Report: 40% of Americans Want Faster Broadband Service

In an over-the-top video world, high-speed Internet connection is a must-have. New data from BroadbandNow contends that much of the country — rural America — does not have fast-enough Internet to handle streaming video.

The high-speed Internet aggregator believes 42 million Americans (16 million households) do not have access to a broadband-level connections — nearly double the FCC’s estimates.

Indeed, the survey-based report, from more than 700 households during May, contends 40% of Americans would sign up for a faster Internet option if the option became available. About 20% of respondents are somewhat dissatisfied with the speed of their existing service, including 25% in rural areas. The national average for broadband Internet is $79 per month.

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BroadbandNow suggests upstart ISP companies such as Elon Musk’s nascent SpaceX could help fill the void through its Starlink initiative, which aims to deliver high-speed broadband connections nationwide through a “mesh network” of satellites. Musk, creator of battery-powered Tesla cars, has said that the company needs 400 operational satellites to start service in the U.S.

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“If SpaceX’s Starlink service managed to enter the market in the $60 monthly range, it could pose a substantial threat to a status quo that has existed for decades in some areas,” Tyler Cooper, editor at BroadbandNow, wrote in the report. “Offering the service for $80 to $90 would likely still be attractive for many, but if it was significantly more expensive than current options, the company (and others working on new types of connectivity) may face an uphill battle with adoption, regardless of how robust the service is.”

 

 

 

Comcast’s Brian Roberts, Wife Donate $5 Million For Laptops to Philadelphia Public Schools

With public schools switching to online classes during the coronavirus pandemic, Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts and his wife Aileen have pledged $5 million toward the purchase of laptop computers for school children in Philadelphia.

According to a 2019 School District survey, only about 50% of third- through 12th-grade students have the equipment they need to begin participating in online lessons. Roberts’ donation will support the purchase of 50,000 Chromebooks, which will help ensure that all students who attend the 220 District-led public schools across Philadelphia have the tools they need to learn at home.

“We’re living in an unprecedented time and COVID-19 is presenting our society with new challenges every day,” Aileen and Brian Roberts said in a statement. “When we heard that many Philadelphia students weren’t going to be able to learn from home without laptops, we quickly decided we wanted to help and provide these teachers, parents and students with the technology they need to begin learning online within just a few weeks.”

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The laptops will be distributed along with the estimated 40,000 laptops already in school buildings to students and families. Once the equipment is received at the School District headquarters, it will be dispensed between April 13 and 17. During the interim two weeks, the laptops will be prepared for the students and the Philadelphia School District teachers will be trained to support distance learning.

“The generous gift from Aileen and Brian Roberts and their family will help to transform the learning experience for thousands of Philadelphia’s public school students who will now be able to access online educational resources from home,” said Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., Ed.D. “Our public schools belong to all of us and this is a great example of what’s possible when we work together to improve educational supports for all of our young people. I am grateful for their generosity.”

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Students and their families who don’t already have Internet access can get it through any Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Philadelphia. Comcast is currently offering low-income families who don’t already have Internet service two free months through Internet Essentials, which is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive high-speed internet adoption program.

Netflix Explains Streaming Video Quality Slowdown

Characterizing the current coronavirus spread as a “global crisis,” Netflix March 23 reiterated its responsibility to “help where we can.” Last week, the European Union asked companies like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube to ensure they are using telecommunications networks as efficiently as possible given the unprecedented network demand from quarantined residents.

In a blog post, Ken Florance, VP of content delivery at Netflix, said the SVOD pioneer quickly developed, tested and deployed a way to reduce its traffic on impacted networks by 25% — starting with Italy and Spain, which were experiencing the biggest impact.

“Within 48 hours, we’d hit that goal and we’re now deploying this across the rest of Europe and the U.K.,” Florance wrote. Netflix just reduced its streaming bit rate in Israel.

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To help clarify questions from subscribers concerned about the reduced streaming bit rates, Florance said the action taken by Netflix maintains the full range of video resolutions.

“Whether you paid for Ultra-High Definition (UHD), High-Definition (HD), or Standard-Definition (SD), that is what you should continue to get (depending on the device you are using),” he wrote.

Florance said that under normal circumstances sometimes has dozens of different streams for a single title within each resolution. In Europe, for the next 30 days, within each category Netflix just removed the highest bandwidth streams — resulting in a “very slight decrease” in quality within each resolution.

“But you will still get the video quality you paid for,” he said.

Florance said the ongoing crisis is impacting ISPs differently depending on where they’re located. He said some partners in regions such as Latin America want Netflix to reduce its bandwidth. But others with excess capacity want to continue with business as usual.

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“This is understandable, as different ISPs around the world have built their networks in different ways, and operate within different constraints,” Florance said.

