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Verizon CEO: We’re Going to Trim Some Limbs Around the Tree to Get Rid of Underperforming Assets

tree trimWith total ownership of Verizon Wireless now assured, Verizon Communications plans to begin “tree trimming” assets in its portfolio that cannot match the profitability of its wireless business.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam told CNBC he has already communicated with Verizon’s executive team about the direction Verizon will take after it buys out Vodafone’s ownership interest in Verizon Wireless. One potential target for sale: millions of Verizon’s rural landlines that cannot hope to match the revenue an average cell phone customer delivers the company.

Verizon’s wireless assets now represent the company’s biggest generator of sales and profit, accounting for two-thirds of 2012 revenue and almost all of its operating income.

Where Verizon chooses to invest is largely dependent on what kind of return the company can expect. So far, the best returns have come from Verizon Wireless.

“I think there is no better way to deploy our capital then to invest in a [wireless] asset that today generates more than $80 billion in annual revenue, provides a 50% margin, generates significant cash flows and is uniquely positioned for future growth and profitability,” McAdam told investors Tuesday on a conference call announcing the purchase of Vodafone’s stake in Verizon Wireless. “Beyond the financial benefits, there is simply no better asset that fit seamlessly into our portfolio and our strategic beliefs. Our growth strategy has three basic elements: connectivity, platforms and solutions. We are very bullish on the growth outlook for the U.S. wireless marketplace.”

McAdam made it clear to CNBC’s Jim Cramer the company is not so bullish on its declining wireline business, which includes landlines, DSL, and even FiOS — the company’s fiber optic network:

Jim Cramer, CNBC: “[Under former Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon] took areas that really weren’t growth areas and sold them to Frontier and other players. Would you be able to get rid of some of your underperforming landline businesses to be able to increase [Verizon's] growth even further?”

Lowell McAdam, Verizon: “That is a possibility. [...] If you talk about opportunities here, now that we have One Verizon, [...] we are going to trim some limbs around the tree here. Things that aren’t performing will not be a part of our portfolio so we can invest in things that will drive the kind of growth we are excited to be able to tap here.”

McAdam

McAdam

The trimming has already started in New York and New Jersey, where Verizon is moving forward with the introduction of a less expensive wireless landline replacement called Voice Link, now optional for some customers but could eventually be Verizon’s sole landline service offering in certain areas if state regulators approve.

Verizon calls the service an improvement for customers dealing with repeated service calls to fix troublesome landlines. Upkeep of Verizon’s copper networks has proved costly to the company, especially as it continues to count landline customer losses. The company argues providing wireless phone service is pro-consumer, providing a bundle of calling features and unlimited local and long distance calling at the same price Verizon charges for basic, no frills landline service. Local officials and residents using the service complain it is inadequate and unreliable.

“Voice Link is an innovative solution for a specific segment of Verizon’s voice-only customers that delivers reliable voice service using our trusted and reliable wireless network,” said Verizon spokesman John Bonomo. “Unlike copper-based service, it is less likely to fail during an adverse weather event because of our wireless networks’ resiliency.”

Analyzing the market value of Verizon’s buyout of Vodafone’s part ownership in Verizon Wireless and accounting for net debt reveals Verizon’s wireless operations are worth $289 billion, with  Verizon’s current 55 percent share worth about $159 billion. In contrast, Verizon’s wireline operations including landlines, business broadband, and FiOS are worth just a fraction of that — $24 billion, according to Bloomberg News.

carrierdatarevenue

Kevin Roe, an analyst at Roe Equity Research LLC in Dorset, Vt. values the wireline business at about $21 billion based on his estimates, while Spencer Kurn of New Street Research LLC puts the implied value of the unit at about $26 billion.

Verizon’s top rated fiber service FiOS has brought the company higher earnings and is deemed a success, but its total revenue remains insufficient to offset Verizon’s continued landline losses as customers drop home phone service and DSL. From a business perspective, that explains why Verizon is eager to invest billions in its high return wireless business while leaving further expansion of its fiber optic network on hold.

Revenue from the wireline unit totaled $39.8 billion last year, down from $50.3 billion in 2007, data compiled by Bloomberg show. During the same period, Verizon’s wireless revenue surged 73 percent to $75.9 billion.

“Clearly, wireless is going to be worth a lot more” than Verizon’s other businesses, Chris King, a Baltimore-based analyst at Stifel Financial Corp., told Bloomberg in a phone interview. Wireless is “where the growth is going to be coming from. There’s a bigger market opportunity going forward.”

McAdam has brought his enthusiasm for the wireless business to his role as Verizon CEO and its priority shows as he predicts even larger earnings in the future. McAdam told investors only 64 percent of Verizon Wireless customers use smartphones. Verizon wants to convert the remaining 30 million basic phone customers to higher-priced smartphone service as quickly as possible. Getting customers to switch to 4G-capable devices is also lucrative for Verizon, because its LTE network can more efficiently handle data at a lower cost. Only one-third of Verizon customers now use 4G LTE devices.

Embracing consumption based billing for wireless data is perhaps the biggest potential revenue generator of all as customers consume more data and begin connecting more devices to Verizon’s network.

Platforms including machine to machine and in-car connectivity “create even greater opportunities to drive increased usage,” McAdam said. “We also see many opportunities with Internet and cloud-based services. The digital economy is moving to mobile first on everything, which means there are many growth opportunities to pursue.”

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Verizon Says It Won’t Enter Canada; Incumbent Providers’ See Major Stock Gains

610px-Verizon-Wireless-Logo_svgExecutives at Canada’s largest telecom companies are sighing relief after Verizon announced it was not interested in competing in Canada.

“Verizon is not going to Canada,” Lowell McAdam, chief executive officer of New York-based Verizon, said yesterday in a phone interview with Bloomberg News. “It has nothing to do with the Vodafone deal, it has to do with our view of what kind of value we could get for shareholders. If we thought it had great value creation we would do it.”

McAdam added he thought speculation about Verizon’s plans in Canada was “way overblown.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Big 3 Canada telecom stocks surge as Verizon threat fades 9-3-13.flv

The CBC reports three of the largest telecom companies in Canada are seeing their stock prices soar on news Verizon won’t enter Canada. Kevin O’Leary takes a position shared by Bell, Telus and Rogers that no spectrum should be set aside for new competitors. Instead, he seeks a “winner takes all” auction, even if it means dominant incumbent carriers monopolize every available frequency. (3 minutes)

McAdam

McAdam

Verizon’s possible entry into Canada was among the hottest stories of the summer, even reported on the CBC’s national nightly news. The potential new competition provoked Bell, Rogers, and Telus — three of Canada’s largest phone and cable companies — to join forces in a multimillion dollar lobbying effort to slow Verizon down and make the wireless business in Canada less attractive. The Harper government used news of Verizon’s potential entry to promote its policies favoring competition over regulation.

Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said the company was considering a wireless venture in Canada at a June Wall Street investor conference.

“We’re looking at the opportunity,” Shammo said at the time. “This is just us dipping our toe in the water.”

Verizon took its toe out yesterday, despite the potential profits available in a country criticized for its extremely expensive cell phone service.

“I’m surprised that Verizon isn’t interested in Canada,” tweeted Adam Shore. “There are over 33 million suckers up here that will pay ridiculous cell phone rates.”

Bell joined Telus and Rogers to launch a multi-million dollar lobbying effort to make Verizon's entry into Canada difficult.

Bell joined Telus and Rogers in launching a multi-million dollar lobbying effort to make Verizon’s entry into Canada difficult.

