Jon Brodkin

Verizon led massive astroturf campaign to end NJ broadband obligation

Verizon doesn't want to deploy high-speed wired broadband service to all New Jersey residents, despite receiving financial perks from the state for the past 20 years in exchange for building a statewide network.

To make sure it doesn't have to complete the buildout to all of New Jersey's 8.9 million residents, Verizon led an astroturf campaign that flooded the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) with hundreds of identical e-mails purporting to support Verizon's case. One person who is listed as having written one of these e-mails said that he didn't submit anything, and if he did, "I would've slammed them."

A report in Stop the Cap found several other Verizon "supporters" who had no idea e-mails were submitted under their names. LinkedIn searches show that some of the people sending the aforementioned e-mails are Verizon employees, with titles such as "field tech" or "sourcing process leader." Three hundred twenty-seven people sent e-mails with that text in a six-day span, with 315 of them coming on March 19 and 20.

After Netflix pays Comcast, speeds improve 65%

Netflix's decision to pay Comcast for a direct connection to the Comcast network has resulted in significantly better video streaming performance for customers of the nation's largest broadband provider.

Netflix has bemoaned the payment, asking the government to prevent Comcast from demanding such interconnection "tolls." But there's little doubt the interconnection has benefited consumers in the short term.

Average Netflix performance for Comcast subscribers rose from 1.51Mbps to 1.68Mbps from January to February, though the interconnection didn't begin until late February.

In newly released data, Netflix said average performance on Comcast has now risen further to 2.5Mbps, a 65 percent increase since January. Comcast's increased speed allowed it to pass Time Warner Cable, Verizon, CenturyLink, AT&T U-verse, and others in Netflix's rankings. Comcast remains slower than Cablevision, Cox, Suddenlink, Charter, and Google Fiber.

Comcast PAC gave money to every senator examining Time Warner Cable merger

It's no surprise that Comcast donates money to members of Congress. Political connections come in handy for a company seeking government approval of mergers, like Comcast's 2011 purchase of NBCUniversal and its proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable (TWC).

But just how many politicians have accepted money from Comcast's political arm? In the case of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held the first congressional hearing on the Comcast/TWC merger, the answer is all of them. Sen Chuck Schumer (D-NY) led the way with $35,000 from the Comcast federal political action committee (PAC) between 2009 and 2014, Sen Patrick Leahy (D-VT) received $32,500, and Sen Orrin Hatch (R-UT) received $30,000.

These figures are the combined contributions from Comcast to the senators' campaign and leadership committees. Out of 18 committee members, 10 Democrats and eight Republicans, 17 got money from Comcast's federal PAC, according to the database at

Anti-Comcast Sen Al Franken (D-MN) isn't listed as having received anything from Comcast's PAC, but that's apparently because the database didn't take into account money collected by Sen Franken's recount fund from when he needed a vote recount to get elected to the Senate. Sen Franken’s popularity with Comcast's overlords has obviously gone downhill since the recount fund donation, though.

The senator argued that the Comcast/TWC merger would stifle competition and lead to higher prices and worse service for consumers. “There’s no doubt that Comcast is a huge, influential corporation, and I understand that there are over 100 lobbyists making the case for this deal to members of Congress and our staffs,” Sen Franken said during the hearing. "But I’ve also heard from over 100,000 consumers who oppose this deal, and I think their voices need to be heard, too.”

Comcast beats Monsanto in Consumerist’s “Worst Company in America” poll

Comcast has edged out controversial agribusiness giant Monsanto in Consumerist's March Madness-style "Worst Company in America" poll.

"In one of the narrowest Final Death Matches in the centuries’ long history of WCIA battle, Comcast managed to hold the genetically modified body blows of Monsanto," Consumerist wrote.

To outlast 31 other competitors, Comcast had to win five rounds, defeating Yahoo, Facebook, Verizon, and SeaWorld before taking on Monsanto. The final poll was close, with 51.5 percent of voters selecting Comcast. Consumerist is owned by Consumer Reports, which is arguing against Comcast's proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, so it's perhaps no surprise that Comcast fared poorly.

Consumerist told Ars that while the poll wasn't scientific, it included many thousands of people, and the site blocked repeat voters. A Consumer Reports survey that was more thorough than the Consumerist poll rated Comcast 15th out of 17th in customer satisfaction for telecommunications providers.

Google Project Loon Internet balloon circled the globe in 22 days

Google’s plan to deliver Internet service from balloons seems to be flying along nicely, as the company says one of its balloons just completed “a lap around the world in 22 days and has just clocked the project’s 500,000th kilometer as it begins its second lap.”

