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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.

Illinois’ ‘Free AT&T from Regulation and Responsibility’ Bill Returns in 2015

Nobody raises phone rates after deregulation like AT&T.

Nobody raises phone rates after deregulation like AT&T.

AT&T’s bill to maximize profits and minimize responsibility to its customers is back for consideration in the Illinois state legislature.

The Illinois Telecom Act is up for review in the spring and AT&T’s team of lobbyists are gearing up to advocate killing off AT&T’s legal obligation to provide low-cost, reliable landline service to any resident that wants service. AT&T says the measure is a reasonable response to the ongoing decline in its landline customer base, but rural and fixed-income residents fear the phone company will walk away from areas deemed unprofitable to serve and force customers to expensive wireless phone alternatives.

Areas in central and southern Illinois are served by a variety of rural phone companies including AT&T and Frontier Communications. Northeast Illinois is the home of metropolitan Chicago, where businesses depend on reliable phone service and the urban poor and senior residents depend on predictably affordable basic landline service.

The state still has as least 1.3 million residential landline customers paying rates starting at $3 a month for basic “Lifeline” service in Chicago to $9.50 a month for rural flat rate service with a limited local calling area. Cell service costs several times more than AT&T’s basic landline rates and signal quality is often challenged in rural areas. In large sections of Illinois where AT&T has elected not to bring its U-verse fiber to the neighborhood service, customers with basic voice calling and DSL broadband service could find themselves eventually disconnected and forced to switch to AT&T’s wireless residential service.

fat cat attAT&T’s Wireless Home Internet plan charges $60/month for 10GB of Internet use, $90/month for 20GB, and $120/month for 30GB. The overlimit fee is $10 per gigabyte. Telephone service is extra.

Customers will need smartphones or hotspot equipment to reach AT&T’s wireless services. Although often discounted or free for those who sign two-year contracts, credit-challenged customers will be required to pay a steep deposit or buy equipment outright.

“Smartphones are wonderful technology but they don’t come cheap and anybody who has traveled across Illinois knows they’re not always reliable,” David Kolata, executive director of Citizens Utility Board, said at a recent news conference. “Traditional home phone service is the most affordable, reliable option for millions of people and we shouldn’t take away that choice.”

The Federal Communications Commission is currently allowing AT&T to experiment with discontinuing landline service in parts of Alabama and Florida. Customers in urban areas are switched to AT&T’s U-verse service, those in rural areas are switched to cell service. Both services are unregulated. If AT&T can sell the Illinois legislature on abandoning its need to serve as a “carrier of last resort,” the company will have the unilateral right to disconnect service, set rates at will, and be under few, if any, customer service obligations.

In states where AT&T won the near-total deregulation it now seeks in Illinois, phone rates quickly soared. In California, AT&T flat rate calling shot up 115% between 2006 and 2013 — from $10.69 to $23 a month. AT&T also raised prices on calling features and other services.

In earlier trials run by Verizon, similar wireless landline replacement devices lacked support for home medical and security alarm monitoring, did not handle faxes or credit card authorizations, and often lacked precision in locating customers calling 911 in an emergency. The equipment also failed during power outages if the customer lacked battery backup equipment.

Shakedown Sharpton: Buy Quid Pro Quo Minority Support for Your Big Telecom Merger Deal

shakedown alLooking for civil rights groups to support your multi-billion dollar telecom merger and keep minority groups off your back?

You couldn’t do better than cutting a check to Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network (NAN) will generate form letters praising your killer deal before regulators or help garner support in Congress for more deregulation and less Net Neutrality. All it takes is a few donations and consulting fees, according to a special report published by the New York Post.

“Al Sharpton has enriched himself and NAN for years by threatening companies with bad publicity if they didn’t come to terms with him. Put simply, Sharpton specializes in shakedowns,” Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal & Policy Center told the Post.

“Once Sharpton’s on board, he plays the race card all the way through,” said a source who has worked with the Harlem preacher. “He just keeps asking for more and more money.”