The three companies most Canadians now buy wireless service from denied they wanted to keep Verizon out, arguing they simply wanted a “level playing field.”

Industry Minister James Moore suggested a fourth large player could provoke a price war in a way much smaller wireless providers like Wind Mobile or Mobilicity never could. The government was willing to set aside coveted 700MHz wireless spectrum at a forthcoming auction to help a new entrant — any new entrant — get started.

Verizon’s decision to stay out might have delivered a damaging blow to the Conservative government’s “pro-competition” solution to the problem of high cell phone bills. After the announcement, Moore was left promising only that spectrum auctions would carry on regardless of Verizon’s decision.

For now, the best chance of increased competition comes from Quebecor, which is gradually expanding its wireless network. Spectrum set asides almost guarantee the owner of Quebec’s cable giant Vidéotron will be able to bid for and win significant spectrum at the upcoming auction, some at a discount.

“If Verizon doesn’t show up, they’re actually in a very strong position to buy a block of spectrum that will not be very expensive,” Maher Yaghi, an analyst at Desjardins Securities Inc., told Bloomberg News. “Wireless is currently providing them with a nice growth platform.”

Without a surprise late entrant suddenly announcing interest by the auction filing deadline of Sept. 17, many analysts predict the outcome will likely not deliver Canadians any significant changes in cell phone service and pricing. The government may also be disappointed with the auction proceeds. Canada’s big three will likely avoid overbidding and still end up dividing most of the available airwaves between them. Quebecor may end up with most of the rest at comparatively “fire sale” prices. The Montreal-based company must then decide how much it will spend to expand its home coverage areas outside of Quebec, Toronto, and southeastern Ontario.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Verizon Wont Enter Canada 9-3-13.flv

BNN reports Verizon’s decision not to enter Canada leaves the Conservative government without an effective means to moderate cell phone pricing in the country. Mary Anne de Monte-Whelan, president of The Delan Group, observed the government may be forced to take a more regulatory approach to control expensive cell service, possibly starting with roaming rates.  (7 minutes)

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Verizon Buys Out Its Partner Vodafone for $130 Billion; Deal is Largely Tax Free

Merger Partner?

Verizon Communications spent Labor Day weekend putting the final touches on a carefully crafted deal to attain full ownership of its wireless unit, buying out its British partner’s 45 percent share in a deal valued at $130 billion.

The long talked-about buyout of Vodafone has been on the table for years, but became a priority for Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, who spent much of his career overseeing Verizon Wireless. Since McAdam took over from predecessor Ivan Seidenberg in 2011, he has refocused priority on Verizon’s wireless business, at the cost of landlines and Verizon’s fiber optic network FiOS.

The transaction dwarfs (by nearly four times) the $33 billion annual budget of the entire state of New Jersey. Verizon has agreed to pay Vodafone $58.9 billion in cash and $60.2 billion in Verizon shares, and finance another $5 billion of the deal in loan notes. Verizon has also agreed to sell its 23 percent ownership in Vodafone Italy worth around $3.5 billion and take on $2.5 billion of Vodafone’s debt.

A deal this large would normally generate tens of billions in tax revenue payable to HM Revenue & Customs in England and the Internal Revenue Service in the United States, but creative accounting at both companies makes it all but certain Vodafone will pay nothing in British taxes and only $5 billion to the IRS, despite its $130 billion windfall.

Vodafone is structuring the deal through a Dutch holding company, transferring assets to Verizon in a way that minimizes the tax bite. As proposed, the deal is exempt from taxes in both the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Verizon Wireless Vodafone McAdam Merger 9-3-13.mp4

CNBC had this exclusive interview with Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam discussing why Verizon is willing to spend $130 billion to end its partnership with Vodafone and how Verizon Wireless will change as a result. (12 minutes)

610px-Verizon-Wireless-Logo_svgWall Street investment banks will do better than American and British tax authorities, dividing at least $1.3 billion in financing, merger, and legal fees surrounding the Verizon deal. Many of New York’s largest investment banks are taking part in the transaction.

Vodafone is depending heavily on guidance from Swiss-based UBS and Goldman Sachs. The latter has earned $438 million so far this year advising companies on mergers and acquisitions.

Verizon is relying on advice from J.P. Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley. Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Barclays have joined to offer their help with the enormous debt-funding package required for the deal.

Verizon customers will notice little to nothing different about their wireless service after the deal is complete in the first quarter of 2014. Many customers had no idea Vodafone was part owner of the largest wireless company in the United States. Verizon always maintained effective control of the U.S. operation and plans no immediate changes as a result of assuming outright control of the company.

Little controversy is expected in getting the deal approved by regulators for the same reason.

Shareholders are likely to reap most of the rewards. Vodafone stockholders are expecting the bulk of the proceeds from the sale will be returned to them in the form of dividends. Verizon shareholders also expect better returns in the future now that Verizon’s profitable wireless unit will no longer have to set aside costly dividend payments intended for Vodafone and its shareholders.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BBC Vodafone will not pay tax on 84bn sale to Verizon 9-2-13.flv

The BBC reports the sale of Vodafone’s 45% share of Verizon Wireless has been structured so that both companies can entirely avoid British and Dutch capital gains taxes and limit the American tax bite to less than $5 billion.  (1 minute)

tax-free-weekendVerizon hopes being the master of its own destiny will allow the company to innovate its wireless network towards future revenue opportunities, especially in the machine to machine connectivity business. Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless are racing to enable medical devices, home appliances, electric meters, and automobiles to communicate over their respective wireless networks. Both companies are concerned that the cell phone marketplace has become saturated in the United States, with most people desiring cell phone service already having it. With Wall Street demanding ongoing growth quarter after quarter, new revenue sources are more important than ever.

“Even in the saturated market, (Verizon Wireless) continues to post growth figures,” Bill Menezes, an industry analyst at research firm Gartner told USA Today. “They’re looking at a world where growth is coming from these ancillary devices.”

Many Verizon shareholders expected a deal this year, but some are concerned Verizon has offered too much to buy out Vodafone. Many Wall Street analysts had expected Vodafone would part with its 45 percent ownership of Verizon Wireless for around $100 billion, but Vodafone clearly held out for more.

The corporate deal is the world’s third largest after Vodafone’s $203 billion takeover of Germany’s Mannesmann in 1999 and AOL’s 2000 $181 billion acquisition of Time Warner.

Vodafone is planning to use some of the proceeds not returned to shareholders to bolster its European business, which has suffered from the economic downturn and robust wireless competition that have kept prices low. Wall Street analysts predict the European market is ripe for a wave of consolidation similar to what happened in the United States over the last decade. Vodafone may need more financial resources to protect its market position or have the flexibility to buy out competitors.

The European wireless giant has been a quiet partner of Verizon Wireless for almost 14 years. Verizon Wireless was launched in 2000 as a joint venture of Bell Atlantic and Vodafone. As the venture was being launched, Bell Atlantic merged with GTE, forming Verizon Communications.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Discussing the media deals 9-3-13.mp4

CNBC reports historically low interest rates and cheap credit for corporations made it an ideal time to structure a deal so important to J.P. Morgan Chase, the bank sent CEO Jamie Dimond to persuade Verizon board members to approve it. Investment banks will split more than one billion dollars in deal fees.  (7 minutes)

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Nader: Don’t Let That Tax Dodging, Grant Taking, Ripoff Artist Verizon Into Canada

From the Desk of Ralph Nader

From the Desk of Ralph Nader

21 August 2013

Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister:

I read with interest that you are considering allowing Verizon Communications to operate in Canada with unique acquisition rights.

Bad idea.

