FCC: Americans Lacking Broadband Access Declines

The number of people lacking access to fixed high-speed Internet access has declined more than 30%, according to new data from the Federal Communications Commission.

This comes as welcome news to Americans living in rural parts of the country looking to stream Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Redbox TV, among other over-the-top video services.

Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires that the FCC determine annually whether advanced telecommunications capability, i.e. broadband access for streaming video, music, data, is being deployed to all Americans “in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

The FCC’s “Broadband Deployment Report” found that for the third consecutive year advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis.

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The report found the number of Americans lacking access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 25/3 Mbps continues to decline, going down by more than 14% in 2018 and more than 30% over the course of 2017 and 2018. The number of Americans without access to 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband with a median speed of 10/3 Mbps based on Ookla data declined approximately 54% between 2017 and 2018.

The vast majority of Americans — more than 85% — now have access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 250/25 Mbps, a 47% increase since 2017, with the number of rural Americans having access to 250/25 Mbps fixed terrestrial broadband service more than tripling between 2016 and 2018.

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“Under my leadership, the FCC’s top priority is to close the digital divide, and I’m proud of the progress that we have made,” chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “In 2018 and 2019, the United States set consecutive records for new fiber deployment, with the number of homes passed by fiber increasing by 5.9 million and 6.5 million, respectively.”

Pai said growing up in rural Kansas drove home the need for access to new technology in communications and technology. Since being appointed by President Trump to chair the FCC, Pai has made deregulation a cornerstone of his tenure — including spearheading the overturn of Obama-era “net neutrality” guidelines mandating equal access to broadband networks for video services.

“I have a deep commitment to expanding broadband to all corners of the country,” he said. “That’s why we’ve taken aggressive steps to remove regulatory barriers to broadband deployment and reform our ‘Universal Service Fund’ programs.”

The gains have been fueled in part by the broadband industry’s $80 billion investment in network infrastructure in 2018, the highest annual amount in at least the last decade. In 2019 alone, fiber broadband networks became available to roughly 6.5 million additional homes, the largest one-year increase ever, with smaller providers accounting for 25% of these new fiber connections.

But despite these gains, Pai said the job isn’t done affording all Americans have access to digital “opportunity.”

“I look forward to commencing Phase I of our ‘Rural Digital Opportunity Fund’ auction in October, which will bring high-speed broadband to millions of currently unserved Americans,” he said.

Comcast Loses 149,000 Q4 Cable Subs; Record 733,000 Subs in 2019

In another reminder the traditional pay-TV business model’s leak is widening, Comcast Cable Jan. 23 reported a drop of 149,000 video subscribers in the fourth quarter, ended Dec. 31, 2019. The nation’s largest cable operator lost a record 733,000 video subs in 2019 — underscoring consumers’ growing disinterest in the cable bundle and migration toward less-expensive over-the-top video distribution.

Comcast, which ended the year with 20.2 million video subscribers, is offsetting video sub losses with broadband — the lifeblood of video streaming. The company is one of the largest ISP operators, adding 424,000 high-speed Internet subs in the quarter; and 1.4 million for the fiscal year, including business customers.

Comcast ended 2019 with 28.6 million broadband subs, up 5% from 27.2 million subs at the end of 2018.

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In a statement, CEO Brian Roberts lauded the company’s broadband subscriber growth, adding the Comcast in 2020 would differentiate its broadband product in the U.S. through innovations like Flex and xFi Advanced Security; accelerating the deployment of Sky Q and launching a new broadband service in Italy.

The executive said Comcast has high hopes for the April debut of Peacock, the company’s first branded over-the-top video platform featuring both subscription and ad-supported services.

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“Underscoring our confidence in the continued success of our company, we are pleased to announce a 10% increase in our dividend, our 12th consecutive annual increase,” Roberts said.

DirecTV Now Raising Prices, Changing Service Plans

Despite losing nearly 270,000 DirecTV Now subscribers in the fourth quarter (ended Dec. 31, 2018), AT&T is initiating a $10 monthly price hike for its standalone online TV service that takes effect in early April.

