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stop the cap
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The show is Connections with Evan Dawson. It is a 51-minute discussion and is far more reality-based than most that we come across.
National ISPs with millions of customers are some of the most hated companies in the U.S. Poor customer service, contract tricks, and a refusal to upgrade services are only a few of the common complaints from subscribers who are often trapped due to lack of competition. Frontier Communications is proudly carrying on that tradition of deficiency in Minnesota. In fact, the company’s excellence at skullduggery has drawn the attention of the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which launched an investigation into the service quality of Frontier this spring.
So Much Going On Here
While many of us are used to some level of poor service when it comes to the big ISPs, Frontier in Minnesota accumulated so many complaints, the PUC felt they had no choice but to take action. According to Phil Dampier from Stop the Cap!, the Commission received 439 complaints and negative comments in a five-week period in early 2018. Some but not all, of the types of issues that subscribers described included:
A recent proposal being considered by the FCC that has raised the loudest outcry has been the status of mobile broadband in rural areas. Now that Verizon is discontinuing rural subscriber accounts, the FCC will be able to see those concerns come to life.
The company has decided to cut service to scores of customers in 13 states because those subscribers have used so many roaming charges, Verizon says it isn’t profitable for the company. Service will end for affected subscribers after October 17th.
Verizon claims customers who use data while roaming via other providers’ networks create roaming costs that are higher than what the customers pay for services. In rural communities, often mobile wireless is the best (albeit poor) or only option for Internet access, so subscribers use their phones to go online.
Subscribers are from rural areas in Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wisconsin.
In a letter sent to customers scheduled to be cut off, Verizon offered no option, such as paying more for more data or switching to a higher cost plan. Many of the people affected were enrolled in unlimited data plans:
“During a recent review of customer accounts, we discovered you are using a significant amount of data while roaming off the Verizon Wireless network. While we appreciate you choosing Verizon, after October 17th, 2017, we will no longer offer service for the numbers listed above since your primary place of use is outside the Verizon service area.”
Affecting Customers And Local Carriers
Apparently, Verizon’s LTE in Rural America (LRA) program, which creates partnerships with 21 other carriers, is the culprit. The agreements it has with the other carriers through the program allows Verizon subscribers to use those networks when they use roaming data, but Verizon must pay the carriers’ fees. Verizon has confirmed that they will disconnect 8,500 rural customers who already have little options for connectivity.
Philip Dampier at Stop The Cap! writes:
Conflicts of interest have been front and center in federal politics this election cycle, but there is another place where we see a grey cloud of impropriety: the Virginia General Assembly. More specifically, above the head of Republican Delegate Kathy Byron, who last week introduced HB 2108, the “Broadband Deployment Act.”
We noticed Byron is inclined to accept sizable campaign donations from big cable and DSL corporate friends, but Phil Dampier’s excellent article on Stop the Cap! took a deeper look at her dubious connections. Tracing campaign dollars from state legislators who sponsor these bills back to companies like Verizon ($36,100 for Byron), Comcast ($3,000), AT&T ($9,250), and CenturyLink ($3,500) is no surprise. Finding similar connections to their state lobbying groups such as the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association is also typical (a generous $15,000). For people like Dampier and us, it's kind of par for the course.
Campaign contributions call into question a legislators motivations but Byron has other connections that her constituents, colleagues in the General Assembly, and other Virginians need to examine as they consider HB 2108 and her role as a policy maker in state government:
From Stop the Cap!:
Since 2008, Stop the Cap! has reviewed industry-sponsored municipal broadband ban bills, and none to date have illustrated the level of conflict of interest we see here. We call on Virginian officials to carefully investigate the ties Ms. Byron has to cable and phone companies and the ethical concerns raised from her involvement in key state bodies that can make or break rural broadband in Virginia. Byron increasingly exposes an agenda favoring incumbent phone and cable companies that just happen to contribute to her campaign — companies she seems willing to protect at any cost.
In early May, leaders in Savannah, Georgia, retained a consultant to prepare a feasibility study to help the community examine ways to improve local connectivity. Local leaders want consultants to consider ways to better serve municipal facilities, community anchor institutions, businesses, and residents.
In March, incumbent Comcast announced that it would bring fiber-optic connectivity to businesses in Savannah by the end of 2016, but the company has a poor reputation in the Hostess City with both residents and businesses.
Back in 2011 and 2012, there were so many complaints to city leaders Aldermen began holding public meetings so citizens could air complaints. People complained about high rates, poor customer service, and Internet interruptions during rainstorms. Business owners could not get cable connectivity in the downtown area from Comcast; the company said the low number of connections did not justify the investment. Stop the Cap! covered the whole sordid affair in 2012, describing Savannah’s unhappy populace as in a state of “open revolt.”
The company has reportedly made improvements, but trust is a fragile thing.
Moving Forward, No Comcast
After so much trouble with the cable company, it’s understandable that city leaders might decide to side-step Comcast. According to an announcement in Broadband Communities Magazine, the consultants will examine the existing fiber assets in the city and offer ways to expand off that fiber to better serve the community.
City officials have been discussing the possibilities of better connectivity via a municipal fiber optic network for a while now and have been more open about it in recent months. In March, Mayor Eddie DeLoach told Local News WTOC:
As the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals considers the FCC's decision to roll back Tennessee and North Carolina anti-muni laws, elected officials opposed to local authority are mounting an assault to head off possible enabling legislation. Their first target is the House of Representatives.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slattery, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange all sent letters to the Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Fred Upton (R-MI). Their letters express derision at the thought of allowing local communities the ability to make decisions for themselves when it comes to ensuring local businesses and residents have the Internet access they need.
