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Singapore’s Internet Essentials (For the Poor): $4.37/Month for 100Mbps Fiber to the Home + Free Tablet

ida-logoWhile Comcast charges $9.95 a month for 5/1Mbps Internet access for the poor with school-age children, a Singapore ISP charges less than half that amount for 100/100Mbps fiber to the home broadband that includes a free tablet for the income-challenged.

Asia One reports the Home Access Programme was developed to fill a gap created by another program targeting homes with school children. While the NEU PC Bundle Programme provides poor homes with school age children a brand new computer, free software, and free Internet service for three years, the Home Access Programme provides affordable Internet access for childless households earning less than $1383US a month.

Qualifying customers will receive M1’s 100Mbps fiber broadband service, a free Internet router and a 7-inch Alcatel tablet for $4.37US/mo over a two-year contract.

“In Singapore, no one should be left behind by the march of technology,” said Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore. “IT usage often begins at home, so the Home Access programme will help lower-income households without Internet access to get connected to high-speed fibre broadband. Whether it is for video conferencing, surfing the Internet or simply maintaining contact with family and friends on social media, these Digital Inclusion initiatives are designed to help all groups to live, learn, play and feel included in a digitally connected Smart Nation.”

Comcast Refused to Allow St. Paul Man to Cancel Cable Service After His Home Burned to the Ground

Phillip Dampier April 13, 2015 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 4 Comments
Ware's home was destroyed, but his cable service lived on. (Image: Pioneer Press)

Ware’s home was destroyed, but his cable service lived on. (Image: Pioneer Press)

A St. Paul, Minn. man lost his home and everything in it after a wind-driven fire destroyed two North End homes on April 1.

As Jimmy Ware (66) tried to put his life back together, his daughter argued with Comcast to turn off cable service at her father’s address.

It took more than ten days and many phone calls to get the cable company to finally turn Ware’s service off, but not until it had managed to irritate his daughter, who wanted to spend her time helping her father find a new home and get back on his feet without the benefit of fire insurance, which Ware lacked.

Jessica Schmidt ran into a Comcast bureaucratic roadblock with the first phone call. Comcast insisted on getting Ware’s account number, which disappeared along with everything else in the fire. Because Schmidt was not listed as an authorized point of contact in Comcast’s records, she made a three-way call with her father to bring him into the conversation. The Comcast representative asked for the last four digits of his Social Security number, but even that didn’t satisfy, and Comcast refused to stop billing Ware for service.

“I’ve said to Comcast, ‘Here’s your choice, disconnect the service or send someone out to fix the cable, because it’s not working,’ ” Schmidt said in a story reported by the Pioneer Press. “The (Comcast) guy said, ‘That doesn’t make sense, because the house burned down.’ I said, ‘Exactly, shut the service off.’ ”

comcastNo.

Four or five calls later, Schmidt heard back from Comcast’s corporate office who finally agreed to cancel service, backdated to April 1st. They also promised Ware would not be bothered a second time from collection efforts to pay for the cable equipment burned in the fire that would normally cost hundreds.

Comcast explained it initially refused to cancel Ware’s cable service for his protection.

“We understand that this is a difficult time for Mr. Ware and apologize for the inconvenience,” wrote Comcast spokeswoman Mary Beth Schubert in a statement. “Comcast has safeguards in place to protect the privacy of our customers, including not allowing unauthorized users to make changes to a customer’s account. We do provide the option for customers to designate others, such as family members, to make authorized account changes and verifying an account can normally be done either over the phone or in person with a driver’s license.”

Ware’s neighbors had a better experience skipping Comcast’s customer service hotline and visiting a local Comcast cable store instead. With a family member present, the Comcast representative was able to locate the customer’s account details and canceled service without issue.

Net Neutrality Rule Changes At FCC May Open the Door to New Surcharge on Broadband Service

fccAs a consequence of reclassifying broadband as a utility service to protect Net Neutrality, the FCC may have unintentionally opened the door for a Universal Service Fund surcharge on broadband service.

Telephone customers have been accustomed to paying “USF” fees as part of their monthly phone bill since 1997. The average household pays just under $3 a month into the fund, which subsidizes four key programs:

  • Connect America Fund: Originally designed to subsidize telephone service in high cost rural areas, the program has increasingly shifted towards subsidizing broadband expansion in remote areas where private telephone companies won’t expand service without monetary assistance from the fund. In 2013, $4.17 billion was paid in the form of subsidies to mostly rural and independent telephone companies;
  • Lifeline: The Lifeline program pays up to $10 a month to a participating telephone or wireless company to subsidize basic telephone service for Americans living below 135% of the poverty line. More than 17 million households take part, most getting basic landline service for around $1 a month;
  • Rural Telemedicine: By subsidizing video conferencing and high-speed Internet access, rural doctors can consult with specialists in larger urban areas to help treat rural patients without the cost and risk of transporting the sick or injured to distant hospitals;
  • E-Rate: A needs-based subsidy program for schools and libraries seeking telecom services and Internet access. The subsidies help defray the cost of the services on a sliding scale, with rural and urban poor areas getting the largest subsidies.

feesThe fund has increasingly shifted towards Internet connectivity and service, but only telephone customers now pay a USF surcharge on their bill.

