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Verizon’s N.J. Astroturfing Revisited: More ‘Phoney’ Pro-Verizon E-Mails Revealed

astroturf200New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities received more than 460 identical e-mails urging the regulator to approve Verizon’s proposed settlement permitting it to renege on broadband expansion commitments that would have brought high-speed Internet to every citizen in the state that wanted it.

More than a few of those e-mails were submitted with fake e-mail addresses or without the knowledge of the alleged senders. An Ars Technica piece this week confirmed Stop the Cap!’s own findings of the astroturf effort and found more customers denying they ever submitted comments to the BPU about the settlement.

“I am a customer only to Verizon and I was not contacted by them to submit anything,” one person told Ars. “If they did, I would’ve slammed them. They are gougers. If AT&T was where I lived, I would switch in a heart beat.”

When this customer was shown the e-mail he allegedly sent to state officials, he said, “That would mean someone did it on my behalf. I can assure you that I did not send that response.”

In other cases, Ars discovered some of Verizon’s vendors were misrepresenting the nature of the settlement and asking people they worked with or knew to sign the petition as part of a contest.

Verizon-logo“I hope you are doing well. I have a favor to ask,” one e-mail read. “I’m working on a project for our client, Verizon, and they need some signatures to an online petition. Verizon wants to expand its offerings in New Jersey, but needs approval from the state. Higher-speed Internet, more FiOS, etc.”

“All you need to do is enter your e-mail and zip code,” the message continued. “I appreciate it. We’re in a contest with another vendor to see how many people we can get to sign it. Just let me know yea or nay, so I can get the credit for it.”

Of course signing the petition would result in the exact opposite of more FiOS deployment and higher speed Internet access.

That online petition turned out to be hosted on the website of the astroturf group 60+ Association, which is funded by various corporations and works with D.C. lobbying firms who help corporate clients launch “social media” campaigns that appear to be spontaneous grassroots movements. The group only supports Republican candidates for office and is normally preoccupied with attacking health care reform with the major financial contributions it receives from the pharmaceutical industry. With Obamacare more or less settled, the group now also advocates for telecom companies without bothering to disclose any financial arrangement.

60plus

One of the lobbying firms associated with 60+ Association — Bonner & Associates, was implicated in a 2009 scandal when they were caught sending forged letters to members of Congress claiming to be from local minority and senior citizen groups. The lobbying firm quietly changed its name to Advocacy to Win (A2W), where it is still accepting clients that want to launch astroturfing campaigns.

One banking trade association gave glowing reviews for their work:

“You ran a well-honed operation recruiting, educating, and mobilizing grasstops/community leaders,” said the president of a ‘leading financial services trade association.’ The grasstops supporters you mobilized were well educated on the issue, advocated convincing arguments for our side, and most importantly were strongly vocal with stories of the local impact this issue would have on their customers/members of their organization.”

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The Washington Post’s Delusional Support of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger Debunked

corporatewelfareIf you have started to confuse the Washington Post editorial page with that of the Wall Street Journal, you are not alone.

Under the stewardship of Fred Hiatt, WaPo’s editorial opinions have grown increasingly anti-consumer and pro-corporate at home and decidedly neoconservative abroad.

It’s the same newspaper that wholeheartedly supported the merger of Comcast and NBC-Universal in 2010. Let’s check whether they called that one right:

Entities that compete with NBC-owned cable channels fear that Comcast will relegate them to hard-to-find channel locations. Consumer advocates warn that Comcast will use its newfound power to raise subscription rates and stifle new voices on television and the Internet.

The same newspaper reported last week that Comcast refused to let Back9Network, a golf oriented network in direct competition with Comcast-owned Golf Channel, on its cable systems.

For years, Bloomberg TV — in direct competition with Comcast-owned CNBC — has been stuck in Channel Siberia, in some areas like Chicago dumped between Comcast’s promotional “barker” channel and “Leased Access.” CNBC enjoys Ch. 29, certain to attract more viewers than Bloomberg’s Ch. 102.

As Stop the Cap! reported yesterday, no cable company raises cable television rates more than Comcast, blaming programming rate increases that in several cases originate with Comcast-owned cable networks.

Regulators should scrutinize the proposed merger but should be skeptical of the critics’ claims. [...] Advocacy groups have been poor prognosticators of the effects of large media mergers.

