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Verizon FiOS Dumps The Weather Channel; Viewers Barely Notice As Accu-Weather Takes Its Place

Phillip Dampier March 16, 2015 Competition, Consumer News, Verizon, Video 1 Comment

twc protestThe latest contract dispute over cable programming between The Weather Channel and Verizon FiOS has deprived Verizon customers of The Weather Channel, but more than a few viewers who don’t live for storm porn don’t seem to notice or care.

Verizon’s FiOS TV service has “opted out” of further carriage of the 24-hour weather network, according to Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski.

Verizon’s contract with The Weather Channel recently expired and Verizon chose not to renew it. Early last year, DirecTV temporarily dropped the weather network over its proposed wholesale renewal rate, so the asking price is likely a factor in the decision to drop the network.

Conveniently for Verizon, last Friday competitor AccuWeather launched its own 24/7 weather channel and gained five million U.S. viewers on its launch day courtesy of FiOS TV.

A spokesperson for Verizon hinted that the usefulness of The Weather Channel has been diminished with the onslaught of digital devices that can call up a local forecast in seconds instead of waiting for one on a weather cable network.

Verizon might have a point, considering The Weather Channel itself has gradually lost interest in showing local weather in favor of reality programming to slow declining ratings. Weather junkies disapprove.

“The Weather Channel needs to do some internal soul-searching before taking a leap of faith that every FiOS subscriber wants to view their mindless reality shows and watch annoying dum-dums like Al Roker,” commented one affected subscriber in Philadelphia. “Good for you Verizon for dumping once-great but now junk-show/dumbed-down channels. There are more of these channels you can also start getting rid of, don’t stop.”

550x1418_03131223_accuweather_announces_groundbreaking_247_networkAccuWeather also called out The Weather Channel for preempting the weather for “Fat Guys in the Woods” and “Prospectors” — two Weather Channel reality shows that may encounter bad weather, but don’t report on it.

The AccuWeather Network promises viewers “all-weather, all the time without reality-TV fluff,” according to a statement from the State College, Pa.-based media company.

Bloomberg News notes fewer viewers are bothering to watch cable weather channels when they can get a commercial-free forecast instantly from a smartphone without waiting for “Weather on the 8’s.”

AccuWeather Network is aware of this and has not been designed for extended viewing, expecting viewers won’t watch for very long.

“We want our channel to be something you look at, get your weather, and then go back to other programming,” says AccuWeather CEO Barry Lee Myers. “It’s a way to use your TV, just as you might use your tablet or phone.”

That seems to serve Verizon just fine because Shirley Powell, a spokeswoman for The Weather Channel said discussions to renew their contract with Verizon FiOS TV have ended. The Weather Channel is now depending on viewer loyalty to force Verizon to put the network back on the lineup, because lowering the price has not worked.

“In the end, we offered Verizon FiOS our bundle of services at a lower price than the previous contract,” the channel said on its Keep The Weather Channel website. “They were unresponsive to our offer and surprised us and their customers by unexpectedly dropping The Weather Channel, WeatherScan, Weather Channel On Demand and The Weather Channel weather widget from their offering.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg AccuWeather TV Channel Just Has the Weather 3-11-15.flv

Bloomberg News talks to the CEO of AccuWeather about his new 24/7 channel that promises the weather and nothing but the weather. (4:55)

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)

Cablevision Declares War on Deal-Hunting Customers; Plans to Cut Off “Low Quality” Subscribers

Phillip Dampier March 10, 2015 Cablevision, Competition, Consumer News 1 Comment

optimumCalling and asking for a better deal from Cablevision might just get you Verizon’s phone number with an invitation to take your business to them instead.

That is exactly what happened to Sandra Ramirez of Deer Park, N.Y. who reports to Stop the Cap! she was given Verizon’s phone number by a Cablevision “customer retention specialist” after complaining about her bill shooting up $30 a month after a promotion expired.

