Routers

BT offers double reward cards and 12-month discount with broadband bundles

BT is offering prepaid Reward cards and M&S vouchers as freebies with some discounted broadband packages. Among the bundles including the free bonuses is the BT Unlimited Broadband & Calls deal. This offers broadband speeds of up to 17Mbps and unlimited downloads, along with a free BT Reward card worth ?60 and an M&S prepaid card worth ?40.

The 12-month contract costs ?26.99 a month (plus a ?9.99 set-up cost), which means subscribers will enjoy a discount worth ?36 on their broadband across the whole year. Another option for households in the market for a new broadband deal could be the BT Infinity Fibre Unlimited Broadband & Calls package. This offers broadband speeds of up to 52Mbps and unlimited downloads, an M&S prepaid card worth ?40 and a free BT Reward card prepaid with a sum of ?120.

The 12-month contract costs ?31.99 per month, along with a set-up cost of ?34.99. This adds up to an overall discount over the year of ?96. Alternatively, the BT Infinity Fibre Unlimited Broadband, Calls & Starter + BT Sport package might be a popular choice.

This also offers broadband speeds of up to 52Mbps, unlimited downloads and a free ?120 prepaid BT Reward card and ?40 prepaid M&S card. However, subscribers can also add a BT Sport pack for ?3.50 a month and enjoy up to 100 Freeview channels, including 21 in HD. This 12-month contract costs ?35.49 per month, plus a ?69.99 setup cost.

A BT prepaid Reward card simply needs to be activated before being spent at any retailer that shows a MasterCard logo.

BT states that since the card uses Chip and PIN, it is a more secure alternative to spending physical cash.

Ofcom strengthens customer protection rules

Ofcom has given telecoms providers just over a year to prepare for new customer protection rules. The watchdog is implementing new regulations addressing how firms deal with issues such as customer complaints, billing and identifying vulnerable customers. These will come into effect at the beginning of October next year, so communications providers have time to make the necessary preparations.

Among the new rules will be a tougher complaints handling procedure, to make sure customer grievances are dealt with “promptly and effectively”. Ofcom also wants to ensure consumers are kept informed about how their complaint is proceeding, as well as get faster access to dispute resolution services if they reach a deadlock with their provider. Broadband and mobile providers will also be required to have fair and transparent debt collection and disconnection practices in place.

Meanwhile, the rules on billing accuracy will be extended to include broadband, as they only apply to voice call services at the moment. Another key change will be a requirement for communications providers to have clear and effective policies and procedures for identifying vulnerable customers, such as those with physical or mental illness and people with learning or communication difficulties. Ofcom hopes this will ensure these individuals are treated “fairly and appropriately”.

Communications providers will also be required to offer disabled users access to priority fault repair, third-party bill management and accessible bills. These measures have already been applied to landline and mobile services for disabled customers, but this is the first time they will be applied to broadband. Finally, providers of phone services will be banned from charging for call display facilities, in order to help customers screen nuisance calls.

“We have clarified and simplified many of our rules, making them easier for providers to understand,” Ofcom said.

“We have also made the regulations simpler by removing rules that are no longer in use.”

Analysis: 94 Percent of School Districts Nationwide Meet Federal High-Speed Internet Access Targets

(TNS) — The country’s “extraordinary progress” connecting schools to affordable high-speed internet continued last year, according to a new analysis from broadband-advocacy group EducationSuperHighway1.

All told, 94 percent of school districts in the country now meet the minimum federal connectivity target, the group wrote in its new report, “2017 State of the States: Fulfilling Our Promise to America’s Students.”

That means more than 39 million students and 74,000 U.S. schools now have access to internet speeds of at least 100 kilobits per second, per student. In addition, EducationSuperHighway found that 88 percent of schools now say they have sufficient classroom access to WiFi, up from just 25 percent in 2013. Still, though, finding affordable broadband remains a challenge for schools in some pockets of the country.

“We need to keep our foot on the accelerator,” said Evan Marwell, the group’s CEO. “I’m very confident we can connect the last 6.5 million kids.”

Falling Prices

Back in 2013, then-President Barack Obama announced a five-year plan2 to bring high-speed school broadband to 99 percent of the country’s K-12 students. To support that goal, the Democrat-led Federal Communications Commission in 2014 overhauled the E-rate3, which helps schools and libraries pay for telecommunications services. Among the key changes: Expanding the program’s annual spending cap from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion, prioritizing broadband and WiFi, increasing price transparency, and enacting new rules designed to help rural districts get access to fiber-optic cable. Many experts characterize E-rate modernization as an overwhelming success.

