Coronavirus Telecommuting To Further Highlight Shoddy US Telecom Market

from the completely-unprepared dept

To be clear, there are going to be layers of life and death dysfunction that the Coronavirus shines a bright spotlight on, most notable being a shaky US healthcare system and incompetent government leadership. But the outbreak and response is also going to shine a bright light on the broken US telecom market, and the millions of Americans that won't be able to effectively telecommute in a crisis.

We've noted time and time again how a lack of competition in the US broadband market means consumers pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for broadband that usually ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack. While we talk a lot about this problem, few actually do much about it. Similarly, few really have noticed how as US telcos effectively give up on upgrading antiquated DSL lines, they're giving cable giants like Comcast even bigger monopolies across vast swaths of America. In turn, those cable giants are facing less incentive than ever to improve customer service, upgrade rural networks, or compete on price.

With little competition and federal regulators that are little more than a rubber stamp to their every monopolistic whim, these companies have also been given a green light to gouge US consumers with usage caps and overage fees. Worse, a recent report suggested that 40 million Americans can't get broadband at all, nearly double FCC estimates. The Trump administration and FCC's response to this problem so far has been to blow sweet kisses at the nation's biggest telecom providers in the form of regulatory favors, massive tax breaks for doing nothing, and a lot of overheated rhetoric.

This has always been a problem, but as FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel notes, it's going to become a more obvious problem as millions of Americans are suddenly asked to work (and learn) from home to avoid spreading the virus further and faster:

While the overlaid teleconferencing technology has come a long way in recent years, millions of Americans will need to rely on expensive, slow, capped broadband that comes with what is statistically some of the worst customer service and satisfaction rates of any industry in America. Assuming these Americans have the luxury of working from home at all, many will be forced to rely on throttled, capped, and otherwise restricted cellular and satellite connections, since incumbents have effectively frozen expansion into rural markets, and fought tooth and nail against communities building their own, better networks.

While (as usual) this won't be as big of a problem for the white and affluent (many of whom have long insisted this isn't a big deal), it's going to be a particular problem for the minority, tribal, and low income communities that have been overlooked for decades. Especially as a growing number of colleges and schools try to shift the entirety of their workload online. It's a problem America has historically found relatively easy to ignore. And while broadband is likely to be the least of our issues over the next few months, recommending that millions of Americans work and learn from home will make ignoring that problem exponentially more difficult.

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Filed Under: broadband, coronavirus, covid-19, fcc, working from home


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  • icon
    Mark Harrill (profile), 13 Mar 2020 @ 4:33am

    AT&T has waived overage fees

    AT&T was the first major carrier to waive their overage fees, though they claim most of the customers have "unlimited" data:

    https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2020/03/at-comcast-keeps-charging-overage-fees/

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2020 @ 7:18am

      Re: AT&T has waived overage fees

      Also refer to the Ars story on split-tunnel VPNs. A lot of VPNs make things worse by tunneling stuff that doesn't need to be tunneled. (Big businesses can get decent connections, but I'll bet smaller ones have the same troubles as their employees.)

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

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Mar 2020 @ 7:57am

        Re: Re: AT&T has waived overage fees

        If I was going to use a split tunnel VPN setup, there would be two VPN's. One for internal or Intranet traffic and the other for Internet traffic. If the purpose of VPN's is to protect the user, why would one not protect users on the Internet?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2020 @ 8:10am

          Re: Re: Re: AT&T has waived overage fees

          The story says, basically, to let traffic to cloud-hosted services (like Microsoft-hosted email) bypass the VPN. You have those service providers perform whatever blocking/filtering is needed. General internet traffic can run through the corporate VPN if necessary.

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

  • icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 13 Mar 2020 @ 6:57am

    Good URL for comparison of US telecom service with foreigners?

    Is there a URL for an easily understood table comparing US telecom prices, access, and service standards with other countries?

    On this site, we preach to the choir, but on other sites, a good reference would be immensely persuasive.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2020 @ 7:31am

      Re: Good URL for comparison of US telecom service with foreigner

      Actually getting that data would probably be a challenge.. the telecoms don't make it easy to get pricing, and it can vary heavily by market.. the few markets where there is competition they make half-hearted attempts to compete on price.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2020 @ 7:53am

        Re: Re: Good URL for comparison of US telecom service with forei

        You don't get it from the telcos, you poll the customers to find out how much they're paying for different types of services (fixed broadband, mobile telephone, etc.). Here's a report from Canada's regulator and a news story.

        Given Karl's frequent statements to the effect that Americans are getting screwed, I agree that it would be great to collect some hard data for comparison. Anyone writing a story on the subject would want to link to it.

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

  • icon
    tom (profile), 13 Mar 2020 @ 8:56am

    It isn't just the end user service that will be a problem. That corporate gig fiber connection will probably slow to a crawl when several hundred employees try to connect via VPN. And this assumes the company had the forethought to purchase and configure a device capable of handling that many VPN connections at once.

    A lot of VPN gizmos have license fees based on allowable connections. If only 10% of your employees are in the field at any one time, why pay for more VPN slots? This problem will likely only be discovered when some poor IT slob still at work has to track down why so many folks can't connect. Of course, the accounting folks needed to process the PO for the license increase will all be home unable to connect....

    There will likely be a short term market opportunity for disaster preparedness planning once this virus thing passes.

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

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 13 Mar 2020 @ 9:01am

    Sign me up!

    Currently, I'm working as a server at Waffle House. As such, I look forward to being able to telecommute. It will make my job so much easier.