Before you proceed any further, I suggest that you read a report by the highly regarded Center for Tax Justice and Good Jobs First titled, “Unpaid Bills: How Verizon Shortchanges Government Through Tax Dodging and Subsidies.”

Bottom line: Verizon is one of the country’s most aggressive corporate tax dodgers.

The report found that Verizon enjoyed some $14 billion in federal and state corporate income tax subsidies in the 2008-2010 period, even though it earned $33.4 billion in pre-tax U.S. income during that time. At the federal level, Verizon should have paid about $11.4 billion at the statutory rate of 35 per cent during the three-year period. Instead, it actually got $951 million in rebates, putting its federal tax subsidies at $12.3 billion. Its effective federal tax rate was 2.9 per cent.

The report found that at the state level, Verizon should have paid about $2.3 billion in corporate income taxes during the period but it paid only $866 million. Its aggregate state rate was only 2.6 per cent, far below the weighted state average rate of 6.8 per cent. This gave it state tax subsidies of about $1.4 billion.

Verizon also used a special tax loophole called the Reverse Morris Trust to avoid paying about $1.5 billion in federal, state and local taxes on the sale of its landline assets in various states.

The report found that Verizon also aggressively seeks state and local tax subsidies through credits, abatements and exemptions.

There is no centralized reporting on these subsidies, but the report documents $180 million in special tax breaks and grants Verizon and Verizon Wireless received in 13 states.

In addition to aggressively dodging taxes, Verizon also overtly rips off our federal government.

In April 2011, for example, Verizon paid $93.5 million to settle whistleblower charges that it had billed the government for “tax-like” surcharges it wasn’t entitled to impose on the government. Hidden surcharges on communication services have long been an unwelcome cost to business and consumers, and the General Services Administration had negotiated a firm, fixed-price contract with limited surcharges precisely to avoid being hit with hidden surcharges, the whistleblower alleged.

“Verizon was not only charging the government for the costs associated with communication services, but it also was pumping up its revenues by charging the government for Verizon’s own property taxes and other costs of doing business,” said Colette Matzzie, a Washington, D.C., attorney with Phillips & Cohen LLP, who represented the whistleblower. “Under federal law, Verizon was responsible for paying those costs, not the government.”

The settlement agreement covers the period from 2004 to 2010, when Verizon allegedly billed the government for a variety of surcharges including property tax surcharges, carrier cost recovery charges, state telecommunications relay service surcharges and public utility commission fee surcharges.

Question: why would you allow one of our country’s most aggressive tax dodgers, a company with a track record of overtly ripping off our government, into your country?

What’s bad for the United States will be bad for Canada.

Sincerely,

Nader

 

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Canadian Wireless Carriers Freak Out Over Rumored Verizon Entry; Panic Buttons Pressed

upsetcableguyThe three companies that control 90 percent of Canada’s cell phone marketplace have set what they argue is ‘cut-throat’ competition aside to team up in a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign to discourage Verizon Wireless from entering the country.

Bell, Rogers, and Telus have maintained what critics charge is a “three-headed oligopoly” in the wireless business for years, leading to findings from the OECD that Canada is among the ten most expensive countries in the world for wireless service in almost every category and has among the highest roaming rates in the world.

Americans also pay high cell phone prices, and customers of both countries will find somewhat comparable pricing when comparing prices north or south of Lake Ontario. A shopper in Niagara Falls, N.Y. can find the Samsung Galaxy S4 from a Verizon reseller for $120 with a two-year contract. A shared data service plan runs as little as $80 a month for 500MB of data and unlimited domestic calling and global texting. Travel across the Rainbow Bridge to Niagara Falls, Ontario, walk into a Rogers store and the same phone runs $199 with a two-year contract (most Canadian carriers used to offer three-year special reportcontracts until the government banned them earlier this year) and a service plan running $80 a month offering the same 500MB of data and unlimited domestic calling and texting. Rogers charges extra if customers want to text a customer outside of Canada, however.

Verizon is no discount carrier. Verizon management has repeatedly stressed it offers premium service and coverage and can charge commensurately higher prices for access to that network. So the idea that Verizon’s interest in entering Canada is to launch a vicious price war is suspect, according to many telecommunications analysts.

Keep Verizon out of Canada at all costs!

They are coming.

They are coming.

In June, the Globe and Mail reported Verizon had shown serious interest in acquiring Canadian cellular upstart Wind Mobile with an early bid of $700 million. Wind Mobile, one of the three significant new “no-contract” entrants vying for a piece of the country’s cell phone market, has limped along since opening for business in 2009, unable to attract much interest from customers concerned about coverage gaps and the poor choice of mobile devices.

More recently, Wind Mobile’s new owner — the Russian mobile giant Vimpelcom — has expressed an interest in selling off the carrier because it cannot gain traction against the biggest three, which also control 85 percent of mobile wireless spectrum.

News that Verizon had taken an interest in the carrier leveled shock waves across the Canadian financial markets. Shares in the three largest telecom giants fell sharply on the news. Earlier this month, Bell CEO George Cope reported that Bell, Telus and Rogers have taken a $15-billion cumulative hit on the capital markets since Verizon hinted interest in Wind Mobile.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Verizon takes aim at telecom Big 3 with possible Wind Mobile bid 8-19-13.flv

The CBC reported earlier this summer that Verizon Wireless was interested in acquiring the 600,000 customers of independent wireless provider Wind Mobile, which has an insignificant share of the Canadian wireless market. (2 minutes)

Spending a few million, or even a billion dollars, to keep Verizon south of the Canadian-U.S. border is well worth it to the three big players who have launched an expensive campaign to block the proposed transaction and are willing to pay premium prices to keep struggling carriers from being sold to deep-pocketed American telecom companies.

bribesTelus had already done its part, attempting to scoop up another scrappy upstart carrier that wanted out of the wireless business. But the Canadian government rejected Telus’ proposed acquisition of Mobilicity, claiming it would harm efforts to expand Canadian wireless competition. Not to be deterred, Rogers is now attempting a cleverly structured deal to acquire Wind Mobile out from under Verizon with a proposed buyout worth more than $1 billion.

To avoid the anticipated rejection of the deal by Canadian regulators on competition grounds, Rogers has reportedly joined forces with Toronto-based private equity firm Birch Hill Partners that would make that firm the owners-in-name. Although Rogers wouldn’t get a direct equity stake in Wind, it would finance a good part of the deal and win access and control of Wind’s mobile spectrum for its own network. More importantly, it could keep Verizon out of Canada.

“The government is handing out loopholes to Verizon to beg them into Canada”

Cell phone companies in Canada are particularly angry that the government has set aside certain spectrum and guaranteed access for upstart providers to successfully establish themselves without having to outbid the cash-rich big three for wireless frequencies or have to build a nationwide network from scratch. Bell, Rogers and Telus have consistently opposed spectrum set-asides for small carriers, deeming them “unfair.” They argue Canadians’ voracious needs for more wireless service are unending, and it would be unfair not to sell the spectrum to benefit their larger customer bases. But hearing that Verizon, a company larger than Bell, Rogers, and Telus combined, could get preferential treatment and spectrum to enter the country has them boiling mad.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Telecom debate 8-19-13.flv

Bell’s CEO George Cope appeared on “The Lang and O’Leary Exchange” to debate the fairness of Verizon’s possible entry into Canada’s wireless market. Cope argues Verizon is getting special favors. (9 minutes)

Cope

Cope

The idea of luring a company to move or begin offering service in a barely competitive marketplace is hardly new. Cities have offered preferential policies to airlines to fly in and out of particular cities, local governments have offered tax abatements to get companies to set up shop, and providing exemptions for zoning and infrastructure have been familiar to telecommunications companies for decades.