“It sparked really important cooperation between schools, service providers, and policymakers,” said Reg Leichty, a lawyer and lobbyist for the Consortium for School Networking, the professional association for the nation’s school-technology officers.

According to the new EducationSuperHighway report, more than 35 million students have gained access to high-speed internet since 2013. Ninety-seven percent of schools are now connected to the internet via fiber. The price of bandwidth for schools has fallen dramatically, from $22 per megabit per second in 2013 to $4.90 in 2016.

And Marwell said districts like Oklahoma’s 1,100-student Perry public schools–which recently quintupled its bandwidth, for just $60 more per month–have benefitted greatly from the ability to see what similar school systems are paying for their internet access.

“Essentially, they call up their provider and say, ‘Hey, I see you are giving this other school district more bandwidth for the same money I’m spending. How come I can’t get that deal from you, too?’ ” Marwell said. “It’s just a matter of asking.”

The majority of districts that still lack high-speed internet access could meet federal connectivity targets if they took advantage of new price transparency rules to push telecoms for better deals, EducationSuperHighway argues.

Untapped Funding

Even with all its successes, some supporters of the E-rate remain jittery4 about key aspects of the program. Shortly after he took office in January, President Donald Trump appointed Republican Ajit Pai5 to chair the Federal Communications Commission. While Pai has voiced support for the overall goals of the E-rate, he joined fellow Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly in voting against the 2014 modernization order. Some of Pai’s early steps as chairman have caused some concern6 in the K-12 community.

The biggest ongoing problem, some critics contend, is that the Pai-led FCC has been slow-walking the applications7 of hundreds of mostly rural districts looking to use the new E-rate rules to help fund construction of new high-speed fiber-optic networks. That’s a big deal because the internet connections in such districts have long been the most difficult to upgrade. The single-school Woodman, Mont., district, for example, is stuck paying $167 each month for just 1.5 Mbps amount of bandwidth, delivered over an old copper line.

In May, the district submitted to the FCC a proposal to use both E-rate dollars and state matching funds to pay for internet carrier CenturyLink to build a new network that would deliver 100 Mbps via fiber-optic cable. But the district’s proposal, like numerous others, is stalled, leaving the project in jeopardy.

“They have red tape wrapped around these projects, and there’s really been no meaningful movement,” said John Harrington, the CEO of Funds for Learning, a consulting firm that helps thousands of districts prepare their E-rate applications each year. A spokesman for the commission declined to comment.

Harrington said he suspects the problems are in part the typical growing pains that occur when a government agency must implement new rules, and in part a reflection of the new FCC seeking to avoid federal spending that might lead to “over-building” of fiber-optic networks. Another concern for E-rate advocates is that well over $2 billion in program funds set aside to help schools upgrade their WiFi networks remain untapped. Under the new E-rate rules, each district is eligible for up to $150 per student to help pay for equipment such as routers, switchers, and wireless access points.

But that money is only available until 2020. EducationSuperHighway estimates that 52 percent of school districts have yet to tap at least half of the funding they’re eligible for, and a quarter have not accessed any of the funding.

“First and foremost, it’s a lack of knowledge,” Marwell said. “There are a lot of districts that don’t know this money is available to them.”

He expressed concern that the money could go unspent–or that the new leadership at the FCC could decide to redirect the money to other purposes, or possibly even eliminate the funds earlier than 2020. After several months of working at less than full capacity, the FCC now has its full complement of five commissioners8, including three Republicans and two Democrats.

Chairman Pai must be reconfirmed for a new term by the U.S.

Senate sometime this fall.

(C)2017 Education Week (Bethesda, Md.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

References

  1. ^ EducationSuperHighway (www.educationsuperhighway.org)
  2. ^ announced a five-year plan (www.edweek.org)
  3. ^ overhauled the E-rate (www.edweek.org)
  4. ^ remain jittery (www.edweek.org)
  5. ^ appointed Republican Ajit Pai (blogs.edweek.org)
  6. ^ caused some concern (blogs.edweek.org)
  7. ^ slow-walking the applications (www.edweek.org)
  8. ^ full complement of five commissioners (blogs.edweek.org)