Communities with publicly owned networks such as Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Wilson, North Carolina, have prospered compared to those relying only on the large incumbent cable and telephone companies like Comcast and AT&T. Data suggest access to publicly owned networks contribute to local prosperity. Nevertheless, these elected officials have chosen to support big ISPs rather than their own constituents.
Elected Officials Protecting Campaign Interests
When the FCC released its Opinion and Order scaling back state restrictions in Tennessee and North Carolina, legislators backed by ISP powerhouses took up arms. They introduced bills, wrote editorials, and delivered speeches that put profits of AT&T and Comcast before the rights of Tennesseans and North Carolinians to have fast, affordable, reliable Internet access.
Lo and behold, right in the thick of the CBS-Time Warner fight, I received notices from AT&T that Uverse was now available in my neighborhood. This is something I’ve waited more than two years for. I was thrilled. Finally, there’s choice! Since receiving my first notice from AT&T in early August, I’ve been inundated with AT&T offers. Dozens of pieces of mail have arrived in my mailbox. Clearly, AT&T wanted my business. And I wanted badly to give it to them. I phoned one day after receiving my first notice. I signed up immediately for service. The friendly sales person told me because of high demand, she couldn’t set an installation date for sooner than two weeks. Whatever. Fine. We agreed on August 19, somewhere between 9 and 11 a.m. I couldn’t wait.Only they didn't show. They cancelled. And they cancelled the next appointment and put him off time and time again. But now he has a date of when he will be able to take service ... and I'm not making this up. 12/31/2036. Those familiar with AT&T's announcement in Austin may think that it will take 23 years to upgrade Dallas because the massive corporation is focusing so much attention on Austin where they are kind of promising a gig. Karl Bode has long been covering what he calls Fiber to the Press Release from AT&T.
Video streaming by Ustream The Washington Post covered the story, including several quotes from me.
DePriest tells me that EPB's fiber network is "a great profit center." In the four years the service has been active, the utility company has increased its mid-tier speeds three times — from 15 Mbps to 30 Mbps, from 30 Mbps to 50 Mbps and now from 50 Mbps to 100 Mbps. About 2,500 elite users will enjoy 1-gig speeds by the beginning of October.Phil Dampier has more coverage at StoptheCap.com, including an analysis of AT&T and Comcast competition.
AT&T charges $65 a month for 24/3Mbps service — its fastest — with a 250GB monthly usage cap, currently not enforced. For $5 more, EPB customers get 1,000/1,000Mbps with no usage limits or overlimit fees.A recent article in the Chattanoogan noted that Chattanooga had surpassed 50,000 subscribers and was on path to surpass Comcast in subscriber base locally.
Mr. DePriest said Comcast had some 122,000 customers on the EPB grid when EPB launched its rival program. He said Comcast is down to around 75,000 and will likely drop to around 60,000 next year.
Another story of frustration as cable companies try to discourage Internet use on their last generation networks.
An article earlier this month in StopTheCap! tells the story of the John Heeley family, long time Cox customers and avid Netflix fans. The Heeley's received a letter from Cox warning them about their "excessive Internet usage." They were more than a little annoyed, considering they fork over $2,400 a year to the cable giant provider so called to express their displeasure:
Heeley’s fiancé Shelley was angry after realizing just how much the couple already spends with Cox.
“I called them on the phone and the first thing they want to do is get you to upgrade and spend even more money with them,” she tells Stop the Cap! “They tried to vaguely threaten our service if we continued to ‘overuse the Internet’ and suggested we cut back or cancel Netflix which they think is the reason we went over the limit.”
Shelley says she was born at night, but not last night.
“How convenient they want you to stop using Netflix, Amazon, or other online video services that their cable TV competes with,” Shelley says. “It is unfair competition.”
Shelley requested a Cox supervisor and threatened the company right back, telling Cox if they sent one more letter like that, the Heeley family would take their business elsewhere.
“He told us quietly we could ignore the letter and any future letters and they will add a note on our account,” Shelley tells us. “He confided they have customers going over the limit all the time and the letter is really about educating customers about usage.”
Imagine going to a gas station, putting 10 gallons into your car's 12 gallon tank, and driving off only to find your needle only approaches half a tank? This scenario is quite rare because government inspects gas stations to ensure they are not lying about how much gasoline they dispense.
But when it comes to the Internet, we have found measurements of how much data one uses is unregulated, providing no check on massive companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable. And we are seeing the results -- AT&T is not open about what its limits are or how to tell when one has exceeded them.
Stop The Cap has noted that AT&T has advertised unlimited bandwidth for its DSL/ U-verse product while chiding and charging customers who exceeded certain amounts of monthly usage. Customers were quietly warned and charged $10 for each additional 50 GB over 150 GB for DSL subscribers or 250 GB for U-verse customers. Clearly, "unlimited" has several definitions, depending on whether one is a customer or an ISP.
Complaints have also come in from SuddenLink customers and others. The ISP charged usage based customers for bandwidth usage when they didn't even have power. Simlarly, AT&T customers began to complain about inaccurate meters from the beginning of the program. This from a 2011 DSL Reports story - one of many comments from AT&T customers:
AT&T's data appears to be wholely corrupted. Some days, AT&T will under-report my data usage by as much as 91%. (They said I used 92 meg, my firewall says I used 1.1 Gigs.) Some days, AT&T will over-report my data usage by as much as 4700%. (They said I used 3.8 Gig, dd-wrt says I used 80 meg. And no, this day wasn't anywhere near the day they under-reported.)