In 1880, the National Bell Telephone Company had incorporated, through an Act of Parliament, the Bell Telephone Company of Canada (today also known as BCE), which was given the right to build telephone lines over and along all public property and rights-of-way without compensation to the public or former owners. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Bell would later become the dominant monopoly provider of telephone service across much of eastern Canada.

When the phone companies were handed wireless spectrum to launch their wireless businesses in the 1980s, they didn’t have anything to complain about either.

None of that history impressed Bell’s current CEO George Cope, who took to the airwaves to complain Verizon was being given preferential treatment:

  • Verizon could bid on two blocks of Canadian spectrum set aside for new entrants to the market in auction later this year. Because the big three Canadian firms are not permitted to bid on these blocks, they are likely to be sold at a lower price.
  • Verizon would not have to build its own networks to remote or rural communities, but would be able to piggyback on existing networks.
  • Verizon can bid to acquire small Canadian companies such as Mobilicity or Wind, but Bell, Telus and Rogers are forbidden from bidding on them.

“A company of this size certainly doesn’t need handouts from Canadians or special regulatory advantages over Canadian companies,” Bell said in a full-page newspaper ad. “But that is exactly what they get in the new federal wireless regulations. We’re ready to compete head to head, but it has to be a level playing field,” Cope said in a TV interview, echoing Rogers CEO who also called for a “level playing field.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Is Verizon really the bogeyman Canada's telecom giants claim 8-19-13.flv

Bell, Telus, and Rogers have launched a lobbying campaign designed to make life difficult for Verizon Wireless if it chooses to enter Canada. The CBC reports Verizon will be able to bid on more spectrum than Canadian carriers and will have the right to roam on Canada’s incumbent wireless networks. (2 minutes)

Industry Minister Moore

Industry Minister Moore

Telus went further, claiming Verizon’s entry into Canada would result in a “bloodbath” for Canadian workers, laid off by the three largest Canadian providers to cut costs to better compete with Verizon.

But Cope said at least one Canadian carrier won’t be able to compete at all, because preferential treatment for wireless spectrum will result in at least one of the big three to lose at a forthcoming spectrum auction, guaranteeing degraded wireless broadband speeds and worse service.

The three companies have found little sympathy in Ottawa, particularly from Industry Minister James Moore, now on a road tour across Canada to promote the government’s wireless competition policies. He called the big three’s loud campaign self-serving and announced a new website sponsored by the Conservative Party of Canada to prove it.

“I think that the public instinctively knows that when they have more choices that prices go down and more competition they’re well served by that,” he told CBC News in Vancouver on Monday. “The noise that we’re hearing is about you know companies trying to protect their company’s interest. Our job as a government is larger than that, our job is to serve the public interest and make sure that the public is served in this so that’s one of the reasons why I’m pushing back a little bit.”

Industry Minister James Moore appeared on CBC Radio this morning to contest the wireless industry’s claims that Verizon is getting special treatment and will bring unfair competition to the Canadian wireless market. (7 minutes)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Oppose Verizon Wireless. Do it for Canada!

But the wireless companies show no signs of backing down and have turned towards appealing to Canadian nationalism and fairness.

fair for canada“The U.S. government is not giving Canadian wireless carriers any special access to the U.S. market,” says a website launched by the big three cell providers to drum up support for a “level playing field.” “Then why is it that our own government is giving American companies preferential treatment over our own companies?”

This week, a Reuters report citing unnamed sources suggests Bell, Telus, and Rogers are about to target Verizon directly with a new campaign warning Canadians the American giant has been implicated in allowing the U.S. government open access to network and customer data, which would represent a profound privacy threat to Canadian customers.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bell Rogers Telus Ad 8-13.flv

Bell, Telus, and Rogers paid to produce this ad calling on Canadians to protest unfair competition from an American wireless company.  (1 minute)

So far, Canadians’ hatred of their telecommunications providers has trumped the companies’ public relations and scare tactics. The Conservative government in Ottawa is winning support for its wireless competition war, even from unlikely places.

tweet“Someone mark the date,” Tweeted one Halifax woman not inclined to vote Conservative. “Stephen Harper has done something I mostly support.”

“Eat it Telus/Bell/Rogers,” wrote a Calgary man fed up with the lack of competition in Canadian wireless.

John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa, says opposition from the big three telecom companies is obvious because they don’t want to face a fourth, powerful competitor.

“They should be scared because chances are they’re going to have more competition in the Canadian market if Verizon comes in and they are going to have to lower their prices and compete harder,” Lawford told CBC News. “It’s pretty rich of them to be talking about unfairness” when they already control 90 per cent of Canadian spectrum, he added.

Iain Grant of the SeaBoard Group, a telecommunications consultancy, said government policies to open up more competition are designed to shake things up.

“[The new rules weren't] meant to be a level playing field,” said Grant. “[They were] meant to give a leg up [to new competitors].”

“To talk of loopholes, as some do, is to not understand that the same companies who complain most loudly about loopholes in 2013 were the recipients of even greater public largesse in 1985 when the government gifted their initial spectrum as an incentive to build a wireless business in Canada,” said Grant.

wireless north america

Few companies have taken on the Canadian big three telecom providers because of their enormous market share, at least inside Canada.

Nine out of ten Canadian wireless users are subscribed to Bell, Telus or Rogers. Trying to convince a banker to extend capital loans to effectively confront a wireless oligopoly in a country with an enormous expanse of land but not people and find enough airwaves among the 15% not controlled by the big three is an uphill battle.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Wireless war heats up 8-19-13.flv

CBC reports Industry Minister Moore believes increasing competition is the best way to cut Canadian cell phone bills. Regardless of whether Verizon enters Canada, the current government will continue to push for more competition. Even the threat of Verizon coming to Canada has already reduced prices. (2 minutes)

Why does Verizon want to enter Canada?

roamingAnalysts suspect Verizon’s interest in Canada has little to do with wooing Canadians to Big Red. Many suspect Verizon’s true interest is to make life easier for its traveling American customers who head north for business or pleasure.

Chief among the possible benefits is the elimination of roaming charges for Verizon customers.

“Verizon’s customers come into the country every day through all the bridges and ports of entries and they want to roam where they want to roam, whether that’s fishing in Saskatchewan or hunting in northern Ontario or wherever,” said Grant.

There are other apparent impediments that could limit the usefulness of Wind’s mobile network to Verizon. In addition to only operating in the largest Canadian cities, Wind’s infrastructure is built by Chinese firm Huawei and is not compatible with Verizon’s technology.

Huawei has been the subject of significant controversy because of its reported ties to the Chinese military. Fears that data could be intercepted by the Chinese government have kept many North American firms from doing business with the company.

Verizon also lacks bundling options for Canadian customers. The biggest three Canadian providers can offer telephone, television, and wired broadband service to their customers. Verizon can only offer wireless service.

Verizon has second thoughts

Perhaps most remarkable are late reports that Verizon may be having second thoughts about jumping into Canada’s wireless market.

Desjardins analyst Maher Yaghi said Verizon may have delayed its plans until after Ottawa’s auction of 700MHz spectrum planned for January to better understand the potential spectrum costs it will incur entering Canada.

Others speculate incumbent providers may be attempting to end the rationale for Verizon to enter Canada in the first place. One major development includes a much more favorable roaming deal for Verizon that could dramatically cut the costs for Verizon customers to roam on Canadian networks.

