- General, Slider, Technology

Are you in the race for faster internet speeds?

34 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed internet service.
A federal court ruled in June that broadband is considered a utility that can be regulated by the FCC.
Fixed broadband download speeds have improved 42 percent in the U.S. over the last year.
It’s easy to take fast internet speed for granted and leaves us wondering how we ever survived without it. Unfortunately, there are many Americans who don’t have easy access to the web, let alone at high speeds.

The upside is there’s still plenty of room for the industry to grow, which may be beneficial for investors. Let’s look at what’s happening in the industry today.

Millions of Americans can’t access high-speed internet

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a 2016 Broadband Progress Report earlier this year that revealed there are 34 million Americans who lack access to high speed internet service, defined as 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload or greater. That’s equivalent to 10 percent of Americans who are located in rural areas, on tribal lands or in U.S. territories.[1]

While 34 million Americans is certainly a large number, it’s an improvement from the previous year, when 55 million Americans didn’t have access to high speed internet. Unfortunately, about 47 percent of U.S. students today still don’t have access to the FCC’s short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students in schools, however. This accessibility gap puts many students at a disadvantage as assignments and studying are assigned with the assumption that students have internet access at home.[2]

So what’s being done about the gaps in the market? Competition continues between Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide faster speeds to more customers and the government is also trying to step in.

Net neutrality is making headway

Net neutrality, also known as open internet, is a principle backed by the government, many tech companies, startups and consumers that would require ISPs to provide all lawful content to consumers without blocking or throttling.

Net neutrality would prevent ISPs from creating fast lanes and slow lanes for one source of content over another. For example, without net neutrality an ISP could push its own video content to consumers at super fast speeds and restrict Netflix or Youtube content to stream at a snail’s pace.[3]

Without net neutrality, ISPs could control how fast or slow content is delivered to customers based on the source. Source: BitsNBytes

The Obama Administration passed the Open Internet Act passed in early 2015 which re-classified broadband providers as common carriers. Since common carriers fall under government supervision, it wasn’t a surprise that the U.S. Telecom Association and ISPs such as AT&T filed a lawsuit against the FCC shortly thereafter to try and block the regulatory changes.[4]

The U.S. Court of Appeals’ District of Columbia Circuit rejected the telco industry’s claims this June. Now high-speed internet service on both fixed and mobile networks is defined as a utility, making it as essential and no longer allowing a luxury service exempt from government supervision.

Opponents including AT&T plan to appeal the ruling. Meanwhile, politicians are actively trying to cut the FCC’s funding by $69 million and prohibit the agency from enforcing net neutrality rules until all legal challenges and appeals are resolved. [5]

Just how fast is the internet in the U.S.?

A recent study released by Ookla reports sizeable improvements in both fixed broadband and mobile internet speeds in the U.S. Here are some notable stats from their August 3rd Speedtest Market Report.[6]

Average fixed broadband download speeds surpassed 50 Mbps for the first time in 1H 2016, an improvement of 42 percent since July 2015.
Upload speeds for fixed broadband improved 51 percent over the last year, reaching 18.88 Mbps.
The fastest ISP for download speeds was Comcast’s XFINITY at 125.53 Mbps. Cox Communications came in a close second at 117.85 Mbps
Verizon Fios was the fastest ISP for upload speeds at 97.71 Mbps. Spectrum ranked in second place at a much slower 23.37 Mbps.
Mobile download speeds increased to an average 19.27 Mbps, an increase of more than 30 percent since last year.
Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are competing aggressively for the fastest download speeds and pricing to grow their subscriber base.
The fastest U.S. Mobile carriers were Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile with download speeds above 21 Mbps and T-Mobile for upload speeds over 11 Mbps.

While these improvements may appear impressive, the U.S. still lags behind on an international benchmark. The U.S ranks the 20th country in fixed broadband speeds and 42nd in mobile internet performance.

The top 10 countries for average internet connection speed in Q1 2016 according to Statisa were South Korea, Norway, Sweden, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Latvia, Japan, the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Finland.[7]

- Gardening, General

Come Back Kids: When Will My Perennials Return In The Spring?

As the sun begins to be more of a regular guest in our day-to-day activities, it’s not uncommon to continually peek outside at your plants, waiting anxiously for them to bloom. It is spring after all, right? So why aren’t your perennials coming back out yet? That’s the best part about planting perennials—the fact that they return in the spring!

The good news is you’re not alone in wondering when perennials return. And it’s a valid question to have, because the answer can change depending on a few different factors. The other good news is that we’ve got all the information you need to determine when your favourite blooms will come back out, and you might even be able to summon them sooner.
When Do Perennials Return?
To determine when your perennials will bloom again, you’ll have to first discern a few things: what variety you have, where you live, how you’ve been caring for your garden, and what the weather has been like.

What is the Perennial Variety?
The type of perennial you have will help you understand its life cycle much better. Geranium Rozanne, for example, is a hardy geranium, which means she retreats back into the ground until spring comes around. “Indian Summer” black-eyed Susans have the same quality. A different perennial example would be “Lipstick” strawberry plants, which grow as evergreen perennials, producing green leaves all year long, then blooming bright red and yellow flowers when spring comes around.
It’s recommended to make sure you research your own perennials to learn more about its life cycle. Some of these perennials are proven to bloom early spring, while others are known to come back closer to summer. Take a look at this list as well to learn more about your perennials. However, the plants only perform their best according to the hardiness zone you live in, which brings us to our next point.

