband network on its property while the building is under construction. NVCSS is not required to use Charter’s services just because Charter is serving the building on the adjacent property. Here, NVCSS has chosen to install the facilities itself.

The vote to approve the $36,000 grant was unanimous, and passed without any comment from commissioners.

Charter continues fight against broadband upgrades in low income California communities

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Monopolising low income communities and soaking residents for expensive television and broadband service packages seems to be a key element in Charter Communications business strategy, and it’s continuing its fight against broadband subsidies that might break that stranglehold.

Even in places where it has twice challenged broadband grants, and twice lost.

Charter wants to block two broadband infrastructure projects – one in Santa Cruz County and one in Kern County – approved by the California Public Utilities Commission for subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) last year. It’s also trying to stop a similar grant for broadband facilities in a public housing community in Shasta County.

To qualify for a CASF infrastructure subsidy, an applicant has to show that a proposed location lacks broadband service at (achingly slow) 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. Last year, Cruzio applied for a grant to build fiber to the premise infrastructure in several mobile home communities in the Soquel/Capitola area of Santa Cruz County. Frontier Communications proposed a DSL upgrade project for mobile home residents in the Kern County town of Taft.

Charter, who likewise applied for and received CASF grants to extend broadband service to mobile home communities in Ventura and Riverside counties, challenged Cruzio and Frontier, but was only partially successful. When those projects were presented to commissioners for a vote, Charter tried to re-litigate its opposition, but again failed in the attempt.

So it filed appeals – applications for rehearing – against the Cruzio and Frontier projects, along with a similar protest of a $36,000 grant for WiFi in a Redding public housing community that it had also unsuccessfully challenged.

At a minimum, Charter’s appeals will delay all three projects, at least for some weeks. Longer term, its scorched earth tactics at the CPUC will, as I wrote last year, have a baleful effect on the CASF program, which is already hamstrung as a result of cable and telco lobbying in Sacramento. That’s a win for Charter and its fellow monopoly-model broadband players, and a big loss for low income and rural Californians.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium assisted Cruzio with its Equal Access Santa Cruz grant application, and I was a part of that effort. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Streaming video hurts cable, but it’s killing AT&T

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Elmer fudd

The traditional, linear subscription TV business is in a nose dive. In the fourth quarter of 2019, AT&T shed 945,000 subscribers, mostly from DirecTv but also from its legacy Uverse service and its new AT&T TV platform. Add in the 219,000 subscribers who dumped its AT&T TV Now streaming service, and more than million customers walked away from AT&T’s video products.

Comcast and Charter lost TV subscribers, too. But for both companies, they each lost fewer subs over the 12 months of 2019 than AT&T lost in the last three. And both gained broadband subscribers and market share, as consumers move to higher speed service that better meets their needs than slow, DSL-based offerings from AT&T and Frontier Communications.

Like the need to watch streaming video.

Google figured out how to solve the linear TV problem. They’re not going to offer the service any more…

Google Fiber will no longer offer a linear TV product to new customers. For our current TV customers, we know you have come to rely on Google Fiber TV and we will continue to provide you with traditional TV service. And we’ll be happy to help everyone explore other options to get their favorite programming the way TV is watched now — over the Internet, with the virtually unlimited choice and control online viewing provides.

AT&T is pinning its hopes on the new HBO Max streaming service it plans to launch in May, for $15 per month. It’s beginning to look like a product that will make or break the company. With AT&T’s spending on video assets, like Time Warner, climbing and its video revenue in a nose dive, it’s betting its future on its ability to produce the same kind of instant success that Disney had with its new streaming service launch last year.

Another $13 million approved by CPUC for California broadband infrastructure subsidies

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Frontier Communications won’t be able to double dip on California and federal broadband subsidies, and Charter Communications won’t have to follow rules that tie price commitments to infrastructure subsidies. Yesterday, the California Public Utilities Commission made those decisions as it approved California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) grants totalling $12.7 million for five projects, two by Frontier and three by Charter.