Sharpton’s 60th birthday party bash last October at Manhattan’s Four Seasons restaurant departed from the usual friends and family oriented affair most of us would expect, as envelopes arrived from some of America’s largest corporations, including AT&T and Verizon, containing at least $1 million in donations for Sharpton’s civil rights group.

Coincidentally, that same month Sharpton co-signed a letter sent to the FCC urging the regulator to approve AT&T’s deal to buy DirecTV.

“We believe the evidence and the company’s record, as well as future impact and commitments post-merger, provide a clear and compelling basis for the FCC to determine that this merger is in the public’s best interest,” the letter said. “If approved, the combined AT&T-DirecTV will have greater incentive to deploy a state of the art Internet service and give millions of Americans a new way to access the Internet’s economic, social, and civic benefits.”

If approved, the deal would also eliminate one of AT&T’s chief competitors for pay television customers, making DirecTV part of the AT&T family.

Money-Stuffed-Into-PocketWhile the money keeps rolling in, Sharpton has left taxpayers footing his bills. Sharpton himself, his nonprofit NAN, and two for-profit firms controlled by him have racked up $4.7 million in outstanding debt and tax obligations according to federal and New York State records. He owes New York taxpayers $806,875 and after not bothering to pay his personal income taxes in full, he owes $2.6 million in federal liens. Sharpton’s NAN still owes more than $800,000 to the federal government and his two for-profit ventures separately owe New Yorkers nearly $450,000.

Raising money to repay debts appears to be a major priority for Sharpton these days, and companies like Comcast covet his support of their corporate agendas.

Shortly after Comcast announced its intention to acquire NBC-Universal in late 2009, Comcast’s chief executive, Brian L. Roberts, and the head of the company’s lobbying effort, David L. Cohen, met with Sharpton and other representatives of minority groups to talk about their bid. Comcast recognized that support from minority groups would be crucial to answering the inevitable charge that giant media mergers have a tendency to reduce diversity in programming, particularly from and for minorities.

Comcast turned on its money spigot, donating at least $140,000 to Sharpton’s National Action Network. In turn, Sharpton took a sudden interest in the merger, penning letters of strong support to the FCC. Between 2008 and 2010, Comcast’s corporate foundation donated more than $3 million to 39 minority groups that wrote letters to federal regulators in support of the NBC deal. Comcast and NBC Universal also worked out an agreement with advocacy groups guaranteeing increased “minority participation in news and public affairs programming”—so long as the deal went through.

Comcast supporter turned Comcast-owned MSNBC host.

Sharpton: Comcast supporter turned Comcast-owned MSNBC host.

Few expected that Sharpton himself would be a direct beneficiary of Comcast’s gratitude after the merger was approved. Sharpton was suddenly hired (for an undisclosed amount) as host of his own MSNBC weeknight show, still on the network today.

The New York Times noticed.

“Rarely, if ever, has a cable news channel employed a host who has previously campaigned for the business goals of the channel’s parent company,” the newspaper wrote.

Since the cable company began cutting checks to the NAN, Sharpton has towed the line on Comcast’s public policy agenda.

Last July, Sharpton’s group joined several other civil rights groups (most, if not all financially supported by Comcast) complaining that enforcing Net Neutrality would “harm communities of color.”

“The groups wrote to the FCC to tell them that ‘we do not believe that the door to Title II should be opened,'” said Lee Fang in a piece that was quickly censored by a Comcast-owned news outlet. “Simply put, these groups, many of which claim to carry the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr., are saying that Comcast and Verizon should be able to create Internet slow lanes and fast lanes, and such a change would magically improve the lives of non-white Americans.”

“Just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s children have embarrassingly descended into fighting bitterly over what’s left of his estate, the civil rights groups formed to advance Dr. King’s legacy seem willing to sell out their own members for a buck,” Fang concluded.

AT&T to Federal Trade Commission: Our Speed Throttling is None of Your Business

Image courtesy: cobalt123AT&T has asked a federal judge in California to throw out a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission over wireless speed throttling, claiming the federal regulator has no authority over how AT&T manages its network.

