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DSLreports - front page

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Published: Fri, 16 Feb 2018 15:38:51 EDT

Last Build Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2018 15:38:51 EDT

Copyright: Copyright 2005-2010,

Charter Fails to Derail Lawsuit Over Slow Speeds, Misleading Ads -

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 15:38:51 EDT

Early last year, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued Charter Communications (Spectrum) for, among other things, knowingly selling broadband speeds company executives knew they couldn't provide. The lawsuit alleged all manner of shady behavior by the cable giant, from admissions that it was actively gaming FCC efforts to measure speeds (via the custom-firmware embedded routers the FCC uses for said purpose), to acknowledging that it was considering actively causing congestion at interconnection points to drive up costs for transit and content companies.

Charter had tried to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing, among other things, that states lack the authority to hold ISPs accountable under consumer protection law.

Today the Supreme Court for the State of New York disagreed. In a ruling (pdf) Justice O. Peter Sherwood of state Supreme Court in Manhattan stated that Charter must head to trial to defend itself against State AG allegations that the company systematically misled customers by advertising speeds executives were caught on e-mail admitting they knew they couldn't deliver.

The AG's inquiry found that Charter speeds for its premium plan (100, 200, and 300 Mbps) were up to 70% slower than promised. The lawsuit alleges that WiFi speeds were even slower, claiming that many subscribers get WiFi speeds that are more than 80% slower than what was advertised. The complaint notes that Spectrum-TWC charged New Yorkers as much as $109.99 per month for premium plans, but couldn't actually deliver what was advertised.

But the lawsuit also catches Charter executives on e-mail admitting they were interested in gaming the SamKnows FCC router program in order to trick regulators and customers into believing they were getting the speeds they pay for. E-mails also hint that Charter execs considered letting peering points congest as part of a widespread industry attempt to kill settlement free peering and drive up costs for competitors like Netflix. You might recall that incumbent ISPs like Charter, Verizon and Comcast breathlessly denied this practice a few years ago after Netflix, Level3, and Cogent accused them of the practice and Netflix customer streaming performance began to mysteriously degrade.

Charter has also been under fire lately after its merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, a deal Charter repeatedly promised would deliver untold "synergies" to consumers, resulted in fewer network upgrades, higher prices, and even worse customer service than the cable giant was already known for. Charter was also fined $13 million by regulators for failing to adhere to the modest deployment conditions attached to the deal.

"The allegations in our lawsuit confirm what millions of New Yorkers have long suspected--Charter-Spectrum has been ripping you off, promising internet speeds it simply could not deliver" said Schneiderman in a statement. "The law requires internet service providers to tell consumers the truth. Our suit seeks much-needed relief for the millions of New Yorkers we allege have been cheated by Charter-Spectrum for far too long. Now, we look forward to vindicating New York consumers in court as our case proceeds toward trial."
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Vermont Protects Net Neutrality in Middle Finger to FCC -

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 14:00:03 EDT

Vermont just became the fifth state to protect net neutrality by executive order. Republican Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed an executive order this week requiring that ISPs that do business in the state adhere to net neutrality principles if they want to receive state money--or win state contracts. The move joins similar moves by New York, New Jersey, Montana, and Hawaii in the wake of the Trump administration's extremely unpopular repeal of federal net neutrality protections.

The order itself closely mirrors Montana's order, which the state had suggested could be used as a template for other states to follow.

Both orders prohibit anti-competitive throttling, paid prioritization, and other dirty tricks large ISPs use to make life harder on competing services, while allowing ample leeway for the prioritization of essential medical services and reasonable network management.

"I believe an open internet is essential to the flow of information, goods and services that will grow Vermont s economy," Scott said of the move. "Our students depend heavily on the internet to access academic material, Vermonters use the internet to acquire information and receive critical services through our agencies and departments, and the internet is relied upon to share information, sell products and offer services."

While five states have passed executive orders, twenty six states are now in the process of passing their own net neutrality legislation. And while incumbent ISPs like Comcast have already started whining that this creates a discordant patchwork of rules that's hard for big multi-state ISPs to navigate, that's probably something David Cohen and friends should have considered before gutting arguably consistent and modest (by international standards) net neutrality rules.

Expecting the approach by the states, ISPs like Comcast and Verizon had lobbied Ajit Pai's FCC asking them to contain language in the repeal "pre-empting" states from protecting consumers from privacy, net neutrality violations, or other symptoms of limited broadband competition. As a rubber stamp regulator Pai was quick to comply, even though it's entirely unclear whether the agency has the authority to pre-empt the states on this matter.

