Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania


May 14, 2014

Patrons of The Tubby Olive in Doylestown can browse a selection of olive oils, balsamic vinegar and other gourmet foods. They also can use the store's wireless networking to browse the Internet, post to social media or search for recipes. Tubby Olive owner Nancy Murray said offering Wi-Fi to consumers is all about convenience. "We've just found over the few months that we've been here that there seems to be a need for this," said Murray. "Why not offer that as a courtesy?"

Murray is not alone in her thinking. A survey released Tuesday by Comcast found businesses are increasingly offering free Wi-Fi as a perk for customers. "Our customers - especially retail-oriented customers - feel like Wi-Fi has become a part of the customer experience that they need to provide," said Mike Tighe, executive director of data services for Comcast Business. "Where it was once a differentiator, (Wi-Fi is) now a table stake in attracting customers to their venue." The national survey of entrepreneurs and small business IT decision-makers was conducted by Bredin Research and commissioned by Comcast Business, the cable company's business division.

Some key findings: An overwhelming majority of survey respondents said Wi-Fi is as effective or more effective at making customers feel welcome as offering magazines (94 percent), community bulletin boards (91 percent), candy (90 percent) or water (86 percent). Nearly eight in 10 businesses said offering Wi-Fi keeps customers happy while they wait. About two-thirds reported it encourages repeat business, and more than half said it's brought in new customers. Fifty-five percent of businesses that provide Wi-Fi believe it's resulted in higher sales per customer visit. Among non-users, the biggest fears of adopting Wi-Fi are tech support (33 percent), employee distraction (33 percent) and costs (32 percent).

The survey also found customer Wi-Fi is no longer the domain of coffee shops. Businesses ranging from auto body shops to Home Depot provide wireless Internet access, either to entertain customers who are waiting for service or help customers research their purchases without ever leaving the store. "Big box stores are putting it in to enable their customers to get quickly educated on their products," Tighe said. "If you can complete all the communication a customer needs, that's a winning formula for a retail establishment."

Having public Wi-Fi does raise issues for businesses, Tighe said. There are security settings to put in place, and considerations as to how much bandwidth to have for customers. "More and more, customers are defining their experience inside of your establishment by the quality of the Wi-Fi experience," Tighe said. "If they have a slow or poor Wi-Fi session it rubs off on your brand. It's something they have to think through. If you're going to do it, you really want to not provide public Wi-Fi as an afterthought."

The rising popularity of smartphones and tablets is driving the Wi-Fi adoption, Tighe said. Murray, at the Tubby Olive, just got her own smartphone. The store, which has locations at Reading Terminal Market (which has Wi-Fi) and Newtown (which does not), also rolled out its first-ever mobile app featuring recipes and its customer loyalty program. "To have all that information at your fingertips, we saw it as being something that we needed to develop big time," she said. "A lot of people are using their smartphones for everything." Doylestown Intelligencer

When Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler releases his plan to regulate broadband networks on Thursday, he will invite debate on whether the government should make a move the agency has long avoided: classifying broadband Internet as a public utility for regulatory purposes. While it sounds obscure, the movement for such reclassification has become something of a rallying cry among advocates of net neutrality, the idea that broadband companies must treat all Internet traffic equally. With reclassification, the providers would be subject to far greater regulation on everything from pricing to how they interconnect with other networks.

So far, the FCC hasn't wanted to reclassify broadband out of concern that a heavy regulatory hand would discourage deployment of new and faster Internet services when the technology is still evolving. Mr. Wheeler's proposal will seek to prevent broadband providers from blocking or slowing down websites but will allow some deals in which content companies pay for preferential treatment. It doesn't propose reclassifying broadband, according to people familiar with the draft, but Mr. Wheeler is expected to bring it up as an alternative to his plan.

His willingness to debate reclassification is a response to the thousands of emails and calls that have flooded the FCC in recent weeks from companies and activists who say that any rules that allow the deals, known as paid prioritization, would inherently put startups and smaller companies that can't afford to pay at a disadvantage. But it doesn't mean that Mr. Wheeler is keen on reclassification. He insists that his plan would be the fastest way to prevent broadband providers from blocking or slowing down access to websites. Reclassification is almost certain to provoke a lengthy court battle and meanwhile, he argues, there is no protection at all.

Mr. Wheeler is the latest in a string of FCC chairmen who have grappled with net neutrality and reclassification. Between 2002 and 2007, the FCC classified the various forms of broadband Internet access as "information services," as opposed to the more heavily regulated "telecommunications services." Using that legal framework, Chairmen Michael Powell and Julius Genachowski tried to codify net neutrality, only to have a federal court toss their rules aside, saying the FCC was trying to regulate the broadband providers as utility companies without designating them as such.

Pressure for reclassification has since grown, as broadband has become an integral part of most Americans' lives and as net-neutrality activists point to it as the surest path to a purely open Internet. Stanford Law professor Barbara Van Schewick said the FCC can't ban paid deals without reclassifying broadband. If the agency chooses to follow Mr. Wheeler's plan, she said, it must allow broadband providers to strike the deals with content companies to enforce the no-blocking rule.

But reclassification would set off a lengthy political battle with Republicans and the broadband providers. The broadband industry's top lobbying group and Republicans from both chambers of Congress wrote separate letters to Mr. Wheeler this week voicing opposition to reclassifying broadband as a utility. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and several of his colleagues warned Mr. Wheeler that reclassifying broadband could impede the development of new technologies. "So-called 'net neutrality' restrictions are unnecessary, but using...reclassification to impose them would create tremendous legal and marketplace uncertainty and would undermine your ability to effectively lead the FCC," the senators wrote. Their sentiment was echoed by other key lawmakers, including the leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The chief executives of the nation's largest broadband providers, including Comcast Corp. , AT&T Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc., say in their letter that reclassification would impose great costs and market uncertainty on their companies. A key will be whether the White House and congressional Democrats weigh in for or against reclassification. In 2009, a group of House Democrats including Rep. Gene Green (D., Texas) warned then-FCC Chairman Genachowski against subjecting broadband networks to greater regulation. Rep. Green is working to draw support for another letter to the FCC that supports net neutrality but opposes reclassification, similar to Mr. Wheeler's approach. Wall Street Journal