Regardless of what Verizon does, Industry Minister Moore says Canada’s goal of getting increased competition will continue.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Verizon doubts 8-15-13.flv

CBC reports Verizon may be having second thoughts about entering Canada. Verizon may not be interested in entering a political battle to win licenses to provide service and may want to acquire its own spectrum before considering buying either Wind Mobile or another competitor like Mobilicity. (2 minutes)

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Verizon Wireless and State Farm – Usage-Based Insurance: Tracking Your Driving Proves Profitable for Both

drive safeVerizon Wireless sees enormous new revenue opportunities in the “machine to machine” applications business, using its LTE 4G wireless network to exchange data between you and the companies you do business with.

Fran Shammo, Verizon’s chief financial officer, noted that State Farm Insurance is just one example where your wireless carrier and insurance company will quietly collect data about your driving habits and share the information for marketing purposes and to micromanage your driving insurance rates based on your real driving habits.

State Farm Insurance recently signed an agreement with Verizon subsidiary Hughes Telematics, which today embeds microchips into vehicles that can communicate over Verizon’s nationwide wireless network. In the near future, State Farm Insurance customers’ driving habits will be automatically tracked by Verizon Wireless with certain data shared with the insurance company to personalize your auto insurance rates.

Shammo

Shammo

“If you know the car insurance industry today, they do everything based on actuarial studies and make you pay based on your driving habits, charging a premium specific to your driving,” Shammo told investors at the Oppenheimer 16th Annual Technology, Internet & Communications Conference. “We will accumulate that data, analyze that, and send that off to State Farm.”

With the contracts signed, State Farm hopes to expand its Drive Safe & Save program nationwide later this year. It will be voluntary, for now, for customers driving OnStar-equipped vehicles from General Motors and Ford’s Sync system. Others can take part with Hughes’ In-Drive tracking device, installed by the customer. Customers choosing In-Drive will have to pay a monthly fee for the device ranging from $5-15 a month.

Verizon Wireless will benefit from tracking information about where customers are, have been, and are likely to go in the future. State Farm will not benefit from that level of precision, however. Verizon will purposely “fuzz” up those details, depicting vehicles only within a 40-mile radius. But State Farm will still know a great deal about your personal driving habits, which can directly affect your insurance premium.

State Farm says its program is primarily intended to deliver discounts to safe drivers (sometimes up to 50 percent off the highest risk category drivers, such as teens), not penalize unsafe ones. But the insurance company does disclose it will increase rates of policyholders caught driving over their selected mileage category or if they are ever tracked driving 80mph or over for any reason, regardless of the posted speed limit.

The amount of the discount is dependent on a number of factors, mostly based on mileage driven, the time of day the vehicle is on the road, and the rate which one accelerates and brakes while driving. But State Farm agents admit other factors can also penalize you. Making a lot of left turns will cut your discount — more accidents occur during those. How hard of a turn you make also matters – squealing tires and a fast turn will earn a spanking for aggressive driving. Do you often pass other vehicles? That can hurt your discount as well.

Progressive pitches its "Snapshot" drive tracking system.

Progressive pitches its “Snapshot” drive tracking system.

If you don’t drive the car at all, State Farm will, not surprisingly, praise your driving habits and boost your discount. A car driven under 500 miles a year may get a 30% discount. Drive it close to the annual average of 11,000 miles and your discount plummets to 11%. Long commutes hurt the most. A policyholder driving 16,000 miles a year will only receive 1% off.

Wherever you go, Verizon Wireless and State Farm, among other insurers, will be watching and that bothers some privacy experts.

“It’s a slippery slope,” Paul Stephens, an official with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, told the Wall Street Journal. While insurers say they don’t track routes driven, Mr. Stephens fears that as programs expand and get more commonplace, insurers may wind up with “a very detailed log of your whereabouts throughout the day.”

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter joined over 1.4 million other Progressive insurance customers driving with Snapshot — a competing drive tracking system. He concluded it felt like driving with a nanny.

It beeped at me when I braked too hard or floored it up the ramp to Highway 40. Each beep, I knew, was a demerit that could mean a higher insurance quote.

Like some other programs, Progressive lets you keep track of your performance on its website, measuring your braking, acceleration and mileage. It grades you as excellent, good or “opportunity,” which is a nice way of saying “no discount for you, bub.” It also awards little online merit badges. I got one for “alien abduction,” since I left town and didn’t drive for a week. When I finished the tryout, the system offered me an initial 12 percent discount from Progressive’s normal rate. I’m considering this device.

Privacy experts also caution that those refusing to install the currently voluntary drive tracking systems may eventually be lumped into high risk driving pools because insurers may conclude those drivers have something to hide.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Progressive Snapshot 8-13.flv

Progressive’s omnipresent spokesperson “Flo” introduces drivers to Snapshot, the insurance company’s driver tracking system. (1 minute)

afi“You can see who is defensive and who is aggressive,” said Richard Hutchinson, Progressive’s general manager for usage-based insurance. “It gives us very powerful data from an insurance standpoint.”

“If people choose to (sign up for the program), that’s up to them,” said Wisconsin state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), a longtime privacy advocate. “But I would just caution people to know exactly what they’re getting into.  I have huge privacy concerns (about the program). They are offering a 5 percent discount and I would assume somebody’s rates are going up somewhere else to pay for that.”

Wisconsin-based American Family Insurance takes driver tracking to an even more personal level with its Teen Safe Driver system, which uses DriveCam technology to maintain a comprehensive video and data record of driving habits. If the system detects unsafe driving, a professional driving coach will automatically receive a video file showing the incident, leading to a personal follow-up to discuss the dangerous driving.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TeenSafe Drivecam 8-13.flv

American Family Insurance’s TeenSafe Driver Program uses an in-car camera to watch teen drivers and automatically sends video of incidents to a professional driving coach if an infraction or unsafe driving is detected. Could insurance companies adopt similar technology for adult drivers for on-the-spot rate adjustments in the future? (3 minutes)

Erpenbach

Erpenbach

“Armed with this kind of data, an insurance company could eventually theoretically adjust a driver’s insurance rates on the spot, or even notify the policyholder they intend to cancel their insurance,” says Sam Underwood, who feels the insurance industry will soon police more driving infractions than local traffic cops. “While a safe driver may feel they have nothing to hide, their driving details could be subject to disclosure under a criminal or civil subpoena as part of any legal action, driving related or not.”

Ten years ago, privacy experts worried about automated toll collection devices like E-Z Pass being used to track driving habits. Underwood says insurance companies will take that to a whole different level.

“They have a vested interest in reducing insurance claims and payouts and there is probably nothing wrong with that because who wants to be in an accident,” Underwood says. “But under current laws, they are the judge, jury and executioner and can subjectively use this data to set rates as they please. It starts with a tantalizing discount but ends with a compulsory system that will make cell companies like Verizon Wireless a lot of money and let them keep a copy of collected data for who knows what purpose.”

The Wall Street Journal calls the programs “usage based insurance,” priced according to how customers actually drive. But there have been some familiar arguments and “family discussions” that have followed the regular report cards and insurance renewal premiums that arrive after enrolling into the tracking programs:

One day recently, Mr. Scharlau logged onto his State Farm account to learn he so far had earned “A+” grades for left-hand turns and for not topping 80 miles per hour, but only “B+” for braking, acceleration and time of day his Expedition was on the road. Mr. Scharlau said he and his wife now find themselves chatting “about our own driving and what we see around us: ‘Oops, did we just lose points?’”

inDriveLogoShammo says Verizon Wireless is just beginning to profit from this type of machine to machine application. It has well-positioned itself with the acquisition of Hughes Telematics, which develops chipsets that makes it simple to move data over Verizon’s wireless network. Shammo admits it costs just pennies on the dollar to transport information from applications like drive tracking devices. But Verizon isn’t satisfied just charging for data traffic. The real earnings come from processing the data Verizon collects, analyzes and transmits back to clients like State Farm.