“I didn’t expect that,” Ramirez tells us. “The representative, who was actually hostile, complained to me that I already had two Cablevision promotions in the last five years and didn’t deserve another one.”

At least 34,000 customers may have taken Cablevision up on its offer to leave because the cable operator lost that many video subscribers during the fourth quarter, most switching to Verizon FiOS.

The “go ahead and cancel” technique appears to be part of Cablevision’s strategy to purge itself of “low quality” customers by denying repeated requests for promotions and discounts.

verizon fios bundle“We found out that we were pushing subscribers back and forth on a highly promoted basis,” Cablevision vice chairman Gregg Seibert told investors at this week’s Deutsche Bank 2015 Media, Internet & Telecom Conference in Palm Beach, Fla. “I don’t want to roll a truck to you every two years if you keep going back and forth to another provider, so we’re getting rid of that lower quality, lower profitability base of subscriber.”

Cablevision started cracking down on promotional deal shoppers more than two years ago, denying extensions on promotions even when it leads to a customer disconnect.

If Cablevision hoped Verizon would follow their lead and stop heavily discounting service, that doesn’t appear to be happening. Verizon has seen significant success picking up new FiOS customers in Cablevision service areas. That falls right into place with Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam’s strategy to focus on building customer numbers in existing FiOS service areas instead of expanding into new ones.

Ramirez accepted Cablevision’s offer, wrote down the phone number and called to sign up for FiOS.

“When the representative asked me where I heard about FiOS, I told her Cablevision,” Ramirez tells us. “She said it was not the first time the cable company referred new customers Verizon’s way and we both got a laugh out of it. Verizon installed my service yesterday and I took my cable boxes back to Cablevision and told them goodbye.”

Verizon: Our Legacy Landline Service Areas are Not a Part of Our Future Growth Strategy; Verizon Wireless Is

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon Communications does not see its remaining landline customers as part of the company’s future growth and customers should not be surprised if Verizon sells more of its legacy network to other telephone companies including Frontier, Windstream, and CenturyLink.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference 2015 on March 2, Verizon chief financial officer Fran Shammo made it clear to investors Verizon will dump “non-core” assets that do not align with the company’s future long-term growth strategy, even in areas where FiOS predominates.

Shammo told investors Verizon’s growth strategy is predicated on Verizon Wireless, which will continue to get most of the company’s attention and future investment.

“It’s all around the wireless network and I’ve consistently said before, you should anticipate that wireless CapEx continues to trend up while wireline continues to trend down,” Shammo said.

The bulk of Verizon’s investments in its wired network are being made in areas that are already designated as FiOS fiber to the home service areas. Shammo explained that the company is required to invest in FiOS expansion to comply with agreements signed in cities like New York and Philadelphia to make the service widely available in those communities. Beyond those commitments, Shammo signaled the company isn’t planning any significant new spending to upgrade the rest of its legacy copper network.

“We continue to invest in those things that we believe are the future growth of the company,” Shammo said, and anything involving its wired networks outside of Verizon’s core FiOS service area in the northeast and Mid-Atlantic states probably doesn’t qualify.

Verizon-logoWhat will happen in Verizon service areas that are not considered priorities?

“For the right price and right terms, if there’s an asset we don’t believe is strategic to Verizon and can return shareholder value, we’ll dispose of that asset,” Shammo said.

An example of that strategy was Verizon’s sudden announcement in February it would sell its wireline assets in Florida, California, and Texas to Frontier Communications for $10.54 billion. Although a significant part of those service areas are served by FiOS after Verizon invested more than $7 billion on upgrades, Verizon still plans to abandon customers and walk away from that investment because it is not part of Verizon’s future growth strategy.

“If you look at Florida, Texas, and California, these are three island properties,” Shammo told investors. “FiOS is a very small footprint of those properties compared to the copper [except in] Florida because it was just Tampa. But you look at that and you say strategically there’s really not much we can do with those properties because they are islands.”

