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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.”

AT&T Barely Launches GigaPower U-verse in Houston… Another Fiber to the Press Release Irritates Locals

gigapower-600x315Houston residents excited by this week’s launch of AT&T U-verse with GigaPower have been quickly disappointed after learning the service is available practically nowhere in Houston and likely won’t be for some time.

The upgrade, offering up to 1,000/1,000Mbps broadband, was launched Monday with an announcement “select residents” in Bellaire, Pasadena, and northwest Harris County, Tex. will be the first to get the service.

Bellaire, known as the “City of Homes,” is a primarily residential community of 6,000 houses surrounded by the city of Houston. AT&T’s Houston headquarters are located in Bellaire, and the company maintains good relations with the local government. Larry Evans, AT&T’s vice president and general manager for South Texas told the Houston Chronicle that is a key factor for getting GigaPower upgrades. Evans said Bellaire, Pasadena and northwest Harris County have been very cooperative in clearing red tape and letting AT&T install fiber infrastructure for GigaPower with a minimum of fuss from permitting and zoning authorities.

Bellaire is a mostly residential community surrounded by Houston.

Bellaire is a mostly residential community surrounded by Houston.

The larger city of Pasadena, with a population approaching 150,000 is another case where close cooperation with the city government made the difference. The city council contracts with AT&T to supply telecom services to the local government as well.

As in other AT&T service areas, actual availability of GigaPower is extremely limited. A search of prospective addresses in Pasadena found service available in only a few neighborhoods. In Bellaire, only a few streets now qualify for service. We were unable to find a single address in “northwest Harris County” that qualified for U-verse with GigaPower, but AT&T claims that “surrounding communities” would also have access, without disclosing the names of any of them. That makes it extremely difficult to accurately use AT&T’s service qualification tool to verify coverage.

Jim Cale found he pre-qualified on the website for U-verse with GigaPower service, but his hopes were dashed when a representative informed him his order was canceled because, in fact, GigaPower was not actually available on his street.

“My neighborhood was wired with fiber to the home when it [was built] a few years ago,” shared “Ed From Texas.” “AT&T is the provider and that was one of its advertised features. Who do I need to harass at AT&T to get Gigapower turned on for us?”

Gene R. is in a similar predicament:

“I can’t even get U-Verse and I am two blocks from loop 610,” he said. “AT&T says they don’t know when it will be available. I suspect…never.”

Richard dumped AT&T in the past for not meeting the speeds U-verse advertises, but is hopeful an all-fiber network might finally bring better speeds.

pasadena“I dropped AT&T’s MaxPlus because I never got anything approaching the 18Mbps speed I was being billed for,” he wrote.

AT&T will sell several U-verse with GigaPower plans in Houston. The packages below include waivers of equipment, installation and activation fees, if you agree to allow AT&T to monitor your browsing activity:

  • U-verse High Speed Internet Premier: Internet speeds up to 1Gbps starting as low as $110 a month, or speeds at 300Mbps as low as $80 a month, with a one year price guarantee;
  • U-verse High Speed Internet Premier + TV: Internet speeds up to 1Gbps and qualifying TV service starting as low as $150 a month, or speeds at 300Mbps and qualifying TV service as low as $120 a month, with a one year price guarantee;
  • U-verse High Speed Internet Premier + TV + Voice: Internet speeds up to 1Gbps with qualifying TV service and Unlimited U-verse Voice starting as low as $180 a month, or speeds at 300Mbps with qualifying TV service and Unlimited U-verse Voice as low as $150 a month, with a two-year price guarantee.

These offers all include a provision in the service agreement allowing AT&T to spy on your browsing habits ostensibly to supply “targeted advertising.” But the terms and conditions do not limit AT&T from broadening its monitoring of your usage for other purposes. If you opt out, the price goes up to $109 monthly for 300Mbps service and $139 monthly for 1Gbps broadband and you will pay installation and activation fees.

AT&T says the monitoring is done purely to power its targeted ads. Some examples:

  • If you search for concert tickets, you may receive offers and ads related to restaurants near the concert venue;
  • After you browse hotels in Miami, you may be offered discounts for rental cars there;
  • If you search for a car online, you may receive an email notifying you of a local dealership’s sale;
  • If you are exploring a new home appliance at one retailer, you may be presented with similar appliance options from other retailers.

“You might receive these offers or ads online, via email or through direct mail,” says AT&T on their Internet Preferences page.

The “price guarantee” provision is actually a contract obligating you to stay with U-verse for 1-2 years or face an early termination fee of $180. AT&T also warns your Internet speeds will deteriorate “if two or more HD shows [are] viewed at same time.” Usage caps apply, as usual. GigaPower customers signed up for the fastest speeds receive 1 terabyte, or 1,000 gigabytes, of data per month. Customers will get warnings if they exceed the cap twice. The third time, and going forward after that, they’ll pay a $10 fee for each 50GB over the cap.

AT&T Gigabit Price Gouging in Cupertino, Calif.: $110/Mo (It’s $40 Less in Cities Where Google Fiber Competes)

Phillip Dampier April 2, 2015 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News No Comments

uverse gigapowerAT&T is rolling out its gigabit fiber service in Cupertino, Calif., but if you want it you will pay $40 a month more than those who live in cities where Google Fiber offers competition.