“If you then take the next step, though, the value is really in the data in the cloud and how you can utilize data to do the analytics behind that,” Shammo said. “If you look at Hughes Telematics and what they are doing [...], it’s not the transport through Verizon Wireless that really creates the average revenue per user increment on that machine to machine [traffic]. It’s all the other analytics behind that. The ARPU on that is $20 to $30 higher than what it would be on a machine-to-machine type application for just transport.”

Verizon Wireless considers machine to machine traffic still in its infancy and primed for more profits. That worries people like Sen. Erpenbach who wonders where it will all end.

“If I’m State Farm, sure, I want to know about any driving habit of my policyholders,” he said. “I would also love to know, if I’m State Farm, what everybody does in their houses (for home insurance purposes). And I’m sure health companies would love to see people’s grocery lists.”

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AT&T Doesn’t Like T-Mobile’s Idea to Distribute Best Wireless Spectrum More Equitably

Phillip "Every other 2008 spectrum bidder except U.S. Cellular has since sold its winnings to AT&T or Verizon Wireless or has never provided competitive service" Dampier

Phillip “Every other 2008 spectrum bidder except U.S. Cellular has since sold its winnings to AT&T or Verizon Wireless or has never provided competitive service” Dampier

AT&T is unhappy with a proposal from a wireless competitor it originally tried to buy in 2011 that would offer smaller competitors a more realistic chance of winning favored 600MHz spectrum vacated by UHF television stations at a forthcoming FCC auction.

T-Mobile’s “Dynamic Market Rule” proposal would establish a cap on the amount of spectrum market leaders AT&T and Verizon Wireless, flush with financial resources for the auction, could win.

“Imposing modest constraints on excessive low-band spectrum aggregation will promote competition, increase consumer choice, encourage innovation, and accelerate broadband deployment,” T-Mobile offered in its proposal to the FCC.

Without some limits, wireless competitors Sprint and T-Mobile, among other smaller carriers, could find themselves outbid for the prime spectrum, well-suited for penetrating buildings and requiring a smaller network of cell towers to deliver blanket coverage.

In a public policy blog post today, AT&T argues T-Mobile is behind the times and its proposal is unfair and unworkable:

First, the purported advantage of low band spectrum – that it allows more coverage and better building penetration with fewer cell sites – has been overtaken by marketplace realities under which capacity not coverage drives network deployment.  Carriers deploying low band and high band spectrum alike must squeeze as many cell sites as they can into their networks to meet exploding demand for data services.  Second, to the extent this is less the case in rural areas, those areas are not spectrum-constrained and the lower cost of building out low band spectrum in such areas is offset by the higher cost of the spectrum itself.

[...] But this is not the only point that should concern policymakers.  Such caps will also suppress auction revenues, potentially to the point of auction failure, ultimately reducing the amount of spectrum freed up for mobile broadband use and undermining the auction’s ability to meet critical statutory goals.

[...] Even if T-Mobile’s proposal did not result in complete auction failure, its proposed caps would suppress auction revenues, reducing the amount of spectrum freed up for mobile broadband use as well as funds generated for FirstNet and to pay down the national debt.  That is because strict limits on participation by otherwise qualified bidders will make the auction less competitive and will yield less revenue.  Indeed, if T-Mobile’s proposed spectrum cap was strictly enforced, Verizon estimates it would be barred from bidding in 7 of the top 10 markets.  AT&T would face similar bidding limitations, as noted in our filing.

AT&T suggests the last major auction in 2008 attracted 214 qualified bidders and 101 bidders won licenses, including carriers of all sizes and new entrants.

But an analysis by Stop the Cap! shows the breakaway winners of the 2008 auction were none other than AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which paid a combined $16.3 billion of the total $19.592 billion raised. For that money, they acquired:

  • Block A – Verizon Wireless and U.S. Cellular both bought 25 licenses each. In this block, Verizon targeted urban areas, while U.S. Cellular bought licenses primarily in the northern part of the U.S., where it provides regional cellular service. Cavalier Telephone and CenturyTel also bought 23 and 21 licenses, respectively. Cavalier Telephone is now wholly owned by Windstream, which does not provide cell service and was selling its 700MHz spectrum to none other than AT&T. So is CenturyLink (formerly CenturyTel).
  • Block B – AT&T Mobility was the biggest buyer in the B block, with 227 licenses totaling $6.6 billion. U.S. Cellular and Verizon bought 127 and 77 licenses, respectively. AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless bought licenses around the country, while U.S. Cellular continued with its strategy to buy licenses in its home network northern regions.
  • Block C – Of the 10 licenses in the C Block, Verizon Wireless bought the 7 that cover the contiguous 48 states (and Hawaii). Those seven licenses cost Verizon roughly $4.7 billion. Of the other three, Triad Communications — a wireless spectrum speculator — bought the two covering Alaska, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands through its Triad 700, LLC investor partnership, while Small Ventures USA, L.P. bought the one covering the Gulf of Mexico. Triad 700, LLC sold its spectrum last fall to AT&T while Small Ventures USA sold theirs to Verizon Wireless.
  • Block E – EchoStar spent $711 million to buy 168 of the 176 available Block E licenses. This block, made up of unpaired spectrum, will likely be used to stream television shows. Qualcomm also bought 5 licenses. Neither company has used its spectrum to offer any services five years after the auction ended.

So much for improving the competitive landscape of wireless. Other than U.S. Cellular, which is rumored to be on AT&T and Verizon Wireless’ acquisitions wish list, every auction winner has either sold its spectrum to the wireless giants or has done nothing with it.

If “highest bidder wins”-rules apply at the forthcoming auction, expect more of the same.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless have significant financial resources to outbid Sprint, T-Mobile and smaller carriers and will likely win the bulk of the available spectrum whether they actually need it or not. Smaller victories may be won by smaller competitors, but only in rural areas and sections of the country disfavored by the largest two.

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Verizon Voice Link Wireless Landline Replacement: “Everyone Who Has It Hates It”

Verizon Voice Link

Verizon Voice Link

special reportThe New York State Public Service Commission has announced it will hold public hearings in Ocean Beach in Suffolk County, N.Y. to hear from angry Fire Island residents and others about their evaluation of Verizon’s controversial wireless landline replacement Voice Link, which Verizon hopes to eventually install in rural areas across its operating territories.

“Verizon needs to stop lying,” said Fire Island resident Debi May who lost phone service last fall after Hurricane Sandy damaged the local network. “Don’t tell me you can’t fix my landline service. Tell me you won’t.”

She is one of hundreds of Fire Island residents spending the summer without landline service, relying on spotty cellular service, or using Verizon’s wireless landline alternative Voice Link, which many say simply does not work as advertised. In July, the CWA asserted Verizon is trying to introduce Voice Link in upstate New York, including in the Catskills and in and around Watertown and Buffalo.

“I’ve been on the phone with Verizon all day,” Jason Little, owner of the popular Fire Island haunt Bocce Beach tells The Village Voice. The restaurant’s phone line and DSL service is down again. Just like last week. And three weeks before that. Like always, Verizon’s customer service representatives engage in the futility of scheduling a service call that will never actually happen. Verizon doesn’t bother to show up in this section of Fire Island anymore, reports Little.