The Washington Post’s editorial accuracy record has more than a few blemishes, from its 2003 declaration Colin Powell’s “evidence” of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was “irrefutable,” to suggestions that a wedding of Comcast and NBC Universal wouldn’t hurt anyone because the FCC was ready to manage any problems without pesky mandates or overbearing pre-conditions.

The FCC already requires cable operators to deal fairly with competitors. Its rules would require Comcast to give competitors access to NBC content on “reasonable” and “non-discriminatory” terms. The company would also be required to negotiate in good faith about carrying non-NBC channels. Competitors who believed that they were harmed by unfair dealing could have their complaints adjudicated by the agency. Critics of the Comcast-NBCU merger claim that these mechanisms are ineffective and slow. But the breakdown of the complaint system should not be used as an excuse to impose onerous conditions on one company. Instead, critics should push for an overhaul of the system.

The Bloomberg case, now three years old, remains unresolved. That should tell readers something about just how quickly the FCC gets around to dealing with these kinds of complaints. Comcast has been able to argue its decision to bury Bloomberg and keep Back9Network off its cable systems are examples of ‘good faith, reasonable decision-making that doesn’t discriminate.’ It sued to quash Net Neutrality, critical for online video competition, and won.

The Post editorial amusingly insists that Comcast’s merger plans should not be interrupted because of an ineffective complaint system that can’t or won’t promptly deal with Comcast’s ongoing abuse of the very non-discriminatory rules the editors declare as a reason to support the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger.

Many of the same fears of domination and manipulation were raised with the 2001 merger of AOL and TimeWarner; that megadeal crumbled after a few years. Comcast and GE, which will retain a 49 percent stake in NBCU, should be allowed to proceed, and regulators should do their jobs and watch the newly formed company carefully.

Phillip "The Post's Naivete is Showing" Dampier

Phillip “The Post’s Naivete is Showing” Dampier

The 2001 merger of AOL and Time Warner came at the last gasp of the dot.com boom. As the New York Times noted, “In May of 2000, the dot.com bubble began to burst and online advertising began to slow, making it difficult for AOL to meet the financial forecasts on which the deal was based. The world began moving quickly to high-speed Internet access, putting AOL’s ubiquitous dial-up service in jeopardy.”

The final unraveling of AOL Time Warner came about because the combined company, highly dependent on AOL (and its stock value), could not sustain its business model when nobody could figure out how to get paid for content in the online world. AOL’s dial-up Internet access business was also rapidly in decline as the country started moving towards broadband.

“The consumer has access to everything and now it’s going to be on a handheld device, so what I call the rolling thunder of the Internet started actually to eat its own, which was AOL,” writes the Times. “AOL was the Google of its time. It was how you got to the Internet, but it was using some old media business ideas that were undone by the Internet itself, and that’s why Google came along.”

The same sad story is not true for Comcast or Time Warner Cable (which was spun off from Time Warner, Inc. as an independent company as part of a restructuring in 2009.)

Both cable companies are in a better place than AOL-Time Warner:

  • AOL relied on dial-up and reseller access to some broadband providers — neither sufficiently lucrative to sustain AOL’s dot.com-days value. Comcast/TWC own their own broadband networks;
  • Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse are the only significant multi-city broadband competitors for the cable industry. U-verse remains challenged by its technological limitations and Verizon stopped expanding FiOS. Google Fiber has a totally insignificant market share and is likely to stay that way for several years. Google Fiber provides no competition in the northeast where Comcast and Time Warner Cable dominate;
  • Comcast and Time Warner Cable both oppose community-owned broadband competition and Time Warner has successfully managed to push legislation virtually banning network expansion in several states;
  • Comcast will both own and control the pipes and a significant amount of the content that crosses its broadband networks. At the time of the AOL-Time Warner merger, online video competition did not exist in a meaningful way.
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97% of Romania Served by Fiber Broadband, Speeds Outclass United States

Phillip Dampier April 15, 2014 Broadband Speed, Competition No Comments

romaniaJust twenty-five years ago, Romanians under the dictatorship of Nicolae “The Genius of the Carpathians” Ceaușescu didn’t have to worry about the Internet. The country was plagued by electricity outages and economic austerity imposed to pay off the Romania’s foreign debt.

