Bulk Internet, improved DirecTV service coming soon

Posted on Tue, 07/01/2014 - 12:30pm

By Thomas C. Vaughan

DirecTV logo

Malibu East’s current five-year contract with DirecTV/USA Wireless is set to expire later this year. Coincidentally, the poorly performing high-definition (HD) telephone line system and the analog Lifeline channels are being phased out by DirecTV. As a result, Malibu East hired Bryan Rader of Bandwidth Consulting LLC, an industry consultant, and developed an RFP (request for proposal) in the first quarter that was sent to all Chicago-area service providers to explore our options. This RFP was built from the results of a February building-wide survey of owners and residents, which elicited 176 responses.

After a lot of work by the Cable & Communications Committee and the Board of Directors, beginning sometime in the third quarter, Malibu East residents will be provided 21st century Internet service and DirecTV’s latest product offerings through contracts recently signed with USA Wireless, a service partner of DirecTV, and HiPoint Technology Services. This article will explore the rationale behind this change and highlight your new service and its options.

Master television service

Malibu East is currently wired for its master television service with what is called a loop-through or series wiring system. This technology was common when our building was designed in 1970. However, such wiring has one major limitation: A failure at any point in the wire loop affects everything “downstream” of it. It is like old Christmas tree lights; when any bulb burns out in the line, this will cause the entire string of lights to go out. With this system, each unit in a tier shares television signals with a dozen or more units. A tap on each floor in the loop splits out that unit’s signal and sends the remaining signal onto the next floor. Unfortunately, many residents have experienced outages when a neighbor’s remodeling has disrupted the television service for all the units in their loop. Neither AT&T, Comcast nor DirecTV can utilize such a system; RCN can, but only with important drawbacks, including those cited above. New buildings today are built with what is called home-run wiring. I promise that this article will not be about the hapless Chicago Cubs, as home-run wiring has nothing to do with baseball. The term means that every condominium unit has a dedicated wire line straight back to the originating communications point.

DirecTV attempted to utilize its MFH3/telephone wiring system to deliver HD service in a home-run fashion to residents. Unfortunately, our 45-year-old copper telephone lines are showing their age and DirecTV’s technology for their use was not reliable. Most of the residents who experienced this HD service have not been pleased and, because of these facts, DirecTV is actually discontinuing support for this telephone wire technology. In spite of this unsatisfactory performance, our survey showed that 53% of our owners (21% of renters) wanted us to remain with USA Wireless/DirecTV. Based on discussions with the representatives of other high-rise buildings that are using DirecTV’s newer technology and home-run wiring, the committee determined that they have been very pleased with the reception, reliability and service. Our consultant, Rader, has said that, all other things being equal, it is preferable for a high-rise to stay with its current provider because of the inevitable problems inherent in switching providers. Rader additionally said RCN’s alternative suggestion of continuing to use our existing loop wiring system would not be a workable solution long-term.

Changing over to home-run wiring can be very disruptive, expensive and time-consuming. The existing three-quarter-inch conduit that holds the coaxial cable for our loop system and a sister unused three-quarter-inch conduit do not provide enough space to accommodate the individual wires for all 42 residential floors. In our February needs-assessment survey of owners and residents, we found that 82% of survey respondents wanted to upgrade the wiring system now, not later. When we took our request for proposal to the major service providers, we looked at their differing plans to provide modern wiring. With one exception, the four major service providers (AT&T, Comcast, DirecTV and RCN) wanted to either (1) run wire molding up our stairways, down our hallways and into each unit on the surface of the walls, or (2) attach a channel down the exterior facade of the building. You can view this last unattractive solution at a neighboring building on the west side of Sheridan Road. Either solution was not acceptable to the majority of members on the committee and our Board.

USA Wireless and DirecTV came up with a much more expensive and less visually intrusive plan to core through our balconies and run the twin wires of coax and Ethernet into units, entering about 12 feet from the existing loop-through system’s distribution boxes. This will finally give our building modern technology. For our protection, our outside engineering firm has vetted the structural components of this plan and it will be supervising the important elements of the project. The waterproof membrane’s integrity will be maintained with approved BASF sealant applied to each hole. The dual wiring technology of coax and Ethernet is expected to serve our building’s needs for up to two decades. The costs of this much more expensive project are being covered 100% by DirecTV, yet the rates in our contract remain competitive for service at $22.99 per month, a sizable decrease from the $32 we have been paying under the current contract. This covers one standard-definition receiver and DirecTV’s Choice multiple dwelling unit package, which includes about 150 channels, the majority of which are also in HD, and their music programming as we currently have.

Internet service

We found that close to 90% of our residents already had Internet service and 63% of the survey respondents stated that bulking high-speed service was “very important.” This was determined by analyzing the February survey results and other hard numbers supplied by Internet service providers. Bulk rates are much more attractive than an individual alone can negotiate.

HiPoint Technology Services is a locally owned company that has offered Internet services to residential and commercial buildings for 10 years. It partnered with USA Wireless to provide the Internet component for Malibu East’s needs. Each of our units will have a direct Ethernet connection to their fiber-optic-fed service. HiPoint also provides training and technology consulting for its clients. HiPoint’s customer service department is available by telephone 24/7. For individual unit service issues, field technicians make calls during normal business hours six days a week, often the same day. For broader system outages, they work round the clock to restore service on-site as soon as possible. These levels are spelled out in our contract, with the ability to cancel it should HiPoint not live up to this commitment.