What is Your Garden Zone?
Depending on the hardiness zone you live in, your plant will either thrive or take a lot more work to keep alive. Usually, when you purchase seeds or a mature plant, the packaging will include a graphic or sentence telling you which zones the plant works best in.
Basically, you’ll want to make sure that your perennial can withstand the highest and lowest temperatures as well as the rainfalls (or lack thereof) in your garden zone. Some perennials have the ability to withstand colder winters than others. If you live in a very cold garden zone, this page lists some of the extremely cold hardy perennials. If your perennial is not native enough to your garden zone, it might act more like an annual, only blooming once in its life span.

How Have You Cared for Your Perennials?
There are a few practices you should keep up during the dormant months to ensure your perennials come back brighter and more alive than ever when spring rolls around. Depending on whether or not you’ve care well for your perennials can affect their ability to come back sooner rather than later.
For example, planting your perennials in fall is said to help them come back in spring brighter and better than ever. As far as your specific varieties, it’s important to pay close attention to their care instructions. Luckily, if you have Geranium Rozanne in your garden or other perennial geraniums, these plants are pretty easy-going when it comes to care. Just remember to do what’s right for your variety to ensure you prime it for optimal spring blooming.

How Has the Weather Been This Year?
The last thing to take into consideration when trying to figure out when your perennials will return is the past year’s weather. If it’s been considerably, hot, cold, wet, or dry, try to think about whether or not you remedied these weather conditions with your care. If it’s been quite cold, you might see later blooms, whereas a mild winter can call for early blooming. Sometimes, if it was too cold, your bulbs might have been damaged a bit.
Clearly, there are a lot of factors that go into determining when perennials return in spring, so make sure you check off everything above to see when your flowers will come back out. And if you join Rozanne’s Inner Circle, you’ll get important info like this in your inbox every month!

- General, Technology

AT&T/Time Warner deal flexes content’s muscle

AT&T sees an advantage to owning more of the programming it distributes
Content brands could be important as consumers use a variety of digital platforms
Motifs mentioned: Content is King
Stocks mentioned: AT&T’s (NYSE:T), Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Viacom (NASDAQ:VIAB), Apple (NASDAQ;AAPL), Verizon (NYSE:VZ), Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), Charter Communications (NASDAQ:CHTR), Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX)
Being a distributor of entertainment programs isn’t a bad business. But distributing and owning the shows people want to watch is even better.

That appears to be a big part of the motivation behind AT&T’s (NYSE:T) recently announced deal to purchase Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) in a transaction valued at more than $85 billion.

Time Warner, of course, is one of the country’s principal media conglomerates, owning HBO, CNN and Warner Bros. studios. AT&T, on the other hand, is a communication titan that runs a major telecommunications network but up to this point owns none of the programming that it pipes through its telephone and cable networks.

News of the deal quickly boosted shares of Time Warner, which have remained about 10 percent higher despite concerns that the deal will face heavy regulatory scrutiny. Time Warner’s stock also comprises about a 20 percent weight in the Content is King motif, which has gained 2.9 percent in the past month. In that same time frame, the S&P 500 has fallen 1.9 percent.

Over the past 12 months, the motif has decreased 3.4 percent; the S&P 500 is up 2.3 percent.

For investors of other content providers, the deal immediately prompted the question as to whether similar deals involving telecom and media firms would eventually come to fruition, possibly including such kings of the industry as Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Viacom (NASDAQ:VIAB) or Apple (NASDAQ;AAPL), as major players try to create entertainment empires to stay relevant as consumers increasingly choose cheaper, digital alternatives.1

Indeed, as Bloomberg recently pointed out, both sides of this big merger had already been separately working to make it easier for consumers to watch more movies and TV shows online.2 Just last week, AT&T set a price of $35 a month for a web-streaming TV service, DirecTV Now, that will include more than 100 channels when it debuts in November. And Time Warner’s HBO rolled out an online version of its service last year for people who don’t pay for cable.

But this isn’t the first foray for a cable provider scooping up a major media company. In 2009, Comcast bought NBC Universal, while Verizon (NYSE:VZ) bought AOL last year and signed a deal earlier this year to purchase Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO).

Outside of those vertical acquisitions, pay-TV distributors have been merging to increase their negotiating leverage over the price increases media companies were charging for content. Earlier this year, Charter Communications (NASDAQ:CHTR) bought Time Warner Cable for $55 billion. Last year, AT&T bought DirecTV for $48 billion, creating the biggest pay-TV service in the country.

This moving and shaking has grown out of the changes in how we now consume content – which is pretty much everywhere. Increasingly, the lines between smartphones, TVs and computers is murky with every device simply existing as a different platform for our choices.

AT&T’s bet is that physical cables will matter less amid ubiquity of wireless devices, and that individual brands will be more important for media distributors in this era of cord-cutting and cable subscription unbundling.