Tag Archives: frontier communications

Frontier digs a deeper digital divide in rural California with taxpayers’ shovel

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Frontier verizon pole santa barbara county 10oct2015

A handful of rural communities in Lassen, Modoc and Kern counties will get their first taste of wireline broadband service from Frontier Communications if the California Public Utilities Commission approves infrastructure construction grants next month.

Unfortunately, it’s just a taste.

Frontier’s (and AT&T’s) strategy, as identified by a CPUC study earlier this year, of “disinvesting in infrastructure overall”, which is “most pronounced in the more rural and low-income service areas”, continues to be business as usual. Both of Frontier’s projects up for California Advanced Services Fund grants propose to deliver low speed service over ageing copper telephone lines. The $11 million would be spend on a desperately needed 137 mile fiber route and essential central office equipment upgrades, but Frontier’s interest in improving rural infrastructure, even when taxpayers are picking up the tab, ends there. As the CPUC’s draft resolution approving the Kern County grant describes the project, “Frontier will upgrade the existing communications facilities to increase broadband capacity but will not replace the copper cable infrastructure”. Likewise, the northeastern California project adds middle fiber and electronic equipment, but leaves “legacy copper infrastructure” in place.

It’s not an accident or anomaly. It’s deliberate.

Frontier continues to bleed customers and revenue, and selective fiber upgrades are the solution, according to CEO Dan McCarthy, who spoke about the company’s third quarter 2019 financial results

We achieved a sequential improvement in fiber net losses with only 1,000 in the third quarter. However, consumer copper losses of 52,000 were worse than the second quarter. In copper, although we experienced a sequential increase in gross additions, this was offset by a sequential increase in churn and we continue to manage this business for a decline. Fiber broadband gross additions increased sequentially in the third quarter and we also had a slight sequential improvement in fiber broadband churn. With the completion of the upgrades of the fiber network to be 10 gigabit capable, we have increased our emphasis on selling at higher speed tiers.

Frontier’s strategy is economically rational, and is probably its best shot at pulling shareholder value out of penny stock territory. What makes it rational, though, is the California legislature’s irrational (but well compensated) decision to subsidise 1990s era broadband service over 1890s era copper wires, and not hold incumbent telcos to the same standards in rural communities as they voluntarily and rationally adopt in densely populated, high income cities and suburbs.

CPUC queues up $24 million subsidy for 11 California broadband projects

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Mobile home park

Eleven broadband infrastructure projects by four companies will be considered by the California Public Utilities Commission next month. Draft resolutions approving California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) subsidies for 11 out of the 13 grant proposals submitted in the May application window were posted on Thursday. The drafts are linked below.

Making the CPUC’s new six month deadline for processing applications is a major milestone for staff, and they deserve congratulations. In the past, reviews have sometimes dragged on for years, with endless and often meritless challenges allowed from marginal broadband providers who wanted to fence off service-poor communities. There was mischief this time around – Digital Path, a wireless ISP, tried to claim a vast swath of northeastern California for example – but challenges were rigorously vetted.

The 11 grants total $23.8 million. The projects would extend broadband service to 1,219 homes, for an average subsidy of $19,500 each. There’s wide variance within that average, though, largely due to where those homes are.

Casf grant totals draft resolution 31oct2019

Frontier Communications is up for $11.1 million, which would pay for VDSL upgrades for the 263 homes in Modoc and Lassen counties in northeastern California and the Taft area in Kern County. According to Frontier, the technology is capable of delivering broadband speeds of up to 115 Mbps download and 7 Mbps upload, but the company is only promising to provide the CASF program’s absolute minimum of 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up.

Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Co-op is in line for five grants in Plumas and Lassen counties, totalling $8.9 million. Most of the 414 homes will receive direct fiber-to-the-premise service at a minimum of 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up, although the system will be able to deliver symmetrical gigabit service. One of the projects, in Lake Davis in Plumas County, is a combo fiber and wireless build, with about half the homes receiving fixed wireless broadband service at the minimum of 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up.