Verizon will spend the proceeds from its latest landline sale on the wireless spectrum it just acquired and will pay down some of the debt incurred after buying out Vodafone’s former ownership stake in Verizon Wireless. The company has also undertaken a massive share repurchase program, planning to buy back 100 million shares by 2017 to help its shareholders. To ease investor concerns about some of Verizon’s latest strategic moves, it also announced plans to buy back an extra $5 billion worth of shares in the second quarter of this year.

A close review of the latest Verizon sale to Frontier shows the extent Verizon believes in its wireless business at the cost of its legacy copper and FiOS networks. That comes as no surprise to Verizon observers who note its current CEO used to run Verizon Wireless.

Shammo, as featured on a recent cover of CFO Studio magazine.

Shammo, as featured on a recent cover of CFO Studio magazine.

“It’s been clear for years that Verizon has wanted out of the copper business,” said Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting. “They first sold off large portions of New England to Fairpoint. Then in 2010 they sold a huge swath of lines in fourteen states to Frontier including the whole state of West Virginia. And now comes this sale. It’s starting to look like Verizon doesn’t want to be in the landline business at all, perhaps not even in the fiber business.”

Verizon’s latest sale involves “higher margin properties than the rest of our wireline business,” Shammo said, in part because large parts of the urban service areas involved were previously upgraded to FiOS.

“So if you look at Dallas, we were over 50% penetrated both in TV and broadband,” said Shammo. “So, it was a very highly penetrated market that was delivering a lot of cash flow and delivering a lot of earnings. So by just divesting of the three properties, if you just did it on an apples-to-apples basis, there would be dilution.

Giving up that amount of cash flow — needed to win back the $7 billion in FiOS upgrade investments Verizon made in the three states — would normally concern investors worried about the “stranded costs” left over from investments that were never fully repaid. But Verizon has a plan for that: an “Involuntary Separation Plan” (ISP) for more than 2,000 Verizon employees, a polite way to describe job-cutting layoffs.

“We have a year to plan for this and the plan is similar to what we did with the last time we rolled properties out from Frontier,” Shammo said. “We will plan to offset the stranded cost and those plans are already being worked. You saw a little bit of that in the fourth quarter where we gave some ISPs to the represented employee base and we had 2,100 people come off payroll.”

Verizon’s growing preoccupation with Verizon Wireless leaves some analysts questioning the company’s wisdom giving up high-profit FiOS broadband in favor of wireless at a time when competition among wireless companies is finally emerging.

“Verizon reports an overall 41% market penetration for its data product on FiOS networks,” said Dawson. “Data has such a high profit margin that it’s hard to think that FiOS is not extremely profitable for them. The trend has been for the amount of data used by households to double every three years, and one doesn’t have to project that trend forward very far to see that future bandwidth needs are only going to be met by fiber or by significantly upgraded cable networks.”

Considering the wireless market is maturing and most everyone who wants a cell phone already has one, there are questions about where Verizon sees future growth in a business where it is getting harder to attract new customers.

“Verizon was a market leader getting into the fiber business. FiOS was a bold move at the time,” Dawson reflects. “It’s another bold move to essentially walk away from the fiber business and concentrate on wireless. They obviously think that wireless has a better future than wireline. But since they are already at the top of pile in cellular one has to wonder where they see future growth?”

Verizon Wireless Admits Spectrum Isn’t The Holy Grail; There Is No Wireless Spectrum Shortage

A Verizon executive told investors there is no wireless spectrum shortage in the United States and Verizon has historically purchased and warehoused spectrum it had no intention of using immediately.

Fran Shammo, chief financial officer of Verizon Communications, drew attention to Verizon’s controversial spectrum acquisition policy as part of a conversation with investors about the recent FCC auction that sold 65 megahertz of wireless frequencies for an unprecedented $44.9 billion, far and away the highest ever seen in a spectrum auction.

