Tag Archives: fiber optic

Elected Officials Push For Countrywide Performance Equality of Broadband Providers

NCC Logo

As advertisements promoting increasing broadband speeds circulate around the internet, elected officials in cities throughout the United States are coming together to ask for a system that gathers performance information across providers. This collective of elective officials, including some mayors, is known as Next Century Cities (NCC), an advocacy group which aims to bring reliable and affordable broadband internet to everyone in the country. Formed last September, the mission of this group is to make available to any community in America fiber broadband with speeds of 1 Gbps.

There are large urban areas included in the NCC, such as Boston, Massachusetts, Seattle, Washington, and Kansas City, Kansas. Overall, there are 35 members of the group, not all of which are large or urban areas, as seen by member communities like Salisbury, North Carolina, which has a population around 33,000, and Yellow Springs, Ohio, which has a population around 3,500. In a letter to the FCC, these city leaders stressed the need to find ways to measure the cost, the reliability, and the speed of broadband internet. The current procedure does not require a standard measurement method for providers, so for the consumer shopping around, the situation is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. Furthermore, the NCC wants the reports produced through these new standard measurement rates to be easily understood, by both government officials and citizens, in the hope that they will be more empowered when selecting a broadband provider.

The member cities of the NCC have gained considerable backing from recent findings published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). A GAO report suggested two changes to the current FCC policy. The first change involves the FCC publishing resources on broadband performance that are accessible to the general public while still including the pertinent reliability and speed information about the ISPs. The second suggested change involves ISPs adopting a universal standard to measure their broadband speeds but also adding relevant information from consumer reports and research to these findings to make them more inclusive.

Methods for implementing these suggestions have already been developed. The NCC is stressing the need for an advisory panel of local and state officials, in addition to community organizers, to take the new broadband information and present it to cities and individual customers. To ensure that this process goes smoothly, a centralized and accessible database will be created that allows users to track the standardized performance reports for all providers according to geographic region. Finally, there will be measures and assessments made of the general public to ensure that the database meets their needs and that the advisory panel is conveying effectively the pertinent information.

AT&T Expansion and DirecTV Merger

AT&T and Direct TV Logos

In 2014 AT&T and DirecTV announced a merger worth almost $50 billion dollars. While this proposed deal would provide a new way for AT&T to expand its footprint, the process had been stuck in the approval phase for months, although after FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recommended last week that the deal move ahead, industry experts now believe that it will be approved formally within ten days. It appears that the main sticking point had been ensuring that AT&T adheres to the new FCC rules pertaining to broadband speeds. While this impasse persisted, AT&T was forced to file for two extensions to close the deal, the most recent only a few weeks ago.

When the deal does receive final approval, it will make AT&T the largest TV provider in the nation and will give DirecTV customers access to broadband services. Two recent filings to the FCC detail parts of AT&T’s plan to address the Department of Justice’s concerns that the merger may create a TV and broadband monopoly. The first filling stipulates that lower and middle income families will have access to DSL services, if available, at discounted prices. Upon further review of the filling, however, there are major limitations on this provision. In particular, the program will continue for only four years and for the more remote locations, will only provide speeds of 1.5 Mbps, which is too slow to support streaming services like Hulu Plus or Netflix. This low speed option has caused experts to speculate this is a different tactic in video slowdown and wonder if AT&T will be in full compliance with the Net Neutrality ruling if they do not improve this aspect of their proposal. Prices for this service would range from $5 to $10 per month, while a higher tier with speeds up to 5 Mbps would cost $10 to $20 per month.

The second filing to the FCC also addresses coverage issues, but deals with fiber internet customers. As part of its proposed merger, AT&T has promised that it will extend its 1 Gbps fiber footprint to almost 12 million businesses and homes within the next four years. This announcement comes on the heels of one made in April 2015 that AT&T was looking at nearly 100 cities where they might roll out fiber service, including Chicago, San Francisco, and Atlanta. As mentioned in the new FCC filing, AT&T has now added a new focus on the state of Florida, in particular the cities of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The company will draw on its recent successful expansion in the state of Texas, particularly around Dallas and Austin, to implement an efficiency plan to bring its GigaPower fiber service to the Sunshine State by the middle of 2016. Whether or not these efforts are enough to alleviate any lingering concerns still held by the Department of Justice should become clear by the middle of August 2015.

 

Verizon FiOS Growth and Verizon’s Streaming Video Service

Combined Verizon and AOL logos.