After the National Salvation Front dispatched Ceaușescu and his wife (and Communism) in a hailstorm of revolutionary bullets on Christmas Day 1989, Romania’s Euro-Atlantic integration began. Romania’s ancient eastern bloc telephone system was unsuitable for dial-up, much less broadband, so it was largely scrapped in favor of fiber optics in an effort to bring the country up to date with current technology.

Today, 97 percent of Romania is wired with fiber optic broadband. Some goes straight to the home, other providers rely on a form of Ethernet broadband, while fiber to the neighborhood networks predominate in smaller cities.

It is much the same story across the rest of eastern Europe, which has allowed those nations to leapfrog ahead of the United States in broadband speed rankings.

What also sets Romania apart from many other countries is the low price charged for high-speed Internet access. Broadband service at reasonably fast speeds can be obtained for as little as $10 a month.

The top 20 fastest Internet speeds according to average peak connection:

  1. Hong Kong, 65.4Mbps
  2. South Korea, 63.6Mbps
  3. Japan, 52Mbps
  4. Singapore, 50.1Mbps
  5. Israel, 47.7Mbps
  6. Romania, 45.4Mbps
  7. Latvia, 43.1Mbps
  8. Taiwan, 42.7Mbps
  9. Netherlands, 39.6Mbps
  10. Belgium, 38.5Mbps
  11. Switzerland, 38.4Mbps
  12. Bulgaria, 37Mbps
  13. United States, 37Mbps
  14. Kuwait, 36.4Mbps
  15. United Arab Emirates, 36Mbps
  16. Britain, 35.7Mbps
  17. Canada, 34.8Mbps
  18. Czech Republic, 34.8Mbps
  19. Macau, 34.4Mbps
  20. Sweden, 33.1Mbps

Source: Akamai

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Big Telecom Sock Puppetry Too Often Comes Without Full Disclosure

Larry Irving Old Job: administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). New Job: Shill for Big Telecom companies

Larry Irving
Old Job: administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
New Job: Shill for Big Telecom companies

Community-owned, publicly funded broadband networks are under renewed attack in various Op-Ed and guest editorial pieces popping up in newspapers around the country, often written by those with undisclosed industry connections as part of a larger effort to ban the networks.

The Hill in Washington, D.C. was one of the latest to go to print, publishing a hit piece attacking the “growing fascination with publicly funded broadband networks” and suggesting only the “private-sector” could deliver the best telecommunications networks.

In his piece, author Larry Irving stated, “the specter of governments operating broadband networks in competition with the private sector, or of state or local governments serving as both regulators and owners of competing broadband networks, could stifle investment or reduce private-sector access to capital.”

Irving added that “with the exception of bringing or improving service to remote geographies, I don’t see many problems that government-owned or -operated broadband networks will solve.”

Here is how The Hill described Irving: “CEO of the Irving Group and served for almost seven years as assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).”

That is like describing Oscar Pistorius as a man embroiled in marital difficulties. It doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Media Matters does:

Irving is more connected with the telecom industry than America is with fiber broadband. Irving is the founding co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), an IRS 501(c)(6) telecommunications trade association whose purpose is to “prevent the creation of burdensome regulations,” according to documents filed with the IRS. IIA reportedly receives financial support from AT&T and includes members such as Alcatel-Lucent and TechAmerica, which lobbies on behalf of technology companies. The group’s 2011 IRS tax form — the most recent one available – states it received over $18 million in revenue.

the-hill-logoWhile The Hill noted that Irving heads the Irving Group, it did not disclose that the firm provides “strategic advice and assistance to international telecommunications and information technology companies.”

The Hill op-ed comes after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, released a February 2014 report concluding that federally funded and municipal networks were faster and cheaper than comparable networks. Specifically, the GAO found:

  • “federally funded or municipal networks offered higher top speeds than other networks in the same community and networks in nearby communities.”
  • “prices charged by federally funded and municipal networks were slightly lower than the comparison networks’ prices for similar speeds.”
  • “according to small business owners, the improvements to broadband service have helped the businesses improve efficiency and streamline operations. Small businesses that use the services of these networks reported a greater ability to use bandwidth-intensive applications for inventory management, videoconferencing, and teleworking, among other things.”

