Tag Archives: frontiercommunications

Frontier’s slow video streaming platform is too fast for most of its California copper customers

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Outer limits intro

Fewer than half of Frontier Communications’ legacy copper, i.e. DSL-only, homes in California can watch more than one high definition stream at a time on its chosen video streaming platform, Philo. More than a quarter can’t even watch one HD stream, and 14% will get jerky, low quality video, if they can get anything at all. That’s my conclusion after crunching Frontier’s most recent (as of 31 December 2018) broadband availability figures, and comparing them to Philo’s bandwidth requirements and the actual performance estimates used by other streaming services.

The first clue that Frontier is trying to dumb down customer expectations instead of providing modern broadband speeds is that Philo doesn’t offer 4K quality video, which is the 2020 consumer video standard. Philo’s service is limited to 1950s standard definition (SD) and 1990s high definition (HD) video formats. Philo’s website provides a helpful guide to the bandwidth needed to watch those streams…

13 Mbps – Recommended for reliable HD streaming, even with multiple streams or other devices using the same network.

7 Mbps – Stream one HD video. If multiple devices are streaming or using the network at the same time, there may be buffering issues.

3 Mbps – Stream SD quality video.

Under 3 Mbps – Video quality is reduced. Philo may load slowly or rebuffer.

Frontier, like other Internet service providers, advertises its broadband speeds as “up to” a particular level. Netflix discounts advertised speeds when advising its customers. It recommends they subscribe to a service advertised at 25 Mbps download speeds in order to watch 4K video, which streams at 15 Mbps. Applying that Netflix discount to Philo’s recommendations for its lower quality service results in:

  • 22 Mbps – multiple HD streams.
  • 12 Mbps – single HD stream.
  • 5 Mbps – SD stream.
  • Less than 5 Mbps – SD streams will be slow and jerky.

Frontier reports it advertises either 1 Mbps, 6 Mbps, 12 Mbps or 25 Mbps download speeds to the 1.3 million housing units in California it serves with DSL-only broadband service. It also claims to provide fiber to the home (FTTH) service to 1.6 million Californian homes at 100 Mbps download speeds. And there’s a significant number of homes that are in Frontier’s telco monopoly territory that can’t get any kind of broadband service from Frontier. The analysis below just looks at the homes that can get Frontier service via DSL, but not FTTH:

Frontier philo video service by county 31dec2018 data

Siskiyou and Tehama counties lose out completely on family style, high definition video viewing – 12 Mbps is the best it can deliver via DSL there. More than a quarter – 26% – of Frontier’s Tuolumne County DSL homes can’t watch Philo video at all or, if they can, it’s poorer quality than the original mass market television standard that was set more than 60 years ago.

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.

Investment analysts say AT&T, Frontier, others padded bottom line with FCC broadband subsidies

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote today on a new ten year, $20 billion broadband subsidy program called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) that will mostly benefit rural communities. The proposal on the table would set the U.S. minimum broadband standard at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. That’s a lot better than California’s pathetic standard of 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up, and a significant improvement over the 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up minimum that the FCC established for the Connect America Fund II program (CAF II), which RDOF will replace.

According to a story in FierceTelecom that cites research by MoffettNathanson, it appears that major telcos pocketed some of the CAF II subsidies they received over the six years of the program, which began in 2015 and ends this year. CenturyLink was the big winner with more than $3 billion total, but AT&T and Frontier Communications weren’t far behind…

Other top beneficiaries of CAF II awards include AT&T, which has received $428 million per year [$2.6 billion total] since 2015; Frontier, which has received $332 million per year [$2.0 billion] during the same time frame; and Windstream, which has received $175 million per year. In exchange for the free government money, the recipients agreed to deploy broadband service with at least 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream to specific rural locations. MoffettNathanson reports that the CAF II money that the incumbents received was typically more than the cost of the network builds, so the telcos ended up with extra money to pad their bottom lines.

Based on availability reports and statements by the companies, it appears that AT&T and Frontier minimised capital investment and, consequently, minimised service levels – they were required to upgrade their systems to the point that 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up speeds were possible, but the de facto service standard they had to meet was only 8 Mbps down/800 Kbps up.

RDOF represents a second chance for the FCC to get broadband subsidies right. This time around, the plan is to conduct reverse auctions, and not simply award money to incumbent, monopoly model telcos on the basis of an arcane formula. We’ll have some idea later today what the FCC did with the draft decision that was circulated three weeks ago, and we’ll probably see the final version in the next few days.

