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Monthly Archives: February 2016

Google Fiber Testing Home Phone Service

More than three years ago, Google Fiber launched its pilot program in a number of cities and metropolitan areas, bringing high speed internet and cable TV service to places like Kansas City, Austin and Provo. Now the company is testing out a landline phone service to go along with the already existing services, and complete the competition against cable and internet providers offering “Triple Play” options.

More from Ars Technica:

Adding Fiber Phone requires a service visit from a Google Fiber employee and installation of a new piece of equipment. It sounds like Fiber Phone will wrap in some of the features of the Web- and smartphone-based service Google Voice.

Fiber Phone will feature “a phone number that lives in the cloud,” Google said. “With Fiber Phone, you can use the right phone for your needs, whether it’s your mobile device on the go or your landline at home.” There will also be voicemail transcription, spam filtering, call screening, and do-not-disturb. Customers can get a new number or transfer an existing landline or cell phone number to Fiber Phone.

Google considered offering phone service when it first launched Fiber, but the company decided not to go through with it because phone service faces additional regulations.

As Fiber extends to more cities, it should at the very least help to lower prices among cable TV and internet providers in those areas and a create a more robust competition to help the end consumer.

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Cable TV Boxes Could Improve Drastically

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to approve new rules that would open the cable box to third-party competition, making it so that TV watchers can own their own cable boxes rather than paying as much as $231 a year to rent the boxes from cable TV providers. This could also create improvement in cable box technology, as providers will have to compete with other companies providing greater offerings in their own set-top boxes.

More from Quartz:

That proposal passed 3-2 in a vote of the FCC commissioners today. It will now move into a comment period, where supporters and critics will be able to publicize their arguments. A final vote is expected by the end of the year.

If it’s ultimately implemented, a lot of American TV-watchers will be thrilled. And tech companies, like Apple and Google, would relish the opportunity to get into consumers’ living rooms. Google is said to be already testing what could eventually become its version of the cable box.

The cable companies, though, aren’t happy about any of this. And why would they be, when a $20 billion industry hangs in the balance?

One counterargument is that cable providers, like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, are moving away from cable boxes in favor of apps. Indeed, Time Warner Cable’s app is quite good, and Comcast’s innovative X1 cable box works more like an Apple TV or Roku than a traditional, cumbersome set-top box. If the proposal goes through, it could be several years before there’s truly an open cable box marketplace—and by that time, the cable companies could already have moved on from physical boxes altogether.

Critics also argue that more government regulation of the cable box will hinder innovation—even though the proposed regulatory measures are designed specifically to do the opposite.

Anything that opens the technology up for competition is a good thing, in this writer’s eyes. We’ll see if the final vote later this year actually comes through, or if the cable companies are able to convince the FCC to remain on their side.

Democratic Senator Wants to Raise High-Speed Internet Standard

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has a minimum broadband download speed standared of 25 Mbps for high speed internet. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat representing Vermont, believes other governmental organizations, such as the Department of Agriculture, which gives money to internet providers to build out broadband infrastructure in underserved areas through its rural broadband loan program.

More from The Hill:

“There is no doubt that the FCC has set an aggressive speed standard by which to measure progress, but considering 92 percent of urban Americans have access to the FCC’s baseline speed, it is not out of line with what is being widely offered today,” Leahy wrote in a letter to Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The FCC last year increased its minimum broadband download speed standard more than six-fold, from 4 Mbps to 25 Mbps. It also raised its upload speed standard to 4 Mbps. But the Agriculture Department only requires 4 Mbps/1 Mbps to qualify for the loan program.

While the Agriculture Department sets its benchmark much lower than the FCC, it urges loan applicants to allow for faster 25 Mbps speeds. The secretary is allowed to boost the speed benchmark for the program every two years.

Leahy pointed out that some Internet service providers like Comcast recommend between 16 Mbps to 25 Mbps speeds for home and small business use.

“Rural Americans cannot thrive if entrepreneurs have to leave for urban centers in order to access the tools needed to start or grow their business,” Leahy said.