Project Loon, unveiled in 2013, is an attempt to use solar-powered balloons to create networks that can send wireless Internet signals to areas that would be hard to reach with wired Internet. The balloons are supposed to form a mesh network 20 kilometers above the ground, with each balloon communicating with its neighbors and ultimately to ground stations connected to Internet providers. Internet signals would be sent to antennas installed on buildings.

It’s just in the prototype phases, but Google’s testers have been busy. The balloon that circled the world “enjoyed a few loop-de-loops over the Pacific Ocean before heading east on the winds toward Chile and Argentina, and then made its way back around near Australia and New Zealand,” Google’s Project Loon team said. “Along the way, it caught a ride on the Roaring Forties -- strong west-to-east winds in the southern hemisphere that act like an autobahn in the sky, where our balloons can quickly zoom over oceans to get to where people actually need them.”

AT&T promises to lower your Internet bill if FCC kills net neutrality

Are you an AT&T home Internet customer? If so, AT&T has just made a promise you'll want to take note of. If the Federal Communications Commission lets Internet service providers charge Web companies like Netflix for faster delivery of content to consumers, AT&T will lower its customers' Internet bills.

That's what AT&T said in a filing in the FCC's "Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet" proceeding. Payments from so-called "edge providers" -- companies that deliver video and other services over the Internet -- will help startups compete against more established players and lower the price of consumer Internet service. Instead of making payments from edge providers to ISPs the exception, the FCC should "adopt a safe harbor" for such transactions.

Any nondiscrimination rule "should target only 'commercially unreasonable' actions that threaten Internet openness and the virtuous cycle of innovation and investment," AT&T said. “Allowing individualized dealings between ISPs and edge providers is sound policy for a number of reasons.

By enabling smaller edge providers to negotiate special arrangements for the handling of their traffic, flexible net neutrality rules will empower start-ups to compete more effectively against more entrenched and well-heeled rivals. And by enabling ISPs to recover the costs of network upgrades not just from consumers but also from the edge providers whose applications benefit from such upgrades, flexible rules also will promote deployment of additional broadband infrastructure and improved features. They also will reduce the cost of broadband service for consumers, facilitating greater adoption.”

Level 3 blames Internet slowdowns on ISPs’ refusal to upgrade networks

Recent public battles over how network interconnections affect the quality of streaming video have almost all involved one company: Cogent Communications. Cogent CEO Dave Schaeffer has claimed that his company is simply the only one willing to put up a public fight.

But even though Cogent makes the most noise, it's not the only Internet bandwidth provider battling consumer Internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. Level 3, another company that has fought consumer ISPs in previous years, has mostly remained quiet lately.

But now, Level 3 decided to voice its displeasure in a blog post by general counsel for regulatory policy Michael Mooney. Additionally, Level 3 recently asked the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the network interconnections known as peering in a possible revision of network neutrality rules.

Google Fiber expansion moves fast, San Antonio approves construction

“On Thursday, the City Council approved a long-term contract with Google Fiber Texas, allowing the tech company to install about 40 so-called 'fiber huts' at San Antonio libraries, fire and police stations, and other city buildings," the San Antonio Express-News reported.

$5 discount to give up unlimited data? Time Warner Cable customers say “no”

Time Warner Cable has been offering customers $5 monthly discounts in exchange for giving up unlimited data for the last couple of years, but almost no one has taken the company up on its offer.

Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus said that only "thousands" of its 11.5 million subscribers have opted for metered billing. Marcus argued that the 30GB product is a good deal even though few people want it.

The good news, Marcus said, is "we plan to offer unlimited for as far out as we can possibly see. I think that the concept of 'use more pay more, use less pay less,' is an important principle to establish. So notwithstanding the low uptake of usage-based tiers, I think it's a very important component of our overall pricing philosophy."

Netflix got a bit faster on Comcast after opening its wallet

Netflix performance on Comcast, which had been deteriorating for months, finally got a little better in February according to Netflix's latest speed rankings.

The latest Netflix data shows some Internet service providers (ISPs) struggling, while Google Fiber soars. Netflix streamed at an average of 1.68Mbps on Comcast in the US in February, up from 1.51Mbps in January. The average on Comcast was above 2Mbps as recently as September, but it had gone down each month until Netflix decided to pay Comcast for a direct connection to its network.

Netflix requires at least 0.5Mbps to stream video, but it recommends at least 1.5Mbps. 5Mbps is recommended for HD quality and 7Mbps for "Super HD" quality. Netflix on Verizon FiOS continued to decline, going from 1.82Mbps in January to 1.76Mbps in February, while Verizon DSL dropped from 0.97Mbps to 0.93Mbps.

[March 10]