2018 Year in Review: America’s Communications Is Mired in a Toxic Swamp.

PART 1: SUMMARY: HOW FAR HAVE WE FALLEN?

(PART 2: DRAINING THE TOXIC SWAMP)

Some of the most hated companies in America are the ISPs, wireless and cable companies, which include AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Charter (Spectrum). However, in 2018 America also has the distinction of having the most expensive, excessive wireless gigabyte prices in the world.

In fact, with the made-up fees and surcharges (that are revenues to the companies or taxes on the companies that are passed through to you) the price of almost all communications services in America continues to rise, even though the FCC claims that there is competition.

At the same time, a new study by the US Census shows that there are large areas of the US, both rural areas as well as inner cities, that have not been properly counted and they don’t have basic broadband-internet services at reasonable rates, creating a much larger amount of people and businesses impacted. Known as the “Digital Divide”, the FCC’s own broadband internet data has been proven to inflate the speed and coverage, covering up the extent of the harms.

This is because the FCC, the Agency that is supposed to be protecting our interests, has been captured by AT&T and Verizon. The Chairman, Ajit Pai, is a former senior Verizon attorney.

Does anyone think that this situation is going to get better under this buffoon’s co-opted guidance? He is aided and abetted by his former staffer and now Commissioner Brendan Carr. While at Wiley Rein, Carr worked as an attorney for Verizon, AT&T, as well as the CTIA, the wireless association. In fact, he was part of the legal team that sued the City of San Francisco over wireless issues — as a first amendment right of the wireless carriers; AT&T and Verizon control the wireless association.

It gets worse. In 2018, Carr introduced the FCC’s new 5G wireless regulations, claiming it would fix the Digital Divide, but all it does is to preempt the cities and states’ rights over wireless deployment in their own towns. These regulations appear to be a copy of ‘model legislation’ created by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council (which was most likely funded by AT&T and Verizon) — Carr’s conflicts and ties to his former clients needs immediate investigations.

To round out this corporate-capture story, President Trump just nominated William Barr to be the next US Attorney General. Barr was one of Verizon’s (GTE) lead attorneys for 14 years.

Part II will address Net Neutrality, the Digital Divide, wireline network and state utility issues, and it will add more about the FCC and the required next steps in 2019 to drain this swamp.

1) The Most Hated Companies in America are Getting Worse.

Because there is no oversight by the FCC or other government agencies, every basic indicator shows that customer services are falling apart, the actual bills are getting harder to read, and the services are becoming less reliable.

One source of information about customer discontent shows up in ACSI’s Telecommunications Report 2018, published May 22, 2018.

“According to users, most aspects of ISPs are getting worse. Courtesy and helpfulness of staff has waned, and in-store service is slower. Bills are more difficult to understand, and customers aren’t happy with the variety of plans available.
“Internet service is less reliable, more prone to outages, and performance during peak hours is worse. Video streaming quality is unchanged, but overall data transfer speed is lagging compared with a year ago, as is the quality of email, storage, and security.”
“Call centers continue to be a sore spot for the industry, sinking 3% to a very low score of 59.”

The ACSI press release states that customers are not rewarded for their loyalty but, in telecom, are punished.

“If you look at retail, airlines, and many other industries, companies like to reward customer loyalty, offering perks or discounts for doing business with them… Telecom is the exact opposite. In many ways, loyalty is punished because subscription TV is focused on customer acquisition and offering the best deal to lure customers away from competitors. In the long run, that doesn’t leave customers very satisfied.”

2) Social Media Services are Also in the Satisfaction Toilet.

In another report published July 2018, ACSI found:

“Social media as a whole falls 1.4 percent to a score of 72 on the ACSI’s 100-point scale, ranking it among the bottom five of all industries measured by ACSI, and the lowest of the three e-business categories.”
“Privacy concerns, bots, and toxic online discourse have taken their toll on social media. But users report they’re even less satisfied with the amount of advertising on social media sites than with privacy protections.”

3) But, Everyone is Happy…Really?

This is a snapshot of the Verizon Wireless Forum at 5PM, December 16th, 2018. There is an endless stream of customers who find this site and decide to write something — in some cases as a warning to future customers; in some to fix a problem or to report that the service stopped or is unusable — matching the basic complaints found by ACSI.

