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Sen. Ted Cruz’s Latest Enemy: Community Broadband; Wants State Bans Reinstated

Cruz

Cruz

Although running a distant second behind Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is still managing to have an influence in the U.S. Senate, where his office is filing a plethora of amendments to various telecommunications bills. Among his top priorities: throwing up roadblocks to keep municipalities from offering broadband to their communities.

Cruz and Sen. Deb Fischer, a fellow Republican from Nebraska, are jointly proposing to attach an amendment to the FCC Process Reform Act that would prohibit the FCC from preempting state laws that limit or prohibit municipal broadband networks. The amendment would “prohibit the FCC from preventing states from implementing  laws relating to provision of broadband Internet access service by state and local governments.”

Several Republicans in Congress have been highly critical of public broadband, despite the fact many local governments in their districts are clamoring for better broadband solutions for their residents.

Cruz and other municipal broadband opponents are responding to FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler’s decision to effectively overturn those restrictions in Tennessee and North Carolina. Wheeler is considering expanding preemptions in other states where lawmakers passed bills restricting or prohibiting municipal broadband expansion.

The FCC is currently defending its actions in court.

FairPoint’s ‘Moosepoop’: Abdicating Its Responsibilities One Customer at a Time

Phillip Dampier: One customer calls FairPoint's deregulation logic "moosepoop."

Phillip Dampier: One customer calls FairPoint’s deregulation logic “moosepoop.”

In 2007, Verizon Communications announced it was selling its landline telephone network in Northern New England to FairPoint Communications, a North Carolina-based independent telephone company. Now, nearly a decade (and one bankruptcy) later, FairPoint wants to back out of its commitments.

In 2015, FairPoint stepped up its push for deregulation, writing its own draft legislative bills that would gradually end its obligation to serve as a “carrier of last resort,” which guarantees phone service to any customer that wants it.

The company’s lobbyists produced the self-written LD 1302, introduced last year in Maine with the ironic name: “An Act To Increase Competition and Ensure a Robust Information and Telecommunications Market.” The bill is a gift to FairPoint, allowing it to abdicate responsibilities telephone companies have adhered to for over 100 years:

  • The bill removes the requirement that FairPoint maintain uninterrupted voice service during a power failure, either through battery backup or electric current;
  • Guarantees FairPoint not be required to offer provider of last resort service without its express consent, eliminating Universal Service requirements;
  • Eliminates a requirement FairPoint offer service in any area where another provider also claims coverage of at least 94% of households;
  • Eventually forbids the Public Utilities Commission from requiring contributions to the state Universal Service Fund and forbids the PUC from spending that money to subsidize rural telephone rates.

opinionSuch legislation strips consumers of any assumption they can get affordable, high quality landline service and would allow FairPoint to mothball significant segments of its network (and the customers that depend on it), telling the disconnected to use a cell phone provider instead.

FairPoint claims this is necessary to establish a more level playing ground to compete with other telecom service providers that do not have legacy obligations to fulfill. But that attitude represents “race to the bottom” thinking from a company that fully understood the implications of buying Verizon’s landline networks in a region where some customers were already dropping basic service in favor of their cell phones.

FairPoint apparently still saw value spending $2.4 billion on a network it now seems ready to partly abandon or dismantle. We suspect the “value” FairPoint saw was a comfortable duopoly in urban areas, a monopoly in most rural ones. When it botched the conversion from Verizon to itself, customers fled to the competition, dimming its prospects. The company soon declared bankruptcy reorganization, emerged from it, and is now seeking a legislative/regulatory bailout too. Regulators should say no.

fairpointLast week, even FairPoint’s CEO Paul Sunu appeared to undercut his company’s own arguments for the need of such legislation, just as the company renewed its efforts in Portland to get a new 2016 version of the deregulation bill through the Maine legislature.

“We’ve operated in and we have experience operating basically in duopolies for a long time,” Sunu told investors in last week’s quarterly results conference call. “Cable is a formidable competitor. Look, they offer a nice package and a bundle and they – in certain areas, they certainly have a speed advantage. So we recognize that and so our marketing team does a really good job of making sure that our packages are competitive and we can counter punch on a both aggregate and deconstructive pricing.”