Add in the six CASF grants approved two weeks ago and one approved in September, and you get a 2019 CASF subsidy total of $25.5 million.

Frontier is getting $11.3 million to upgrade DSL-based service for 381 homes in Lassen, Modoc and Kern counties, and to build a middle mile link from Alturas, in Modoc County, to Standish, in Lassen County. As with its past CASF grants, Frontier is only promising to deliver slow broadband service at 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds.

In May, Frontier applied for $13.5 million for the two projects. The CPUC chopped out $2.2 million because the Federal Communications Commission is already paying Frontier, through the Connect America Fund program (CAF II), to serve some of the homes included in its original CASF proposal. According to the resolution approving the Lassen/Mono project…

Frontier accepted $473,487.74 in CAF II grant funding to provide broadband access to 187 unserved households in the project area. This represents a $2,532.02 per household subsidy provided by the CAF II program and any remaining costs to connect CAF II households should be paid with Frontier’s own private capital, as Frontier has stated in its comments to this resolution. Based on the last-mile funding determination, Frontier is responsible to fund $936,239.91 of the $1,409,727.65 project costs to build to CAF II locations.

A similar calculation was made for the Kern County project.

Charter, on the other hand, got almost everything it wanted. The three projects approved yesterday are in Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. The $1.4 million award is only $49,000 less than requested and, crucially, the CPUC waived service price guarantees and installation fee waivers that normally come along with CASF subsidies. The dubious rationale was that 1. Charter’s billing system isn’t set up to handle exceptions for such small areas – a total of 279 homes are involved – and 2. it was nice of Charter to even ask for the money. It’s the first time that a major cable company participated in the CASF program, which is reckoned to be a significant milestone.

Both companies have two to three years to finish construction. Charter’s projects are minor extension to existing hybrid fiber-coax systems and can be done quickly. Frontier’s Kern County build isn’t much more complicated, but it’s Modoc/Lassen project is complex. The real question is whether it’ll be able to survive as a company with its current capital and ownership structure intact.

CASF broadband infrastructure grant resolutions approved 19 December 2019:
Charter Communications – Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates , Silver Wheel
Frontier Communications – Northeast Project: Phase1
Frontier Communications – Taft Cluster

Mobile data tests count more than maps, as CPUC votes on broadband subsidies for northeastern California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Plumas eureka

A sharp-eyed reader of this humble blog spotted a gap in my collection of comments on the draft resolutions up for a vote tomorrow. H/T to David Espinoza, the manager of the Upstate and Northeast California broadband consortia, who sent me Plumas-Sierra Electric Co-op’s (PSEC) response to both the draft resolutions for its five proposed projects in Plumas and Lassen counties and the objections raised by the CPUC’s public advocates office. Links are below.

Short version: mobile broadband tests showing zero coverage trumped map models; PSEC added a low-income service plan and CPUC staff recommended extra funding as a result.

The big issue is whether or not one of PSEC’s projects – a proposal to serve 125 homes in the Lake Davis area of Plumas County – is located in an area that has no broadband service at all, other than satellite or dial-up. According to the CPUC’s published map, mobile broadband service is available there, so the project was deemed ineligible for bonus money. In its comments, PSEC provided test data that shows zero broadband availability from any of the four major mobile carriers. The discrepancy might be due to the time of year the CPUC took measurements. As PSEC pointed out

Foliage and tree canopy attenuates radio waves, causing signal degradation, particularly in rural forested areas; especially in fall and winter seasons. Topography also impacts mobile coverage. This Project is in rough terrain with dense tree coverage, resulting in less than adequate mobile coverage.

Based on the Broadband Map, the latest mobile coverage testing was carried out in 2017. It is likely that mobile testing was carried out by CPUC when weather was benign. However, deep in fall and winter seasons actual coverage and speed levels can be significantly less due to weather precipitations and winds.