He said Netflix would provide “relief “to ISPs dealing with large government-mandated “shelter in place” orders by providing the 25% traffic reduction started in Europe. For other networks, Netflix will stick with normal procedures until situations change.

“Our goal is simple: to maintain the quality of service for our members, while supporting ISPs who are facing unprecedented strain on their networks,” Florance wrote.

Netflix’s Reed Hastings Meeting With European Union to Discuss Bandwidth Issues During Virus Pandemic

With much of Europe under quarantine due to widespread outbreaks of the coronavirus, the European Union is calling on streaming video services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to curtail offering content in high definition.

The EU encompasses more than 450 million people, many of whom are home-bound as local governments and health officials battle to contain further spread of COVID-19, which has seen Europe surpass China in the number of infections and deaths.

With people turning to over-the-top video, demands on local ISPs and networks could exceed capacity, according to European Commissioner Thierry Breton, who tweeted “#SwitchtoStandard definition when HD is not necessary.”

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Breton reportedly met Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on March 18 about the issue and is scheduled to do the same today. Netflix, in a statement to CNN Business, said the service already limits streaming to network capacities, including housing content closer to subs in each country.

“Commissioner Breton is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that the internet continues to run smoothly during this critical time,” a Netflix spokesperson said. “We’ve been focused on network efficiency for many years, including providing our open connect service for free to telecommunications companies.”

By 2024, about 63 million Europeans are projected to have a Netflix subscription — up from 40 million in 2018. Netflix had 106 million international subs at the end of 2019, in addition to 61 million in the United States.

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Comcast Offering Free Wi-Fi Access During Coronavirus Pandemic

Comcast, one of the nation’s largest ISPs, March 13 announced it is making available free access to its Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spots nationwide, among other services, over the next 60 days during coronavirus pandemic. The cable giant is also suspending all data cap limits for subscribers during this period.

Hot spot access will be available to anyone, including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers. To find a local Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spot, click here. Once at a hotspot, consumers should select the “xfinitywifi” network name in the list of available hotspots and then launch a browser.

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The company said it would also not cancel a subscriber’s Internet service or assess late fees if the sub contacts Comcast informs the service he/she can’t pay their bill during this period. Comcast said it would work with subs offering flexible payment options, in addition to finding other solutions.

“During this extraordinary time, it is vital that as many Americans as possible stay connected to the Internet — for education, work, and personal health reasons,” Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast Cable, said in a statement. “Our employees also live and work in virtually every community we serve, and we all share the same belief that it’s our Company’s responsibility to step up and help out.”

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Charter Agrees to Record $174.2 Million Legal Settlement Regarding Fraudulent Internet Speed Claims

Cable operator Charter Communications (a.k.a. Charter Spectrum) has agreed to pay the state of New York $174.2 million to settle a consumer fraud allegation regarding its Internet speed claims.

The settlement – following unsuccessful appeals by Charter – is considered the largest-ever consumer payout by an Internet Service Provider in U.S. history.

Charter’s 700,000 ISP subs in New York will split $62.5 Million in refunds (about $75 each, in addition to $75 each to 150,000 subs who had inadequate modems), plus $100 million in premium channels and streaming services compensation for the pay-TV operator’s 2.2 million active subs.

“This settlement should serve as a wakeup call to any company serving New York consumers: fulfill your promises, or pay the price,” New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement. “[This] sets a new standard for how Internet providers should fairly market their services.”

In an age when streaming of movies and TV shows on services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, in addition to online TV, proliferate, ISPs regularly champion ever-faster download speeds.

Charter, which launched standalone online TV platform, Charter Spectrum TV Plus, to its broadband subscribers in 2015, had claimed ISP download speeds of 100, 200, and 300 Mbps, while failing to maintain enough network capacity to reliably deliver those speeds to subscribers.

Underwood claimed Charter mislead subs with claims they could stream over-the-top video service seamlessly, while at the same time engaging in “hardball tactics” with Netflix and other third-party content providers that, at various times, ensured subs would suffer through frozen screens, extended buffering, and reduced picture quality.

Those “hardball” measures contributed to net neutrality guidelines being imposed in 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission — and rescinded this year by FCC under the Trump Administration.

The direct restitution serves to compensate subscribers who, the N.Y. Attorney General claims, Charter equipped with outdated modems and routers and with premium speed plans that consistently failed to deliver the advertised speeds.

“The streaming benefits serve to compensate subscribers for Charter’s historic failures to faithfully deliver third-party Internet content that it had advertised,” reported the Attorney General.

 

 

California Inks Net Neutrality Bill; Trump Administration Sues

California Gov. Jerry Brown Sept. 30 signed legislation that returns key provisions of net neutrality law enacted by the Federal Communications Commission under President Obama.