“In every purchase of spectrum up to this auction, the scale was that it was more efficient to buy spectrum than it was to build capacity because the scale was spectrum was cheaper to build on capacity,” Shammo said.

preauction

Before the auction, there were significant differences in Verizon Wireless’ network capacity in different cities. In New York City, Verizon controls 127MHz. In Los Angeles and San Francisco it manages with 107MHz, but only has 97MHz to work with in Philadelphia, San Diego and Chicago.

Verizon Wireless has always held spectrum it acquired at auction but never put into widespread use on its network. But bidding during the FCC’s most recent Auction 97 made bidding and warehousing unused frequencies an expensive proposition, more expensive than beefing up Verizon’s existing network with additional cell towers, microcells, and other technology to make the most use of existing spectrum assets.

“This auction flipped [our acquisition] equation in certain markets,” Shammo said in reference to Verizon’s bidding strategy. “And so we became much more diligent on what markets we strategically wanted and [which] we were willing to let go because when you looked at it, if I was to get what I wanted initially when I went in, I would have spent an extra $6 billion when I could create the same capacity with $1.5 billion by building it.”

In the most recent auction, Verizon Wireless considered spectrum acquisitions crucial in California, where it added frequencies in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. But Verizon gave up bidding on spectrum for densely populated New York and Boston where the asking price grew too high. That forces Verizon Wireless to increase the efficiency of its existing network in those cities. It will do so by deploying more cell towers to divide the traffic load, as well as adding microcells and other small-area solutions in high traffic urban areas.

Despite not getting everything it wanted, Verizon took the auction results in stride, claiming its network was fully capable of handling growing traffic loads even in areas where it failed to win new spectrum.

“People think that spectrum is the Holy Grail and if you don’t have enough spectrum, you can’t have the capacity,” Shammo said. “But actually that’s not true now because technology has changed so much. If you look at small cell technology, diversified antenna systems, and when you think [about] Chicago, if you walk down the street, you see small cells on lamp posts. So, the municipalities are starting to open up to that small cell technology.”

postauction

AT&T paid $18.2 billion for nearly 250 licenses, compared with $10.4 billion Verizon will spend on 181 licenses. The presence of Dish Networks in the bidding clearly irritated AT&T and Verizon, primarily because the satellite dish provider incorporated two “designated entities” — SNR Wireless LicenseCo and Northstar Wireless — as bidding partners, winning up to 25% off their bids as part of a “small business discount.” The two DEs won over $13 billion in licenses with $3 billion in savings.

AT&T accused Dish of circumventing auction activity rules and distorting the bidding.

“As a result, Dish the corporate entity won no licenses,” said Joan Marsh, AT&T’s vice president of federal regulatory matters. “The Dish DEs, who each enjoyed a 25% discount, won substantial allocations.”

Marsh complained Dish already controls around 81MHz of spectrum that remains unused for wireless telecom services.

Dish also made life difficult for large carriers who have learned to predict the likely bidding strategies of their competitors based on experience. Many were surprised Dish managed to both bid up prices and win a substantial percentage of spectrum, all for a wireless business it has yet to build.

T-Mobile was not happy either. CEO John Legere called the auction “a disaster for American wireless consumers.” T-Mobile suffered considerably in the auction, outspent by Dish & Friends 132 times for important wireless licenses.

“Three companies alone spent an insane $42 billion between them, grabbing a ridiculous 94 percent of the spectrum sold at this auction,” Legere wrote, referring to AT&T, Dish Network and Verizon Wireless. “This whole thing should scare the hell out of you and every other wireless consumer in the U.S., because there is another important auction next year, and the results have to be different if wireless competition is going to survive.”

With the auction over, Verizon Wireless will continue to shift its spectrum usage around to accommodate network changes. Verizon will continue to emphasize enlarging 4G LTE services while gradually reducing the percentage of its network used for other purposes. Verizon expects to shut off its CDMA voice network in the early 2020s and is reducing the amount of spectrum dedicated to supporting its legacy 3G network.

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