“Our aim is not to be a low cost, per se,” Sununu added. “What we want to do is to make sure that people stay with us because we can provide a better service and a better experience and that’s really what we aim to do. And as a result, we think that we will be able to change the perception that people have of Fairpoint and our brand and be able to keep our customers with us longer.”

Paul H. Sunu

Paul H. Sunu

Of course customers may not have the option to stay if FairPoint gets its deregulation agenda through and are later left unilaterally disconnected. In fact, while Sunu argues FairPoint’s biggest marketing plus is that it can provide better service, its agenda seems to represent the opposite. AARP representatives argued seniors want and need reliable and affordable landline service. FairPoint’s proposal would eliminate assurances that such phone lines will still be there and work even when the power goes out.

At least this year, customers know if they are being targeted. FairPoint is proposing to immediately remove from “provider of last resort service” coverage in Maine from Bangor, Lewiston, Portland, South Portland, Auburn, Biddeford, Sanford, Brunswick, Scarborough, Saco, Augusta, Westbrook, Windham, Gorham, Waterville, Kennebunk, Standish, Kittery, Brewer, Cape Elizabeth, Old Orchard Beach, Yarmouth, Bath, Freeport and Belfast.

At least 10,000 customers could be affected almost immediately if the bill passes. Customers in those areas would not lose service under the plan, but prices would no longer be set by state regulators and the company could deny new connection requests.

FairPoint argues that customers disappointed by the effects of deregulation can simply switch providers.

fairpoint failure“The market determines the service quality criteria of importance to customers and the service quality levels they find acceptable,” Sarah Davis, the company’s senior director of government affairs, wrote. “To the extent service quality is deficient from the perspective of consumers, the competitive marketplace imposes its own serious penalties.”

Except FairPoint’s own CEO recognizes that marketplace is usually a duopoly, limiting customer options and the penalties to FairPoint.

Those customers still allowed to stay customers may or may not get good service from FairPoint. Another company proposal would make it hard to measure reliability by limiting the authority of state regulators to track and oversee service complaints.

Company critic and customer Mike Kiernan calls FairPoint’s legislative push “moosepoop.”

“FairPoint has been, from the outset, well aware of the issues here in New England, since they had to demonstrate that they were capable of coping with the conditions – market and otherwise – in their takeover bid from Verizon,” Kiernan writes. “Yet now we see where they are crying poverty (a poverty that they brought on themselves) by taking on the state concession that they are trying desperately to get out from under, and as soon as possible.”

Vermont Public Radio reports FairPoint wants to get rid of service quality obligations it has consistently failed to meet as part of a broad push for deregulation. (2:23)

You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Kiernan argues FairPoint should be replaced with a solution New Englanders have been familiar with for over 200 years – a public co-op. He points to Eastern Maine Electrical Co-Op as an example of a publicly owned utility that works for its customers, not as a “corporate cheerleader.”

Despite lobbying efforts that suggest FairPoint is unnecessarily burdened by the requirements it inherited when it bought Verizon’s operations, FairPoint reported a net profit of $90 million dollars in fiscal 2015.

AT&T U-verse with GigaPower Gigabit Internet Dribs and Drabs Out in 23 New Cities

u-verse gigapowerAT&T has introduced 23 new communities and adjacent service areas in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and Tennessee to the possibility of getting gigabit broadband speeds, if customers are willing to wait for AT&T to reach their home or small business.

Here are the latest cities on AT&T’s new launch list:

  • Florida: Coral Gables, Homestead, Miami Gardens, North Miami, Oviedo, Sanford, and Parkland
  • Georgia: Alpharetta, Cartersville, Duluth, East Point, Avondale Estates, Jonesboro, and Rome
  • Illinois: Bolingbrook, Mundelein, Shorewood, Elmwood Park, Volo, and parts of Munster, Ind.
  • North Carolina: Clemmons, Garner, Holly Springs and Salisbury
  • Tennessee: Spring Hill and Gallatin
  • Texas:  Hunters Creek Village and Rosenberg

AT&T claims its fiber to the home service will eventually reach more than 14 million customers across its service area, but adds it will only reach a fraction of them – one million – by the end of 2015. Most customers will have around a 7% chance of getting gigabit speeds from AT&T this year.

Warren

Warren

In Salisbury, N.C., where Fibrant delivers community-owned broadband at speeds up to 10Gbps, AT&T gave space in its press release for Rep. Harry Warren, the local Republican member of the state House of Representatives, to praise the phone company.

“I’m excited about this new development, and appreciate AT&T’s continued investment in Rowan County,” Warren said.

Warren says he fought to protect Fibrant from a 2011 state law — drafted by the state’s largest phone and cable companies — that effectively outlawed community-owned broadband competition. But he, along with most of his Republican colleagues, also voted in favor of it.

Earlier this year, Federal Communications Commission chairman Thomas Wheeler announced the FCC would pre-empt municipal broadband bans in North Carolina and Tennessee. Warren told the Salisbury Post he wondered if Wheeler was guilty of “federal overreach.”

“That’s my biggest concern about it,” he said.

Both AT&T and Time Warner Cable have been regular contributors to Warren’s campaigns since 2010.

Brock

Brock

State Sen. Andrew Brock, also a Republican, told the newspaper Wheeler’s actions show how out of touch the Obama Administration is with “technology and the pocketbooks of American families.”

“I find it interesting that a bureaucrat that is not beholden to the people can make such a claim without going through Congress,” Brock said.

The year Brock voted in favor of banning community broadband competition in North Carolina, he received $3,750 from telecom companies. This election cycle, Time Warner Cable is his second largest contributor. AT&T and CenturyLink also each donated $1,000 to Brock’s campaign fund.

While AT&T is free to expand its gigabit U-verse upgrade as fast or as slow as it chooses, the community providers that delivered gigabit speeds well before AT&T are limited by state law from expanding service outside of their original service areas or city limits. In plain English, that effectively gives AT&T state-sanctioned authority to decide who will receive gigabit speeds and who will not.

The FCC’s pre-emption, if upheld despite ongoing challenges from Republican lawmakers on the state and federal level, could allow Fibrant to join forces with other municipal providers in North Carolina to expand fiber broadband to new communities around the state.

FCC’s Gigi Sohn to American Cities: Stop Waiting – Build Your Own Public Broadband Networks

Phillip Dampier September 15, 2015 Community Networks, Competition, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment
Sohn

Sohn

A top counselor to Federal Communications Commission chairman Thomas Wheeler told a conference of city officials meeting in San Diego last week they should stop waiting around for the local phone or cable company to deliver the broadband service their communities need and build their own publicly owned broadband service instead.

Gigi Sohn was the keynote speaker at a luncheon held last week by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers (NATOA), a major professional association representing individuals and organizations that manage telecom policies and services in local governments across the country.

“Without question, the landscape is changing for local governments,” she said, as reported by Multichannel News. “Most significantly, the future is not in cable, but in broadband,” adding: “Even the cable operators acknowledge this…Rather than wait for incumbent ISPs to build the network your cities want and need, you can take control of your own broadband futures.”

natoa-logoThe FCC under the leadership of Thomas Wheeler has targeted anti-municipal broadband laws in the states of North Carolina and Tennessee for federal pre-emption, effectively invalidating laws ghost-written by telecommunications industry lobbyists working for the states’ dominant telecom companies — Time Warner Cable in North Carolina and AT&T and Comcast in Tennessee. The laws are designed to restrict or discourage municipal broadband competition.

Sohn previously promised municipal providers the FCC was ready to invalidate anti-municipal broadband laws in other states if they interfered with public broadband development. Sohn believes communities are unlikely to get cutting edge broadband from comfortable incumbent phone and cable companies. Local governments can and should step in to facilitate the kind of broadband services communities have begged those incumbents to offer for years.

Sohn was the president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, a pro-consumer public interest group. She joined the FCC in November 2013.

North Carolina, Where Fiber Begets More Fiber; Ting Explores Wiring Cities Google Forgot

Ting-truck-closedNorth Carolina residents bypassed by Google Fiber and impatient waiting for AT&T U-verse with GigaPower may still have a chance to get gigabit fiber Internet.

Ting, a Toronto-based wireless provider, is exploring building fiber broadband networks in as many as a half-dozen cities in 2016, and some of them may be in North Carolina.

Elliot Noss, CEO of Ting’s parent company, told the Triangle Business Journal he is impressed with the enthusiasm for fiber optic broadband in the state. He recognized Greenlight, Wilson’s community-owned fiber network, as a fiber pioneer that helped fuel demand for better Internet in the state. He added North Carolina is one of the leaders in fiber to the home service in the country, and that makes it a very suitable place to bring even more fiber to the state.

The Triangle region of North Carolina is receiving network upgrades from Time Warner Cable and AT&T, and Google Fiber is coming to Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, but there remains a number of Triangle communities including Clayton, Dunn, Henderson, Louisburg, Norlina, Oxford, Pittsboro, Rocky Mount, Roxboro, Sanford, Selma, Siler City, Smithfield, Tarboro and Wake Forest where fiber networks would be welcomed.

Ting workers installing fiber optics in Charlottesville, Va.

Ting workers installing fiber optics in Charlottesville, Va.

Noss believes fiber begets even more fiber, which may explain why some states are getting huge investments in competing fiber optic projects while others struggle with little or no fiber at all. As soon as a fiber provider enters a region, it creates a higher level of awareness that better Internet service exists when you look beyond “good enough” broadband from phone and cable companies. The resulting “broadband envy” fuels demand for network upgrades.

Noss believes smaller, outlying metros bypassed for fiber upgrades now want them more than ever because they are at a competitive disadvantage without better Internet access.

“North Carolina might be the first state in the union that has moved from where cities and towns are looking at fiber as a way to differentiate and to lead,” Noss told the newspaper. “(North Carolina) is seeing it almost defensively: We need it for our survival because we’re surrounded by it.”

So what makes a community ripe for fiber broadband? A community already sold on fiber and willing to make things happen quickly and smoothly.

“The first thing we look for when we’re engaging with a city or town is an understanding that this is something they deeply want to do,” Noss says. “We don’t take meetings with cities who want to hear about why they should have fiber or gigabit connectivity.”

That attitude is shared by Google, which has taken to issuing a checklist for city officials interested in attracting Google Fiber to their community. In short, it means developing a working relationship between zoning/permitting officials and Google’s engineers to cut the “red tape.”

In the past, politicians often treated cable franchise contracts as valuable enough to ask providers for concessions in return for an agreement. Many cities treated Verizon the same way when it sought franchise agreements to offer cable television over its FiOS fiber to the home network. Some city officials sought compensation for PEG services – Public Access, Educational, and Government channels. Others sought funding for technology and educational programs, community centers, or free service for public and government-owned buildings.

Google has turned that formula upside down. Today, communities offer concessions to Google competing to be the next fiber city. Other providers entering the fiber market with promises of better Internet are getting a similar reception from eager communities.

Charlottesville, Va. and Westminster, Md., neither a likely prospect for Google Fiber or Verizon FiOS did not need any convincing. Ting now provides gigabit fiber service in both communities for $89 a month or a cheaper 5/5Mbps budget option for $19 a month — both with a $399 installation fee. Customers cannot wait to sign up for service, often to say goodbye to companies like Comcast or Verizon’s DSL offering.

Ting is owned by Tucows, Inc., a provider of network access, domain names, and other Internet services.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Ting What gigabit fiber means for Westminster 2015.mp4

Ting produced this video about what gigabit fiber broadband will mean for a community like Westminster, Md. (2:07)

Suddenlink Introduces Gigabit Broadband Service and Slaps 550GB Usage Cap On It

SuddenlinkLogoSuddenlink’s Operating GigaSpeed has reached parts of Texas, Missouri and North Carolina — the first areas to get 1,000/50Mbps service from the cable company. But customers are not happy to learn it is accompanied by a 550GB usage cap.

The first markets qualified for gigabit service include:

  • Bryan-College Station, Texas;
  • Nixa, Mo.;
  • Greenville and Rocky Mount, N.C.

Customers learning about the faster speeds tell Stop the Cap! they are deeply disappointed Suddenlink has kept a cap on the premium-priced speed tier.

greenville“Here in Greenville they are charging $110 a month for the service, $5 for a cable modem or $10 for a Wi-Fi router, and a $35 mandatory technician visit fee which sounded reasonable until they mentioned there was a 550GB data allowance on the service,” said Stop the Cap! reader J.J. Wallace. “That killed it for me. That is nothing short of outrageous to charge that kind of money and place a ridiculously low cap on it. It’s funny the local newspaper and Suddenlink’s press releases never bother to mention the usage cap.”

Wallace says he avoids usage caps by subscribing to Business Class service, which carries no usage allowance but forces him to a slower speed tier to keep things affordable. A 50/8Mbps business plan costs around $80 a month with modem rental and Suddenlink does not mind selling it to residential customers who refuse to deal with a usage cap.

“That is just about the most affordable plan they have that is tolerable,” Wallace writes. “If you want gigabit speeds on a business account, that will run you at least $575 a month plus equipment fees.”

“Suddenlink is no Google Fiber,” adds Pitt County resident Jennifer Davis. “Google is coming to the Triangle and Charlotte and can easily sell gigabit service for $40 less with absolutely no usage cap or equipment fees. Suddenlink wants another shake of our pocketbooks to grab even more money from us. You can’t even buy your own modem for gigabit service. You have to rent theirs. My area of the county is stuck with Suddenlink like a punishment. As a small business owner who depends on the Internet I am tired of being jerked around by these people.”

Some Suddenlink customers have managed to score better deals for broadband by threatening to leave Suddenlink for the phone company, often CenturyLink, AT&T, or Windstream.

gig city“If you impress on them they are charging too much, they will often find a promotion for you, but so far I’ve had no luck getting them to waive the caps unless you switch to business service,” said Wallace. “They always act like you are the first person to complain about usage caps, but if you read their social media pages, there are many others very upset to find they’ve lost unlimited use service after Suddenlink introduced speed upgrades. Most of my friends would rather have unlimited than faster service you can’t use.”

As for speed upgrades, the communities now qualified for gigabit service will find some changes as Suddenlink adjusts their Internet tiers:

  • Internet 50: 50/5Mbps is the new base speed with a 250GB cap
  • Internet 100: 100/10Mbps comes with a 350GB cap (current 75Mbps customers upgraded to this tier)
  • Internet 200: 200/20Mbps comes with a 450GB cap (current 100Mbps customers upgraded to this tier)
  • Internet 1 Gig: 1,000/50Mbps comes with a 550GB cap
  • Overlimit Fee: $10 per 50GB of usage, not pro-rated

Suddenlink is pushing existing DOCSIS 3.0 technology to its practical limit offering gigabit service. The latest DOCSIS 3.0 chipsets in newer model cable modems can bond up to 32 downstream channels, enough to support up to 1.2Gbps. To make room for gigabit speeds, Suddenlink needs to migrate its cable television offering to an all-digital format in the cities where it offers the fastest service. It also needs to retire any remaining legacy DOCSIS 2 modems still in use.

Operation GigaSpeed will offer gigabit broadband to all Suddenlink customers in the markets where the service is offered. The company considers that an advantage over Google Fiber and AT&T U-verse with GigaPower, which is only available in certain neighborhoods.

DOCSIS 3.1, expected to make gigabit speeds available more widely on cable systems, is expected to begin market trials as early as later this year with an expectation it will begin to see wider deployment in 2016.

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)

Shareholders ‘Beating the Drums’ Demanding Quick Sale of FairPoint Communications… to Anyone

Phillip Dampier March 4, 2015 Consumer News, FairPoint, Public Policy & Gov't, Video 1 Comment

fairpointJust weeks after FairPoint Communications and union workers settled a prolonged strike involving more than 1,700 workers that began last October, shareholders are demanding the company sell itself and exit the business.

Investors are reacting negatively to today’s news that FairPoint’s quarterly losses accelerated during the 131-day strike to $136.3 million as the company spent an extra $73.6 million on temporary replacement workers and defending itself in strike-related negotiations.

Since FairPoint declared bankruptcy reorganization in 2011, the company has continued to post losses each year since, and those losses show no signs of ending. The company today abandoned issuing guidance on its future earnings for the rest of 2015, claiming it was uncertain of the impact of the strike on its future revenue.

They could ask customers like John Bouchard in Robbinston, Maine, who canceled after becoming fed up with FairPoint’s impotent customer service department, unable to resolve service problems during the strike.

Bouchard told the Associated Press after his FairPoint DSL service went out, he set up an installation appointment with the cable company and had to leave his home office and drive through a snowstorm to find Internet access while Time Warner Cable caught up with the demand for new service installations.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said.

fairpoint1_0FairPoint’s unionized workers returning to the job openly worried about the state of FairPoint’s network after a hard winter and how inexperienced temporary workers maintained the facilities while they were on strike.

Multiple press reports documented instances of shoddy repair work from the temporary workers, including some safety hazards.

“We have to win back the confidence of our customers,” said Adam Frederickson, a FairPoint worker in Nashua, N.H.

Barry Sine, an analyst who follows FairPoint for Drexel Hamilton, a New York-based brokerage, said he believes it will take 30 to 45 days for the company’s workforce to restore service quality to pre-strike levels. But by then, thousands of customers are likely to have switched providers.

North Carolina-based FairPoint disagreed that the problems were serious. “The FairPoint network performed exceptionally during the work stoppage and our well-trained and qualified contract workforce provided superb support of that network,” said company spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry.

Sine believes FairPoint would have been a prime target for acquisition earlier if it were not for its legacy workforce costs, which include benefits the company just successfully cut in the labor contract that ended the strike. With the strike now behind the company, investors believe now is the time FairPoint should sell itself to maximize shareholder value.

“Shareholders are beating the drums; they want to sell this company now,” said Sine. “The unions, there’s no love lost with this management team. The unions would like a new owner as well.”

for sale by ownerUnion leaders sense the company is already quietly getting the books in order for a sale.

Don Trementozzi, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1400 in Portsmouth, N.H. told the AP the company seemed fixated on improving its books instead of focusing on customers.

“The brand has put a sour taste in the mouths of customers,” he said. “We’re going to go back to work and do everything we can to make this company profitable. But the brand, the name, suffered greatly in this. I don’t know if you can recover without a sale.”

In any sale, FairPoint executives and shareholders are likely to win the most. FairPoint workers, already challenged by significant benefit cuts, could face pressure from new owners to further reduce pay and benefits. FairPoint would likely sell for $25-30 a share, or around $780 million. But a buyer would also have to assume nearly a billion dollars in prior debt from a company that has never managed to post a quarterly profit since emerging from bankruptcy.

The most likely buyer would be Frontier Communications, already solidly established in the northeastern United States. But it may be too preoccupied with its recent $10 billion acquisition of Verizon landlines in Florida, California, and Texas to consider another acquisition. The next likely buyer would be Arkansas-based Windstream, followed by CenturyLink.

FairPoint’s president of Maine operations dismissed the speculation about FairPoint’s future, claiming it is focused on growing the business, not selling it.

“We have a responsibility to our customers, to our shareholders. We need to run the company as profitably as we can, to provide the best service that we can provide. That’s what we do,” he said. The union’s contention that FairPoint fought to cut worker benefits just to make itself attractive to buyers “is a stretch,” he said.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WFFF Burlington FairPoint Workers React to Tentative Deal 2-24-15.mp4

A FairPoint employee tells WFFF-TV in Burlington, Vt. how declining service may have finally forced FairPoint to the bargaining table with a proposal workers could accept.  (2:51)

FCC Votes to Enforce Net Neutrality and Overturns Municipal Broadband Bans in N.C., Tenn.

Phillip Dampier February 26, 2015 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't 6 Comments
Net Neutrality victory. (Mignon Clyburn (L), Thomas Wheeler (C), and Jessica Rosenworcel (R) celebrate their majority vote in favor of Net Neutrality. (Image: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Net Neutrality victory. Democratic FCC commissioners Mignon Clyburn (L), Thomas Wheeler (C), and Jessica Rosenworcel (R) celebrate their majority vote in favor of Net Neutrality. (Image: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Federal Communications Commission voted today to regulate broadband service as a telecommunications service and public utility, guaranteeing providers will not be allowed to interfere with Internet traffic.

Three of the five commissioners voted in favor of strong Net Neutrality protections, equally applicable to home wired broadband and wireless service, while two Republican commissioners decried the FCC’s move as a regulatory overreach.

“The Internet is too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules,” said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who reacted emotionally to opposition charges that Net Neutrality would lead to a government takeover of the Internet. Wheeler called many of the critical statements made by Net Neutrality opponents “nonsense.”

“Today is the proudest day of my public policy life,” Wheeler said.

The FCC also voted 3-2 in favor of sweeping away state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that restrict municipal broadband development. Wheeler called the anti-public broadband initiatives “red tape” and anticompetitive. The change will allow services like Fibrant and Greenlight in North Carolina and EPB in North Carolina to immediately begin planning expansion outside of their current service areas. It could also spark new community network development, if today’s FCC actions survive an anticipated court challenge.

Today’s decision does not overturn community broadband bans in more than a dozen other states, but does open the door for municipal providers to file requests with the FCC to overturn similar laws.

Despite claims by providers the move would saddle providers with 1930s era telephone regulations, the FCC today adopted a broadly whittled down set of principles under Title II of the Communications Act which redefines broadband as a “telecommunications service.” The FCC will not regulate consumer pricing or how services are marketed to the public. It will observe and referee disputes between providers and content creators and guarantee no blocking, no speed throttling, and no paid Internet fast lanes.

Wall Street had little reaction to today’s events with most cable and telco stocks remaining flat or slightly higher this afternoon. Investors appear to be unconcerned by the new broadband regulatory framework.

Google Fiber Headed to Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Nashville; Avoids Verizon FiOS Country

atlanta fiberGoogle has announced it will bring its fiber broadband service to four new cities — Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Raleigh-Durham, N.C. and Nashville, Tenn., according to a report on Google’s Fiber blog.

In a familiar pattern, Google recently sent invitations to local news organizations in those four cities to attend events this week, without identifying the subject.

As with earlier similar events, the topic was the local launch of Google Fiber.

The cities were all on Google’s 2014 list for possible expansion. Those left out (for now) include Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., and San Jose, Calif. Google recently told city officials in those communities it was still contemplating projects, but remain undecided for now.

After the announcements this week, it will take at least one year before Google is ready to light up the first “fiberhoods” in the cities, usually selected based on customer signups.

Google will challenge Comcast and AT&T in Georgia, Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink in North Carolina, and Comcast and AT&T in Nashville. In Atlanta, the fiber build will not only include Atlanta, but also Avondale Estates, Brookhaven, College Park, Decatur, East Point, Hapeville, Sandy Springs and Smyrna.

expansion

Google will offer unlimited gigabit broadband service for an expected $70 a month. AT&T limits U-verse customers to 250GB in Georgia and Tennessee, and Comcast has subjected both Atlanta and Nashville to its compulsory usage cap experiments, setting a monthly usage allowance at 300GB.

Time Warner Cable does not limit broadband customers in North Carolina, but the Republican-dominated state government is also hostile to community-owned broadband, making it unlikely either Raleigh-Durham or Charlotte will see public broadband competition anytime soon.

Fiber-is-comingGoogle officials have also been reportedly sensitive to local government red tape and regulation. In Portland, the Journal reports Google has put any fiber expansion on hold there because Oregon tax-assessment rules would value Google’s property based on the value of their intangible assets, such as brand. That would cause Google’s property taxes in Oregon to soar. Until the Oregon state legislature makes it clear such rules would not apply to Google Fiber, there will be no Google Fiber in Portland.

Google has also once again shown its reluctance to consider any community or region where Verizon FiOS now provides fiber optic service. The entire northeastern United States, largely dominated by Verizon, has been “no-go” territory for Google, with no communities making it to their list for possible future expansion.

Among the collateral damage are Verizon-less communities in northern New England served by FairPoint Communications and Comcast and portions of western New York served by Frontier Communications where Time Warner Cable has overwhelming dominance with 700,000 subscribers out of 875,000 total households in the Buffalo and Rochester markets.

Wall Street continues to grumble about the Google Fiber experiment, concerned about the high cost of fiber infrastructure and the potential it will create profit-killing price wars that will cut prices for consumers but cost every competitor revenue.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSOC Charlotte Mayor Google Fiber is coming to Charlotte 1-27-15.flv

Charlotte city manager Ron Carlee spoke exclusively to WSOC-TV’s Jenna Deery about how Charlotte won Google over to bring its fiber service to the community. Having a close working relationship between city infrastructure agencies and Google was essential, as was cutting red tape and bureaucracy. (2:10)

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