AT&T U-verse with GigaPower launched Monday in “select areas,” which traditionally means it won’t be immediately available to most customers. The San Jose Mercury News reports AT&T admitted the service will be available only to a few thousand homes for now in the city and refused to give a percentage of how many of Cupertino’s 20,000 homes would ultimately be able to get the service. AT&T is under no obligation to provide the service and can cherry-pick neighborhoods and skip past government buildings, schools, and hospitals. AT&T won’t give any commitments to the city on its gigabit service.

The company justifies charging $110 a month for the same service it charges $70 for in Austin, Kansas City and North Carolina because it can afford to test higher price points where competitors won’t steal their business.

“We are trying to understand how different markets respond,” Eric Boyer, senior vice president of AT&T U-verse told the Wall Street Journal.

AT&T doesn’t treat the home town of their corporate headquarters much better. In Dallas, Gigapower costs $110, down $10 from its initial price. As Time Warner Cable and Google ponder their own broadband upgrades in North Carolina, AT&T suddenly cut the price of GigaPower on Mar. 17 from $120 to $70 in Winston-Salem and Raleigh-Durham.

cupertinoAT&T customers who do not want the company to monitor their browsing activities have to pay $29 more for privacy protection, which opts them out of AT&T’s tracking systems. Despite the high-speed and price, AT&T still insists on usage caps for its most premium broadband offering. Customers can use up to 1TB per month, after which AT&T slaps overlimit fees of $10 for each 50GB customers use over their limit. Its primary competitors, including Google, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and Charter do not have usage caps. Boyer says he knows of no customer that has exceeded the 1,000GB usage cap. But that also brings the question if no customer has exceeded the cap, why have one?

More importantly, Boyer added the company isn’t yet offering services that would be exempt from the cap but might do so in the future. “We are open to a whole host of options,” he said. Critics would likely call that an end run around Net Neutrality.

Competition is the significant driver pushing AT&T and other providers to accelerate broadband upgrades and lower prices for higher speed tiers. In markets where cable operators face DSL competition from the phone companies, speeds are lower and prices are higher. Where an incumbent announces major upgrades like GigaPower or Time Warner Cable Maxx, competitors are forced to respond with upgrades of their own.

That leaves cities served by independent telephone companies like Frontier, CenturyLink, and Windstream at a distinct disadvantage because none of those companies have announced sweeping broadband speed increases and have relied instead on acquired fiber networks (Frontier FiOS and U-verse), limited fiber rollouts (CenturyLink) and incremental speed increases using VDSL and bonded DSL (all three). Frontier claims its customers are not interested in faster broadband speeds.

The northeastern United States has seen only one major market disruptor — Verizon FiOS, and it has shelved future expansion. Dominant cable provider Time Warner Cable has not seen its market share hurt much by limited DSL speeds offered in many areas by Verizon, Frontier, and FairPoint Communications. It continues to offer a maximum of 50/5Mbps broadband in upstate New York, Maine, and Massachusetts.

Apple Stores Accused of Allowing Crooks to Buy Smartphones and Bill Them to Random AT&T/Verizon Customers

Phillip Dampier March 12, 2015 AT&T, Consumer News, Verizon, Video, Wireless Broadband 1 Comment
KMGH Denver reporter Marshall Zelweger holds up some of the emails received in the newsroom from victims that had new iPhone 6 smartphones billed to their account. (Image: KMGH-TV/Denver)

KMGH Denver reporter Marshall Zelinger holds up some of the 50 emails received in the newsroom from victims that had new iPhone 6 smartphones billed to their Verizon Wireless account in February. (Image: KMGH-TV/Denver)

If you want a new iPhone 6 and don’t want to bother paying for it, buy one from an Apple store and they just might bill your purchase to a unknowing third-party with few or no questions asked.

The scam, which first emerged last month, has now spread coast to coast and now involves more than 100 illegally obtained iPhones that victims complain were billed to them with little or no verification by Apple or wireless carriers. Many of those orders, but not all, originated inside Apple retail outlets and AT&T told one Connecticut victim they are being hampered in their fraud investigation by Apple, which is allegedly not cooperating with the wireless carrier.

In Denver, dozens of victims shared their stories with KMGH-TV back in February when the fraud first appeared.

“We have heard from more than 50 customers who said their accounts have been charged for new iPhone 6s, and new service plans or altered service plans, that they never requested,” reporters told viewers.

Verizon Wireless and their customers were the original targets, and Verizon initially blamed their own customers for the fraud.

Denver area resident Terri Olson was livid after Verizon accused her son of ordering new iPhones on her business account.

“He happened to be in the office that day,” said Olson. “We’re like, ‘Wow, he’s here. He’s not on the phone with Verizon.'”

Verizon promised it would drop the charges and tighten security on her account, but two days later, Verizon called confirming they had just accepted and shipped an order for four new iPads.

“She explained to me that she had my son on the other phone line, on hold. Funny thing, he was here with me,” Olson told KMGH. “We proceed, later that day, to get an email confirmation from Verizon that our order is shipping to Henderson, Nevada — (the order) that was supposedly stopped.”