“They never come,” he says. So he sits and waits for the service to work its way back on its own — the result of damaged infrastructure Verizon refuses to repair any longer. Until it does, accepting credit cards is a big problem for Little.

It’s the same story down the street at the beachwear boutique A Summer Place. Instead of showing customers the latest summer fashions, owner Roberta Smith struggles her away around Verizon’s abandonment of landline service. She even purchased the recommended wireless credit card machine to process transactions, but that only works as well as Verizon Wireless’ service on the island, which can vary depending on location and traffic demands.

Smith tells the newspaper at least half the time, Verizon’s wireless network is so slow the machine stops working. If she can’t reach the credit card authorization center over a crackly, zero bar Verizon Wireless cell phone, the customer might walk, abandoning the sale.

National Public Radio reports Verizon’s efforts to abandon landline service on Fire Island and in certain New Jersey communities is just the first step towards retiring rural landline service in high cost areas. But does Verizon Voice Link actually work? Local residents say it doesn’t work well enough. NPR allows listeners to hear the sound quality of Voice Link for themselves. (5 minutes)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Verizon's decision is making life hard for Fire Island's small businesses.

Verizon’s decision is making life hard for Fire Island’s small businesses.

The Village Voice notes Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam didn’t make the decision to scrap rural copper wire landline service to improve things for customers. He did it for the company.

“The decision wasn’t motivated by customer demand so much as McAdam’s interest in increasing Verizon’s profit margins,” the Voice writes.

Tom Maguire, Verizon’s point man for Voice Link, has not endeared himself with local residents by suggesting Fire Island shoppers should get around the credit card problem by bringing cash.

“Remember what happened to Marie Antoinette when she said ‘let them eat cake’,” suggested one.

For some customers who appreciate the phone company’s cost arguments, Verizon’s wireless alternative wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t work so bad.

“It has all the problems of a cellphone system, but none of the advantages,” Pat Briody, a homeowner on Fire Island for 40 years told NPR News.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who will tell you Voice Link is better than the copper wire,” says Steve Kunreuther, treasurer of the Saltaire Yacht Club.

Jean Ufer says her husbands' pacemaker depends on landline service to report in on his medical condition.

Jean Ufer says her husbands’ pacemaker depends on landline service to report in on his medical condition.

“Voice Link doesn’t work here,” reports resident Jean Ufer, whose husband depends on a pacemaker that must “check in” with medical staff over a landline the Ufer family no longer has. “It constantly breaks down. Everybody who has it hates it. You can’t do faxes. You can’t do the medical stuff you need. We need what we had back.”

Residents who depended on unlimited broadband access from Verizon’s DSL service are being bill-shocked by Verizon’s only broadband replacement option – expensive 4G wireless hotspot service from Verizon Wireless.

Small business owner Alessandro Anderes-Bologna used to have DSL service from Verizon until Hurricane Sandy obliterated Verizon’s infrastructure across parts of the western half of Fire Island. Today he relies on what he calls poor service from Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE network, which he claims is hopelessly overloaded because of tourist traffic and insufficient capacity. But more impressive are Anderes-Bologna’s estimates of what Verizon Wireless wants to charge him for substandard wireless broadband.

“My bill with Verizon Wireless would probably be in the range of $700-800 a month,” Anderes-Bologna said. That is considerably higher than the $29.99 a month Verizon typically charges for its fastest unlimited DSL option on Fire Island.

Despite the enormous difference in price, Verizon’s Maguire has no problems with Verizon Wireless’ prices for its virtual broadband monopoly on the landline-less sections of the island.

“It’s a closed community,” he says. “It’s the quintessential marketplace where you get to charge what the market will bear, so all the shops get to charge whatever they want.” And that’s exactly what Verizon is doing.

WCBS Radio reports Verizon is introducing Voice Link in certain barrier island communities in New Jersey. But the service lacks important features landline users have been long accustomed to having. (1 minute)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

In nearby New Jersey, Verizon’s efforts to introduce Voice Link has met with resistance from consumer groups, the state’s utility regulator, and the Rate Counsel. Over 1,400 customers on barrier island communities like Bay Head, Brick, and Mantoloking cannot get Verizon DSL or landline service any longer because Verizon refuses to repair damaged landlines.

Tom Maguire

Tom Maguire

“The New Jersey coast has been battered enough,” said Douglas Johnston, AARP New Jersey’s manager of advocacy. “The last thing we need is second-class phone service at the Shore. We are concerned that approval of Verizon’s plans could further the gap between the telecommunications ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ and could create an incentive for Verizon to neglect the maintenance and repair of its landline phone network in New Jersey.”

In some cases, Verizon has told customers they can get landline phone service from Comcast, a competitor, instead.

State consumer advocates note that other utilities including cable operators have undertaken repair, replacement, and restoration of facilities in both New York and New Jersey without the challenges Verizon claims it has.

“Only Verizon, without evidentiary support, is seeking to jettison its obligations to provide safe, proper and adequate service to the public,” wrote the New Jersey Rate Counsel in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission.

New York Senator Phil Boyle, who represents Fire Island residents, is hosting a town hall meeting tonight to discuss the move by Verizon to replace copper-wire phone lines on Fire Island with Voice Link. The meeting will be held at the Ocean Beach Community House in Ocean Beach from 5-7pm.

The New York State Public Service Commission will be at the same location Saturday, Aug. 24 starting at noon for a public statement hearing to hear from customers about how Verizon Voice Link is working for them.

It is not necessary to make an appointment in advance or to present written material to speak at the public statement hearing. Anyone with a view about Voice Link, whether they live on the island or not are welcome to attend. Speakers will be called after completing a card requesting time to speak. Disabled persons requiring special accommodations may place a collect call to the Department of Public Service’s Human Resources Management Office at (518) 474-2520 as soon as possible. TDD users may request a sign language interpreter by placing a call through the New York Relay Service at 711 to reach the Department of Public Service’s Human Resource Office at the previously mentioned number.

Fire Island

Fire Island

Those who cannot attend in person at the Community House, 157-164 Bay Walk, Ocean Beach can send comments about Voice Link to the PSC online, by phone, or through the mail.

  • E:Mail[email protected]
  • U.S. Mail: Secretary, Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350
  • 24 Hour Toll-Free Opinion Line (N.Y. residents only): 1-800-335-2120

Your comments should refer to “Case 13-C-0197 – Voice Link on Fire Island.” All comments are requested by Sept. 13, 2013. Comments will become part of the record considered by the Commission and will be published online and accessible by clicking on the “Public Comments” tab.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Al Jazeera US islanders battle telecom giant 8-13-13.flv

Al Jazeera reports Fire Island residents are fighting to keep their landlines, especially after having bad experiences with Verizon Voice Link. (3 minutes)

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The Incredibly Hackable Femtocell: $250 Lets You Listen In on Cell Calls, Read Text Messages

Phillip Dampier August 6, 2013 AT&T, Consumer News, Verizon, Wireless Broadband No Comments
A Samsung femtocell offered by Verizon Wireless.

A Samsung femtocell offered by Verizon Wireless.

The wireless industry’s push to offload wireless traffic to microcells and other short-range femtocell base stations has opened the door for hackers to intercept voice calls, SMS text messages and collect enough identifying information to clone your phone.

Researchers from iSec Partners demonstrated femtocell vulnerability last month at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, successfully recording phone calls, messages, and even certain web traffic using a compromised $250 Samsung “network extender” sold to consumers by Verizon Wireless.

