Sorry: AT&T & Verizon Can't Upgrade Or Repair Your Aging DSL Line Because Parts Are Too Hard To Find

from the your-call-is-not-important-to-us dept

While the government and industry pay a lot of lip service toward expanding broadband availability and competition, we've noted how giant phone companies like AT&T and Verizon are actually backing away from unwanted DSL markets. Through a combination of apathy (failing to repair the lines timely) and price hikes for services that cost less than ever to offer, the telcos are actively driving DSL users to either cable competitors or wireless (or both, since cable operators now help sell Verizon wireless services). Fixed-line broadband is perfectly profitable, it's just not profitable enough quickly enough for telco investors.

As a result, these companies are shifting their attention to significantly-more-expensive wireless services with caps and overages, and pretending this is just as good as an uncapped, less expensive DSL line. The result? A huge swath of the country where the cable broadband monopoly is going to be more potent than ever, resulting in worse customer service (if that's even possible) and higher prices than ever before.

Of course, AT&T and Verizon can't just come forth and say that they no longer care about huge swaths of the country, so as they go state to state trying to gut all regulations requiring they continue to offer fixed-line services, they're claiming that if state legislatures do their bidding, the states will somehow be awash with amazing new technologies. AT&T calls this the "IP transition," and has been successful in conflating a general shift toward wireless and IP networks with the company's refusal to upgrade fixed-line assets. Both companies have even gone so far as to have folks like Steve Forbes issue editorials proclaiming DSL lines are dead -- news to those for whom that's their only reliable connectivity option.

Verizon has also used natural disasters as justification for refusing to repair or upgrade customers, with some victims of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast still waiting for their DSL lines to get repaired. Most recently, Verizon tried to claim that the reason it just sold its unwanted fixed-line assets in Florida, Texas and California was because of regulators' positions on net neutrality.

It's of course not just rural regions that are impacted by this shift: Baltimore's one of several cities (like Boston, Alexandria and Buffalo) that didn't get chosen for Verizon's now-dead FiOS expansion plans. With Verizon not willing to spend the money for further FiOS expansion, the company needed something to tell locals that not only aren't seeing upgrades, but in some cases are now waiting months for repairs. This month's excuse? Parts are just too hard to find:
"It's not just the wires that are going bad, it's the switches," said Sherry Lichtenberg, the principal researcher for telecommunications at the Washington-based National Regulatory Research Institute. "It's really hard to find parts." AT&T officials have said the company sometimes has to scrounge on eBay for parts."
Yes that's AT&T, a company that saw $132.4 billion in revenues last year, claiming that it has to head to eBay to upgrade its networks. Of course, parts aren't hard to find when you replace those older parts -- like in more upscale development communities where AT&T is slowly starting to offer very limited 1 Gbps fiber deployments (deployments, it should be noted, that AT&T also claims it paused over net neutrality). Parts also aren't hard to find when you're offering wireless LTE services with $15 per gigabyte overages. Parts are, apparently, only hard to find in areas you're intentionally abandoning -- but don't want to admit you're intentionally abandoning.

On one hand, you can understand that Verizon and AT&T are simply heading where the real money is. The problem is that after refusing to upgrade many markets, the telcos have lobbied for laws prohibiting these same towns and cities from upgrading themselves (or in some cases engaging in public/private partnerships). When the FCC recently (and quite belatedly) announced they'd be trying to eliminate the most contentious parts of these protectionist laws, the broadband industry threatened to sue. As such, the telecom industry has created a giant painful ouroboros of intentional dysfunction, one that only begins to unravel when we stop letting AT&T, Comcast and Verizon write state telecom law.

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 7:44am

    It seems the only way out is through regulations and repealing of bad laws in the State level. Not in the wired market no but rather in the wireless portion. Make data caps illegal and force Title II in and we'll see some incumbents flip out in panic. If they can't milk the wireless cow for gazillions they will be forced to rethink their wired strategy as well.

    But that's short term. Long term solution would be to inspire competition by allowing initiatives like Google mobile carrier. You know, provide incentives for building infra-structure and letting others do the customer handling. This requires another level of playing field. For now Title II and wireless regulation should do the trick.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Karl Bode (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 8:26am

      Re:

      Everything I've seen so far suggests Wheeler's not going to touch usage caps or zero rated apps unless we witness a particularly ham-fisted abuse of the concept.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 8:48am

        Re: Re:

        It that case I'm guessing it's only a matter of time, this whole thing got kicked into the light by Verizon getting a little too greedy for their own good after all, I'm sure they, or one of the others will get a little too eager to squeeze out as much money as they can in time.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Ninja (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 10:02am

          Re: Re: Re:

          That. Here in my country there are some people voicing concerns over such caps in wireless plans. The broadband caps were tried here but the lack of caps became marketing advantage to the competition and most isps either dropped it or don't enforce such caps.