CPUC staff accepted PSEC’s test data, and the draft resolution was revised, with the extra funding for completely unserved areas added back in.

The PAO objected to the price of PSEC’s proposed plan for low income residents, which also resulted in a lower subsidy amount. PSEC’s answer was to say okay, $15 a month it is. The subsidy bonus that goes along with low income service offerings was added back into the draft resolution.

I’m not a disinterested commentator, so take it for what it’s worth. I provided very minor assistance to Dr. Espinoza, who did the heavy lifting on the response to the original draft Lake Davis resolution. Congratulations to him and the team at PSEC on well-played applications for five needed projects.

Revised draft resolutions, 4 December 2019:
Plumas Sierra – Mohawk Vista Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Elysian Valley Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Keddie Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Lake Davis Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Eureka Mid-Mile/Last Mile

Comments
Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Plumas Sierra – Lake Davis Mid-Mile/Last Mile, 20 November 2019

Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Eureka Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 21 November 2019

Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Elysian Valley Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 22 November 2019

Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – reply comments on the Plumas Sierra – Keddie Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 27 November 2019

Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – reply comments on the Plumas Sierra – Mohawk Vista Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 27 November 2019

All documents collected in 2019 regarding the CASF program and projects are here.

California broadband subsidies set for CPUC vote, as Charter attempts last minute hit (but not on its own grants)

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

As of last night, all 11 broadband infrastructure projects tentatively approved for subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) are slated for a final vote by the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday. Arguments for and against the projects and grant conditions as drafted have also been filed. Links to (I think) all of the comments are below.

Frontier Communications made pitches for full funding of their projects as proposed, which were seconded by the California Emerging Technology Fund. Charter Communications made a similar plea, then went on to complain about two other projects – Frontier’s proposal for the Taft area of Kern County and Cruzio’s application for money to extend fiber to the premise service to several low income mobile home communities in Santa Cruz County.

Last June, Charter filed objections to both projects, claiming it already offered broadband service to the specific areas of the communities for which Cruzio and Frontier sought CASF subsidies. CPUC staff upheld some of Charter’s challenges and denied others. The new CASF rules adopted by the commission last year established a quick and transparent process for reviewing objections made by incumbents, which fixed a serious flaw in the CASF program – incumbents were allowed to endlessly challenge proposed projects that threatened their monopoly business models, right up to the eve of a commission vote.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium responded to Charter’s intransigence (full disclosure: I drafted and submitted those comments) by pointing out that allowing perpetual litigation would lead to failure…

Applicants must spend time and money, often amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, to prepare and process CASF infrastructure grant proposals. When faced with this significant expense, applicants must weigh it against the probability of success. Previously, the unlimited challenge opportunities afforded incumbent service providers acted as a significant barrier to independent project development. The experience of project applicants who hazarded this process convinced some to never attempt it again. After witnessing these travails, other independent service providers refused to participate in the program.

[The CPUC’s reboot of the CASF program] was wisely crafted to prevent de facto discrimination against independent service providers because their participation in the CASF program is essential to achievement of the program’s goals. Contravening [this decision] by allowing Charter to re-litigate its opposition to the Equal Access Santa Cruz project would, in turn, contravene the Commission’s responsibility to achieve those goals, as required by [California law].

We submitted largely identical comments regarding Frontier’s Taft project.

The CPUC’s public advocates office also weighed in, particularly concerning whether companies receiving grants should be required to offer low income customers affordable broadband rates and whether rules regarding price commitments for all subscribers should be followed – they’re in favor of both.

The next step is for staff to consider all the comments and replies, and make any changes to the proposed grants that seem necessary. The revised draft resolutions should be posted in the next couple of days, although it’s also possible that the commission’s vote could be bumped to a later meeting.