Olson was able to get FedEx confirmation the four iPads were indeed sent to Henderson and signed for by someone, and it was not her son.

“It’s no way to run a business. If I did this to my customers, oh my God, we’d be out of business,” said Olson.

A few days later, more than $2,000 in fraudulent charges showed up on her Verizon bill, and the company was stalling on crediting her account.

“Basically, I’m risking my entire fleet of cell phones and data plans and iPads and everything because I don’t want to pay thousands of dollars ahead, waiting for this supposed credit,” said Olson. “I have already gone up the food chain. I’ll continue to go up the food change. We’re not taking no for an answer.”

Another Denver victim suddenly received news he was the proud new owner of four new iPhone 6 smartphones from Verizon Wireless, despite the fact he was an AT&T customer and had never authorized the purchase of the phones or the two-year contracts that came with them. A Verizon store told him if he didn’t return the phones, he’d be on the hook for their full value — $449 each as well as $160 in service charges.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KMGH Denver More than 50 Verizon customers tell 7NEWS they are victims of unauthorized charges on their accounts 2-10-15.mp4

In February, KMGH in Denver reported more than 50 viewers were billed for illegally obtained Apple iPhones charged to their Verizon Wireless accounts. (2:35)

Verizon couldn’t believe the security problem was on their end or at their authorized resellers, so they initially blamed customers in a statement:

As we have stated before, there is no evidence of a data breach at Verizon Wireless that would put our customers’ information at risk. In order for us to look into this further, we will need to work with our customers one-on-one.

In fraud cases, we often find customers have been tricked or persuaded to provide information that allows fraudsters to compromise their accounts. But without the further information you have offered to provide on these particular cases, we cannot determine what has happened.

That triggered a social media backlash.

“For them to suggest that this was phishing and effectively blame the customer is even more appalling,” wrote one victim. “I realize phishing happens too and folks are duped, but that is not the way this happened in my case.”

A North Carolina church was billed for 17 illegally-obtained iPhone 6 smartphones, totaling more than $10,000. (Image: WAVY-TV/Norfolk)

A North Carolina church was billed for 17 illegally-obtained iPhone 6 smartphones, totaling more than $10,000. (Image: WAVY-TV/Norfolk)

Verizon Wireless has been the victim of phishing attempts inviting customers to use their Verizon Wireless login credentials and a four digit billing code which many might assume to be the last four digits of their Social Security number to get a one-time credit on their account. The link actually leads to a fraudulent website, where information obtained by the hacker could be used to log into a legitimate customer’s Verizon Wireless account. But a Verizon store representative tells Stop the Cap! that alone would not be enough to complete a purchase at a retail store.

“A phishing fraud victim would be providing the crook login information that could be used to order equipment off Verizon’s website, which seems to be a lot less risky than walking into a retail store to commit fraud,” a Verizon store employee not authorized to speak to the media tells Stop the Cap! “Verizon confirms direct online orders right away with customers, so they would know immediately if there was something wrong with their account. They wouldn’t usually know if a third-party retail reseller billed a phone to their account until the bill or the phone came.”

After the number of fraud reports ballooned, Verizon Wireless evidently tightened its own internal security because by late February, the fraudsters moved on to AT&T.

In Hartford, Conn., Meg O’Brien found out she was a victim when her own phones stopped working.

“Three of our four phones had no service,” O’Brien told Hartford’s WFSB-TV. When she called AT&T, they knew straight away what was happening. “They responded by saying ‘oh – hold on a minute – there’s obviously some fraud…you have three new iPhone 6’s’ and I said ‘ah no we have no iPhone 6’s’.”

AT&T told O’Brien she was far and away not the only victim, and AT&T was concerned because Apple reportedly was not cooperative assisting AT&T in tracking down the Apple retail store(s) where the theft originated. AT&T did confirm the thieves were able to acquire the equipment by charging it to random AT&T wireless accounts.

The Apple store(s) involved allegedly did not need proof of identity or a credit card to complete the transactions, and that leaves O’Brien fuming.

She told WFSB she found it unbelievable Apple stores were handing out phones to customers with nothing more than an AT&T customer’s phone number, and she’s unhappy Apple isn’t being forthcoming.

“So I have no idea what other information has been sold or bought or anything,” O’Brien said. She is filing a complaint with Connecticut’s attorney general.

An Apple spokesperson tells us nobody is supposed to be able to walk out of an Apple store with a new phone without a complete wireless account number, the last four digits of the account holder’s Social Security number, photo ID, and final approval from a wireless carrier. Apple claims the purchase met all four criteria, something O’Brien disputes.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WFSB Hartford Hacker charged 6 iPhones to woman ATT account 3-11-15.mp4

WFSB in Hartford reports AT&T customer Meg O’Brien was victimized by fraudulent purchases at an Apple retail store Apple is refusing to name. (2:39)

The Fountain of Life Ministries in Elizabeth City, N.C., has been victimized at least twice by a crook using the church’s name to get at least 17 iPhone 6 smartphones for himself, leaving the church with the bill from AT&T.

special reportChurch employees first learned they were targets when the thief tried to acquire the phones from Verizon Wireless, which apparently learned its lesson from earlier fraud cases and rejected the purchase.