Broadband internet providers, without incentives provided by the government, have little reason to build the infrastructure needed for high speed internet access through wired connection in rural areas. It is imperative that the government provide these incentives, as we cannot let our rural population and heartland areas fall any more behind.

NBA All Star Cable TV Ratings Up

Despite only barely resembling basketball, much less NBA basketball, the NBA All-Star Game airing Sunday night on TNT averaged 7.6 million viewers, up 6 percent from the game last year, according to Nielsen’s cable TV ratings.

More from the NBA:

The West’s 196-173 victory saw a peak audience of 8.7 million for a 15-minute segment from 8:45-9 p.m. EST. The game was the most-viewed program on cable television Sunday night.

It was the first NBA All-Star game held outside the United States, so host city Toronto is not reflected in Nielsen ratings.

Top local market ratings for the contest were San Antonio (12.4), Oklahoma City (9.9), Cleveland (9.7), San Francisco (9.4) and Memphis (8.4).

The uptick in ratings is probably due to one thing: the impending retirement of Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant. Since he announced his retirement, this entire season has become something of a victory lap/farewell tour for the Laker star, and it’s likely some folks tuned in just to see if Kobe could muster some of the old magic and win a fifth All-Star Game MVP. He did not—Russell Westbrook took home that honor for the second year in a row.

ViaSat and Boeing Team Up for Satellite Internet

ViaSat, a US-based company providing satellite internet, is now teaming up with aerospace giant Boeing for the creation and launch of three new satellites with the ability to provide 1-Terabit high-speed internet to remote areas of the world. This will allow 100 Mbps connections in remote residential areas of the United States, North and South America, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia, as well as increasing connectivity on commercial airlines, business-class jets and government aircraft.

More from the Verge:

All told, the company says the three new satellites could deliver twice (or more) the total network capacity of the 400 or so commercial communications satellites currently orbiting the Earth combined.

But ViaSat is far from alone in these pursuits — in fact, the race to provide emerging markets with high-speed internet access has long been in full swing. SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are ramping up efforts to provide internet connections from space using small armies of satellites. Google has a few different ideas, like providing 5G connection using solar-powered drones, or using massive balloons to create widespread internet access. And then there’s Facebook, which has a solar-powered internet drone of its own, is partnering with French satellite operator Eutelsat to provide internet to sub-Saharan Africa, and is also potentially working on a millimeter-wave radio mesh network solutionsimilar to the one being teased by Starry.

All of these options face massive challenges — satellite internet can still be disrupted by weather, and Facebook, Google, SpaceX, and Virgin are years away from rolling out some of their solutions — but they each point to the same utopian endgame: a much more connected future for everyone.

These satellites could also be an alternative solution to building fiber-optic infrastructure to underserved areas, and may in the long run cost less money to bring high-speed internet to more outlying areas. We’ll find out when Boeing launches the satellites at the end of 2019.

FS1 to Air FIFA Presidential Election on Cable TV

Fox Sports 1 (FS1), Fox’s attempt to compete with ESPN for 24 hour sports coverage on cable TV, will air extensive coverage of the FIFA Presidential Election on February 26, with six hours of programming dedicated to the event beginning at 3am EST, and additional preview programming the night before at 6pm EST.

More from Fox Sports:

“This is an important news story with international repercussions, and as the primary home for televised soccer in the U.S., it’s our duty to cover it, and cover it well,” said David Nathanson, FOX Sports’ Head of Business Operations. “We look forward to working closely with FIFA and the incoming president as we gear up for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and beyond.”

FS1’s wall-to-wall coverage begins on Thursday, Feb. 25 with a one-hour pre-election special at 6:00 PM ET. Hosted by Rob Stone, the program features exclusive sit-down interviews with each of the five candidates, Prince Ali Al Hussein, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, Jerome Champagne, Gianni Infantino and Tokyo Sexwale, courtesy of FOX Sports soccer insider Grant Wahl and sister network Sky Sports in the U.K.