Net Neutrality critics warned that reclassifying broadband under Title II as a telecommunications service would open the door for new fees on broadband bills, some predicting as much as $11 billion a year in new fees. But because the FCC caps the amount of the fund each year, FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler predicted even if broadband customers are asked to contribute to the USF fund, the amount would be split between phone and broadband service, resulting in no additional out-of-pocket costs. Under that scenario, a phone customer currently paying $3 a month in USF charges would see that amount reduced to $1.50 a month on their phone bill, with a new $1.50 charge on broadband. The end amount is the same.

At least for now.

The FCC has been gradually increasing the size of the fund over the years, up 47% since 2004. Last year the FCC increased the fund by $1.5 billion to raise $8.8 billion from ratepayers nationwide. Most of the increase went to rural broadband deployment.

Industry-funded Net Neutrality critics are pushing a Los Angeles Times story about the potential for new fees, calling them ‘runaway government spending.’ But in perspective, the FCC’s $8.8 billion dollar effort to improve broadband accessibility is a fraction of the amount spent on highly controversial military projects. The F-35 Lightning II aircraft, for example, will cost taxpayers $1.5 trillion, and the Republican Congress approved $500 billion in extra funding this year for the project, funds above and beyond what the Pentagon requested. If that extra funding was spent on broadband improvements, every home in America could be wired for fiber optic Internet access. For $1.5 trillion, every home in the western hemisphere could be guaranteed broadband.

If USF fees are applied to broadband service, it is safe to expect your provider will pass along the fee as a new line item on your bill.

AT&T Fined $25 Million After Employees Sold Your Private Information to Shadowy “El Pelón” (The Bald Man)

El Pelon, sunburned but mighty happy AT&T call center workers were happy to oblige requests for private customer information.

“El Pelón”: Sunburned, running free, and mighty happy AT&T call center workers were happy to oblige requests for private customer information.

The Federal Communications Commission has fined AT&T $25 million after an investigation revealed AT&T customer service call center employees sold private, personal information regarding nearly 280,000 AT&T wireless customers to a shadowy figure or group known as “El Pelón,” which translates as a “bald man.”

During 2013 and 2014, employees in call centers in Mexico, Colombia and the Philippines sold customer information to third parties, presumably to help them reactivate stolen cell phones using the original owner’s contact information and at least the last four digits of the customer’s Social Security number.

When El Pelón called, more than a few AT&T employees listened and on request looked up the cell numbers given and provided customer information in return. A short time later, someone accessed AT&T’s website to submit unlock requests for the phone(s) associated with the account. Once unlocked, the phones could be sold almost anywhere around the world.

The investigation by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau began in May 2014 after three call center employees in Mexico accessed the private information of more than 68,000 AT&T Wireless customers. That information soon led to 290,803 handset unlock requests submitted by third parties.

AT&T then learned around 40 other employees in its Colombia and Philippines call centers were also providing private customer information in return for compensation. Another 211,000 customer records were involved in those data breaches.

In return for its lax security, the FCC has handed AT&T a record-breaking fine of $25 million, and ordered AT&T to beef up security and give affected customers access to a credit monitoring service for a few years.

“The commission cannot — and will not —stand idly by when a carrier’s lax data security practices expose the personal information of hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Americans to identity theft and fraud,” FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said. “As today’s action demonstrates, the commission will exercise its full authority against companies that fail to safeguard the personal information of their customers.”

AT&T has 30 days to pay or contest the fine. The FCC admits it still has no clear idea from AT&T exactly how many customers were victims of the ongoing data breaches. But AT&T promised to do better in the future.

“We’ve changed our policies and strengthened our operations,” AT&T said in a statement. “And we have, or are, reaching out to affected customers to provide additional information.”

N.Y. Broadband Improvement Fund to Public Broadband Networks: Don’t Call Us, We’ll Never Call You

A $500 million New York State broadband improvement fund is effectively off-limits for would-be community-owned broadband networks trying to deliver broadband service in areas for-profit providers have deemed unprofitable.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ambitious plan to revolutionize Internet access for New Yorkers depends almost exclusively on for-profit providers and the state’s largest cable operator, Time Warner Cable – the company that has so far received the largest share of state funds earmarked for better broadband.