Ajit Pai and other revolving door regulators and cash-compromised lawmakers (like Marsha Blackburn) have tried to argue that when states pass protectionist laws banning your town or city from building their own broadband networks it's perfectly fine--and a manner of "states rights." Here you'll notice that as states actually try to protect consumers -- that breathless concern over state authority magically disappears.
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AT&T Investigating Whether Trump Pressured DOJ to Block Merger -

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 18:00:02 EDT

The Department of Justice is currently suing to thwart AT&T's planned $86 billion acquisition of Time Warner. And while the DOJ has stated it's doing so to protect consumers, many have balked at that justification given the administrations disdain for consumers on numerous other fronts (from privacy to net neutrality). Especially given Trump's disdain for Time Warner owned CNN, and the fact that Rupert Murdoch spent most of last year pressuring to have the deal killed because it would only increase competition for his own media empire.

Trump DOJ antitrust boss Makan Delrahim was previously on record stating he saw no problems with the deal, a position that only changed recently.

AT&T apparently thinks (hopes?) there's something to those claims, and its lawyers and investigators have been busy trying to find evidence that the Trump administration improperly pressured the DOJ to block the deal.

Sources tell Bloomberg and the New York Times that AT&T is seeking communications between the Justice Department and White House regarding the deal for just this reason. AT&T is also looking to put Delrahim on the stand during the trial, which begins next month. This could suggest AT&T lawyers have some information they'd like to see Delrahim deny under oath, though the move could backfire if Delrahim's time is spent making compelling arguments to block the deal.

"I don t see this as a major antitrust problem," Delrahim said of the deal just months before being appointed to head the DOJ antitrust division.

Regardless of the motivations, consumer advocates support the DOJ's lawsuit. They've consistently argued that AT&T's history of numerous instances of anti-competitive or downright fraudulent behavior all but guarantee that AT&T will use its bigger size as an anti-competitive bludgeon in both the broadband and media industries. And that's a problem given that AT&T is successfully lobbying to gut both state and federal oversight of some of the least liked, least competitive companies in America.

That could come in the form of making it harder for streaming competitors to license the content they need to compete with AT&T's own streaming video service DirecTV Now (particularly HBO), or, with the death of net neutrality, any number of tricks to give AT&T's own content an unfair advantage against smaller competitors and startups.
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In Groundbreaking Move, AT&T Challenges Verizon in Boston -

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 10:00:02 EDT

So last August, AT&T made a very interesting but very overlooked announcement. The company stated that it would be offering broadband outside of its traditional broadband footprint in select markets. These efforts, AT&T noted, primarily involve using G.Fast technology to wire MDUs (Multi-Dwelling Units, aka apartments and condos), then connect to existing regional fiber lines. According to AT&T's original announcement, it planned to do this in 22 major metro markets, all outside of its traditional broadband footprint. It's a notable push into competitors' territory that somehow was mostly overlooked. This week, AT&T announced that Boston is now one of the markets where AT&T is pushing this new technology. According to AT&T the service is only being offered in just one apartment complex at the moment, but the company plans to quickly expand the offering in the coming months. AT&T says users will receive speeds up to 500 Mbps, but did not specify pricing or whether there are usage caps (I'm awaiting a reply from the company). "While other Internet companies are leaving the city, we re finding new ways to connect Bostonians," said AT&T, referring to Google Fiber's decision to pull Webpass service from Boston after hyping the service's potential for much of last year. "With Gfast we can connect more Boston area residents to information, entertainment and their community," AT&T added. "We re committed to providing connectivity to MDU residents in Boston. And we ll do it through Gfast and millimeter wave," AT&T added, suggesting that at least part of these deployments will rely on wireless backhaul and other emerging wireless technologies. The move is of particular note because it brings AT&T into direct competition with Verizon's planned wireless and fiber expansion in the city, a modest expansion for what's been an otherwise frozen FiOS deployment. AT&T and Verizon traditionally work overtime to avoid competing on the fixed-line broadband front, though a battle with Verizon regarding serving first responder needs may have altered AT&T executives' thinking on this front slightly. Boston is the second metro to get this treatment outside of AT&T's traditional 21-state home internet service area. Initially AT&T has stated it will offer this service in Boston, Denver, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Seattle and Tampa. After that, the company says it will offer the option to 14 additional markets including Albany, Washington DC, Omaha, Portland, and Cincinnati. Update: AT&T offered me the following pricing details on this service:quote:Internet 500 500 Mbps First year is $80/mo and only $70/mo. If you also take DIRECTV No monthly data allowance Internet 100 100 Mbps First year is $60/mo, $50 with DTV 1TB monthly data allowance Internet 50 50 Mbps First year is $40/mo, $30 with DTV 1TB monthly data allowance After one year, you can keep the bundle pricing as long as you re still taking DTV. The standard pricing after a year goes up $10/mo for standalone comment(s)[...]