Brown approved SB822 — dubbed the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018 — prohibiting fixed and mobile Internet service providers (ISPs) from engaging in actions concerning the treatment of Internet traffic.

The law prevents ISPs (including Comcast, AT&T and Verizon) from blocking lawful content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices, impairing (i.e. throttling) or degrading lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, application, service or use of specified practices known as “zero-rating,” which enable users to consume select content without impacting their monthly data caps.

It also denies ISPs from offering or providing services other than broadband Internet access service that are delivered over the same last-mile connection into consumer homes, if those services have the purpose or effect of evading the above-described prohibitions or negatively affect the performance of broadband Internet access service.

The Trump Administration responded with the Department of Justice filing a federal lawsuit claiming the state law violates provisions of the FCC’s rolled back net neutrality guidelines enacted under new chairman Ajit Pai.

“Under the Constitution, states do not regulate interstate commerce — the federal government does,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “Once again, the California legislature has enacted an extreme and state law attempting to frustrate federal policy.”

Pai, who was appointed to the FCC by Obama, and promoted to chairman position by President Trump, has long argued previous net neutrality provisions represented government overreach on private enterprise and thwarted capital investment.

The revamped FCC last December voted to reclassify ISPs as “information service providers.” That action — restoring lighter regulatory oversight — overturned the prior FCC’s 2015 ruling that classified ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

“Not only is California’s Internet regulation law illegal, it also hurts consumers,” Pai said, citing “zero rating” data plans he said enable low-income consumers to stream video and music.

“They have proven enormously popular in the marketplace,” Pai said.

Eddie Kurtz, with Courage Campaign, a civil liberties group, applauded the signing of SB822.

“Governor Jerry Brown did the right thing by choosing to institute the strongest net neutrality rules in the country, sending a clear signal to Californians that guaranteeing access to the internet for all, helping California communities — particularly low-income communities — and  boosting small businesses is a priority for our state,” said Kurtz.

 

Comcast Pledges Net Neutrality Support as Government Safeguards Expire

Comcast reiterated support for so-called net neutrality provisions the same day (June 11) the Federal Communication Commission’s “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” took effect, rolling back many safeguards intended to mandate a level playing field on the Internet.

In a blog post, Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast Cable, said the nation’s largest cable pay-TV operator would not change how it handles third-party streaming services on its broadband network.

“We still don’t and won’t block, throttle or discriminate against lawful content,” Watson wrote. “We’re still not creating fast lanes. We still don’t have plans to enter into any so-called paid prioritization agreements.”

Yet, throttling is precisely what Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings accused Comcast and other Internet Service Providers of doing in 2014. Hastings said Netflix was forced into paying “a toll” to “some big ISPs” so its subscribers wouldn’t be subjected to buffering and pixilated images.

“The essence of net neutrality is that ISPs such as AT&T and Comcast don’t restrict, influence, or otherwise meddle with the choices consumers make,” said Hastings at the time. “The traditional form of net neutrality which was recently overturned by a Verizon lawsuit is important, but insufficient. This weak [pre- 2015] net neutrality isn’t enough to protect an open, competitive internet; a stronger form of net neutrality is required.”

Hastings’ grumblings reached President Obama, who, together with former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler in 2015 helped push through tougher safeguards for streaming services – much to the chagrin of ISPs.

Under new FCC chairman Ajit Pai – a former cable lobbyist and Obama appointee – the agency did away with what Pai considered “unnecessary, heavy-handed regulations” imposed by Wheeler that characterized the Internet as a utility and regulated under the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

Watson contends the Internet can be better safeguarded under the same regulatory-light (i.e. scant government oversight) approach that helped create it.

“We continue to believe the best way to ensure lasting net neutrality rules that protect consumers and promote investment is for Congress to enact legislation,” he wrote.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Cancels CES Appearance

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai has cancelled a planned Jan. 10 appearance at CES 2018 in Las Vegas. The agency gave no official reason for Pai’s decision, which was disclosed Jan. 3 by the Consumer Trade Association, which owns and operates CES.

The chairman was slated to participate in a panel discussion with Federal Trade Association acting chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen, and moderated by CTA CEO Gary Shapiro.

The annual CE trade show would have been Pai’s first as FCC chairman, following his appointment to the position by President Trump.

Pai has come under pressure following his orchestrated (in a 3-2 commission vote along partisan lines) push to repeal net neutrality guidelines regulating the Internet as a utility.

The repeal has been criticized by civil liberty groups contending the decision gives Internet Service Providers too much control of the Web.

In a statement, Shapiro said he looked forward to “our next opportunity to host a technology policy discussion with [Pai] before a public audience.”