Cuomo wants all of New York wired for 100Mbps service no later than 2018. His goal is ambitious because the overwhelming majority of upstate New York barely now receives a maximum of 50Mbps from Time Warner Cable, the only significant cable operator in the region.

The broadband map from N.Y. State shows 100Mbps service is available to most New Yorkers from Verizon FiOS, Cablevision, and a handful of municipal/co-op operators. Time Warner Cable only provides a maximum of 50Mbps service across upstate New York.

The broadband map from N.Y. State shows 100Mbps service is available only from Verizon FiOS, Cablevision, and a handful of municipal/co-op operators. Time Warner Cable only provides a maximum of 50Mbps service across upstate New York. Cablevision and FiOS compete on Long Island, Time Warner Cable Maxx competes with Verizon in New York City, and most of upstate New York is served by Verizon or Frontier DSL competing with Time Warner Cable.

Six months after the program was announced, Capital magazine reports the “New NY Broadband” plan is languishing with no defined guidelines, rules, or any clear sense about how the program will be implemented and the money spent.

Salway

Salway

In fact, one of the only clear statements coming from David Salway, a former telecommunications consultant who now administers the program, is that local governments should not bother applying because he doesn’t want them competing with Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and Frontier. It’s private enterprise only:

“The primary focus of our program is that we’re not going to be in the building business,” Salway said. He emphasized that municipal governments won’t be specifically precluded from receiving funds under the program, but said that the state is “wary” of “the government building and competing with the private sector. We see this as a provider partnership process where an incumbent provider or maybe a new entrant comes in.”

Local government leaders can read between the lines and most will not bother applying for funding if Salway’s vision guides the grant-making process. Instead, Salway wants to funnel money that effectively belongs to New York taxpayers into the pockets of for-profit providers like Verizon, Frontier, Windstream, Time Warner Cable and other providers that have consistently refused to expand their networks into rural areas on their own dime. The money earmarked for broadband is part of a $6 billion legal settlement the New York Attorney General’s office negotiated with Wall Street and commercial banks that helped plunge the country into The Great Recession.

statewide availability 1

statewide availability 2

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Broadband advocates across the political spectrum are slamming the broadband program for different reasons. Christopher Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self Reliance predicts providers will deliver bait and switch broadband on the taxpayer’s dime and send the proceeds out of the area.

“When you subsidize the private sector, you don’t really know what kind of services they’re going to provide in the future,” Mitchell said. “There’s a fair number that basically rip off consumers,” and they “basically extract resources from the community they serve.”

Mitchell

Mitchell

“The only clear beneficiaries of this program will be cable and Internet providers, who will have a new state subsidy to expand their footprints into areas in which their competitors have demonstrated an inability to operate profitably,” said Ken Girardin of the conservative Empire Center for Public Policy, in a scathing review of the New NY plan.

So far, Verizon has shown no interest in the program. It’s eventual intent is to decommission rural landline service and push existing customers to wireless service, so applying for wired broadband expansion funding isn’t a priority. The most likely applicants include Windstream, which serves a small percentage of rural New York telephone exchanges, Frontier Communications, which dominates Rochester and parts of the Finger Lakes region, and Time Warner Cable, which used earlier funding to connect two rural communities to its cable service. But all three companies are waiting for the program and its grant terms to be better defined.

With incumbent cable and phone companies reluctant to take part, there are several wired and wireless broadband initiatives in rural areas around New York starved of resources to expand their networks. The “white space” wireless broadband project in Thurman, for example, will be seeking funding to expand its wireless high-speed network into other parts of the community. Other initiatives could allow existing middle mile fiber networks in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region to explore building out “last mile” service to homes and businesses that now receive only DSL or no Internet access at all.

Salway promises he’ll consider funding networks that deliver the best broadband speeds for the lowest relative price in similarly sized communities. But all the money in the world won’t help if an existing phone or cable company shows no interest in serving unprofitable rural areas even after the state defrays the initial cost of placing the infrastructure to provide the service.

Mitchell believes local communities are best positioned to know what their residents want and many support publicly funded fiber technology rollouts. He points to Longmont, Col., a community that fought off propaganda mailers and a $300,000 marketing effort by CenturyLink and Comcast to defeat public fiber broadband in the city. The residents voted in favor of building their own network to move beyond the “good enough for you” broadband coming from the phone and cable company.

“The Longmonts of the country can decide to wait until these private sector companies decide its in their interest to finally build these fiber networks out, or they can say, ‘You know, we’re always going to be behind the greater technological curve of the nation,’ and do it themselves,” Tom Roiniotis, Longmont’s general manager, told Capital.

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