President's Day Weekend Open Thread! -

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 18:00:02 EDT

Enjoy your three-day holiday weekend. Let us know what you're up to in the comment section below. Front page news will return on Tuesday, February 20.
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Forum Topic: Charter's Streaming Alternatives Have a Few Catches -

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 12:00:03 EDT

Users in our Charter Spectrum forum discuss how Spectrum's "solutions" for folks looking to cut the cord are filled with all manner of caveats and fine print. From forcing existing customers to cut their cable TV service for 30 days before they can use the company's app instead of a cable box, to the various hidden fees Spectrum embeds it its streaming video app, Charter's yet another cable company that wants to look innovative -- but is to afraid of losing traditional TV revenues to actually be innovative.

FCC Boss Being Investigated For Potential Corruption -

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 10:51:24 EDT

FCC boss Ajit Pai is being investigated by his own agency for potential corruption. Pai is already facing multiple inquiries into his rushed repeal of net neutrality and the shady events that occurred during it. Now he's facing an additional investigation into whether he gutted decades-old media consolidation rules exclusively to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting. Pai has been dismantling said rules just as Sinclair Broadcasting is trying to gain approval for its $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media. According to the New York Times, the FCC Inspector General began an investigation last fall into whether Pai is a bit too cozy with the companies he is supposed to be holding accountable. Late last year, "the top internal watchdog for the F.C.C. opened an investigation into whether Mr. Pai and his aides had improperly pushed for the rule changes and whether they had timed them to benefit Sinclair," the report notes. "It was unclear the extent of the inspector general s investigation or when it might conclude, but the inquiry puts a spotlight on Mr. Pai s decisions and whether there had been coordination with the company," notes the report. "It may also force him to answer questions that he has so far avoided addressing in public." The Inspector General is a nonpartisan position at the FCC. Consumer groups have routinely argued that Sinclair's latest expansion would all but decimate diversity in local media reporting. The deal, which wouldn't have even been possible until Pai dismantled numerous protections, would give the already-controversial network control of over 200 local-TV stations nationwide, reaching more than 70 percent of the country. Opposition to the deal is bipartisan in nature. Conservatives realize that a more powerful Sinclair would likely work to stifle smaller, independent media outlets unfairly. Liberals share those concerns, while also expressing worries that Sinclair's often distorted definition of "news" will erode national discourse further--just as the country is trying to come to grips with domestic and foreign disinformation and its impact on the electoral process. Consumer groups quickly pounced on the news, arguing that Pai should step back from overseeing his multiple efforts to gut media consolidation rules (or from approving the Sinclair merger) until the inquiry is complete. That is something anyone familiar with Ajit Pai knows won't be happening. "Until the inspector general s investigation is complete, Chairman Pai and any other FCC staff subject to this inquiry should recuse themselves from all dealings related to Sinclair s proposed takeover of Tribune Media," Free Press Senior Counsel Jessica J. Gonz lez said in a statement. "If the investigation finds that Pai or any other FCC staff did indeed let their own bias and favoritism shape decisions related to the deal, they must not be permitted to vote on this matter and they should be subject to other appropriate ethics-review processes." Pai is also facing numerous inquiries into Pai's behavior on the net neutrality front, including a GAO investigation into why the agency appeared to have made up a DDOS attack during its net neutrality repeal, and another into why the agency turned a blind eye toward identity theft and fraud during the repeal's open comment proceeding. That's in addition to numerous lawsuits from consumer groups, 23 State Attorneys General, and companies negatively impacted by Pai's extremely unpopular handout to the nation's biggest comment(s)[...]

Spectrum's Cord Cutting Options Are Saddled With Fees, Caveats -

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 10:09:48 EDT

Charter Spectrum is increasingly offering new options for cord cutters, but apparently can't help but saddle them with all manner of strange restrictions and caveats to ensure they're no too attractive to would be cord cutters. Users in our Charter Spectrum forum have been discussing ways to lower their cable bills, either by using Charter's streaming video app to replace the need for costly DVR and set top box rentals, or by signing up for the company's all-but-hidden standalone streaming service.

There are, as you might expect, some caveats with whatever option you choose.

Users say that if they try to use Charter's streaming app to avoid having to pay for cable boxes, they're told they can't sign up for the option unless they cancel their existing TV service for 30 days. It's a bizarre restriction that appears designed to make the option as unattractive as possible to would be cord cutters.