The FTC filed a lawsuit in October 2014 alleging AT&T was throttling the speeds of its grandfathered “unlimited data” customers by as much as 90 percent and failed to sufficiently disclose the practice in violation of the FTC Act.

Although AT&T discloses its network management policies in broad terms deep within its website, the original complaint charges AT&T failed to directly notify customers identified as the ‘heavy unlimited users’ targeted for wireless speed reductions reportedly as low as 56kbps for up to 30 days or more.

AT&T’s lawyers claim the FTC has no jurisdiction to file the lawsuit because a portion of AT&T’s business — cellular voice service — is defined by the Communications Act as a regulated common carrier service by the Federal Communications Commission. The FTC had argued AT&T’s mobile data services are unregulated and do not fall under the FCC’s exclusive jurisdiction.

AT&T’s attorneys argue two apparently contradictory assertions about wireless regulation that both require the court, in AT&T’s view, to dismiss the FTC’s case:

  1. AT&T acknowledges that its mobile data services are not subject to Title II regulatory oversight by the FCC as a common carrier service. Therefore, federal agencies like the FTC have no jurisdiction to interfere in AT&T’s private business decisions on issues like data caps and speed throttling because it is an unregulated service;
  2. AT&T claims the FCC has asserted sweeping authority over wireless services under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Therefore it should be up to the FCC alone (and not the FTC) to decide the fairness of AT&T’s network management practices. But AT&T doesn’t remind the court this is the same authority that large telecom companies sued into impotence by successfully arguing the FCC exceeded its mandate attempting to assert jurisdiction on data services to enforce concepts such as Net Neutrality and attempting to fine Comcast for throttling peer-to-peer network traffic.

ftcAT&T calls the FTC’s claims it can intervene in services not regulated by the FCC “irrelevant,” arguing once one of AT&T’s services is subject to the FCC’s common carrier regulation, all of its services become untouchable by the FTC.

“The FTC lacks jurisdiction to prosecute this action because AT&T is a common carrier subject to the Communications Act and therefore outside the FTC’s authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act. 15 U.S.C. § 45(a)(2),” argues AT&T. “Indeed, the FTC itself has recognized that, as drafted, the exemption altogether removes common carriers such as AT&T from its jurisdiction and has asked Congress to modify the statute. So far, Congress has refused.”

“But whether AT&T’s network management program is ‘unfair’ and whether its disclosures were ‘inadequate’ are issues for the FCC to decide, and in fact the FCC is in the process of so deciding, just as Congress intended,” AT&T said. “Congress drafted Section 5 to avoid subjecting common carriers like AT&T to precisely this sort of conflicting authority of separate federal agencies over the same conduct.”

Should the FCC find AT&T in violation of its transparency rules, AT&T will have a strong legal case to have that ruling tossed as well on the grounds the agency has no mandate from Congress to regulate mobile data services under Section 706/Title III of the Communications Act — the same case other telecom companies have successfully argued in the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Ironically, AT&T’s apparent regulatory loophole will vanish should the FCC order that broadband services of all kinds be reclassified as Title II telecommunications services as part of the ongoing effort to implement strong Net Neutrality policies.

AT&T, Verizon Break Out The Campaign Contribution Checkbooks Early, Sending $ to the Newly-Elected

Big Telecom is already trying to buy incoming members of Congress with lavish campaign contributions.

Big Telecom is already trying to buy incoming members of Congress with lavish campaign contributions.

Before constituents have a chance to make an impression on Capitol Hill’s incoming freshmen class, AT&T and Verizon have rushed significant campaign contributions to more than two dozen newly elected members of Congress.

Politico reports AT&T has cut checks to 31 new members of the House and Senate, Verizon sent 28 checks, and Comcast donated to 22 winners in the fall elections. Most of the money went to incoming Republicans who will control both the House and Senate starting in January.

All three companies are seeking allies in the fight against Net Neutrality and for a wholesale rewriting of the Communications Act, the nation’s most important telecom-related legislation.