          More popular and political pressure will be needed in the US though.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 12:20pm

        Re: Re:

        Not many months ago, everything we'd seen so far suggested Mr. Wheeler (no relation!) would work hand in hand with the telcos to give them what they want and would never even consider a Title II solution... but look where we are now.

        Moral of the story: Don't give up on the right thing too easily.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JohnG (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 10:06am

      Re:

      Why would you make data caps illegal? Why not let different businesses offer different plans to match up with different customer profiles? Those who are OK with data caps can purchase plans with them, those who do not can purchase uncapped plans.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        PRMan, 20 Feb 2015 @ 1:11pm

        Re: Re:

        At least data caps are a little bit more realistic and honest than "unlimited*†".

        * Not really unlimited.

        † OK, when we say "not really unlimited", we mean we're going to tell you all along that it's unlimited until you reach some unpublished number at which point we are going to throttle the heck out of your connection until it's like dial-up and you quit using it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Derek Kerton (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 1:20pm

        Re: Re:

        All the Techdirt writers agree with what you wrote. But what you wrote is only theoretical when the actual US market does not have the minimum number of competitors needed to drive such service competition.

        If we want to "let different businesses offer different plans", we'd need more than 1-2 providers in a given location.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          JohnG (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 1:35pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          A lack of competition is a different problem, and certainly not a problem that making data caps illegal would solve.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Pragmatic, 23 Feb 2015 @ 2:29am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Data caps exist because there's so little competition. Making them illegal would protect the consumers in the short term; in the long term we need to take away their ability to write laws that restrict competition so they don't have to bother providing a decent service.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 2:38pm

        Re: Re:

        I personally don't have a problem with companies offering capped plans. My problem starts with this:

        "Those who are OK with data caps can purchase plans with them, those who do not can purchase uncapped plans."

        I am unaware of any company that offers uncapped plans. Some offer plans that they claim are uncapped, but they're lying. It's the lying that I object to.

        If I've bought an unlimited plan and then they limit it, I have a real problem with that.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 23 Feb 2015 @ 1:52am

        Re: Re:

        Do you have caps on how much electricity or water you use or can you turn on your stuff to use 100% of the power/flow your wires/pipes allow as long as you pay?

        If you answer there is no caps for those then the same answer applies to internet. I'm ok with ISPs offering plans with speed caps in peak times but data caps make absolutely no sense. And the current caps don't take into account bandwidth heavy services such as Netflix or other streaming to make things even worse. There's no sane reason why you should cap the data transferred.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 8:28am

    *Parts* are too hard to find

    If they don't upgrade, it's no wonder they find it hard to find parts for the outdated hardware they're using. It shouldn't be hard to find parts for newer hardware which hasn't been EOL'ed yet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 8:46am

      Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

      It's even more nefarious than that...

      Manufacturers will continue to make compatible parts if there's a demand for them - the fact that they don't actually purchase replacement parts is why they're no longer being made. I assure you, if they demanded them, they would be built.

      Reminds me of a situation I ran into a couple years back where I moved to a new house down the street, and was told I could not transfer my DSL there because AT&T was "out of DSL circuits" for my area... after repeated calls, I finally got one provisioned after I moved, but it was very very flaky.

      Eventually it stopped working about a year later, and I was told that it wouldn't be repaired for several weeks as the equipment had too many "broken ports" to move me to another one that worked and needed to be replaced completely.

      This leads me to believe the hardware had been failing for some time, and the solution was just to move people from broken ports to working ports until they ran out. There was no plan to replace/repair the equipment until well past it's time, when customers were sure to be angry and frustrated.

      If, on the other hand, the equipment had been rotated regularly with spare parts - this wouldn't likely have ever happened. AT&T has not been purchasing replacement parts in advance, they have been purchasing them on an as-needed basis. This is *not* how you maintain critical infrastructure. This is how you run a company and its customers into the ground.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        orbitalinsertion (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 8:54am

        Re: Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

        "It's really hard to find parts."


        Yes, even if existing manufacturers somehow balked at the idea of producing terribly common equipment, you could have 5 businesses start up overnight if even 1 telco/ISP said they wanted them.

        They will be blaming squirrels next.