Analysts remain conflicted over the potential growth of Verizon FiOS as 2015 continues. New subscriber projections suggest there will only be around 90,000 additions during the second quarter, which are 25,000 fewer than had been anticipated. To put these totals in perspective, for the same period of time in 2014, FiOS subscribers increased by over 135,000. However, despite these underperforming totals, the expansion of Verizon FiOS, especially in parts of New York, Texas, and New Jersey, is expected to increase substantially over the next eighteenth months.

 

Even if FiOS numbers remain down, one of the reasons that observers are optimistic about Verizon’s financial growth over the long haul is that it plans to release its own video streaming service by September 2015. Over the past few months, Verizon has reached agreements with a number of content providers and is continuing talks with even more. While the initial target is to provide around 25 channels to subscribers, including content from Comedy Central, MTV, Food Network, HGTV, and the Travel Channel, the yet-unnamed service will also include video shorts produced by AwesomenessTV, a subsidiary of DreamWorks. While these offerings will whet the appetite of many consumers, Verizon has made clear that it is especially interested in a younger demographic. As a result of this focus, it has established agreements with ESPN, the ACC Network, CBS Sports, and 120 Sports. Content from these networks will include some NFL, college basketball, and college football games, but broadcast restrictions will apply.

 

Although complete details of the Over the Top (OTT) streaming service have not yet been announced, it is clear that Verizon plans to have an ad-based model, similar to what Hulu Plus does, compared to the pure subscription model used by Netflix. While Hulu Plus has not enjoyed the same subscriber growth as Netflix, Verizon hopes to change this by benefiting from its recent purchase of AOL. Since its days of providing users dial-up internet access, AOL has transformed itself into a leader in online advertising. Survey results produced by the advertising industry have shown that AOL is successful in reaching a target audience more than 55% of the time, a figure that is the envy of all advertisers besides Google. Another aspect tied to the success of the ads on the new Verizon service is that the company hopes users will enjoy the content not only at home, but also on their mobile devices. This means streaming over Verizon’s existing wireless network while consuming a lot of data. However, realizing that the threat of data overage fees may turn off some consumers, Verizon has established an agreement in which the advertisers will help subsidize part of the cost for data used while viewing video content.

 

FCC Reclassification, Broadband Access, and OTT: Does it Mean Anything?

Collection of rainbow-colored internet cables

One of the biggest hassles that people experience when they move is finding new cable and internet providers. While there are a bevy of cable packages to choose from, the options for broadband providers are not always as plentiful. With the recent FCC decision to reclassify broadband as a Title II utility, coupled with its change in what constitutes broadband, services with speeds of 25 Mbps or higher, the process of selecting a provider by a new homeowner has gotten even harder. The issue at hand is that for the vast majority of American households, there is only one, if any, Internet Service Provider (ISP) that can supply true broadband. The latest statistics are that 19.7% of American households do not have access to an ISP offering the 25 Mbps speed, while 54.3% have access to only one such ISP.

 

While the broadband provider issue appears to be changing with the development and expansion of fiber networks throughout the country, Roger Lynch, CEO of Sling TV, is stressing that consumers may see an increased strain on their finances as they purchase internet access. In particular, Lynch believes that those consumers who are broadband-only subscribers, the type who thrive in the expanding Over the Top (OTT) ecosystem of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus, will feel the pinch as cable companies attempt to offset their loss of TV subscribers by raising the price on single-use consumers. While OTT-only dwellings remain a small part overall, the percentage is growing and has now reached 10.5 million households, up over 15% from 2012. This expansion is occurring at the same time that pay TV subscriptions have declined over 0.5% since the start of 2015, the largest decline ever recorded.

 

Although Lynch’s claims must be taken with a grain of salt, considering that Sling TV is a subsidiary of Dish Network and a competitor to the cable companies, there is no denying that the new OTT offering is seeing early growth. Since its February 2015 launch, the $20 per month service has expanded to over 250,000 customers. While this is a fine showing, it is not a surprise to industry analysts who predicted a fast start but see Sling TV’s subscription numbers slowing down quickly. With its focus on offering smaller channel bundles and the option to add other thematic bundles for an additional cost per month, Sling is trying to develop its own niche, no doubt assisted by the existing relationships that Dish Network enjoys with broadcasters. However, Sling’s sustained growth, especially from those consumers interested in a variety of sports offerings, of which the OTT service has limited access, remains the question.