Charter Communications comments on the Charter Communications Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates, Silver Wheel projects, 21 November 2019
Public Advocates Office – comments on the Charter Communications Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates , Silver Wheel projects, 21 November 2019
Charter Communications – reply comments on the Charter Communications Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates, Silver Wheel projects, 26 November 2019

Charter Communications – comments on the Cruzio Equal Access Santa Cruz project, 25 November 2019
Central Coast Broadband Consortium – comments on the Cruzio Equal Access Santa Cruz project, 25 November 2019
Central Coast Broadband Consortium – reply comments on the Cruzio Equal Access Santa Cruz, project 2 December 2019

Charter Communications – comments on the Frontier Communications Taft Cluster project, 25 November 2019
Frontier Communications – comments on the Frontier Communications Taft Cluster project, 25 November 2019
California Emerging Technology Fund – comments on the Frontier Communications Taft Cluster project, 25 November 2019
Central Coast Broadband Consortium – reply comments on the Frontier Communications Taft Cluster project, 2 December 2019

Frontier Communications – comments on the Frontier Communications Northeast Project: Phase1 project, 21 November 2019
California Emerging Technology Fund – comments on the Frontier Communications Northeast Project: Phase1, project, 21 November 2019

Public Advocates Office – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Mohawk Vista Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 25 November 2019
Public Advocates Office – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Elysian Valley Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 25 November 2019
Public Advocates Office – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Keddie Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 20 November 2019

All documents collected in 2019 regarding the CASF program and projects are here.

Telephone and cable companies stonewalled California emergency officials during massive power outages

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Cell site outages 28oct2019

Mobile carriers generally cooperated with California emergency officials during the week long siege of public safety power shutoffs in October, while cable and telephone companies hid behind confidentiality claims. Paul Troxel, who heads the 911 program at the California office of emergency services, testified at a California Public Utilities Commission hearing on Wednesday and told commissioners that neither the state’s emergency operations center or local officials knew where access to 911 service and disaster information, such as evacuation orders, were unavailable…

Outage data was not reported by all providers. Some providers were very responsive and provided outage data as requested by Cal OES, while others were slow to respond due to confidentiality concerns related to outage data. Frankly, information from the wireline and VoIP providers was not provided until the end of the event. Because of the lack of complete reporting, Cal OES had to work with the Federal Communications Commission to activate the disaster information reporting system.

The FCC’s data isn’t intended to support real time operations. It’s typically 12 to 24 hours old and only aggregated data is provided – at the county level for mobile carriers and the state level for telephone and cable companies. But it did provide a useful check on the accuracy of the data provided voluntarily by telecoms companies through their industry association, which is their standard method.

It didn’t work so well. According to Troxel, at one point the industry’s organisation, the California Utilities Emergency Association (CUEA), reported that 57,000 wireline customers were out of service, while the FCC’s disaster information reporting system said the figure was 224,000. CUEA’s mobile outage reports weren’t much better – in one county the FCC said 133 cell sites were down while CUEA claimed only nine were. The problems with the industry association’s data were severe enough that OES requested reports directly from telecoms companies, with varying degrees of success.

During the hearing, Verizon, T-Mobile and, perhaps, AT&T executives promised to provide timely, detailed outage information in future emergencies, and make it public. A senior AT&T operations executive said the company would do so, after a company lawyer deflected the question by extolling the wonderfulness of the current system – that’s an arm wrestling match that needs to be resolved. The other representatives, from Frontier Communications, Comcast, Charter Communications, Cox and Sprint, wouldn’t make any promises at all.

Meaningful answers and we’ll get back to you, as CPUC drills down on phone, broadband outages in emergencies

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Cpuc phc telecoms outages 20nov2019

Telecoms company representatives – telco, cable and mobile – were grilled for three hours yesterday by CPUC commissioners about their ability to maintain communications capabilities during power outages and other emergencies. And their willingness to provide actionable, real time network status information to officials and the public.