AT&T was more receptive, authorizing the purchase of more than a dozen phones bought on different days.

“I’m just amazed somebody would do that,” Pastor Preston Pitchford told WAVY-TV.

Church employee Christy Wells was even more stunned when the bill arrived.

“When I saw it was from AT&T, I was like, I know this has got to be him. He probably succeeded,” Wells told WAVY. “I see a charge to Fountain of Life for $10,000, and I knew that wasn’t for us. Who would even think to do something like this?”

The church doesn’t use iPhones and doesn’t have an account with AT&T.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WAVY Norfolk Church billed 10K for fraudulent iPhone purchases 3-3-15.flv

The Fountain of Life Ministries in Elizabeth City, N.C. was victimized twice by iPhone 6 fraud. Verizon Wireless rejected the fraudster’s first attempt, but AT&T accepted his second… for 17 iPhones. From WAVY-TV in Portsmouth, Va. (2:12)

It Takes More Than the Population of Atlanta to Cover AT&T Executives’ Lavish $55 Million in Salaries

Phillip Dampier March 11, 2015 AT&T, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News 3 Comments

fat cat attThe city of Atlanta has a population of just under 450,000. Assuming each resident subscribed to AT&T U-verse and paid an average of $100 a month apiece, that would total around $45 million, ten million less than what AT&T lavished on its top four executives in 2014:

  • AT&T CEO (and President and Chairman) Randall Stephenson’s 2014 compensation reached $24 million (up 3%);
  • Chief Financial Officer John Stephens’ total compensation shot up to $10.1 million (up 36%);
  • Head of AT&T’s Mobility (wireless) division Rafael de la Vega’s got a 14% raise to $10.1 million;
  • Chief Strategy Officer John Stankey strategized a way to grab a 33% pay raise for himself: $10.2 million.

While its top executives enjoy their Money Party, AT&T announced this week it would take a charge of $130 million to cover the “retirement” of nearly 3,000 workers who took the hint it was time to go. Fewer workers means more money for Randall & Co.

AT&T separately announced it has introduced rate increases for 2015 to boost needed revenue for its U-verse television and broadband platform. It also announced a 15% cut in investments in its network expansion and upgrade efforts for 2015.

Lawsuit Plaintiff Byron Allen: Comcast Uses ‘Least Expensive Negro’ Al Sharpton to Cover Up Discrimination

Allen

Allen: Comcast thinks “Give Sharpton $50,000 and a bucket of chicken and we’re good.”

A $20 billion racial discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of black-owned media companies has uncovered alleged ties between executives of Comcast and Time Warner Cable and public officials who have allegedly helped cover up cable industry discrimination, price-fixing, collusion, and illegal payoffs.

Byron Allen, chairman and CEO of Entertainment Studios, in a blitz of eyebrow-raising interviews, accuses the two cable giants of putting minority-owned channels in the back of the bus, while falsely claiming black celebrities are the owners of minority networks that are actually controlled by former Comcast executives and private equity firms.

“Comcast has, in essence, created a ‘Jim Crow’ process with respect to licensing channels from 100 percent African American–owned media,” the suit reads, according to The Huffington Post. “Comcast has reserved a few spaces for 100 percent African American–owned media in the ‘back of the bus’ while the rest of the bus is occupied by white-owned media companies.”

The lawsuit, filed against Time Warner Cable, Comcast, the Urban League, the NAACP, former FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, claims the defendants are taking payoffs from the two cable giants and colluding to promote their business agendas and give minority support to their mergers and acquisitions.

“The industry spends about $50 billion a year licensing cable networks in which 100 percent African American-owned media receives less than $3 million per year in revenue from that $50 billion stream of money that is spent to acquire content,” he said.

Under normal circumstances, many African-American civil rights organizations would immediately raise a ruckus over the imbalance, but Allen alleges Comcast and Time Warner Cable have bought their silence, and in the case of Al Sharpton, his loyalty and support.

Byron Allen accuses Comcast of locking out 100% black-owned networks.

Byron Allen accuses Comcast of locking out 100% black-owned networks.

“Instead of spending real money with real, 100 percent African American-owned media, it is easier to give [Sharpton] $50,000 to give them a cover,” he said. “‘Give [Sharpton] $50,000 and a bucket of chicken and we’re good.'”

Allen called Sharpton the “least expensive negro” Comcast could find, and rewarded his loyalty with a $750,000 annual salary hosting a barely watched nightly show on Comcast-owned MSNBC.

“Why is Sharpton on TV every night on MSNBC? Because he endorsed Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal,” Allen said. “He signed the memorandum of understanding back in 2010. He endorsed the merger. Next thing you know we’re watching him on television trying to form a sentence. Every night we have the privilege of watching adult illiteracy.”

Attwell-Baker is a defendant for her highly visible warp speed trip through D.C.’s revolving door, as the former Republican FCC commissioner seemed to be writing her resignation letter seconds after voting in favor of the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger, quickly accepting a high paid lobbying job with the cable company.