 

Ultimately, all of the talk about falling pay TV customer totals, increasing costs for broadband-only subscribers, and the increase of OTT offerings means that consumers need to be aware of what services are available in their area before they sign a lease or close on a home.

Fiber footprint increases while prices drop

A bundle of optical fibers.

 

As the review process for the proposed Charter purchase of Time Warner Cable continues to advance slowly, internet users around the United States are seeing more rapid gains in the expansion of fiber options. While Google Fiber has been one of the major leaders in this expansion, CenturyLink and AT&T have also been making gains. Throwing its hat into the ring now is Comcast, which is trying to differentiate itself from the competition.

 

While the current speed people can expect from fiber is around 1Gbps, Comcast is doubling this and offering speeds of 2 Gbps. Known as Gigabit Pro, these services will be offered to households in parts of Tennessee, Florida, California, and Georgia. Ultimately, the goal is to bring these services to around 20 million homes by the early part of 2016.

 

The latest reports indicate that Comcast is expanding its Gigabit Pro service area to include more of the Midwest and western United States. Regions of Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, Utah, Washington, and Oregon will soon be able to enjoy speeds twice as fast as other service providers in the state. This latest round of expansion has industry insiders buzzing that Comcast has invested more heavily in its fiber infrastructure than previously believed. In addition to their Gigabit Pro service, Comcast plans to launch Extreme 250 by the end of the year. This service will offer speeds of 250 Mbps.

 

Although their speeds may lack what Comcast will soon offer, CenturyLink continues to offer its 1 Gbps services in certain parts of the United States. By the end of 2015, they hope to have finished connecting over one million businesses and households to their fiber service. The same is true for AT&T which is expanding its U-verse fiber footprint in Illinois and Tennessee.

 

As more of these services are being offered, prices have been dropping. Initially, AT&T had been pricing its services in the $120 range, but competition has caused them to drop prices in some areas, including in the southern United States, by up to $50 per month. Google Fiber is currently offering its services for $70 to $100 per month. Even though Comcast’s Gigabit Pro provides speeds twice as fast as its competitors, the proposed price of $299 per month may turn off many consumers. What is clear, however, is that unlike AT&T, Comcast has no plans to establish a usage cap on anyone using Gigabit Pro.

 

Verizon: “We Could Offer 1Gbps, But You Don’t Need It”

Verizon is criminal of a lot of anti-consumer activity, but one of the worst crimes (and Verizon aren’t the only ISP) is telling customers what they do and don’t need, regardless of offering the choice.

Time Warner Cable was the first to sprout this complaint – claiming users don’t want high-speed fiber, despite evidence of Google Fiber’s growth showing customers want to buy into 1Gbps Internet.

Continue reading Verizon: “We Could Offer 1Gbps, But You Don’t Need It”

AT&T Stops Investing In Fiber, Until FCC Makes Net Neutrality Decision

In a move to turn the tides, AT&T has stopped investing in high-speed fiber Internet, until the FCC makes a decision on net neutrality laws in the U.S.

The move comes after Chairman Tom Wheeler decided to postpone the net neutrality proposal until 2015, after the “hybrid” plan got destroyed by public advocacy groups and broadband companies.

AT&T has been investing in a few neighborhoods and states, to expand fiber speeds to 300Mbps and 1Gbps. This expansion is mostly in areas Google Fiber it thinking about entering, but either way it is a nice change of pace from the norm.

No Investment

AT&T has a large say in the net neutrality laws – it controls two of the largest networks, both on broadband and mobile. If the FCC enacts Title II reclassification (and it passes) this could be a big problem for the future of AT&T.

Fast-lanes, perma-cookies and other new technologies being developed as new revenue streams for broadband and wireless networks would be void.

Lack of investment in fiber might be critical right now, but once Title II is employed, it may bring more growth in the broadband market. It would force broadband companies to either fight for customers or lose them to the incoming wave of municipal broadband and fiber optic options.

ISPs Fight Back

Even with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler goes with President Obama and most of the Internet and reclassifies broadband companies under Title II common carrier, it is only half the fight.

AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and other ISPs have all stated they will challenge this reclassification in court – already prepared to fight the FCC out of the net neutrality debate.

The public is on the FCC’s side; if it sticks to the plan most public advocacy groups are pushing. The issue is Tom Wheeler is searching for a middle ground, when realistically he must choose a side.