In the early morning hours on Friday in the U.S. (3:00-9:00 AM ET), Stone anchors more than six hours of live coverage from the FOX Network Center in Los Angeles as the process to elect a new FIFA president plays out. Analyst Alexi Lalas and contributor Mark Young join Stone in-studio, while Sky Sports’ Kate Abdo and Wahl provide the channel’s live coverage from the Hallenstadion in Zurich. Expanded coverage continues post 9:00 AM on FS2.

Election coverage is also live streamed via FOX Sports GO, FOX Soccer 2Go and online at FOXSportsGO.com. Viewers can also follow the commentary via social media on Facebook (facebook.com/foxsoccer) and Twitter (@FOXSoccer).

FS1 is channel 219 on DIRECTV, and is also available on all major cable TV providers.

NHL All Star Game Sets Ratings Record for NBCSN

NBC Sports Network, formerly Versus and Outdoor Life Network, has been the cable TV home for the NHL since ESPN let go of its hockey rights more than a decade ago. Ratings have been steadily climbing, as NBCSN broadcasts regular season games two or three nights a week, and playoff games every night during the months of April and May—NBCSN is a much better home for the NHL than ESPN, who always treated the league as fourth class below the NFL, MLB and NBA. Even the All-Star Game is doing well this year, with the event this past Sunday setting the record for an All-Star Game on NBCSN.

More from Puck Daddy:

Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game in Nashville delivered a 1.17 overnight rating, which NBC reports is the best number on record for an All-Star Game on NBCSN.

That’s well above the projections for the event, which had the All-Star Game coming in at a 0.8 rating.

The ratings were up 24 percent over the 2015 edition from Columbus, considered the nadir of the All-Star Game. It delivered a 0.94 rating, and its overall viewership was down 14 percent from the previous edition in 2012.

There were several reasons that the rating was higher this year. First of all, the NHL switched to a 3 on 3 format to make the games more exciting, and added a million dollar prize for the winning team to make it more competitive. Also, enforcer John Scott, who the NHL had been trying to keep out of the game despite his victory in the fan vote, was the team captain for the Pacific Division team and won MVP with two goals, capping a storybook ending to his career story.

The ratings will likely go down next year, as the controversy likely led people to watch. But the game itself was much better than All-Star games past, and if they stick with this new format it should remain entertaining well into the future.

Las Vegas Residents Could Miss the Super Bowl due to Cable TV Dispute

Cox Communications is the largest cable TV provider in the Las Vegas, Nevada metropolitan area, with its customers making up nearly 50% of the market. What that means is nearly half the households with cable TV in the Vegas area could be without the broadcast of Super Bowl 50, due to a dispute between the company that owns local CBS affiliate KLAS-TV, Nexstar Broadcasting Group, and Cox Communications.

More from the Las Vegas Sun:

After more than five months, talks between Cox and Nexstar are apparently at a standstill. Caught in the middle are the cable provider’s 353,000 Las Vegas customers.

Cox spokesman Juergen Barbusca said Friday that an offer to increase the rate paid by the cable company to carry KLAS programming was “on the table.”

“We’ve offered Nexstar an increase, and they’re essentially looking at us and saying, ‘That’s not what we want,’” Barbusca said.

He said this morning that Nexstar has not “changed their offer” in the past two weeks. KLAS contests Cox’s claims and says it’s continuing negotiations to “seek a fair rate and hope that this interruption is temporary.”

In a statement on its website, KLAS made a plea to viewers: “We sincerely apologize for our failure and regret that you — our loyal viewers — have been impacted.”

KLAS suggests Cox viewers watch the station’s free broadcast non-cable signal. It also provides contact information for other cable and satellite providers in the valley.

A news release from Cox Communications says Nexstar wants three times what Cox is paying now to carry KLAS programming. KLAS General Manager and Vice President Lisa Howfield denied Cox’s claim, calling it “unequivocally untrue.”

As usual, both sides are blaming the other, and it’s all about money. There are plenty of alternatives for Las Vegas customers—they can go buy an antenna and watch the broadcast signal for the local affiliate, or sign up for CenturyLink or DIRECTV, also available in the area. Chances are, though, that both sides are bluffing and the dispute will “miraculously” end before the Super Bowl is missed.