Most of the industry’s initiatives against community broadband come through a close association with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a corporate funded group that provides ghostwritten bills to mostly Republican legislators for introduction in state legislatures across the country. One such bill virtually bans community broadband.

alec-logo-sm

Sponsored by corporate interests

ALEC is now under fire again for its annual “Rich States, Poor States” report, released this week. The publication, whose lead author is economist Arthur Laffer, is sold to the press as an objective, academic measure of state economic performance, but should instead be viewed more as a lobby scorecard ranking states on the adoption of extreme ALEC policies that have little or nothing to do with economic outcomes.

Internal documents obtained by The Guardian expose a close financial connection between the Koch Brothers and ALEC. It turns out the Koch family funds the production of “Rich States, Poor States,” which this year put deregulation friendly Utah at the top and ALEC-skeptical New York at the bottom. The report claims the state of Mississippi outperformed New York, a surprising and entirely false assertion. But getting ALEC model bills signed into law in Mississippi is far easier than getting them past New York’s Assembly and Senate.

Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker is a former ALEC member who signed 19 ALEC bills into law in his first two years in office, slashed government spending and controversially eviscerated state unions prompting mass protests in February 2011. Despite the fact Wisconsin still has one of the worst job creation records in the country, ranking 32nd nationally or 9 out of 10 in upper Midwest, ALEC has been kind to Wisconsin in its economic report, ranking the state 17th for its economic outlook.

Any state that permits publicly funded broadband networks to exist is in obvious economic peril in the eyes of ALEC (and member corporations including AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable.)

sockpuppetThe Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch suggests ALEC’s agenda for Big Telecom is to make life easy for your provider and more expensive for you. ALEC has three model telecom bills it pushes on state legislatures:

The ALEC “Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act” is a “model” bill for states to thwart local efforts to create public broadband access. Promoted under the guise of “fair competition” and “leveling the playing field,” this big telecom-supported bill imposes regulations on community-run broadband that they would never tolerate themselves. Iterations of this anti-municipal broadband bill passed in 19 states to stop local governments in communities like Wilson, North Carolina from wiring their communities with fiber.

The ALEC “Cable and Video Competition Act” attacks municipal cable franchises and frees cable companies from oversight. The bill creates a single state franchising authority and releases the companies from requirements to wire the entire state, and allows companies to decide when — or if — to build out cable, and through that cable, to provide adequate internet access. In North Carolina, for example, the bill passed under the name “the Video Service Competition Act” in 2006 with the promise that deregulation would result in greater investment by cable broadband providers; but instead, the state is tied for last place in terms of the number of homes with a basic broadband connection. An estimated twenty-three states have enacted statewide video franchising laws in recent years. Additionally, bills like this one harm public access television stations, since cable companies no longer negotiate with individual jurisdictions and pay the franchising fees that fund public, educational, and government access television.

The ALEC “Broadband and Telecommunications Deployment Act” would give telecommunications providers access to all public rights-of-way, and make it harder for local communities to charge franchising fees or otherwise regulate providers. Cable and internet is largely wired via publicly owned “rights of way” — like under sidewalks or along utility poles — and traditionally, telecom providers profiting from the use of these public goods would be granted access in exchange for some sort of accountability, such as paying for access or providing services on a non-discriminatory basis to all customers willing to pay. This bill would largely eliminate local control over public rights-of-way in favor of telecommunications providers.

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Comcast’s Cheerleader Kept His Connection to the Cable Giant Quiet At Last Week’s Senate Hearing

Yoo

Yoo

An ostensibly independent witness at last week’s Senate hearing on the pending merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable has been accused of keeping quiet about his conflict of interest.

University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Christopher Yoo was nothing less than an enthusiastic cheerleader of the merger deal, claiming it would never jeopardize cable competition. No “independent” witness testified as fiercely in support of the merger as Yoo.

But Yoo never bothered to disclose he has ties to Comcast’s chief lobbyist David Cohen, seated five chairs to his right. Cohen is the chairman of the board of trustees at the University of Pennsylvania. Comcast also contributes to the university in Philadelphia, Comcast’s corporate home.

Yoo was suggested as a possible witness to the ranking member, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who formally invited him to testify.

“I was stunned to see the committee would allow it, because of at least the appearance of a conflict,” one observer told the NY Post. “It’s a little odd.”

A spokeswoman for Grassley said Yoo had been approved by both the majority and minority members of the committee.

The Cohen-Yoo Penn connection was likely not known, the spokeswoman said.

“The views of any other person in the university administration do not have any impact on my academic views or any public statements I make,” Yoo told the Washington Post in defense against the charges of conflict of interest.