HiPoint will supply 100 Mbps upload and 100 Mbps download Internet speeds. This is seen as a “market-leading” proposal. Other providers’ offers were generally in the 25 Mbps range. In essence, HiPoint’s bulk speed for us will be faster today than the fastest speed offered by RCN in Chicago (75 Mbps). Our 100 Mbps service, priced at $24 per month, is at a level equal to what most providers charge individuals for 4 Mbps service. This rate is guaranteed fixed for the five-year term of our contract. With today’s technology, the Ethernet delivery solution being installed can be used to deliver up to 10 Gbps (10,000 Mbps) of service. While few today require this degree of bandwidth, the world seems to be moving in this direction, and Malibu East will now be appropriately equipped to satisfy future needs.

Should you have a single computer, no additional equipment is necessary. The Ethernet cable can be directly plugged into your computer. Alternatively, it can be connected to a hub or wireless router to connect multiple computers, smart TVs, DVRs and other electronics. Once the installation of the new wiring has been completed, HiPoint will host a Genius Squad event in the Lobby, where representatives will answer residents’ questions and provide written estimates for any work the resident wishes to have done.


A preconstruction meeting is taking place in early July with all of the companies involved to coordinate the installation of this significant upgrade. The coring and running of wires will be done one tier at a time over an estimated seven-day period per tier. The crew will access each balcony from the outside with scaffolding. You will be given notice, and you will need to allow workers to have clear access from the front balcony rail to the white wall to the west of the bedroom next to the living room. The construction company will use a machine to core a one-inch to 2½-inch hole through your balcony surface, run the dual cables through it, seal and waterproof the hole, and install a white wire molding track to hide the cables against this white wall approximately 14 inches west of the bedroom window. The company contracted to do this work, Universal Construction Testing, uses ground-penetrating radar to position this coring away from perpendicular supporting rebar to maintain the structural integrity of our balconies. You can view a test coring and cable molding that was installed outside the fourth-floor Billiard Room. This is the same as the D tier placement.

Once these balcony items are completed, the contractor will need access to your unit to drill into this bedroom wall at electrical power outlet height. A white T-shaped exit molding will then be placed on this molding for your unit’s wires, which will enter your unit through a drilled hole into this bedroom. They will be placed into a wall box and then connected by coax wire into your existing cable distribution method for the coax. The Ethernet connection can be distributed either by a wireless router or directly to your electronics through an Ethernet cable.

The contractor will telephone for appointments to coordinate this interior work. With your approval and keys, the Management Office can use building personnel to give the workers access and represent your interests should you be unavailable. Management plans on keeping everyone informed of the ongoing progress as we go and will keep an updated lobby sign showing where things stand at any given time.

DirecTV options

Each unit will receive a basic receiver at no charge. However, because of our home-run connection, we will now be able to take advantage of the full range of DirecTV’s offerings, including their sophisticated Genie system where, for additional fees, “you can watch, record, pause, rewind, and delete shows in any room of your home, from a single Genie HD DVR. Moreover, your family can watch live or recorded TV in four rooms at once.”

After our rewiring and conversion to the new delivery system, Malibu East residents will, in some cases, be able to use their existing DirecTV equipment or, if not, USA Wireless will replace the electronics with the appropriate technology. Upgrading to higher levels of equipment capabilities (e.g., from SD to HD or to Genie) will call for an additional lease upgrade fee paid to DirecTV. New equipment fees range from $69 for a new SD receiver to $299 for the Genie product (plus applicable taxes). Expanding the number of receivers will incur monthly fees of $6 per receiver (regardless of type). Access to HD channels adds $10 per month, and having at least one DVR adds an additional $10 per month.

If residents choose any of these services at the onset of the project, there will not be any installation fees. DirecTV will offer discounts to residents who have had an account in good standing for a number of years. USA Wireless will be able to determine any discount as individuals sign up for our new service. Broader programming, such as their Xtra ($17.99 monthly), Ultimate ($29.99 monthly) and Premier packages ($77.99 monthly), are also available, with this additional fee paid to DirecTV in a separate billing. To put these numbers in perspective, the $22.99 that we are paying for our basic Choice programming is charged at $66.99 to retail subscribers, representing a 66% discount. A more detailed list of the various charges for equipment and programming will be available soon.

Our neighboring buildings’ systems

Many have asked what other neighborhood buildings have chosen. Other buildings have different circumstances and may have approached their negotiations with expectations different from Malibu East’s as determined in our building survey. Two of our neighboring buildings are with RCN. Buildings that continue to use their old loop master cable system will ultimately face the upgrade task that we are doing today at no cost to Malibu East.

With this change, Malibu East ends up owning two upgraded infrastructures, Ethernet and coax, on someone else’s dime. This is important, as it also gives us flexibility to consider any service provider in five years. In the interim, if either USA Wireless or HiPoint fails to live up to the terms of its agreement with Malibu East, we can terminate its contract.

Neighboring properties that are not rewiring now will be unable to consider Comcast’s XFINITY or AT&T’s U-verse without this complete upgrade. To be successful today, new buildings are expected to offer high-speed Internet service. It is believed that our home-run wiring and 100 Mbps Internet will give us a sizzle that will allow us to be more competitive in the condominium market, thereby increasing our property’s appeal.

Thomas C. Vaughan is the Board’s second vice president and chair of the Cable & Communications Committee.