“President Obama promised us transparency, hope, and change,” he said. “And what happened in the Obama administration is former commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker voted for the merger of Comcast NBCU and then 90 days later took a much higher paying job with Comcast after granting them the merger. That was betraying the public’s trust as a public service.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/HuffPost Byron Allen 2-27-15.mp4

Watch the HuffPost Live interview with Byron Allen, who reveals who really owns the minority channels Comcast brags about. (7:37)

“President Obama has been bought and paid for. He has taken donations from Comcast. Comcast is his biggest contributor,” he added. “AT&T is one of his biggest contributors. Listen, Obama, your own FTC is investigating AT&T for throttling. How can you even consider them to buy DirectTV when you’re suing them? Is it because you took donations? Yes, Obama. Don’t even think about letting them merge until they settle this lawsuit and that lawsuit.”

Sharpton

Sharpton, in addition to being a regular supporter of Comcast’s various business agendas, also hosts a nightly show on Comcast-owned MSNBC, for which he is paid $750,000 a year.

“AT&T spent more money on Al Sharpton’s birthday party than they have on 100 percent African-American owned media combined,” Allen said. “He (Sharpton) should return the money because AT&T doesn’t even celebrate Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday. The employees there take it as a sick day.”

Apart from Allen’s inflammatory appearances on cable news, his lawsuit does bring to light several important new facts about Comcast’s claims it supports minority-owned channels. Allen’s lawsuit alleges many of those channels are actually secretly owned and controlled by former Comcast executives, private equity firms, and Wall Street banks.

  • Aspire is controlled by Leo Hindery and Leo Hindery is not black. They don’t pay Aspire any subscription fees. Aspire is free,” said Allen.
  • “Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs’ network Revolt TV is controlled by a private equity firm called Highbridge Capital. The person who runs Highbridge Capital is a former Comcast executive named Payne Brown. Highbridge Capital is owned by JP Morgan. On the board of JP Morgan is Steve Burke, the number two executive at Comcast,” said Allen.

These revelations are important because Comcast promised to create and carry minority-owned channels as part of several conditions mandated by regulators to approve the 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal. Allen claims Comcast has broken its commitment and instead created “token front” networks or minority network “window dressing” that feature well-known African-American celebrities that pose as owners of the networks, but in fact they are controlled by white-owned businesses.

The lawsuit claims Comcast carries only one 100% African-American owned and controlled network — the Africa Channel. But dig a little deeper and you find the network is owned by a former Comcast/NBCU executive that played a critical part organizing minority group support for the NBCUniversal buyout.

Comcast and Sharpton’s organization both dismissed the lawsuit as inflammatory and frivolous.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Sharpton called black pawn in white game 3-1-15.flv

Byron Allen appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources and called Sharpton “a black pawn in a very sophisticated white economic chess game. He’s being used by his white masters at Comcast and AT&T. He just needs to shut up and get in the bleachers.” (7:12)

CNBC (Comcast)’s Magic Box of Tricks and Traps: The Hit on Tumblr Founder David Karp Debunked

Uh oh... deer in headlights moment for Tumblr founder David Karp.

Uh oh… deer in headlights moment for Tumblr founder David Karp.

Net Neutrality opponents today made hay about an underwhelming, sometimes stumbling debate performance by Tumblr founder David Karp, who was inexplicably CNBC’s go-to-guy to explain the inner machinations of the multi-billion dollar high-speed Internet connectivity business.

TechFreedom, an industry-funded libertarian-leaning group spent much of the day hounding Karp about his “painful, babbling CNBC interview.”

“Those pushing #TitleII have NO FREAKING CLUE what it means,” tweeted TechFreedom’s Berin Szoka.

BTIG Research devoted a whole page to the eight minute performance, where Karp faced interrogation by two CNBC hosts openly hostile to Net Neutrality and another that expressed profound concern the Obama Administration would over-enforce Net Neutrality under Title II regulations. CNBC is owned by Comcast, a fierce opponent of mandatory Net Neutrality.

“Given the importance of Net Neutrality and the central role played by Tumblr’s Karp in getting us to this point, we thought it was very important for everyone to watch his interview earlier today on CNBC in its entirety,” wrote Rich Greenfield, noting the “best parts” (where Karp appeared like a deer frozen by oncoming headlights) were encapsulated into an extra video clip.

Greenfield referred to a Wall Street Journal piece in February that suggested access means everything when it comes to D.C. politics:

“In a lucky coincidence, Tumblr Chief Executive David Karp, who attended the meeting in New York, found himself seated next to Mr. Obama at a fundraiser the following day hosted by investment manager Deven Parekh.

Mr. Karp told Mr. Obama about his concerns with the net-neutrality plan backed by Mr. Wheeler, according to people familiar with the conversation. Those objections were relayed to the White House aides secretly working on an alternative.”

That was sufficient for some to imply Karp was a powerful influence over the president’s sudden pronouncement last November that strong, all-encompassing Net Neutrality was the was to go.

CNBC’s hosts grilled Karp, asking him to prove a negative, set up false premises for Karp to defend, and repeatedly cut his answers off. At the same time, Karp was clearly unprepared and often did not have his facts in order.