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Verizon Wireless to Acquire Central California’s Golden State Cellular

golden_state_cellular_logo_2The cell phone provider serving Yosemite National Park and the surrounding California counties of Tuolumne, Calav­eras, Amador, Alpine and Mari­posa has been acquired by Verizon Wireless.

The independent Golden State Cellular provides cell service in rural areas of the Mother Lode and cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia, largely bypassed by larger carriers since 1989.

Verizon had maintained a minority interest in the cellular company for several years and provided roaming service for the company outside of its home areas.

GSC operates as a partnership between several regional independent telephone companies.

Verizon would provide funding for 4G LTE upgrades and potentially expand coverage in tourist areas around the region.

The acquisition is awaiting FCC approval.

 

 

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Nobody Raises Rates Like Comcast: Since 2009 Up 68% for Basic, 21% for Expanded Basic Cable

comcast twcDespite arguing its merger with Time Warner Cable would result in greater discounts for cable programming, America’s largest cable company Comcast is already receiving the best volume discounts available but is not passing the savings on to customers.

No major cable operator raised cable television rates more than Comcast, according to a new study from Free Press. Since 2009, Comcast jacked up prices on its broadcast basic television tier by 68 percent. Its more popular expanded basic cable service saw rate hikes amounting to 21 percent over the same time.

In contrast, Time Warner Cable actually cut rates for broadcast basic cable by 2.5% and raised expanded basic prices by 17 percent.

Comcast’s top lobbyist David Cohen has made clear the company’s prices are going to keep rising even if the merger is approved. That is likely to give Time Warner Cable customers sticker shock if Comcast takes over. Comcast is likely to pass whatever cost savings it realizes from the merger back to shareholders, not to customers.

free_press_comcast_twc_video_price_hikes

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Deregulation Allows Lifeline/USF Fraud to Run Rampant; Tens of Millions Fund Lavish Lifestyles

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office released this mug shot of Leonard I. Solt, 49, of Land O’Lakes, one of three people accused of defrauding the federal Lifeline program out of more than $32 million.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office released this mug shot of Leonard I. Solt, 49, of Land O’Lakes, one of three people accused of defrauding the federal Lifeline program out of more than $32 million.

A lack of robust state oversight of independent contractors and resellers may have cost the Universal Service Fund and nationwide Lifeline program up to $1 billion in waste, fraud, and abuse.

This month, three men were accused of stealing more than $32 million in Universal Service Fund (USF) money that supported lavish lifestyles including the purchase of multiple luxury automobiles. The federal government wants the money back.

Leonard I. Solt, 49, of Land O’Lakes, Fla.,Thomas Biddix, 44, of Melbourne, Fla. and Kevin Brian Cox, 38, of Arlington, Tenn., all face federal criminal charges for allegedly padding the number of customers signed up for Lifeline phone service through five companies all connected to the men: American Dial Tone, Bellerud Communications, BLC Management, LifeConnex Telecom and Triarch Marketing.

In some cases, Lifeline cell phone service was completely subsidized by USF funding, allowing customers to sign up for free cell phone service. Average Americans cover the costs of the program through a surcharge on monthly phone bills.

The indictment charges the defendants with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 15 substantive counts of wire fraud, false claims and money laundering.

In an 18-month period from 2009 to 2011, the phone companies obtained more than $46 million through the Lifeline program.

Regulators have been suspicious of the companies and the men who ran them since at least 2010 when the Florida Public Service Commission noticed a dramatic spike in Lifeline reimbursement requests from Associated Telecommunications Management Services, LLC., the parent company of the five entities. The Florida PSC accused AMTS of misrepresenting customer enrollment when claiming reimbursement. It was not until June 2011 that the Florida PSC approved a settlement of $4 million from AMTS and an agreement to stop doing business in the state.

bellerudThe case illustrated several ostensibly-independent companies were created to market service across Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. Many had ties back to AMTS management. Despite the Florida settlement, the firms continued to do business in multiple states. Many of the states involved have deregulated the telephone business and have cut staff at state agencies tasked with oversight issues.

