Tag Archives: telecommunications

AT&T expanding broadband in rural TN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — AT&T says it will expand broadband Internet connection to more than 81,000 homes and businesses in rural Tennessee within six years.

Multiple media outlets report that the telecommunications giant announced Wednesday that it will use $26 million from telephone universal access fees to extend its broadband service.

The funding comes from the federal Connect America Fund, which will allow AT&T to deploy broadband connections where market forces and economics do not support such expansion.

As part of the deployment, AT&T says it will deliver broadband at speeds of at least 10 megabits per second for downloads and 1 megabit per second for uploads.

Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development official Amy New says the increased connectivity is vital for residents and should lead to an increase in investment in their communities.

Sen. Bowling: TN ‘held hostage’ by large Internet providers

Excerpt from a Tullahoma News story on Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, continuing her push for repeal of a state law that blocks municipal utilities from providing broadband service outside their area.

Larger Internet providers do not currently offer high-speed broadband to many rural locations due to high costs of installation and low consumer density.

“Why would you restrict how much access to band-width you have? When you’re going to have to put the product in go ahead and build with capacity so that you can actually expand as the applications increase,” said Bowling. “Who would have guessed how many applications there are now for high-speed broadband and they’re growing exponentially.

“America, not just Tennessee but America, has been held hostage to the bottom lines of the major providers. The FCC realizes this, and they have even is-sued some directives this year. It’s a no-brainer. The people are saying we’ve got to have it. The providers are saying you have all you need. The people are a better judge of what they need.”

…At her listening meeting on June 22 when Bowling discussed health care with members of Insure Tennessee Now, she said, “We are trying to get high-speed broadband. What difference will that make in rural Tennessee? A lot with regard to telemedicine.

“It will give access to people to be able to diagnose, to look, to treat, to know what can be done locally and what needs to go to Nashville. I think that telemedicine is something that we’ve got to have access to in small town Tennessee. To that end I’ve been championing the fiber expansion.”

TN part of $158M national settlement with Sprint and Verizon over ‘mobile cramming’

News release from Attorney General’s office:
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III and Bill Giannini, acting Director of the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs today announced settlements with Sprint Corporation (“Sprint”) and Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless (“Verizon”) that include $158 million in payments. The settlement with the state of Tennessee, the other 49 states, and the District of Columbia resolves allegations that Sprint and Verizon placed charges for third-party services on consumers’ mobile telephone bills that were not authorized by the consumers, a practice known as “mobile cramming.”

Cramming on mobile phone bills typically involves a $9.99 per month fee for “premium” text message subscription services (also known as “PSMS” subscriptions) such as horoscopes, trivia, and sports scores that the consumers have never heard of or requested.

“Consumers should not be charged for products or services they did not knowingly agree to purchase. We are pleased that both Sprint and Verizon are making an effort to end this practice,” said Attorney General Slatery.

Under the terms of the settlements, Sprint will pay $50 million and Verizon will pay $70 million to victims of cramming. Beginning today, consumers may submit claims by visiting www.SprintRefundPSMS.com and/or www.CFPBSettlementVerizon.com where they can also find information about refund eligibility and request a free account summary that details PSMS purchases on their accounts. In addition, they can call the settlement administrators at: (877) 389-8787 (Sprint), and/or (888) 726-7063 (Verizon).

“This settlement is another great example of the Attorney General’s Office and the Division of Consumer Affairs working together to help benefit Tennesseans,” said Bill Giannini, acting Director of the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs.

Sprint and Verizon are the third and fourth mobile telephone providers to enter into nation-wide settlements to resolve cramming allegations. AT&T reached a $105 million settlement in October 2014 followed by T-Mobile’s $90 million in December of 2014. National mobile cramming settlements now total $353 million.

Similar to the settlements with AT&T and T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon are required to stay out of the commercial PSMS business and are now required to obtain consent before billing for third party charges. If an unauthorized charge is identified, mobile carriers must provide the consumer with a full refund or credit. In addition, carriers are required to inform consumers of how to block third party products from their phone and third party charges must appear in a separate section of the monthly bill.

The settlement requires Sprint to pay $12 million to the Attorneys General and $6 million to the Federal Communications Commission. Verizon will also pay $16 million to the Attorneys General and $4 million to the Federal Communications Commission.

House, Senate will let voters take smart phones to polls, but not to talk or take pictures

After some spirited debate, the House joined the Senate Monday in approving legislation that says voters can take their smart phones into polling places for “informational purposes,” but can’t use them for talking or taking pictures.

The bill passed 75-23. It cleared the Senate on March 9, 33-0. Sponsors are Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. The House added a minor amendment that will send the measure (SB597) back to the Senate for expected concurrence.

From WPLN:

Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) objected the bill doesn’t let voters use their phones to take pictures or video, even if they’re trying to document fraud.