CPUC begins process of holding Frontier to account for service outages, but it might be too late

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Nearly four years after the fact, Frontier Communications is being held to answer for the fumbled cutover of Verizon wireline customers it acquired in 2015. Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission formally opened an investigation into the widespread reports of dead lines and customer service meltdowns that went on for weeks after Frontier closed on its purchase of Verizon’s decaying copper telephone systems and somewhat more modern fiber to the home FiOS territories in California. On top of that, according to the CPUC’s order instituting investigation (OII), Frontier disclosed customer information it was supposed to keep confidential…

Starting April 1, 2016, Verizon transferred (a process it refers to as cutover of services) its California voice, internet, and video services to Frontier. The cutover caused two issues: (1) Many Frontier customers experienced service outages or interruptions between April to June 2016 to their voice, internet, and video services; customers also experienced poor customer support from Frontier in resolving such issues; and (2) during the same period, Frontier published customers’ address records that were designated as blocked from publication in online and printed directories.

As a starting ante, the CPUC order proposes a $2.5 million fine for Frontier, for the unlisted information disclosures alone. And that number could go up, and additional fines for the outages could be imposed, as the CPUC investigation proceeds. Those fines aren’t the sort of debt that Frontier can easily wash away in the bankruptcy filing it’s planning to make in March, according to reports.

The OII is the beginning of a process that will run for a year or two. By the time it’s finished, Frontier could have completely new owners and management, or it might even be out of California altogether. The reports say Frontier wants to reorganise under chapter 11 of U.S. bankruptcy law, which allows for the possibility of keeping the company in one piece, but doesn’t guarantee it.

Keep broadband slow so we can ditch copper, AT&T, Frontier tell FCC

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The Federal Communications Commission heading toward a vote later this month on the structure of the new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which is the reboot of the Connect America Fund (CAF) broadband subsidy program designed for rural communities (although urban and suburban areas sometimes qualify, too). In their eternal quest for more public money and less public service, AT&T and Frontier Communications, among others, are urging the FCC to lower speed standards for subsidised broadband, so they can rip out ageing copper lines and replace them with limited capacity wireless systems.

The good news is that there doesn’t seem to be much push back on the FCC’s plan to raise the broadband service floor to 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds, from the CAF program’s slow 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up level. What has Frontier, AT&T and their Washington, D.C. lobbying front in an uproar is the preference the FCC proposes to give to higher levels of service. As with their successful legislative pocket stuffing intense lobbying effort in California, which resulted in an even lower standard for rural broadband, they’re particularly upset with higher upload speeds.

According to a letter filed with the FCC by Frontier on behalf of its colleagues (h/t to Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica for the pointer), giving extra weight, and subsequently money, for service at 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up, is a bad idea because, hey, rural people don’t need that kind of juice…

When considering network build-out using fixed wireless technologies, an upload target of 20 Mbps likely drives significant additional deployment costs – up to two to three times as high – compared to a 10 Mbps upload target. At the same time, a 20 Mbps upload target provides little to no additional benefits to the end user customer as all key upload use cases, including HD streaming, video conferencing, and gaming can similarly be accomplished with 10 Mbps.

AT&T’s own comments push a similar line – who needs all that speed, anyway?

Urban and suburban customers do. At least cable companies are putting their money behind that proposition. But cable companies shy away from rural communities where cash flows aren’t at white water levels. Rural customers think they need that level of service too – research done by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (which I helped with) demonstrate that.

The FCC should listen to them, and not to monopoly model telcos intent on fencing off rural Californians.

Frontier will walk the same bankruptcy path as PG&E, Bloomberg says

by Steve Blum • , , ,

The end is near for Frontier Communications, as we know it. According to a story in Bloomberg by Allison McNeely, Katherine Doherty and Sridhar Natarajan, California’s second biggest telephone company will file for bankruptcy in March. Frontier is carrying $17.5 billion in debt – its purchase of Verizon’s Californian wireline systems accounts for a significant chunk of that – and continues to lose broadband subscribers.

Despite being initially considered a saviour for rural Californians held hostage by Verizon’s decrepit copper phone lines – many communities lacked even slow 1990s DSL service – Frontier has proven to be unable to improve broadband service, outside of its affluent urban territories. It fumbled its cutover of Verizon customers, and now faces an investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission as a result. It’s enthusiastically tapped the piggybank that California lawmakers created when they gutted the California Advanced Services Fund program, but has mostly used the money to patch up legacy DSL systems at cost levels more commonly associated with full fiber upgrades.