4) Services Claimed to be “Unlimited” that Aren’t

The wireless companies sell ‘unlimited’ plans that are just trash-talk. Verizon has different flavors of “unlimited” plans — “Above Unlimited”, “Beyond Unlimited” and “Go Unlimited”. “Above Unlimited”, for example, has a restriction of 20 GB when using a WiFi hot spot; after that it goes to a snail’s pace speed of 600Kbps, which can not do basics, like video.

Note that “GB” refers to the amount of data in the plan, as compared to “600 Kbps”, which is about the speed. While Verizon doesn’t supply the actual speed in their ads, 600Kbps is 6/10ths on 1 Mbps.

And there are caveats; the unlimited prices quoted are for 4 lines, and this price is based on using Auto Pay, and it doesn’t include taxes and fees, among other fine print details. In many ads, Verizon claims that this is the price without focusing on these caveats.

Thus, while it may appear by the names used that Verizon will “Go above and beyond”, this is closer to Buzz Lightyear saying “to infinity and beyond”… which, at least, is funny coming from a cartoon character of a toy that thinks it is alive.

5) Verizon’s Wireless Prices are Ridiculous and Out Of Control

But it gets worse. Here’s another advertisement for Verizon’s wireless service. It shows that a 4GB service is a whopping $50.00 a month. But, then you go down to the fine print — (which we enlarged), and there is an additional $20.00 a line/device, not counting the taxes, fees and surcharges.

Confused? There’s $40 for the unlimited plan, which isn’t unlimited, vs $50.00 for a 4GB plan, which also requires a $20.00 per line fee, plus…

6) Games Now Require 70GB-100GB Downloads for Play Station 4. Kids, sorry you can’t play that game.

We keep hearing that wireless is supposed to be a substitute for a wired broadband connection. To show you how absurd this is, according to Game Radar, the new games for Play Station 4 are 70GB to over 100GB in size.

Red Dead Redemption 2 may not be available yet, but thanks to fine print spotted on a PS4 Pro bundle packaging we know that it requires 105GB of space, shooting it straight to the number one slot on this list.”

Also listed were these games

§ “Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 -101GB
§ “Battlefield 4 Premium Edition — 71GB
§ “GTA 5–76GB”

7) America has the Most Expensive “Gigabyte Pricing”.

To add some reality as to how America stacks up to the rest of the world, we quote Rewheel’s most recent research for 2018 on wireless gigabyte pricing.

“In October, 2018, the US became the most expensive country among the 41 EU 28 and OECD countries, In April 2018, it was the 3rd most expensive ahead of Cyprus and Canada.”

Rewheel’s Conclusion –(To paraphrase: America is getting screwed with faux-competition as compared to the rest of the world, in wireless pricing.)

“Are US gigabyte prices much higher than in European 4-MNO markets? (meaning 4 active major competitors)
§ The median gigabyte price of smartphone plans in the US is 4x higher than in EU’s 4-MNO markets
§ The median gigabyte price in US is 16x higher than in a competitive 4-MNO large European market
§ The US market is considerably less competitive than the 4 to 3 consolidated Austrian, Irish and German markets and a universe apart from the competitive Danish, French, UK, Dutch, Swedish and Italian 4-MNO markets.
§ The US is an outlier 4-MNO market with much higher prices, that are typical to 3-MNO tight oligopoly markets.

Rewheel also warns America about 5G and affordable wireless service to the home.

“Judging from the excessive gigabyte prices US operators are charging today for 4G mobile broadband, (…in Europe 100 gigabyte mobile broadband typically costs between €10 and €20) merger promises concerning affordable 5G home broadband should be critically reviewed and if verified must be made binding.”

8) Who to Blame? The FCC.

As mentioned, Chairman Ajit Pai is a former Verizon senior attorney. Commissioner Brendan Carr worked for Verizon, AT&T as well as the CTIA, the wireless association.

On their watch, prices continue to rise, our wireless services are more expensive than the rest of most of the world, and this is just going to get worse.

Coming up: PART 2: DRAINING THE TOXIC SWAMP