Stop the Cap! sorts it all out.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Tumblr Net Neutrality 2-24-15.flv

Nobody’s shining moment on the Net Neutrality debate on CNBC featuring an unprepared David Karp, founder of Tumblr vs. the B-team at CNBC – lackeys with an agenda who can’t wait to interrupt. Truth comes in last place. (8:18)

CNBC Claim: “If you talk to AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, he will say right now they have more capital expenditures than any company in America … and if you turn it into a utility it will not be profitable to continue investing like that.”

Fact: AT&T does invest heavily in its network but also enjoys very healthy returns on that investment. In 2014, AT&T was expected to end the year spending about $21 billion, primarily on its highly profitable wireless network. Last week, USA Today published a list of the top 12 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 that boosted capital spending by 40% or more in the past 12 months and spent at least 15% of revenue on capital expenditures. AT&T was not on it. Outside of claims from telecom companies and their lobbyists, there are no plans by the FCC to turn broadband into a regulated utility.

Karp Claim: “There is a tremendous amount of throttling going on right now.”

CNBC Question from Alternate Universe of Fair, Balanced Journalism:

CNBC Question from Alternate Universe of Fair, Balanced Journalism: “In general, do you think heavy-handed government regulation is a good thing or a bad thing for an industry?”

Fact: “Throttling” is not well-defined here. There is intentional throttling among certain wireless companies, usually under the guise of “fair access policies” and usage caps, and there is throttling as a side effect of congestion in two areas: backbone connectivity among certain ISPs and wholesale traffic handlers and last mile congestion among providers, especially those offering DSL in rural areas, where multiple customers share access to a limited capacity middle mile network. There is no evidence that any significant wired providers are intentionally throttling the speeds of services except as part of a fair access policy or a purposeful lack of investment in network upgrades.

CNBC Claim: “You have a monopoly because it is really expensive to build the pipes so you have not had multiple people who will build pipes to the door.”

Fact: The capital cost required to offer wired broadband service to each home is a clear deterrent for many providers, but not an insurmountable one as Google and community-owned providers have demonstrated. The cable industry won early protection from competition in exclusive franchise agreements that calmed investor fears that the enormous cost of wiring communities for cable might not be repaid if a competition war broke out. AT&T later fought for and won statewide franchising agreements and considerable deregulation in many states where it provides U-verse, arguing regulatory burden reduction would enhance competition. But the same large cable and phone companies that achieved deregulation for themselves have lobbied heavily to regulate and banish community-owned providers from getting off the ground by encouraging the passage of restrictive state laws making such competition nearly impossible.

CNBC Question: “In general, do you think heavy-handed government regulation is a good thing or a bad thing for an industry?”

Our reply: Really?

Karp: I think a bright line rule that sort of spells out these foundational principles that we believe in… I think the Bill of Rights is a good thing… even without getting into the weeds, spelling out something like the First Amendment that says this is a truth that we believe… (cut off).

CNBC: I don’t see how that is an answer at all comparing this to the Bill of… I understand the Bill of Rights but… has there been a problem up to this point where you feel that people… that Net Neutrality has been violated.

Karp: We’ve had instances where companies like Comcast have tried to block whole protocols and shut off consumers access to new innovative parts of the Internet.

Traffic congestion problems on many major ISPs were limited to Netflix traffic, until Netflix began paying for peering connections with problem ISPs.

Traffic congestion problems on many major ISPs were limited to Netflix traffic, until Netflix began paying for peering connections with problem ISPs.

Fact: In 2007, Comcast installed new software or equipment on its networks that began selectively interfering with some of Comcast’s customers’ TCP/IP connections. The most widely discussed interference was with certain BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing communications, but other protocols were also affected. The case led to an effort by the FCC to introduce open Internet traffic rules in 2010 which Comcast later defeated in court. At no time did Comcast completely block access – it simply impeded it, reducing customer speeds only while using those services.

A CNBC host then challenged Karp to prove a negative on AT&T’s plans to pull back investment in its network expansion.

“How has it been disproven that he’s not actually going to pull in on his buildout of more infrastructure?”

Fact: On Nov 7, 2014 – a week before President Obama unveiled his support for strong Net Neutrality policies – AT&T announced at least $3 billion in capex reduction (or “pull in” to quote CNBC) for 2015 in a press release on its acquisition of Mexico Wireless Provider Iusacell:

AT&T’s VIP-related capital investment levels will peak in 2014, as the company has said previously. As a result, AT&T expects its 2015 capital expenditure budget for its existing businesses to be in the $18 billion range. This will bring the company’s capital spending as a percent of total revenues to the mid-teens level — consistent with its historical capital spending levels.

Even after AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was announcing cutbacks in capex, his office was releasing press releases claiming a major expansion of AT&T’s gigabit fiber upgrades for U-verse, claims Stop the Cap! have found to be grossly exaggerated.

Stephenson made the mistake of putting the cart in front of the broadband horse, making it impossible to credibly claim he was reducing his capex budget because of a Net Neutrality policy that had not even been announced yet.

CNBC Claim: “It doesn’t mean someone will pay for it if they are losing money as a result.”

Fact: None of the providers mentioned by CNBC have lost any money provisioning broadband service. In fact, broadband is becoming the new profit center of the industry, netting higher revenue after adjustments for cost than any other part of the cable package.