"During that period I would get Playstation Vue, Sling or Direct TV Now and might never come back to a Spectrum package," laments the user. "They explained that was the policy, you just cannot convert from cable to streaming only as an existing customer."

Charter Spectrum also offers something called "Spectrum TV Choice," which provides streaming access to your local broadcast channels and ten additional channels for a listed price of $21.99 per month under a two-year promotional rate bundled with broadband. Users also have the option of adding premium channels for a $15 a month additional charge.

The company has been offering similar options for a while, but they tend not to advertise them for fear of accelerating the cord cutting trend.

Spectrum also has a nasty tendency to quickly and covertly jack up the advertised cost of the service with all manner of below the line hidden fees, a time-honored cable industry tradition. That often includes the addition of a $6 per month "Broadcast TV fee." Said fee is just a part of the cost of doing business (programming costs), buried below the line so Charter can falsely advertise a lower rate, something that also tends to plague traditional TV service.

It's all just another example of how cable operators want to give the impression that they're adapting to customers who desperately want cheaper, more flexible options, but just can't help but sabotage their own efforts for fear of accelerating traditional cable losses. So while this is a step forward, fear of being too innovative winds up then making it a half step back.

There's some additional conversation ongoing in our Charter Spectrum forum, and there's also some discussion about this over at Reddit for those interested.
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Sites Begin Axing Ads...If You're Willing to Mine Cryptocurrency -

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:00:03 EDT

In an era when keeping the lights on is no easy feat for news outlets, many websites are trying something new: offering to remove advertisements if users are willing to let their computer be temporarily used to mine cryptocurrency. Salon raised eyebrows this week by announcing that users who visit the website can either disable their ad blocker to ensure ads reach them, or avoid ads entirely if they're willing to contribute their CPU cycles to cryptocurrency mining. The system is being driven by a company by the name of Coinhive, who

A Salon FAQ on its new proposal laments the financial struggles facing modern news outlets, before insisting that the effort shouldn't be visible to most users who opt in.

"Your unused processing power are the resources you already have but are not actively using to it's (sic) full potential at the time of browsing," states the site. "Mining uses more of your resources which means your computer works a bit harder and uses more electricity than if you were just passively browsing the site with ads."

The problem is that for every website that implements this technology transparently and in a manner that doesn't overburden your CPU, there's going to be countless websites that don't. In fact that already happened late last year when users on Reddit that visited The Pirate Bay discovered that the website was somehow eating up 85% of their CPU cycles and slowing their machines to a crawl. BitTorrent was then forced to back away from the plan.

"As you may have noticed we are testing a Monero javascript miner," the Pirate Bay said at the time. "This is only a test. We really want to get rid of all the ads. But we also need enough money to keep the site running."

Another problem is that Coinhive's cryptocurrency mining software has begun popping up in malware implementations of the technology that have infected more than 4,000 government websites. Websites running on two different Showtime domains were compromised last year as well, resulting in the company forcing users to mine cryptocurrency without their knowledge. And because Coinhive takes 30% of the proceeds no matter how its tech is used, there's questions about whether they have any incentive to help prevent these more malicious variations.

So while this new technology has some decent potential to help sites keep the lights on, the lack of any rules governing the use of this technology is going to initially result in what will likely be a bumpy ride.
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Verizon Offers Free Year of Netflix to Triple Play Customers -

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 07:40:03 EDT

Like other pay TV providers, Verizon is now offering users the ability to stream Netflix from their cable box in the hopes this will somehow stop you from cutting the cord. And while Verizon is offering users a free Netflix subscription for a year as part of a new promotion, the option won't apparently be available unless you sign up for higher-end Verizon FiOS TV bundles starting at $80, a price point that's sure to quickly balloon once the promotional period ends. Still, if you were going to sign up for these services anyway, you may find this to be a promising deal.

According to the company's announcement, the option is only going to be available to you if you sign up for a Verizon television bundle, including the company's Multi-Room DVR Enhanced or Premium Service:

To watch Netflix shows and movies on your Fios TV Box, you will need: A subscription to Netflix, Fios Internet service, (and) a compatible Fios TV Set-top Box featuring Multi-Room DVR Enhanced or Premium Service. You ll need Fios Internet service because Netflix content is streamed to Fios TV over the internet.
We've asked Verizon what the price of this service will be after the two-year promo ends, but have yet to hear back. In other words, Verizon hopes to keep you from cutting the cord by offering you Netflix for free for a year, but only if you pay more money for cable, the very thing that's driving cord cutting in the first place.
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