Congressional observers predict revisiting the Communications Act would be a lobbyist bonanza, with potentially billions flowing into congressional coffers to win further industry deregulation. The last major overhaul in 1996 transformed broadcasting, allowing a handful of corporations to own the majority of radio and television stations and allowing large phone and cable companies to govern themselves with respect to broadband and competition. Cable and broadband prices soared as a result, while the number of competitors dropped due to industry consolidation.

The telecom companies are well ahead of technology players like Microsoft and Google, that have collectively sent contributions to fewer than a half-dozen incoming members and are barely active in Washington in comparison to the biggest phone and cable companies.

AT&T Sneaks Telecom Deregulation Amendment into Ohio’s Agriculture/Water Quality Bill

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is threatening to veto the state's Agriculture Bill if it reaches his desk with telecom deregulation inserted as an amendment.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is threatening to veto the state’s Agriculture Bill if it reaches his desk with telecom deregulation inserted as an amendment.

AT&T’s lobbyists in Ohio have convinced state legislators to ignore a veto threat from the governor’s office and insert a deregulation amendment into an unrelated water quality and agriculture measure.

Retiring House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) is shepherding AT&T’s latest attempt at total deregulation through the Ohio House of Representatives, claiming it will break down barriers for businesses in Ohio and give new businesses the infrastructure they need to make Ohio their home. Among Batchelder’s top donors is AT&T.

Critics contend the measure will disconnect up to 5% of rural Ohio from all telephone service because they live in “no signal bar” areas of the state.

The amendment, inserted into HB490 (at Sec. 4905.71), would end AT&T’s requirement to serve as a Provider of Last Resort, which has guaranteed that every Ohio resident seeking telephone service has had it for nearly 100 years. If the measure passes, AT&T can unilaterally disconnect service and leave unprofitable service areas, mostly in rural and poor sections of the state. Current Ohio law only permits a telephone company to end service if it can prove financial hardship and show that reasonable alternatives are available to affected residents. AT&T earned $128.75 billion in revenue in 2013 and is unlikely to meet any hardship test.

Although AT&T is unlikely to stop service in suburban and urban areas, ratepayers across the state would lose oversight protections from lengthy service outages, unreasonable billing standards and credit requirements, the ability to quickly connect or disconnect service and access to important low-income programs like Lifeline. Rural customers could be forced away from traditional landline and DSL service in favor of AT&T’s wireless network, which costs considerably more.

Current AT&T customers in Ohio can subscribe to landline service for around $20 a month in rural areas and broadband DSL for as little as $15 per month. AT&T’s wireless alternative costs $20 a month for voice service and at least $60 a month for wireless broadband (with a usage cap of 10GB per month and an overlimit fee of $10 per gigabyte). An average landline customer consuming 20GB of data would pay $35 a month for both voice and data services. The same customer using AT&T’s wireless voice and data alternative would pay $180 a month, mostly in overlimit penalties.

AT&T’s lobbying has riled Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, who has threatened to veto any agriculture bill that reaches his desk with telephone deregulation attached.

att_logo“The telecommunications language will force the governor to veto this bill, as he has personally said and has also been repeated several times by other members of the administration,” Jim Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources told the Ohio Senate’s Agriculture Committee during an informal hearing on the legislation. “We would be sacrificing all the great work done so far on this bill if these provisions are not removed.”

The AARP is concerned the measure will not only hurt rural Ohio, but elderly and poor residents who cannot afford wireless service.

“They will only have wireless telephone service with no price controls or guarantees for low-income Ohioans in these areas,” AARP Ohio wrote in a released statement about the proposal. “Additionally, there are areas of Ohio where wireless service is minimal, and to provide the speed needed for those receiving tele-health services in those areas will be even more expensive.”

Interested Ohio residents can share their feelings with their state legislators and the governor’s office.

  • Locate your Ohio House Representative: http://www.ohiohouse.gov/ or call 1-800-282-0253 and ask to be connected to your local representative.
  • Governor John Kasich’s Office Phone: (614) 466-3555

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