    ;)

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Mar 2020 @ 9:15am

      Re: Sign me up!

      I can't wait to see the condition of that waffle after it's trip through the network wiring, or would it be better over WiFi?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2020 @ 10:29am

        Re: Re: Sign me up!

        Hope you've got a CRT. I didn't have great luck with my 72" LCD screen.

        I tried ordering a coke from them, but when it arrived, it was flat.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2020 @ 9:36am

      Re: Sign me up!

      I'm surprised that with all the delivery-robot work going on, nobody's done an in-restaurant version.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2020 @ 12:30pm

        Re: Re: Sign me up!

        They have, though it's not robotic. Uber Eats, for example, among others.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2020 @ 1:27pm

          Re: Re: Re: Sign me up!

          Uber Eats really isn't meant for in-restaurant (kitchen-to-table) delivery, although it might be an amusing thing to try.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2020 @ 12:30pm

      Re: Sign me up!

      A restaurant opened in my area just under a month ago. Despite gaining some good early traction their business has dropped by over 80% in the last week or so as people get scared to go out in public. As this is unlikely to stop in the next month or two that poor business will probably die before it had a chance to grow.

      Waffle House may decide to close its doors for a few weeks (unlikely) but at least you'll have a job to return to when it reopens.

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

      • identicon
        bob, 13 Mar 2020 @ 2:26pm

        Re: Re: Sign me up!

        Even if the waffle house (or whatever your particular service industry place is) reopens you still have the issue of lack of sick leave. Hard to keep getting a paycheck when it relies on the number of hours actually worked and you don't have any paid time off.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2020 @ 3:09pm

          Re: Re: Re: Sign me up!

          True, and this affects a lot more than only restaurant workers. Schools, shipping, service industries, airlines and lots more are closing down (temporarily or permanently) or seeing such a diminished business that they're letting people go. Though most salaried jobs are safe for now there are a lot of hourly workers in these suffering businesses. They're the ones who will bear the brunt of this. Low-wage hourly workers are almost better off getting laid off than being out of work for 2 months; At least then they could collect unemployment benefits.

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

          • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2020 @ 5:13am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Sign me up!

            Spoken like a perfect globalist Democrat schill. Isn’t it ironically perfect that Hollywood, the educational establishment, and the “totally sold out” American sports industry will suffer the most damage? Perfection, God’s hand in action that we all can witness to.

            Amen.

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2020 @ 5:24am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Sign me up!

              How are those thoughts 'n prayers working out for you?

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

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2020 @ 7:08am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Sign me up!

                Well, the Chinese (who sponsor his very web site) are exposed, the Hollywood elite are set to lose a LOT, the NBA will soon be broke, and Academia is without income or future.

                Perfect.

                In the future, we will call this period the corona BOOM, like, everyone will stay home and procreate instead of throwing more money at China. BOOM. More new Americans.

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

                • identicon
                  R.oG.S, 14 Mar 2020 @ 12:44pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Sign me up!

                  Um, evidence that TD is Chinese supported?

                  If you had said "Communist and Jewish tribal-religious supported" I would STFU, because you would be correct.

                  Generally, most Chinese dont give a fuck about TD, until I post. Then, it becomes national narrative, lol.

                  No kidding.

                  And really: Dear Americans: STOP PROCREATING! Its provably bad for the environment.

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

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2020 @ 10:24pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Sign me up!

                    Yes, the evidence is overwhelmingly obvious. Techdirt supports weakening or ending copyright protection. Who benefits? The Chinese. Who suffers? American authors. Techdirt supports ending patent protection and open sourcing everything. Who benefits? The Chinese. Who suffers? American inventors. Techdirt frequently paints the honorable American police force as criminal, promoting public unrest and distrust. Who benefits? The Chinese. Who suffers? Law abiding American citizens. The list goes on and on. Techdirt is an ideological infection in the media, for sure the Chinese are behind it, one way or another.

                    And, I had a dream that Masnick’s wife actually was a doctor in the Wuhan virus factory. She’s Chinese too, right? I heard that somewhere, maybe from Chelsea Manning (is she dead?)

                    Think about it! Ideological infection! Virus pandemic! The CHINESE! Techdirt! It all fits!

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

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2020 @ 10:34am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Sign me up!

                  That is what you thought and prayed for?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2020 @ 12:45am

    Aren’t you tired of whining yet?

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

  • identicon
    Totally Tone Deaf, 14 Mar 2020 @ 12:30pm

    Here in China, we must now use Wechats app, to signify to the authorities (gatekeepers) that we are well/not sick when we enter/exit public places like subways/malls/ our homes .

    We show them our Wechat .app with a "health score" attached to Weixin, and then, they allow us through gates, and portals.

    No conspirqacy here at all about " the mark of the beast" on our foreheads-its on our phones now!

    Thanks, Queen Esther! How did that slaughter work out for you and yours? ( I seem to remember you killing off some Ethiopians and their cows with no mercy)

    Thanks, Queen Esther!

    (you pig-fucking whore)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2020 @ 1:01am

    The case of the Dsappearing Caps

    How can AT&T, Comcast and TMobile suddenly remove data caps now without any issues when the reason they argued for data caps is because they can't provide unlimited data because the networks can't handle it? I am so confused

    https://www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2020/3/13/21179330/comcast-t-mobile-coronavirus-data- caps-hotspots-fcc

    Won't this "generous" act also end up proving that caps and data limits are not necessary?

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


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