The central issue is whether the California Public Utilities Commission should establish regulations for things like backup power, network resiliency and outage reporting, for voice, text and, perhaps, broadband service. Commissioner Cliff Rechtschaffen cut to heart of it, asking the eight representatives “would you support this as a regulatory requirement?”.

Three of the mobile companies – AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile – were represented by senior operational and engineering executives. Although they didn’t express any great enthusiasm for new regulations, they engaged with questions posed by commissioners and generally gave knowledgable answers about their networks, back up capacity and emergency management procedures.

Verizon sent a lobbyist. He reiterated an early statement by Verizon that it would be happy to provide lots more information about future outages in something like real time, and make it public because our network is so damn good.

AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s execs signed onto that pledge. Mobile networks were a particular focus – 80% of 911 calls are made using mobile phones, according to a CPUC staffer. The objective is to identify and publicise communications gaps, where people can’t call 911 or access evacuation maps on the web. Sprint’s rep was more reticent, but it might not matter if T-Mobile is successful in acquiring the company.

It wasn’t clear whether AT&T’s wireline network was included in the promise. At one point, an AT&T lawyer jumped up and seemed to say no. Instead, he lauded AT&T platoons of lobbyists and public relations people, and their “longstanding” efforts to keep state and local officials informed.

Right.

Frontier Communications also sent a corporate lobbyist to the hearing. Not much came of it. She didn’t promise to share detailed or real time outage information, let alone make it public. She did say that only 85% of Frontier’s customers are served by central offices that have back up generators that can keep facilities powered for at least 72 hours. “Facilities further out” in “remote areas” rely on shorter-lived batteries and portable generators.

Translation: the urban systems we got from Verizon are okay, rural communities, not so much.

The three cable companies – Charter Communications, Comcast and Cox – sent regional managers, who typically have a lot of operational responsibility at the local level, but take their marching orders on corporate policy from headquarters. That seemed to be the case yesterday. All three were cordial and, within their field of expertise, knowledgeable enough, but not forthcoming when pressed for information sharing commitments. I’ll get back to you was a frequently heard response. Back up power on cable networks didn’t seem to be as robust as telcos. Comcast’s rep said that all their network devices in the field have back up power, but only 4 to 24 hours worth.

Telecoms companies to explain broadband, phone failures during California power cuts

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Green acres utility pole

With another Pacific Gas and Electric company power shut off looming later today, the California Public Utilities Commission is calling in telecommunications companies and demanding that they be prepared to explain their “responsiveness during the latest wildfires and public safety power shut offs to keep telecommunications services on”.

A hearing is scheduled for this morning in San Francisco, with “top officials” from California’s major telecoms companies directed to “publicly appear and publicly address their response during the latest wildfire events [and] public safety power shutoffs”. The list includes California’s two big telephone companies – AT&T and Frontier Communications – as well as Comcast, Charter Communications and Cox on the cable side, and all four mobile carriers – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Electric utility executives are also invited, albeit a bit more politely.

During the last wave of power cuts, intended to prevent wildfires, hundreds of thousands of Californians lost telephone and broadband service. Data collected by the Federal Communications Commission indicated that 455,000 telco and cable subscribers in 32 California counties lost connectivity, and 3.3% of cell sites were down. There might have been more – the FCC didn’t say how many telecoms companies were reporting outages – reporting was voluntary – or whether the total included all customers who couldn’t connect because they lacked back up power in their homes and businesses.

Who shows up will be as significant as what they say. Expect AT&T and Frontier to send people – they’re still regulated to an extent by the CPUC – but whether their representatives are actual decision makers or lobbyists with inflated titles remains to be seen.

Cable companies tend to resist any encroachment on their turf by the CPUC, so their response, if any, will be interesting to watch. Normally, mobile carriers don’t have much to say to state officials, but since AT&T has to be there anyway, and Sprint and T-Mobile are trying to make nice with the CPUC so they can gain approval for their merger, we might get some meaningful information from them.