Cruzio, an independent Internet service provider based in Santa Cruz, has one grant for $2.4 million on the table. It targets 263 homes in seven mobile home parks in Santa Cruz County. It’s a full fiber-to-the-premise project, with symmetrical, 1 Gbps down and up promised.

Charter Communications has three grants totalling $1.4 million pending. The projects would extend its hybrid fiber coax plant to two mobile home parks in Riverside and Ventura counties and a neighborhood in Highland in San Bernardino County. The company promises to provide a minimum of 940 Mbps down/35 Mbps up speeds to a total of 279 homes. The draft resolution would also give Charter a pass on the CASF program requirement that monthly subscription prices, for at least some of a grant recipient’s broadband service tiers, be guaranteed for at least two years. A second exception requested by Charter – that it be allowed to charge for equipment and installation – was denied.

The $23.8 million total is $8.3 million less than originally requested for the 11 projects. Most were scaled back, for a variety of reasons including challenges from existing providers, overlaps with federally subsidised areas and due diligence verifications by CPUC staff. Two grant applications – one by Charter in Riverside County and another by Web Perceptions, a local wireless ISP in Sonoma County – are missing from Thursday’s batch. Charter’s proposed project in Perris in Riverside County was challenged by Frontier (and Charter returned the favor for Frontier’s Taft project, albeit only with partial success). Web Perceptions’ application wasn’t challenged but, judging by the publicly available information, it was poorly prepared. It’s a fair assumption that both were denied, but there’s no official word.

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

Charter Communications – Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates , Silver Wheel
Cruzio – Equal Access Santa Cruz
Frontier Communications – Northeast Project: Phase1
Frontier Communications – Taft Cluster
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

AT&T, Charter, Comcast, Frontier, Digital Path challenge California broadband subsidy proposals

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Santa barbara county pole 29oct2015

Of the 13 new projects proposed for construction subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) in May, only four are unchallenged: three proposed by Charter Communications in Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, and one proposed by a wireless Internet service provider in Sonoma County. The rest face objections from incumbent Internet services providers that want to protect their turf.

Ten challenges, plus a snarky letter from AT&T, were filed against broadband projects being reviewed for CASF grant eligibility by yesterday’s deadline. Under the rebooted CASF rules, an incumbent provider has, effectively, five weeks to submit evidence that it offers broadband service at the California legislature’s pathetic minimum of 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds in census blocks where a CASF infrastructure grant is requested.

None of the publicly distributed challenge notifications contain any details about incumbents’ broadband coverage or availability. That data is submitted separately to CPUC staff. But if you want to read the notices, you can find them here.

Charter Communications and Frontier Communications are challenging each other’s projects. Frontier is fighting Charter’s request for $277,000 to build 12 miles of new lines in Perris in Riverside County; Charter objects to Frontier’s $1.7 million project in the Taft area of western Kern County.

Charter also joined with Comcast and, sorta, AT&T to try to block a $5.3 million proposal from Cruzio to offer fiber-to-the-home service to 13 mobile home parks in Santa Cruz County. Comcast and Charter filed standard challenge notices and presumably provided valid broadband availability data to CPUC staff; AT&T sent a letter helpfully reminding CPUC staff to read the rules.

The most prolific challenger, though, is Digital Path, a Butte County-based wireless ISP that apparently wants to kill six proposals to build out broadband service to nearly a thousand homes in Lassen, Modoc and Plumas counties. It’s challenging Frontier’s $11.8 million DSL upgrade plan for the northeastern corner of California, and four FTTH and one FTTH/wireless hybrid projects, also totalling $11.8 million, proposed by Plumas-Sierra Electric Cooperative.

I’m collecting the 2019 CASF infrastructure grant proposals here. Information about the program is here. All the CASF-related documents I’ve collected in 2019, including the challenge notifications, are here.

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.