By the time the federal government moved in to prosecute, the three men had used USF funds to buy a private jet, a 28-foot boat and six luxury cars, including an orange Lamborghini, a red-bronze Chevrolet Corvette, a black Cadillac Escalade, a Chevrolet Suburban limo, a black Mercedes Benz S63 and a blue Audi R8.

free planLast week, government agents seized the vehicles from Biddix’s Melbourne-based pawn shop, Outdoor Gun and Pawn.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2013 that the FCC’s own data showed that more than 40% of the six million subscribers at five of the program’s top carriers were either ineligible or failed to show that they qualified for subsidized service. As more independent companies win authorization to start pitching Lifeline landline and mobile phone service to the poor, the cost of the program has skyrocketed to $2.2 billion last year, up from $819 million four years earlier.

The companies are reimbursed for providing service, providing an incentive to sign up as many as possible.

In Alaska, a GCI subsidiary, Alaska DigiTel hired a marketing company to help it sell Lifeline cell phone service. The company quickly began signing up patients in hospitals, using hospital addresses as their residence. It also encouraged applicants to list phony addresses. For four years, GCI profited from questionable  reimbursements filed with the FCC. GCI finally agreed to pay a $1.5 million settlement that includes no admission of liability.

Other providers simply used telephone directories to collect names and mailing addresses of “customers” and sent them unsolicited cell phones for which they requested reimbursement.

An Oklahoma provider that regulators suspect got exceptionally greedy allegedly signed up so many Oklahoma residents to Lifeline service, the state is likely to exhaust the supply of phone numbers remaining in the 405 area code sooner than expected.

Providers sometimes targeted customers disconnected for non-payment.

True Wireless received nearly $46 million under the program in 2012, bringing questions from Oklahoma’s Corporation Commission as to whether enrolling that many residents was mathematically possible. A cursory review found some customers had signed up multiple times in violation of federal rules.

In Wisconsin, the state Public Service Commission eventually revoked Midwestern Telecommunications Inc.’s ability to receive Lifeline funding after its overworked staff discovered MTI was mailing phones to customer that never requested them, billing the USF Fund for reimbursement. Some turned out to be children.

The scheme eventually began to unravel when a former Public Service Commission staffer received an unsolicited Lifeline phone. The alleged fraud was so great, MTI went from receiving 1% of Lifeline reimbursements in Wisconsin during the second quarter of 2010 to 33% of disbursements in the same quarter the following year.

The fraud also extends to Lifeline recipients, some who have bilked the program for free phones. A review of the Lifeline customer database revealed many customers had multiple Lifeline accounts, including some sent more than 10 free phones that were later reportedly resold on street corners.

Nationally, the $1.8 billion Lifeline Program subsidized phone service last year for 14.5 million low-income customers.

Customers are usually eligible if they are already enrolled in income-based programs such as Medicaid, food assistance or public housing, or if household income falls below 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ Lifeline Fraud 2-18-13.flv

WSJ’s Spencer Ante has details of a $2.2 billion government program to give cell phones to poor people that resulted in phones winding up in the hands of people ineligible for the program. (1:13)

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Cogeco Won’t Lower Your Bill; Warns Customers Not to Be “Victims” of Landline Cutting

Phillip Dampier April 14, 2014 Canada, Cogeco, Competition, Consumer News No Comments

cogecoDespite growing competition from Bell’s fiber-to-the-neighborhood service Fibe, now expanding into many of Cogeco’s outer suburban service areas, Cogeco will not negotiate a better deal for customers, preferring to emphasize its customer service and “right-sizing” bundles of services to best meet customer needs.

As a result of higher prices, Cogeco’s earnings and profits are up for the second quarter of 2014. In the quarter profits rose to $58.5 million — up from $48.9 million during the same quarter a year ago. Revenue rose to $518.4 million from $458.5 million.

“We don’t like competing on price,” said Cogeco CEO Louis Audet said. “I’m not saying it’s zero, but we really don’t like competing on price.”

Audet

Audet

Customers have been offered sign up discounts from Cogeco’s most aggressive competitor on pricing – Bell. But when customers in parts of Ontario and Quebec call Cogeco to negotiate for a lower price, they are largely being turned down.

Audet said Cogeco instead emphasizes that customers will receive better customer service from the cable company, and customer retention specialists are trained to adjust packages to emphasize the services customers want without cutting their cost.

“It’s a right-sizing exercise,” Audet said. “Maybe the person wants a little less video, but they want higher Internet speeds.”

Cogeco isn’t winning the battle to keep its price-sensitive customers, however. The company lost 10,305 subscribers in the second quarter, nearly double the amount lost in the same quarter a year ago. Cogeco now serves 1.96 million Canadian cable television customers.