Another exchange:

CNBC: “If you look at Netflix traffic, sometimes it is 80 percent of the network’s nighttime load.”

Karp: “The consumers are paying for it and Netflix is already paying for it.”

CNBC: “I am not a Netflix user and it ticks me off I have to subsidize everybody that is doing that. Why do I have to pay for that?”

Fact: The CNBC host is being disingenuous and inaccurate. Although Netflix traffic can constitute 80% of the evening traffic load, the customers accessing Netflix paid both Netflix and their ISP for that traffic. Whether or not the CNBC host uses Netflix or not is irrelevant. Assuming she is a Comcast or Time Warner Cable customer, last mile congestion that could impact her enjoyment of the Internet was never an issue under DOCSIS 2, has been rendered a non-issue under the current DOCSIS 3 standard, and will remain a non issue going forward.

The traffic dispute between Comcast and Netflix only affected Netflix viewing. The CNBC host need not subsidize Netflix or anyone else. Netflix offers free peering services and equipment to any ISP that wants it. Comcast refused to take part, demanding financial compensation instead. It then raised rates on customers anyway. Her beef is with Comcast, not Netflix.

AT&T Expands 75Mbps U-verse Speeds in Seven Cities, But You Probably Don’t Qualify to Get Them

Phillip Dampier February 10, 2015 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News 3 Comments

75_internet_7_new_cities_blogAT&T Speed Increases to the Press Release are back, and an AT&T installer in Cleveland tells us you probably don’t qualify to get them just yet.

This week, AT&T has announced something less than gigabit broadband (High Speed Internet 75 – up to 75Mbps) for seven of its service areas:

  • Augusta, Ga.
  • Charleston, S.C.
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • Miami, Fla.
  • St. Louis, Mo.

“Introductory prices for the new 75Mbps high-speed speed option start as low as $39.95 a month when bundled with our award-winning U-verse TV and/or U-verse Voice services, and only $74.95 per month as a standalone service,” the company said on its consumer blog.

Laying aside the press release, an AT&T lineman in Cleveland tells Stop the Cap! most people should not expect to immediately qualify for the new 75Mbps speeds.

“Most will not be ready for the new 75Mbps tier except those in apartments or condominiums already served by fiber or other enhanced connections,” the technician tells us. “This is a way to quickly boost speeds on existing high-speed capable connections that already qualified for better speeds. AT&T will eventually broaden coverage, but only as we upgrade our network as a normal course of business.”

Stop the Cap! has found some customers in new housing developments and trailer parks where 75Mbps was introduced late last year have been able to sign up for 75Mbps service, but they are not getting the promised speeds.

“They emphasize it is ‘up to’ 75Mbps, but we barely reach 50Mbps here,” said El Paso resident Sam Kessler, who signed up for 75Mbps service in January. “It is better than what we used to get, but if they ever raise our bundled promotional price, we’ll go back to cable I guess.”

Speeds up to 75Mbps were introduced in December in parts of El Paso, Texas; Monterey, Calif.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Toledo, Ohio. AT&T also has plans to expand High Speed Internet 75 availability to additional U-verse markets.

Stop Paying Regular Price for HBO and Cinemax; Cancel and Rebuy for $10/Month

2000px-HBO_logo.svgAre you still paying $15+ for HBO and $13+ for Cinemax? Stop.

Most major cable television providers are slashing the price for both premium movie channels to protect subscriber numbers from the April introduction of HBO’s standalone video streaming service, likely to be called HBO Go.

Most analysts expect the on-demand service will cost $15 a month for one or both co-owned networks. With Time Warner Cable recently raising the price of HBO to $16.99 a month, the company may have priced itself out of the market.

“Why would I waste my time with HBO from Time Warner Cable when I will be able to get HBO Go for $2 less a month and won’t have to buy their larded-up cable television package,” asks Watertown, N.Y. resident Jeff Kates. “Their greed will cost them when they lose more subscribers than they gain in revenue from the rate hike.”

Comcast has already seen the writing on the wall and this year cut its regular pricing for HBO from $18.95 to $15 — matching the likely price of standalone HBO Go.

In an effort to lock in customer loyalty and avoid accelerating cord-cutting, many major pay television providers are putting one or both Time Warner (Entertainment)-owned networks on sale for much of 2015. These prices are available to any new premium cable subscriber. If your provider will not switch your current subscription to the new promotional rate, cancel one or both channels for a few days (or threaten to cancel service altogether) and then resubscribe at the discounted price.

Here are the current offers:

  • AT&T U-verse: Bundles HBO and a year of Amazon Prime service with a package of mostly local over the air channels for around $40-50 a month depending on the promotion;
  • Charter Cable: Charter’s Triple Play Silver package bundles HBO, Cinemax, Showtime/Movie Channel premium channels into the television package at no extra charge;
  • Comcast: Offers HBO for online sign ups at $10 a month for a year. Comcast attempts to limit the offer to customers who have not subscribed to HBO for the last 120 days, but this condition is usually waived if you threaten to cancel service and switch to a phone or satellite company;
  • Cox: Stingier than others, Cox is offering discounts for just six months, but gives you quantity discounts. Buy 1 premium channel at $10/mo, two channels for $15, three for $20 or four networks for $25 a month. Your choices include HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz;
  • Time Warner Cable: Now has a sale running for $9.99/mo HBO and the same rate for Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz when ordered online. Current non-premium customers can upgrade from the My Account portal. Current premium channel customers will have to call Time Warner and argue for the discount or cancel HBO and quickly resubscribe;
  • Verizon: Also offers HBO and others at $9.99/mo for the first year.