California broadband subsidy grants trickle in at the deadline

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Verizon taft 2dec2014

There was no last minute rush yesterday as the window closed for California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) broadband infrastructure grant applications. Only two companies submitted a total of three project proposals. It’s possible that other applications were submitted but not publicly distributed as required, but for now three, plus five from Saturday, are what we have. I’ll take a deeper dive into all of them later, here’s the short version for now:

Frontier submitted two applications, an $11.8 million proposal to extend service to 146 homes in the Lassen and Modoc County communities of Alturas, Ravendale and Standish, and a $1.7 million proposal to reach 235 homes in and/or around Taft in Kern County. That’s a project that will be welcome. Western Kern County is oil country, and was never upgraded to even 1990s vintage DSL by Verizon, which operated the telephone system until it was acquired by Frontier in 2015. The picture above shows some of the mess that Verizon left behind.

I did an infrastructure assessment study for Taft in 2015, which built on a broadband workshop I conducted in 2014. There’s no doubt the need exists.

On the other hand, both of Frontier’s project summaries indicate that the money would be used to upgrade service to households that are not eligible for CASF funding, including some that they’re already receiving federal subsidies to serve.

Cruzio proposes to extend fiber to the home service to 940 low income homes, and the business offices of 13 mobile home parks in the Santa Cruz County communities of Soquel, Pleasure Point and Capitola. The Equal Access Santa Cruz application asks for a $5.3 million grant.

When the five CASF project applications submitted by the Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative last weekend, and Frontier’s proposal for the Colfax and Weimar communities in Placer County submitted late last year are added in, there are now nine grant proposals pending, totalling $27.6 million. With $300 million added to the CASF infrastructure program in 2017, there’s enough money available to fund them all.

Cruzio
Equal Access Santa Cruz, Soquel, Pleasure Point, Capitola (Santa Cruz County)

Frontier Communications
Northeast Project Phase 1 (Lassen and Modoc counties)
Taft Cluster (Kern County)

Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative
Elysian Valley-Johnstonville (Lassen County)
Eureka-Johnsville (Plumas County)
Keddie (Plumas County)
Lake Davis (Plumas County)
Mohawk Vista (Plumas County)

I’m collecting the 2019 CASF infrastructure grant proposals here. Information about the program is here.

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

Don’t expect fast rural broadband from AT&T or Frontier, lobbyists tell CPUC

Ernestine

Judging from presentations made by AT&T and Frontier Communications lobbyists at a California Public Utilities Commission workshop on Monday, the companies have no plans for significant upgrades to rural broadband service, comparable to urban improvements, despite taxpayer subsidies. Which doesn’t bode well for a $2 trillion infrastructure spending deal announced yesterday in Washington, D.C.

Rural broadband infrastructure was one of the few specific items that came out of a meeting yesterday between president Donald Trump, house speaker Nancy Pelosi and senate democratic leader Chuck Schumer. But there’s good reason to wonder whether the $2 trillion promised for broadband infrastructure for “our great farmers and rural America”, as Trump’s press secretary put it, will be spent in a useful way.

On Monday, Ross Johnston and Charlie Born, staff lobbyists for AT&T and Frontier Communications respectively, talked about ongoing efforts to upgrade infrastructure using federal Connect America Fund (CAF–2) subsidies. While repeatedly ducking direct questions from commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves and others about what their employers are doing (as did lobbyists for Comcast and Charter Communications) they made it clear that the best they’ll commit to is the slow 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload (10/1) speeds required by the Federal Communications Commission. Which they won’t have to deliver consistently, according to FCC specs.

Johnston said AT&T is working to upgrade 141,000 rural Californian homes and businesses to 10/1 service by next year’s CAF–2 deadline, but more than half of those customers – 84,000 locations in 40 counties – will be stuck with low capacity fixed wireless links, instead of improved wireline connections. Born didn’t mention Frontier’s plans to do the same, but he likewise wouldn’t promise anything better than 10/1, even though he claimed the company is deploying advanced VDSL and fiber technology that should be capable of much faster speeds.