Customers are also dropping their Cogeco phone service, a decision Audet said makes them “victims” of cell phones. Cogeco permanently disconnected 6,000 landlines in the quarter, up from 5,550 a year ago. It still serves 473,000 phone customers.

The company lost almost 6,000 telephone customers in the quarter compared with additions of 5,550 in the same quarter last year. It had more than 473,000 residential phone customers left.

Despite the customer losses, rate increases more than made up for lost revenue, giving the company a nearly $10 million boost in profits during the second quarter alone.

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More Phantom AT&T Fiber in Texas, North Carolina; Highly Limited Rollouts = Press Release Candy

phantom gigapowerAT&T U-verse with Gigapower is not coming to a home near you, although AT&T hopes you believe it will.

In the public and government relations arena, convincing everyone there is robust competition in broadband is a good prescription to keep the regulators at bay. To make that happen, AT&T continues to roll out more press releases than actual fiber to the home service, this time announcing it is planning to bring its fastest gigabit Internet service to “six cities in North Carolina” and more areas in and around Austin.

“The U-verse GigaPower fiber-optic service will be offered in parts of Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh and Winston-Salem, North Carolina,” AT&T said today in a statement.

But AT&T will not say exactly how many homes it will offer service to, but gave a clue mentioning it plans to connect as many as 100 businesses and 100 “public sites.” It also said it will provide a free, but slow-speed service to as many as 3,000 homes — something it can offer on its existing copper-fiber U-verse platform.

AT&T claims it is ‘racing’ to offer fiber service, but evidence suggests otherwise. Much of AT&T’s U-verse with Gigapower is turning up in condos, new housing developments, and other multi-dwelling units like apartments. Single family homes are evidently not a priority. AT&T’s costs to bring fiber to the back of a complex or large apartment building is lower than stringing or burying fiber to individual homes.

In Austin, one of AT&T’s major Gigapower expansions will come to communities under construction and condo complexes developed by PulteGroup. AT&T signed a favorable agreement with the developer to bring fiber into up to 3,000 homes. AT&T routinely signs similar agreements with developers that offer AT&T exclusive access to existing inside wiring and, in some cases, provide AT&T services to every resident, billed as part of the rent or neighborhood association service fees, deterring competition from cable operators.

AT&T likely selected the communities in North Carolina after receiving a Request For Proposals from a regional group called North Carolina Next Generation Network, which has enticed private providers to build gigabit fiber networks. The coordinated effort is led by six municipalities and four leading research universities and supported by local Chambers of Commerce and businesses in the Research Triangle and Piedmont regions.

With local governments directly involved in the initiative, AT&T was likely satisfied they would not face much difficulty from zoning and permitting procedures to expand their network, and might even receive favorable treatment.

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  • innovate: Verizon needs to come and deliver faster and more reliable FiOS services to all corners of United states. I can start up a new fibre optic company asa...
  • gboy: Can i get that with a metro pcs samsugm glaxy 4G lol just asking...
  • JLBodan: I switched to ACS about 3 months ago. It's only $89 per month and my family and I watch all the netflix movies, sports, pandora, vevo, etc...... witho...
  • Randy Knospe: I live in Wisconsin and I can see how many jobs Walker is creating. Funny how these Republicans say government doesn't create jobs (the private secto...
  • Tom Tanner: I have switched to ACS because of paying close to $300 dollars one month because everyone in my household at the time streamed music and movies, used ...
  • txpatriot: You're right Phillip, my bad....
  • Paul Houle: Well, the lifeline program dates back to before cell service existed. The new cell phone lifeline programs have the legitimate purpose of extendin...
  • Phillip Dampier: The Lifeline program is a regulated program, regardless of the technology, because it provides a government subsidy. You are correct the wireless serv...
  • txpatriot: Phillip, you blame this mess on deregulation, but deregulation actually has very little to do with it. First of all, the primary vehicle for this fra...
  • paul houle: If you go to nyc you see there are four starbucks on every block south of central park and that is a plot to fool the decision making class. Investor...
  • txpatriot: At this stage, participation for current customers is voluntary; see page 88 of the FCC Order authorizing the IP Transition trial: http://transitio...
  • txpatriot: What exactly does AT&T (or google, for that matter) hope to accomplish with these pre-launch press releases? I assume they are meant to build a...

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