“Well, now, if a law-abiding citizen sees something happening in a polling place, we’re going to have them committing a crime by trying to stop criminal activity.”

Besides banning photography, House Bill 988 also prohibits telephone conversations and recording at the polls.

Democrats tried to change the bill to allow limited picture-taking. But Republicans quashed the proposal, which they said should have been offered earlier, while the bill was still in committee.

UPDATE/Note: Further (and a day later) Richard Locker adds some further interesting details on the bill:

The bill won unanimous, bipartisan Senate approval with no debate last month when it was one of 44 bills on a “consent” calendar approved en masse with one vote and no discussion. It ran into opposition in the House Monday night when Democrats questioned why the Republican sponsors wanted to prohibit voters from recording difficulties or possible vote fraud with their cellphones.

Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, presented an amendment saying the prohibition on photos and videos inside the voting place “is not going to be used to squelch legitimate photography to capture election fraud.
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Former Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey now a lobbyist; will push broadband expansion

An effort to allow Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board and other Tennessee municipal broadband providers to expand beyond their service areas is postponed until next year. But in the meantime, EPB has retained Claude Ramsey, longtime Hamilton County mayor and former deputy governor to Bill Haslam, as a lobbyist.

Ramsey announced Thursday he was starting River Branch Strategies, a government relations firm based in Chattanooga, according to the Times-Free Press.

The announcement came three days after he took his first government customer — EPB.

Tennessee Ethics Commission records show Ramsey registered Monday as a lobbyist for the publicly owned electricity, cable, telephone and Internet provider.

EPB spokesman John Pless said Ramsey “is a contracted consultant who registered to be able to lobby if need be.”

The company is paying Ramsey $60,000 for a 12-month contract, Pless said.

…(I)n a news release Thursday, Ramsey said his decades in government and his established relationships will help groups connect and collaborate with government officials.

“We are here to make the process easier and provide access for people,” Ramsey said.

Lawmakers on Tuesday pulled a bill that would allow EPB to expand its high-speed Internet product beyond its service area. The reason: Lack of support in the state Senate.

EPB now serves the majority of Hamilton County, a swath of North Georgia and small parts of surrounding Tennessee counties.

Ramsey will join three others on EPB’s lobbying team: Miller & Martin attorneys Mark Smith and Catie Lane Bailey, and Hamilton County’s paid lobbyist, Will Denami.

The lobbying gig might pit Ramsey against the administration led by his former boss.

Bill allowing TN cities to expand Internet service dead for the year

A bill allowing municipalities to expand Internet services beyond their electric service limits has been shelved for the year, reports The Tennessean.

State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, who co-sponsored the bill (H1303), said holding the measure would make it easier to pass next year.

“We have had a lot of good progress, and we don’t want to throw it all away,” Brooks said. The votes were not there in the Senate, and he and co-sponsor state Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, have asked to roll the bill to the beginning of the 2016 calendar, giving them more time to garner support from their colleagues.

“We have pressed the pause button to keep it alive,” Brooks said.
The decision comes as a blow to the Tennesseans living close to the several municipalities offering broadband — Chattanooga, Clarksville, Columbia, Tullahoma, Bristol, Morristown and Pulaski — most providing gigabit speeds. Many residents lack basic broadband options from private-sector companies and rely on satellite instead, or they seek to upgrade to faster or cheaper Internet speeds offered by their neighboring cities.

Similar bills to lift the municipal restrictions have died in at least three previous sessions. Bowling and Brooks had both expected a more promising response this year, given a recent ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that allowed Chattanooga to expand its gigabit service. With Tennessee Attorney General Herb Slatery seeking to overturn the FCC’s vote, they revised their outlook for the current session.

Slatery was among several Tennessee political leaders, including Gov. Bill Haslam and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, opposed to the FCC’s decision, calling it federal overreach.

FCC votes to pre-empt TN state law to allow broadband expansion by Chattanooga

By Emery P. Dalesio, AP Business Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. — People in small communities may get better, cheaper access to the Internet after the Federal Communications Commission ruled Thursday that city-owned broadband services can expand into areas overlooked by commercial providers.

The decision quietly played out minutes before the FCC took up the higher-profile issue of Internet neutrality, which imposed the toughest rules yet on broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T.

In the less prominent case, the cities of Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, asked the FCC to override state laws that have prevented them from expanding their super-fast Internet networks. They were built when companies didn’t move into their city.

President Barack Obama pushed for the FCC’s decision, saying the state laws stifled competition and economic development. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, both Republicans, quickly introduced legislation to block the FCC move.

For Richard and Brenda Thornton, the FCC decision could mean a big savings. They live less than a mile from the service area for Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board, which provides one gigabit-per-second Internet speeds. The Thorntons now pay $316 for landline phone service, Internet and television from wireless hot spots that two telephone companies offered. Their current connection is a fraction of the speed the Thorntons could get for $133 a month for the same bundle from Chattanooga.