The CAF–2 program was designed by the FCC to funnel subsidies to incumbent telcos, at least to the extent that they were interested in taking the money. It is apparently the blueprint for a new $20 billion rural broadband program vaguely announced by FCC chair Ajit Pai during his moment in the oval office sun a couple of weeks ago. Although Pai embraced the higher 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up standard adopted by the federal agriculture department last year, it’s by no means certain that any new money would go towards service at even that level.

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

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.

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

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

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

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

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

Fair enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frontier orders a California broadband subsidy sandwich

by Steve Blum • , , ,

The first application for construction (and maybe operations) subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) since the program was gutted by the California legislature landed in the hopper at the California Public Utilities Commission.

Frontier Communications is asking for a $1.8 million grant, without specifying how much, if anything, it’s willing to pay out of its own pocket. It wants the money to pay for a fiber to the home system in and around the remote San Bernardino County town of Lytle Creek…

Frontier’s proposed project will cover about 4.4 square miles and is a combination of middle-mile and last-mile infrastructure using Frontier’s existing poles and rights of way to deploy fiber-to-the-home (“FTTH”) facilities capable of providing High Speed Internet, Ethernet, and VoIP service with speeds of up to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload.

“Capable of” and “up to” are weasel words that incumbent telcos, like Frontier, put in ads and other marketing material with the intent of pulling the rug out from under consumers when they have the gall to ask for it. In its project summary, Frontier makes no promises about the service it will actually offer, or the price it will charge.

Frontier says it plans to serve 339 homes with the subsidy, which comes out to $5,300 each. But what Frontier doesn’t mention is that Lytle Creek is one of the blank spaces on its federally subsidised checkerboard. It’s sandwiched between areas where the Federal Communications Commission is paying for service at 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up, which is below the otherwise federal standard of 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up. The middle mile infrastructure that Frontier wants all Californians to pay for will support the promise, if not necessarily the reality, of modern service for some while condemning the rest to speeds consistent with 1990s DSL infrastructure.

The purpose of CASF is to extend the benefits of 21st century broadband service to all Californians. Frontier’s Lytle Creek proposal might do that for some. Before writing the check, the CPUC needs to make sure it will deliver it to all.

Rural Californians still fleeing Frontier broadband by the thousands

by Steve Blum • ,

Frontier is still losing broadband subscribers in California, more so in rural areas than in urban areas, but either way the counts are dropping. That’s according to Frontier’s third quarter 2017 financial report and presentation. The good news? Frontier says it’s not bleeding as fast as it was.

Frontier first separates its results out into what it calls “CTF”, short for California, Texas and Florida, and “legacy”, which is what it had before it bought out Verizon’s wireline systems in those three states. California accounts for about four-fifths of the subscribers Frontier acquired in that transaction and apparently about the same proportion of its losses. At least going by the very vague characterisation company executives gave during a conference call with investment analysts, as quoted by the website Seeking Alpha: “California is somewhere in between” Texas and Florida.

Then within the CTF group, Frontier breaks its subscriber trend numbers into DSL and FiOS categories. The FiOS households are primarily in urban and suburban communities, particularly in the affluent coastal counties of southern California, where Verizon invested in fiber. DSL subscribers, on the other hand, are in a dog’s breakfast of often decaying copper systems that trace their legacy back to a variety of rural telcos that were strung together over the years into a collection that Verizon couldn’t be bothered to upgrade and couldn’t wait to dump.

And that Frontier can’t hang onto. It ended the third quarter with 19,000 net fewer DSL subscribers in the three state group, again with California likely accounting for four-fifths, or roughly 15,000 households. That’s a little better than the previous trend since it closed its purchase of Verizon’s systems, when quarterly DSL losses swung between something like 18,000 and 24,000 in California, using the four-fifths ratio as a rough guide.

On the positive side, Frontier is doing better at keeping its FiOS subscribers, losing a net of only 11,000 across the three states in the third quarter, down from 44,000 in the second quarter. And way down from a high of 76,000 net sub losses in the second quarter of 2016, when Frontier fumbled its California hand off.