Once anyone gets within 15-20 feet of a femtocell using compatible network technology (CDMA or GSM), their device will automatically attempt to connect and stay connected to a potentially rogue cell signal repeater as long as the person remains within 50 feet of the base station. Many phone owners will never know their phone has been compromised.

“Your phone will associate to a femtocell without your knowledge,” said Doug DePerry from iSEC Partners. “This is not like joining a Wi-Fi network. You don’t have a choice. You might be connected to ours right now.”

During the demonstration, the presenters were able to record both sides of phone conversations and compromise the security of Apple’s iMessage service. All that was required was to trick Apple’s encrypted messaging service to default to exchanging messages by plain text SMS. Phones were also successfully cloned by capturing device ID numbers over Verizon’s cell network. Once cloned, when the cloned phone and the original are connected to a femtocell of any kind, at any location, the cloned unit can run up a customer’s phone, text, and data bill.

“Eavesdropping was cool and everything, but impersonation is even cooler,” DePerry said.

Although the very limited range of femtocells make them less useful to track a particular person’s cell phone over any significant distance, installing a compromised femtocell base station in a high traffic area like a restaurant, mall, or entertainment venue could allow hackers to quietly accumulate a large database of phone ID numbers as people pass in and out of range. Those ID numbers could be used to eventually clone a large number of phones.

iSEC Partners believe femtocells, as designed, are a bad idea and major security risk. Although Verizon has since patched the vulnerability discovered by the security group, DePerry believes other vulnerabilities will eventually be found. He worries future exploits could be used to activate networks of compromised femtocells controlled by unknown third parties used to snoop and steal from a larger user base.

iSEC says network operators should drop femtocells completely and depend on implementing security at the network level, not on individual devices like phones and cell phone extenders.

AT&T’s femtocells support an extra layer of security, so they are now unaffected by hacking. But that could change eventually.

“It’d be easy to think this is all about Verizon,” said Tom Ritter, principal security engineer at iSec Partners. “But this really is about everybody. Remember, there are 30 carriers worldwide who have femtocells, and [that includes] three of the four U.S. carriers.”

iSec Partners is working on “Femtocatch,” a free tool that will allow security-conscious users to automatically switch wireless devices to “airplane mode” if they ever attempt to connect to a femtocell. The app should be available by the end of August.

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Verizon: Diverting Landline, FiOS Investment to Pay for More Profitable Wireless Upgrades

verizonVerizon Communications is cutting investment in its landline and fiber optic networks, spending the money on improving the company’s more profitable wireless business, which now accounts for 67 percent of Verizon’s total revenue.

Verizon reported second-quarter results this morning, meeting most Wall Street analysts’ expectations. The company reported a minor increase in capital spending to bolster its wireless LTE 4G network which is seeing strong growth in data traffic.

Verizon Wireless added one million new wireless customers in the last quarter, many transferring from Sprint’s now-discontinued Nextel network shut down last month. Among the new customer additions, 941,000 signed two-year postpaid contracts.

A growing number of Verizon Wireless customers are also migrating to the company’s Share Everything plan. At least 36 percent of Verizon’s wireless customers are now on shared, usage-limited data plans. Verizon expects more customers to switch, especially when legacy plan customers discover they will not receive a subsidized phone upgrade unless they abandon the grandfathered, all-you-can-eat data plan. Verizon believes the Share Everything plan will keep the company in a strong place to accelerate earnings as customers find they must regularly upgrade to higher capacity data allowances to handle increasing data usage.

Verizon's wired success story

Verizon’s wired success story

The growing adoption of more expensive data plans means higher bills for Verizon Wireless’ 35 million contract customers. The average Verizon Wireless customer now pays $152.50 per month, an increase of 6.4 percent. In total, over 100 million Americans now use Verizon’s prepaid and postpaid wireless services.

In June, Verizon Wireless reported its nationwide upgrade to LTE 4G service was now essentially complete, with 99 percent of 3G service areas also covered by 4G. Verizon reports 59% of its total data traffic is carried on the 4G LTE network, which is five times more efficient than the 3G network.

Wireline: Success When Verizon Invests in Upgrades, Ongoing Customer Defections Where Verizon’s Copper Network Continues to Deteriorate

Verizon’s success story in wireless is not repeated on its wireline network. Verizon lost another 5.2 percent of its residential copper landline customers during the quarter, down from 6.6 percent at the same time last year. In contrast, where Verizon’s fiber optic network FiOS is in place, customer numbers are growing along with revenue.

In fact, 71 percent of the revenue Verizon now earns from its wired residential network now comes from FiOS. The fiber network helped Verizon boost revenues by another 4.7 percent in the second quarter. With an average Verizon FiOS bill now at over $150 a month, the company saw a 9.4 percent increase in the average revenue per wireline customer over last year.

Verizon added 161,000 new FiOS Internet customers and another 140,000 new video customers in the second quarter. FiOS Quantum, which offers a broadband speed upgrade to 50/25Mbps for $10 more a month, has continued to be a hit with customers. More than one-third of all FiOS Internet customers have upgraded to faster Quantum speeds.

Shammo

Shammo

With continued growth possible in the wired network business, Verizon could increase investment in expanding FiOS fiber into more markets, but instead the company continues to divert its attention and money to Verizon Wireless.

Verizon’s legacy copper wire phone and FiOS businesses saw a further reduction of 5.9 percent in capital expenditures in the second quarter — just $1.5 billion spent in the quarter and $2.9 billion year to date. Verizon’s full-year capital spending outlook which includes wireless, in contrast, is on track to spend between $16.4-16.6 billion this year. The majority of Verizon’s capital investments are aimed at improving its wireless network. Verizon’s aging copper wire network will continue to see a declining percentage of investment, and the company continues to leave FiOS fiber expansion on hold.

Fran Shammo, Verizon’s chief financial officer, this morning told investors they should expect to see a continued decline in spending on Verizon’s wired networks and more cost savings wrung out from Verizon’s declining unionized workforce, which has been asked to make concessions in labor contracts and increase work rule flexibility.

Other highlights:

  • 51 percent of new phone activations were Apple iPhones during the second quarter;
  • Over 64 percent of all activated phones on Verizon Wireless’ network are now smartphones;
  • Verizon’s 3G network will increasingly be used by prepaid and reseller (MVNO) customers not allowed on Verizon’s LTE network;
  • Verizon’s proposed entry into the Canadian wireless market is primarily focused on serving southeastern Canada from roughly Montreal to Toronto;
  • 60 percent of Verizon’s revenue declines in its enterprise division were due to the federal government’s sequestration — automatic spending cuts, and declining spending by state and local governments;
  • Verizon has no interest in competing with AT&T to acquire Leap Wireless (Cricket);
  • The impact of Verizon’s agreement with cable operators to sell each other’s products has underwhelmed, at least so far;
  • Voice Over LTE service, which will dramatically improve sound quality on voice calls, will arrive in Verizon handsets later this year with an aim to introduce the service sometime in 2014. But Verizon Wireless wants to be certain 4G LTE coverage is robust, because if reception deteriorates, VoLTE calls are not backwards-compatible with its current CDMA network and the call will get dropped. Getting it right is more important for Verizon than getting the service out quickly.
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  • Tom Tanner: I have switched to ACS because of paying close to $300 dollars one month because everyone in my household at the time streamed music and movies, used ...
  • txpatriot: You're right Phillip, my bad....
  • Paul Houle: Well, the lifeline program dates back to before cell service existed. The new cell phone lifeline programs have the legitimate purpose of extendin...
  • Phillip Dampier: The Lifeline program is a regulated program, regardless of the technology, because it provides a government subsidy. You are correct the wireless serv...

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