The local cable company has refused to extend broadband service to their home, said Brenda Thornton, who likes to trade securities and commodities futures but can’t do it because of the slow wireless speed.
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Your phone bill will change Jan. 1 under new, uniform fee for 911 service

Under legislation approved by the General Assembly back in April, charges for 911 serves on Tennessee phone bills will change Thursday to a uniform $1.16 per month statewide.

From the Johnson City Press:

On Jan. 1 throughout Tennessee, 911 rates will be increased or reduced — depending on the type of phone used to call — to $1.16 in accordance with the 911 Funding Modernization and IP (Internet Protocol) Transition Act of 2014.

After passing through the state House — and receiving unanimous support in the state Senate — the act was signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam on April 25 on the idea of creating a flat rate for 911 service. Additionally, the act also restructured funding for 911 districts and required them to begin implementation of an IP-based system, known as Next Generation 911, which would facilitate a caller’s transmission of digital information like text messages, photos and video.

“The 911 Funding Modernization and IP Transition Act of 2014 will provide the resources necessary to ensure that the citizens of Tennessee receive the best 911 service available,” said Curtis Sutton, executive director of the Tennessee Emergency Communications Executive Director, in a press release.

The rate changes, from the Tennessean:

The new and old 911 surcharges are:

•Residential landline: New charge, $1.16; old charge, 65 cents.

•Business landline: New charge, $1.16; old charge, $2.

•Cellular surcharge: New charge, $1.16, old charge, $1.

Bill would raise average 911 fee for phones in setting uniform statewide rate

A bill filed in the Legislature would create a new statewide uniform 911 fee that could be assessed on all phones, reports the Commercial Appeal. If enacted – as seems likely – Tennessee would become one of only a handful of states which has a single 911 monthly fee.

If the bill is approved, the Volunteer State also would be among those with the highest fees, according to an analysis of the 911 funding proposal. Wireless 911 fees average about 77 cents a month.

Currently, residential and business land line 911 rates vary from 45 cents to $3 depending on what the local county 911 board sets as a monthly fee. The state 911 board sets a $1 a month fee for all cellphone and web-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) users.

State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville is proposing a new one-size-fits-all rate of $1.16 a month no matter what type of phone someone uses under Senate Bill 2407 — “911 Funding Modernization and IP (Internet Protocol) Transition Act of 2014.” Businesses would pay $1.16 a month for each of its first 200 phone lines in a single building.

In Shelby County, residents pay 65 cents a month as a 911 fee for traditional land line phones and businesses pay $2 a month each for the first 100 lines.

…“Technology is racing ahead of what 911 was originally structured or conceived,” Norris said. “It’s land lines versus wireless versus VoIP. It’s just getting real messy.”

For more than a year, Norris and others like Tennessee Emergency Numbers Association, wireless carriers and Internet providers met and reached a compromise on the proposed legislation.

Locally, 911 districts are seeing declining revenues from landline phone users, while revenues set by the state 911 board, which controls the fees for wireless and web-based phones, are rising.

Based on the number of co-sponsors, (23 of 33 in the Senate and 62 of 99 in the House), it likely will pass.

If it does, Tennessee would join Indiana, North Carolina and Alabama in having a flat rate.

‘Gig City’ (aka Chattanooga) and mayor get national radio attention

Chattanooga’s taxpayer-supported high-speed Internet service was touted by the city’s mayor on National Public Radio Sunday as fastest in the nation, reports the Chattanooga TFP. But not everyone is as enthusiastic.

In a report on NPR’s flagship news program “All Things Considered,” Mayor Andy Berke said the gigabit-per-second broadband service offered by Chattanooga’s EPB is an investment in the future, when more businesses will need even faster data and video connections via the Internet.

“I tell people all the time that you don’t need gigabit-per-second technology to load ESPN.com faster,” Berke quipped during an interview that aired Sunday night. “But we’re starting to see companies who are looking at us, coming here and making decisions, understanding that they will need more capacity in the future and Chattanooga has that today.”

Chattanooga’s high-speed Internet helped propel the development of Quickcue, an online restaurant reservation company which recently was sold for $11.5 million.

But the NPR report noted that installing the fiber optic grid in the self-proclaimed “Gig City” came at a cost: EPB invested nearly $300 million to build its fiber optic network and more than a third of that investment was paid from a federal grant.

Verizon and Google are privately funding high-speed fiber optic networks in cities like Kansas City, Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah. The head of the cable TV industry’s trade group told NPR he is skeptical about municipal programs like the one in Chattanooga.

“The citizens of individual communities are free to make those choices if they want, but as a citizen I would have serious questions about the value of using public funding to the degree that is required to both build and maintain these systems,” said Michael Powell, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission who is president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.