        Then when DSL disappears completely, cable ISPs can go back to under-provisioning networks, put too many customers on the local loops, and blame file-sharing (or Netflix, or whatever flavor of the month target) for their awful QoS. Win/win!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 9:55am

          Re: Re: Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

          "They will be blaming squirrels next."

          Actually, that was the first thing they blamed when I started having DSL issues ;)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 10:03am

          Re: Re: Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

          "They will be blaming squirrels next."

          They (and their landline phone predecessors) have been doing that for longer than I've been alive. In all fairness, though, in my part of the country it's usually true.

          Squirrels are evil creatures bent on the destruction of all humans.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 10:05am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

            Ditto here... I keep a couple BB guns handy around the house in the event that I see one raping the bird feeders or otherwise molesting my house and yard during the day.

            We have so many around here - we have accidentally run them over in our own driveway... they're that stupid.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 10:43am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

            "Tree squirrels establish and follow elaborate overhead routes through their territory that often include utility poles and substations. Once squirrels have established these routes, virtually nothing will force them to change, and they are not deterred by any physical barrier in their path. Because their teeth grow continuously at a rate of 6-10 inches a year, these squirrels must gnaw and chew, and they often do so on conductors and aluminum connectors on transformers." [Union Power]

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              John Fenderson (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 11:01am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

              "they often do so on conductors and aluminum connectors on transformers."

              I have personally witnessed two pole-mounted transformers blow up because of squirrels.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 11:35am

            Indeed they are.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Derek Kerton (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 1:23pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

            Squirrels are evil foes, who seek to win their aggressive war against the humans by cutting our lines of communications. They're like Nazis.

            Yeah, I Godwinned squirrels. So what. If you don't like it, you're like a Nazi.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        crashsuit (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 9:09am

        Re: Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

        Reminds me of the Mike/Ma Bell story.

        http://mikeandmabell.com/

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 10:04am

        Re: Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

        This is how you run a company and its customers into the ground.

        Unless you are in a monopoly/duopoly/oligopoly. Then you can abuse as much as the Government allow.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 3:47pm

        Re: Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

        Perhaps I can offer some perspective on manufacturers making components for old equipment.

        "Manufacturers will continue to make compatible parts if there's a demand for them - the fact that they don't actually purchase replacement parts is why they're no longer being made. I assure you, if they demanded them, they would be built."

        This has not been my experience as an engineer. Ultimately, manufacturers have to make a certain amount of money on each product line to keep the manufacturing lines open. We do not make computers and components from the late 70s or early 80s anymore, even though there is demand for parts to keep critical infrastructure going. (I've seen this during my time at JPL and heard about it from my Dad who keeps a production line going)

        Being a design engineer for DoD, I have to deal with this problem with all of my designs. I have to make a design that can be supported for 30+ years, including building new/replacement parts far after the design phase. This is a huge risk in the development and fielding of a new system.

        In my experience, there are three methods of mitigating risk to parts obsolescence, presented here is list form:

        1. Lifetime buy: If a part that I am using is going EOL, I can go to the manufacturer and buy out the stock of parts (either that or convince them to run an additional set of parts for me). Most of my manufacturers offer this option when they EOL a part. This option represents a large outlay of capital both to purchase the stock of components and to store them, and is by definition a short term solution, but it buys me time to come up with a long-term solution.

        2. Technical Data package: I can contract with the manufacturer of the parts to purchase a technical data package and possibly the tooling used to build the parts that are going EOL. This enables me to build the parts myself, or sub it out to another manufacturer. This is frequently a large capital expense, but I can keep my current infrastructure going indefinitely using this option.

        3. Technology upgrades: I can string the current systems along until a new technology is ready to be fielded. This may require a redesign of my current system, depending upon how the new tech integrates into my current infrastructure.

        In examining the situation with the current DSL operators, they appear to be going with a fourth option, which is to let their current infrastructure burn out without any backup or continuation of business plan. This is terrible long term business, sacrificing future profits for short term gains.

        I am reminded of my engineering economics class. About half of the class was devoted to making monetary decisions of this type. This case, replacing infrastructure for a DSL ISP, almost is a case study ripped straight from the book. It's dirt simple to make a business case for replacement and upgrading infrastructure. I am curious why the business wonks aren't on board with the upgrades.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 4:14pm

          Re: Re: Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

          >I am curious why the business wonks aren't on board with the upgrades.