California is not the only place where Frontier is performing poorly, according to a story in Ars Technica by Jon Brodkin…

Frontier Communications failed to properly maintain its telecom network in Minnesota, leading to “frequent and lengthy” phone and Internet outages, an investigation by the state Commerce Department found in January 2019. The investigation led to a settlement. New York state officials are also investigating Frontier over its repeated outages and long repair times.

Many Frontier customers in different states have been hit with giant overcharges and cancellation fees, or draconian policies like one requiring customers to pay for router rentals even when they have purchased their own router. (A new US law scheduled to take effect in June 2020 would ban that practice.)

The Bloomberg article indicated that Frontier would be filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which allows it to continue operating while it sorts out its finances. It’s the same procedure PG&E is using.

Penalties, but not prevention, for deceptive ISP billing practices

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Consumer reports cable billing 3oct2019

It’s common practice for big, monopoly model broadband providers to promise low prices to new subscribers, then tack on arbitrary fees after they’re locked into long term contracts. AT&T was recently slammed for adding a property tax surcharge to some customers’ bills – no one has figured out yet why AT&T thinks it can do that in the first place, let alone why it more than doubled the charge – California property tax rate hikes are tightly restricted. Frontier Communications also adds fees on top of the rates customers have agreed to.

Comcast is a frequent target of consumer billing complaints, and state attorneys general are listening. Just about a year ago, the Minnesota attorney general took Comcast to court over billing practices. The case was settled on Wednesday. According to the Minnesota AG

Part of being able to afford your life means knowing the full cost of what you’re getting, getting what you were promised, not being overcharged for things you didn’t ask for, and not being unfairly charged to get rid of things you didn’t ask for. But when people signed up for Comcast, that’s what happened to them…This settlement will help put money back in Comcast’s customers’ pockets where it should have been in the first place. Just as importantly, it provides millions of dollars’ worth of debt relief. And we’ve made sure that going forward, Comcast customers will know exactly how much they’ll pay for service before they sign up for it. That should put an end to unpleasant surprises.

Another deceptive billing case in Washington state last year resulted in Comcast being hit with a $9 million fine, plus orders to make refunds to customers.

It’s not just broadband service – arbitrary fees are added to the full range of products and services that telephone and cable companies provide. A study by Consumer Reports showed that the typical cable TV customer pays an extra $450 a year, just because. The graphic above breaks that down.

So far, little has been done to stop deceptive billing practices in the first place. That could change. The Federal Communications Commission’s declaration that broadband isn’t a telecommunications service passed the buck to the Federal Trade Commission, which might or might not get around to doing something about it. State governments also have a role to play – a federal appeals court opened the door to broadband consumer protection laws and other state-level regulation last year. So far though, no one in Sacramento has shown much interest in walking through it.

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

CPUC approves $12 million subsidy for six broadband infrastructure projects

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Six of the eleven broadband infrastructure projects on the California Public Utilities Commission’s agenda yesterday were approved for subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). The other five were bumped to the CPUC’s next meeting, on 19 December 2019. Links to the most current resolutions are below.

Cruzio’s Equal Access Santa Cruz project was approved, without changes, for a $2.4 million grant. The commission rejected an attempt by Charter Communications to re-litigate its earlier and unsuccessful attempt to kill it. In doing so, commissioners reiterated that incumbent broadband service providers get one, and only one, opportunity to block proposed projects…

Staff also agrees with [the Central Coast Broadband Consortium] and rejects Charter’s request to remove a census block from the project area because Staff has already made a determination on the challenge. [CPUC Decision 18–12–018] set forth a clear process for challenges and Staff‘s determination of the challenge stands.

All five of the projects proposed by the Plumas Sierra Electric Cooperative (PSEC), totalling $9.7 million in grants, were approved too. The commission accepted PSEC’s field test data that demonstrated the lack of mobile broadband service in its Lake Davis project area.

Two projects proposed by Frontier Communications and three by Charter Communications are on hold. Both companies filed comments asking for more money than recommended by CPUC staff. As with the Cruzio project, Charter attempted to re-litigate its opposition to Frontier’s project plans in the Taft area of Kern County. It also objected to pricing obligations that CASF rules would normally impose on the projects that it proposed. It’s not surprising that it’s taking a couple extra weeks to get to a decision on those five projects.

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.

CASF broadband infrastructure grant resolutions, as approved 5 December 2019:
Cruzio – Equal Access Santa Cruz
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

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

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

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.