Satellite services are expected to change their pricing on premium channels sometime this month.

Missouri Representative Introduces Community Broadband Ban Bill to Protect AT&T, CenturyLink

Rep. Rocky Miller (R-Lake Ozark)

Rep. Rocky Miller (R-Lake Ozark)

A Missouri state representative with a track record of supporting AT&T and other telecommunications companies has introduced a bill that would effectively prohibit community broadband competition in a bid to protect incumbent phone and cable companies.

Rep. Rocky Miller’s (R-Lake Ozark) House Bill 437 would strictly prohibit the construction of public broadband networks in any part of Missouri served by a private provider, regardless of the quality of service available or its cost, without a referendum that includes a mandated question observers consider slanted in favor of existing providers.

HB437 would banish community broadband networks as early as September unless services were already up and running. The bill would effectively stop any public broadband network intending to compete against an existing phone or cable company within the boundaries of a city, town, or village offering any level of broadband service. It would also require communities to schedule a referendum on any project budgeted above $100,000, and includes ballot language that implies public broadband projects would duplicate existing services, even if a private provider offers substantially slower broadband at a considerably higher price. (Emphasis below is ours):

“Shall [Anytown] offer [broadband], despite such service being currently offered within Anytown by x private businesses at an estimated cost of (insert cost estimate) to Anytown over the following five-year period?”

Miller’s proposal would also require voters to approve a specific and detailed “revenue stream” for public broadband projects and if the referendum fails to garner majority support, would prohibit the idea from coming up for a second vote until after two years have passed, allowing cable and phone companies to plan future countermeasures.

yay attThe proposed bill also carefully protects existing providers from pressure to upgrade their networks.

Miller’s bill defines “substantially similar” in a way that would treat DSL service as functionally equivalent to gigabit broadband as both could be “used for the same purpose as the good or service it is being compared to, irrespective of how the good or service is delivered.”

In other words, if you can reach Rep. Miller’s campaign website on a CenturyLink 1.5Mbps DSL connection and over a co-op gigabit fiber to the home connection, that means they are functionally equivalent in the eyes of Miller’s bill. Residents voting in a referendum would be asked if it is worthwhile constructing fiber to the home service when CenturyLink is offering substantially similar DSL.

Among the telecom companies that had no trouble connecting to Rep. Miller to hand him campaign contributions: AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast, and Charter Communications

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice was unhappy to see yet another state bill introduced designed to limit competition and take away the right of local communities to plan their own broadband future.

“The state of Missouri is the latest legislature to attempt to erect barriers to the deployment of broadband networks that are critical to the future of its local economies and the nation, via House Bill 437,” said a statement released by the group. “High-bandwidth communications networks are the electricity of the 21st century and no community should be stymied or hampered in its efforts to deploy new future-proof communications infrastructure for its citizens – either by itself or with willing private partners.”

cell_towerThe group urged the Missouri legislature to reject the bill.

In 2013, Miller hit the ground running in his freshman year to achieve his campaign pledge of “getting the government out of the way of economic development.” In the Missouri state legislature, Miller strongly supported AT&T’s other state legislative priority: deregulation of cell tower placement. Miller traveled around Missouri promoting HB650, an AT&T inspired bill that would strip away local oversight powers of cell sites.

The issue became a hot topic, particularly in rural and scenic areas of Missouri, where local officials complained the bill would allow haphazard placement of cell towers within their communities.

“[The] bill inhibits a city’s ability to regulate cell towers as we have in the past,” Osage Beach city attorney Ed Rucker said. “The process we have in place has worked, and has worked well.”

Had HB650 become law, Osage Beach residents would today be surrounded by six new cell towers around the city, with little say in where they ended up. The bill Miller supported would have also eliminated a requirement that providers repair, replace, or remove damaged or abandoned cell towers, potentially leaving local taxpayers to pick up the tab.

Miller claimed the legislation would allow expansion of wireless broadband across rural Missouri and remove objectionable fees. HB650 would limit municipal fees to $500 for co-locating an antenna on a pre-existing tower and $1,500 for an application to build a new tower. Local communities complained those limits were below their costs to research the impact and placement of cell towers.

“That cost is an inhibitor to broadband,” Miller countered. “It’s beginning to look like the fees are an impediment to the expansion of broadband.”

Miller did not mention AT&T’s interest in cell tower expansion is also connected to its plan to retire rural landline service in favor of its wireless network, saving the company billions while earning billions more in new revenue from selling wireless landline replacement service over its more costly wireless network. The cell tower bill was eventually caught up in a legal dispute after a court ruled the broader bill that included the cell tower deregulation language was unconstitutional on a procedural matter.

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