          That would be a smart Long Term business plan, long term defined as longer than the next report to the stock market. Would it not be much more profitable on the very short term to simply Not do that?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 4:10pm

        Re: Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

        that's how you run a company into the ground after making off with the profits. Would be interesting to see which of their ceo's keep giving themselves bonuses throughout all this and which ones have jumped ship.

        That sort of sleaze would happily ruin millions of lives to make a hundred dollar profit

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 9:19am

      Re: *Parts* are too hard to find

      Yes, there's a lot of newer DSL hardware they could use: DSL (in faster variants) is still being rolled out in many countries like France and the UK.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 8:35am

    'that only begins to unravel when we stop letting AT&T, Comcast and Verizon write state telecom law'

    and that wont happen until those in Congress etc are held accountable for the 'favours' they give any and all companies, receiving 'financial favours' in return.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 8:42am

    At some point, these companies should have their licenses to trade revoked; either by removing their spectrum purchases as fines, or by enforcing full upgrade paths with punitive penalties (say, half of their revenues).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    vegetaman (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 9:12am

    I can still get parts for my 1952 antique tractor. Parts I don't have, I can find used, or have machined. In my work in electronics, I find that anything that has been built before can be built again, even if the parts that went into it are obsolete (microprocessors, etc.). It just takes money and planning. Did they just now realize they have a parts problem? Or did they plan this as a convenient excuse and not keep parts on hand or have orders in for replacement parts in advance?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 9:13am

    Great, now i feel bad for you guys.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 9:38am

    What amazes me

    What amazes me is that these companies keep coming out and saying ludicrous things like that while apparently expecting everyone to actually believe them. Or at least be distracted enough to notice that these companies are taking everyone for a ride.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JohnG (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 10:07am

    Yet another problem Net Neutrality laws won't fix whereas destroying local monopoly and right-of-way laws would.

    Don't you see techdirt, this is why focusing on NN is misguided -- it won't fix the true underlying issue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 11:07am

      Re:

      "it won't fix the true underlying issue."

      True, and nobody is saying otherwise. Title II classification is a band-aid -- as someone else said, it's the "least worst" option.

      Talking about changing laws as you say is correct (but insufficient). However, it's also the next best thing to impossible, since the very same telcos put immense pressure on legislators to not change a thing. So, before we can fix that problem, we have to fix the political system itself, which is a fine thing to work for, but it's unreasonable to thing that it is possible in a time frame sooner than a few decades (at best).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Derek Kerton (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 1:27pm

      Re:

      John. No reason we can't all support NN right now under Title II, and also work for a more competitive landscape long-term.

      I think you will find Techdirt does just that. All while chewing gum, too.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    UniKyrn, 20 Feb 2015 @ 11:19am

    Don't leave out CenturyLink

    I just pulled their plug this last week and switched to wireless, after yet another outage where the estimated repair time was three days. The fact that the problem wasn't even at my home, but at their equipment office, didn't matter, I couldn't break the script reader out of their loop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 20 Feb 2015 @ 11:23am

    I'll bet . . .

    Parts are only too hard to find in DSL markets that don't make much money or cost more to operate.

    In highly profitable DSL markets, I bet parts are easy to find.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Arachne, 20 Feb 2015 @ 12:57pm

    My DSL/Land Line was Sold to Frontier by Verizon

    First thing that happened after Frontier took over was our telephone service (but not our DSL) went out for nearly a month. Frontier's employees blamed it on Verizon leaving the equipment in disrepair. While we did finally get our telephone service back I never figured out if that was a legitimate excuse.

    I will say our DSL never worked better than during that month.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    PRMan, 20 Feb 2015 @ 1:16pm

    Google...

    I just wish Google would publicly offer to buy the failing lines. Just watch them scramble after that offer.

    Especially FIOS. There's already fiber in the ground and customers. All they have to do is change out the ends for Google equipment. Instant GB ethernet with almost no work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2015 @ 3:07pm

    Put down your mouse, put down your phone. Take a walk, find out who your neighbors are, they have names just like you do. Read a book, go fishing, Get A Life....By doing these and other things you can tell all of these monopolistic conglomerates where to get off. They run the show, not we the people. No more free lunch for these greedy pigs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chris in Utah (profile), 22 Feb 2015 @ 3:14pm

    Century link DSL as well... 2 years on .5

    Had to wait for a lover to come to me to switch to cable due to comcast screwing me with a contract when I moved.

    We have other alternatives for wide-band.. yet too many dam trees lol.

    To quote from the hackers manifesto...
    ..."This is our world now... the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn't run by profiteering gluttons, and
    you call us criminals."...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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