DirecTV Now is also changing service plan options for new subscribers to include Plus ($50 for 40 channels, including CNN, ESPN and HBO) and Max ($70 for 50 channels, including HBO/Cinemax, ESPN and regional sports networks).

The plans replace existing (wordy) options such as “Live a Little Plan” ($40) with 65 channels; “Just Right” ($55) with 85 channels; “Go Big” ($65) 105 channels; and “Gotta Have It” ($75) for 125 channels.

Existing subscribers will have their plans grandfathered in.

AT&T is also offering OTT streaming versions of its linear pay-TV packages, including “Entertainment” (65 channels for $93 per month); “Choice” ($110 and 85 channels); “Xtra” ($124 for 105 channels); “Ultimate” ($135 for 125 channels); and “Optimo Mas” ($86 for 90 channels).

As cord-cutting increases among consumers, AT&T hopes migrating linear TV subscribers to OTT distribution translates into more broadband subs. The company ended 2018 with 15.7 million high-speed Internet subs.

 

 

 

 

AT&T CEO Calls on Congress to Restore Net Neutrality

AT&T chairman/CEO Randall Stephenson apparently believes in miracles.

Speaking Nov. 12 at the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Tech D. Live confab in Laguna Beach, Calif., Stephenson called on politically-divided Congress to enact net neutrality guidelines for the nation’s Internet service providers.

It was wishful thinking, Stephenson agreed, joking the lawmakers can’t agree on the freezing temperature of water.

“I get fatigued every time the President changes, the head of the FCC changes, and regulations swing from left to right,” he said.

Indeed, with politics driving the Obama-era net neutrality guidelines enacted in 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission, a slightly revamped FCC three years later under President Trump rescinded the provisions that sought to treat the Internet as a utility, intending to safeguard content distribution against ISPs throttling, denying access, and charging higher prices for faster streaming speeds, among other issues.

To Stephenson, whose telecom is both an ISP and streaming content distributor and creator through subsidiary WarnerMedia, the lack of clear regulation will only encourage individual states to employ their own versions of net neutrality – as California lawmakers voted to do this year.

“What would be at total disaster for the innovation we see in Silicon Valley is to pick our head up and have 50 different sets of rules across the U.S.,” Stephenson said.

Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai – an Obama nominee upped to head the agency by Trump – has argued that net neutrality is regulation in search of an industry.

“It is not the job of the government to pick the winners and losers of the internet … We should have a level playing field [via market forces],” Pai said earlier this year.

Critics contend the lack of regulation hurts consumers. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel – a Democrat – said reversing net neutrality put the FCC “on the wrong side of the American public.”

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month declined to hear a case brought by the telecommunications industry and the Department of Justice seeking to reverse a lower appeals court ruling upholding the subsequently rescinded Obama-era guidelines.

The Supreme Court’s lack of action does not reverse the repeal of the net neutrality guidelines, and leaves the door open to future litigation should a future FCC restore the guidelines.

The latest round of net neutrality lawsuits involves the Trump Administration, arguing the supremacy clause gives the Federal government the sole authority to regulate the Internet in the United States, suing states attempting to enact their own stricter guidelines.

 

 

Comcast Loses 96,000 Cable Subs in Q1

Comcast Cable April 25 said it lost 96,000 video subscribers in the fiscal first quarter (ended March 31), compared to adding 42,000 subs in the previous-year period. The cabler ended the period with 22.2 million video subs – down 288,000 subs from 22.5 million last year.

The decline underscores ongoing secular declines in pay-TV to alternative distribution channels as witnessed by Comcast shedding 151,000 video subs in 2017. The cabler gained 161,000 subs in 2016.

Meanwhile, Comcast added 379,000 high-speed Internet subscribers, which was down from 429,000 additions last year. The cabler ended the period with 26.2 million broadband subs compared to 25.1 million subs during the previous-year period.

Indeed, Comcast added more than 1.1 million high-speed Internet subscribers over the past year.

“Our steady increase in customer relationships continued, balanced with solid growth in [pre-tax earnings], reflecting momentum in our high-speed Internet and business services segments,” CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement.