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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)

Charlotte, N.C. Better Business Bureau Names Its Top Offender for 2014: Time Warner Cable

Phillip Dampier January 15, 2015 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 2 Comments

twc logoTime Warner Cable was named by the Better Business Bureau’s its biggest overall offender in the Charlotte region, generating 187 complaints last year, according to the group’s annual year-end report, noted by the Charlotte Observer.

The cable company did not generate enough complaints to put cable and satellite provider complaints in the top complaint categories, however. Broadband providers in the region came in third in complaints, behind new car dealers and collection agencies. Auto repair shops and used car dealers did better, coming in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Time Warner Cable could not be reached for comment, but complaints registered with the BBB against the cable company almost always were resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. Most companies forward BBB complaints to “executive level” customer service supervisors that are empowered to do almost whatever it takes to settle a complaint. In Charlotte, 91 percent of complaints were quickly resolved once registered with the organization.

 

President Obama Calls for an End to State Bans on Community Broadband; Public Networks Save $

Obama

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama will be in Cedar Falls, Iowa today to announce steps his administration plans to take to improve broadband in the United States, including a call to end laws that restrict community broadband development that limits competition.

“Today, too few Americans have affordable and competitive broadband choices, but some communities around the country are choosing to change that dynamic,” says a statement issued by the White House. “As a result – as outlined in a new report being issued today – cities like Lafayette, Chattanooga, and Kansas City, have broadband that is nearly one hundred times faster than the national average, yet still available at a competitive price. By welcoming new competition or building next-generation networks, these communities are pioneers in broadband that works, and today in Cedar Falls, Iowa, the President is highlighting their remarkable success stories and providing municipal leadership and entrepreneurs new tools to help replicate this success across the nation.

The report, produced by the National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisers, finds no evidence to support industry contentions that community-owned broadband duplicates existing broadband services and wastes taxpayer dollars. It also challenges cable and phone industry-backed groups claiming publicly owned broadband networks are business failures.

It cites the success of Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber service, operated by the local municipal utility. Not only is EPB successful financially, but it has introduced Chattanooga residents to the kind of competition sorely lacking in most cities for telecom services.

cedar falls“EPB’s efforts have encouraged other telecom firms to improve their own service,” states the report. “In 2008, for example, Comcast responded to the threat of EPB’s entrance into the market by investing $15 million in the area to launch the Xfinity service – offering the service in Chattanooga before it was available in Atlanta. More recently, Comcast has started offering low-cost introductory offers and gift cards to consumers to incentivize service switching. Despite these improvements, on an equivalent service basis, EPB’s costs remain significantly lower.”

In Wilson, N.C., Time Warner Cable customers pay significantly less for cable and broadband service than other North Carolina customers because of the presence of Greenlight, the community-owned fiber to the home provider. TWC customers in Wilson pay stabilized prices for service while residents in the nearby Research Triangle pay as much as 52 percent more for basic Internet service, according to the report. Greenlight’s competition has brought gigabit broadband to the community as well as lower prices for customers who decide to remain with Time Warner. The combined savings is estimated at more than $1 million annually for Wilson residents.

EPB is the municipal utility in Chattanooga, Tenn.

EPB is the municipal utility in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Those who believe municipal broadband is a waste of taxpayer dollars should consider the story of Lafayette, La.’s LUS Fiber. In addition to bringing superior broadband service to a city dominated by a cable operator that used to treat the market as an afterthought, the presence of LUS’ fiber to the home network has forced Cox Cable to improve service, offer significant customer retention deals to departing customers and defer rate increases. The investment in community broadband has saved residents an estimated $4 million from rate hikes that went ahead in other Cox cities, with an estimated total savings of between $90 and $100 million for Lafayette-area broadband customers over LUS’ first 10 years of service.

Taxpayer-supported institutions like local government, law enforcement, and schools have also seen dramatic savings by switching to municipal solutions. In Scott County, Minn. the local government’s annual bond payment for constructing their own broadband network is $35,000 less than what the county used to pay private companies for a much slower network. Area schools that formerly paid private sector telecom companies $58 per megabit of Internet speed now pay $6.83 — a savings of nearly 90 percent. Schools also received dramatic speed increases from 100 to 300Mbps. They paid less for more service — from $5,800 a month before to $2,049 a month today. Those payments go straight back to the county government instead of into the hands of out-of-state investment bankers and shareholders. On the state level, Minnesota’s public institutional network is saving taxpayers almost $1 million a year.

With the broadband profit gravy train for big cable and phone companies grinding to a halt in competitive areas, several of these companies have spent millions lobbying state governments to outlaw public broadband services. They have succeeded in 19 states, primarily with the assistance of the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which appeals to primarily Republican lawmakers with claims government broadband is unfairly competing with the private sector. In fact, private providers have not been driven out of communities where they face municipal competition, but they have been forced to lower prices and improve service for customers.

Today the president will call for a new effort to support local self-determination for broadband by strongly opposing industry-backed, anti-competitive deterrents and bans on community-owned networks. The president will also sign a letter addressed to FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler encouraging him to move forward with a federal ban on state broadband laws that restrict broadband development.

He will also announce additional funding for rural broadband expansion and take steps to bring local leaders together to explore how the development of community broadband initiatives in their cities and towns can make a major difference in the 21st century digital economy. The president recognizes that most Americans lack sufficiently competitive choices for broadband service and often have just one choice — the cable company — for broadband speeds greater than 25Mbps. That means many Americans are seeing their broadband speeds lag while their monthly bills continue to grow.

Community-owned broadband may be the only alternative many cities have for better broadband as would-be competitors are scared off by high construction costs and an inability to secure cable television programming at competitive prices for their customers.

Charlotte Taxpayers, Tourists Will Pay $33.5 Million for Improvements to Time Warner Cable Arena

charlotte-time-warner-cable-arena

Time Warner Cable Arena – Charlotte, N.C.

Taxpayers and tourists in North Carolina will be on the hook for $33.5 million in improvements for the “outdated” 10-year old Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte.

The Charlotte Hornets will spend the public’s money over the next ten years renovating restaurants and bathrooms and make several other improvements inside the stadium.

Time Warner Cable won the naming rights for the stadium by cutting a deal with the Hornets (then known as the Bobcats) to allow games to air on satellite and regional cable sports networks, especially Fox Sports Net South. The stadium is largely the financial responsibility of Charlotte-area taxpayers, but a wealthy basketball team and the area’s largest cable operator take most of the credit.

The city is contractually obligated to spend taxpayer dollars on renovations and city officials took credit for reducing the original request for $50 million down to $33.5 million. Deal critics contend taxpayers are footing the bill while the NBA team enjoys a free ride.

The city signed an agreement in 2005 that includes language compelling the city to be concerned with the image of the team and its sponsors. Specifically, the city agreed to maintain the arena as among the NBA’s “most modern” stadiums. Just a decade after opening, the Hornets contend the stadium no longer meets that obligation. Now taxpayers and tourists will pony up millions from a hotel/motel occupancy tax and a car rental tax to cover renovations, including those for tony, corporate-reserved hospitality suites.

Some city council members claimed to feel trapped into voting for the deal, which was approved in a 9-2 vote. The council’s two Republicans voted no.

“If we break a contract, who will believe our word?” at-large council member Claire Fallon, a Democrat, told the Charlotte Observer. “Who will believe us? I have to vote for it.”

But Republican councilman Ed Driggs believes the city has signed a sucker’s deal.

“Many don’t believe public money should be used to subsidize a for-profit business,” Driggs said. “How do we rationalize the terms of this? We pay all capital costs … and receive no proceeds. What kind of partnership is this?”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WBTV Charlotte Charlotte City Council votes to upgrade TWC arena 9-8-14.mp4

Eyebrows were raised when several council members, including the mayor pro tem, voted in favor of the Time Warner Cable Arena deal but against a public works project potentially financed by the federal government to expand the city’s Gold Line streetcar public transit system. WBTV in Charlotte reports. (2:31)

More Proof of Comcast’s Monopoly Tendencies: Spending Big to Kill Community Broadband Competition

When the community of Batavia, Ill., a distant suburb of Chicago, decided they wanted something better than the poor broadband offered by Comcast and what is today AT&T, it decided to hold a public referendum on whether the town should construct and run its own fiber to the home network for the benefit of area residents and businesses. A local community group, Fiber for Our Future, put up $4,325 to promote the initiative back in 2004, if only because the town obviously couldn’t spend tax dollars to advertise or promote the idea itself.

Within weeks of the announced proposal, both Comcast and SBC Communications (which later acquired AT&T) launched an all-out war on the idea of fiber to the home service, mass mailing flyers attacking the proposal to area residents and paying for push polling operations that asked area residents questions like, “should tax money be allowed to provide pornographic movies for residents?” The predictable opposition measured in response to questions like that later appeared in mysterious opinion pieces published in area newspapers submitted by the incumbent companies and their allies.

no comm broadband

Comcast spent $89,740 trying to defeat the measure in a community of just 26,000 people. SBC spent $192,324 — almost $3.50 per resident by Comcast and just shy of $7.50 per resident by SBC. Much the same happened in the neighboring communities of St. Charles and Geneva. 

According to Motherboard, the scare tactics worked, cutting support for the fiber network from over 72 percent to its eventual defeat in two separate referendums, leaving most of Batavia with 3Mbps DSL from SBC or an average of 6Mbps from Comcast.

Much of the blizzard of mailers and brochures Comcast and SBC mailed out were part of a coordinated disinformation campaign. Both companies also knew their claims would go largely unchallenged because Fiber for Our Future and other fiber proponents lacked the funding to respond with fact check pieces of their own mailed to residents to expose the distortions.

When it was all over, it was back to business as usual with Comcast and SBC. The latter defended its reputation after complaints soared about its inadequate broadband speeds.

Kirk Brannock, then midwest networking president for SBC, told city council members in the area that “fiber is an unproven technology.”

“What are you going to do with 20Mbps? It’s like having an Indy race car and you don’t have the racetrack to drive it on. We are going to be offering 3Mbps. Most users won’t use that,” he said.

risky

“All the subscribers got these extraordinary fliers. Ghosts, goblins, witches. I mean, this is about a broadband utility. Very scary stuff. This is real. This is comical, but this is very real,” Catharine Rice of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice said of the fliers at an event discussing municipal fiber earlier this year. “They have this amazing picture, and then they lie about what happened. They’re piling in facts that aren’t true.”

In communities that won approval for construction of publicly-owned fiber networks, the battle wasn’t over. Tennessee’s large state cable lobbying group unsuccessfully sued EPB to keep it out of the fiber business. In North Carolina, Time Warner Cable effectively wrote legislation introduced and passed by the Republican-dominated General Assembly that forbade community broadband expansion and made constructing new networks nearly impossible. In Ohio, another cable industry-sponsored piece of legislation destroyed the business plan of Lebanon’s fiber network, forcing the community to eventually sell the network at a loss to Cincinnati Bell.

The larger Comcast grows, the more financial resources it can bring to bare against any would-be competitors. Even in 2004, the company was large enough to force would-be community competitors to steer clear and stay out of its territory.

women

 

Free Speed Upgrades, 3000th Customer for North Carolina’s Community-Owned Fibrant

fibrant speedSalisbury’s community-owned fiber network has tripled its subscriber base in three years, signing up its 3,000th customer in the community of 33,000 and is already turning a profit.

Fibrant, despite facing intense opposition from corporate-backed, conservative special interest groups with financial ties to its competitors and a state law passed at the behest of Time Warner Cable that limits its future growth opportunities, has proven very successful delivering improved Internet access to a community that received the back of Time Warner’s hand when it requested service upgrades.

Salisbury invested $33 million to install more than 250 miles of fiber in and around the community and began hooking up customers to its all-fiber network in late 2010. By the following summer, 1,200 customers signed up. Today, Fibrant serves more than 3,000 homes in the community.

WCNC-TV in Charlotte reports Fibrant is likely to break even this year after losing $4.1 million the year before — a loss Fibrant attributes to normal start-up costs faced by almost every new business.

Dale Gibson has been thrilled to be a Fibrant customer since the beginning and is even happier now that Fibrant offers gigabit speeds.

“Generally, when an Internet service provider gives a speed, it represents bandwidth, or a theoretical ‘best effort’ speed, not the ‘throughput,’ or actual speed,” Gibson told the Salisbury Post. “My speed tests are consistently above 900Mbps.”

In 2013, Fibrant raised the speed of its entry-level broadband package to 20/20Mbps for no extra charge. In the coming week, Fibrant’s basic broadband customers will be getting another free upgrade to 50/50Mbps.

Customers who want even faster speeds are also getting them for no extra charge:

  • 30/30Mbps customers will see their speed raised to 75/75Mbps;
  • 50/50Mbps customers get a free speed increase to 100/100Mbps;
  • 100/100Mbps customers get the best upgrade of all: 1,000/1,000Mbps service at no extra cost.

Fibrant’s competitions cannot come close. AT&T U-verse still tops out at around 24Mbps in this part of North Carolina and caps its customers to 250GB of usage a month. Time Warner Cable’s best speed remains 50/5Mbps at a price higher than what Fibrant charges for 100/100Mbps.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee, but mostly AT&T and Comcast)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee, but mostly AT&T and Comcast)

Fibrant has also improved its video packages, with new features like a whole house DVR, more channels, and more HD. Customers who don’t want networks shoveled at them can buy a basic cable TV package from Fibrant for $37 a month. Those who want more can upgrade to several different packages offering a maximum of over 450 TV channels and 50 music channels.

Customers in nearby communities who want the kind of competition Fibrant delivers will have to wait a long time to get it. Time Warner Cable, with the support of the Republican state legislature, successfully introduced and eventually passed the cable company-drafted measure to essentially ban community broadband in the state. FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler promised to consider eliminating these state corporate protectionism laws, provoking a hostile response in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican with heavy backing from telecommunications giants AT&T and Comcast, introduced a measure for the benefit of large phone and cable companies that would override any effort by the FCC to increase competition by eliminating anti-competitive restrictions on public broadband.

“Blackburn’s positions line up very well with the cable and telephone companies that give a lot of money to her campaigns,” said Christopher Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “In this case, Blackburn is doing what it takes to benefit the cable and telephone companies rather than the United States, which needs more choices, faster speeds, and lower prices. The argument that Blackburn puts forth [for passage of her measure] is not coherent. It’s just politics.”

Republicans in the House responded anyway, passing her measure 223-200. Just two Democrats voted in favor. The bill is not expected to pass the Senate and would almost certainly face a presidential veto.

New York Democrat Jose Serrano relished the ideological irony of House Republicans forced to twist their positions to accommodate AT&T.

“Whatever happened to localism or local control?,” asked Serrano. “This amendment means the federal government will tell every local citizen, mayor, and county council member that they may not act in their own best interests. Any such amendment is an attack on the rights of individual citizens speaking through their local leaders to determine if their broadband needs are being met.”

As community-owned providers in North Carolina found out, Big Telecom money often speaks louder than ideological consistency.

Mooresville, N.C. Revokes Time Warner Cable’s Easement Agreements; Possible Trespass Cited

Mayor Atkins

Mayor Atkins

A North Carolina community concerned about alleged abuse of homeowners’ private property rights by Time Warner Cable has revoked all of the company’s easement agreements, exposing the cable operator to lawsuits from residents.

Mayor Miles Atkins observed Time Warner crews burying fiber optic lines on the property of local residents, well outside of the rights-of-way established by the local government along town-maintained streets.

The Charlotte Observer reported Atkins also personally witnessed crews burying cables outside his home — on a street where there is no right-of-way for utility companies.

Like many towns in North Carolina, Mooresville never established rights-of-way on older streets where above-ground utilities were installed decades earlier. Agreements with the owner of the utility pole governs the cables attached. In Mooresville, this generally includes electric, telephone, and two cable companies — Time Warner Cable and the community-owned MI-Connection, formerly owned by Adelphia Cable. Most rights-of-way and easement agreements in Mooresville cover buried cables.

Mooresville senior engineer Allison Kraft notified Time Warner Cable that the town has revoked all of its easement agreements with the company until Time Warner can prove it placed its buried cables only within the approved town rights-of-way.

If the cable company is found to have placed cables without permission on a homeowner’s private property, the resident can sue for damages and force the company to remove the offending line.

mooresvilleOne Mooresville resident was suspicious of the town’s motives, however.

“I’m sure the town’s ownership of a competing cable company had nothing to do with their decision,” said Mooresville resident Scott Turner.

But Charley Patterson is happy the town is taking action, suggesting utility violations of easement boundaries are rampant.

“During the building of our church’s new parking lot, we found not one but several utilities that had buried cable in areas well out of the easement boundaries,” Patterson wrote. “There were seven utilities with buried cable. Our construction progress was dramatically impacted trying to identify where and who had buried the cable. And some had the gall to try to tell us that we had to pay for them to relocate when they were 20 to 30 feet on our property, not at all in the easement.”

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