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Internet Slowdown Day is Here: Tell the FCC to Classify ISPs as Common Carriers

Phillip "It's common sense" Dampier

Phillip “It’s common sense” Dampier

The concept is so simple one might think there was nothing controversial about the common sense idea of requiring Internet Service Providers to handle Internet traffic equally.

But that would throw a wrench into the money-making plans of some of America’s top cable and phone companies looking for new ways to collect more money and bigger profits from selling Internet access.

Wireless phone companies have already got the Money Party started, throttling certain traffic while exempting partnered apps and websites from counting against your monthly usage allowance. Americans pay some of the highest prices in the world for broadband service, but it is never enough for some executives who believe the increasing necessity of having Internet access means companies can charge even more for access. With few competitive alternatives, where are you going to go?

With most Americans confronted with just two Internet providers to choose from, the stage is set for mischief. The normal rules of competition simply don’t apply, allowing companies to raise prices while limiting innovation to finding new ways to improve revenue without improving the service. That has worked well for stockholders and executives that green-light these schemes, but for all the money Americans pay for service, broadband in the United States is still way behind other nations.

A few years ago, the CEO of AT&T decided that collecting money from customers to provide Internet access wasn’t enough. The company now wanted compensation from websites that generate the traffic ISPs handle for their customers. In other words, they wanted to be paid twice for doing their job.

If you listen to some of America’s largest cable and phone companies talk, you would think that traffic from Netflix and other high-volume websites was sucking them dry. But in fact their prices and profits are up and their costs are down… way down. But that doesn’t stop them from contemplating usage-based billing and reducing investment in upgrades to keep up with demand. Netflix learned that lesson when Comcast refused to upgrade some of its connections which left Netflix streaming video constantly buffering for Comcast customers. Those problems magically disappeared as soon as money changed hands in a deal that leaves Netflix dependent on paying Comcast protection money to make sure customers can actually enjoy the service they already paid to receive.

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Former FCC chairman Kevin Martin believed competition would keep ISPs honest, but since he left at the end of the Bush Administration, competition has barely emerged for most of us. Julius Genachowski, the FCC chairman under President Obama’s first term gave some strong speeches about protecting Net Neutrality but caved to provider demands the moment he met with them behind closed doors. Today, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler presides over an agency that has repeatedly had its regulatory hat handed to them by the D.C. Court of Appeals, which has ruled time and time again that the current regulatory foundation on which Internet-related policies are enforced is completely unsound.

We can thank former FCC chairman Michael Powell for that. His decision to classify broadband as an “information service” during the first term of the Bush Administration carries almost no legacy of court-upheld authority the FCC can rely on to enforce its regulations. Powell’s innovation was warmly received by America’s biggest cable companies who quickly realized the FCC had regulatory authority over the broadband business in name-only. Powell’s reward? A cushy job as head of America’s biggest cable lobby – the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA).

Don't allow Comcast and others to slow down your favorite cat videos.

Don’t allow Comcast and others to slow down your favorite cat videos.

Wheeler used to hold that position himself, and his trip through D.C.’s revolving door connecting regulators with the regulated makes it unsurprising that Wheeler’s own Net Neutrality proposal is not far from what Big Telecom companies want themselves — permission to create paid “fast lanes” on highways that currently lack enough capacity to protect other traffic from suffering the speed consequences of prioritized traffic.

It reminds me of those highway projects where cars dutifully change lanes well in advance of lane closures while other cars blow past only to merge at the last possible minute, saving them time while slowing cars behind them to a crawl as they wait to move ahead.

Make no mistake – paid fast lanes will compromise unpaid traffic, reducing the quality of your Internet experience.

The best solution to this problem would be for providers to devote more revenue to regular network upgrades that benefit everyone, not create new ways to ration the Internet for some while letting others pay to avoid speed bumps and congestion issues that are easy and inexpensive to solve. But if your provider was already delivering that kind of capacity, there would be no market for Internet fast lanes, would there? Without Net Neutrality, providers have a financial incentive not to upgrade their networks and have little fear unhappy customers will switch to the other competitor likely trying the same thing.

Net Neutrality cannot just be a policy, however. A strong regulatory foundation must exist to allow the FCC to enforce Internet-related policies without having them overturned by the courts. That means one thing: reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service subject to common carrier regulations.

Net Neutrality opponents like to claim that would saddle Internet providers with decades old telephone regulations that have nothing to do with today’s broadband marketplace. But in fact that regulatory framework was originally established precisely for the reasons we need it again today — a non-competitive, largely unregulated marketplace is exploiting its market power to abuse customers and artificially interfere with traffic just to invent new ways to make more money.

People forget that in the 1920s, AT&T not only monopolized telephone service in most areas (and had a history of refusing to connect calls made from competing telephone companies to its own subscribers even as it hiked rates to pay for “improvements”), it was also attempting to force its for-profit vision on the newly emerging world of radio: “toll-broadcasting.” AT&T insisted that radio stations charge a fee to anyone who wanted access to the airwaves, and imposed the toll system on its own stations, starting with WBAY-AM (later WEAF) in New York on July 25, 1922.

Westinghouse, GE, RCA, and AT&T maintained such strong control over broadcasting and telecommunications in the 1920s, the Federal Trade Commission eventually filed a formal complaint with Congress declaring the four had “combined and conspired for the purpose of, and with the effect of, restraining competition and creating a monopoly in the manufacture, purchase and sale in interstate commerce of radio devices…and in domestic and transoceanic communication and broadcasting.”

It took the Justice Department to finally force a resolution to protect competition and the free exchange of ideas on the airwaves with a 1930 antitrust lawsuit against the four companies. In 1934, Congress passed the Communications Act establishing the FCC as the national regulator in charge of protecting some of the values that monopolies tend to trample.

The thing about history is that those who ignore it are bound to repeat it. Whether we are dealing with railroad robber barons, a Bell System monopoly, or barely competitive cable and phone companies, if the conditions are right to exploit customers on behalf of shareholders looking for bigger returns, companies will follow through. In the first two cases, with little chance that natural competition would bring a solution in a reasonable amount of time, regulators stepped in to restore some balance in the marketplace and protect consumers from runaway abuses. That has to happen again.

  • First, reclassify broadband as a common carrier under Title 2;
  • Second, enact strong Net Neutrality protections under that authority.

And don’t you believe that old chestnut that sensible regulatory policies will impede investment in telecommunications. Other nations that have much better broadband than we enjoy (at lower prices) already have reasonable regulatory protections in place that promote and protect competition instead of protecting incumbent market power and impeding would-be competitors. Investment in upgrades continues to pour in, further widening the gap between the kind of service we receive and what customers in other countries get for a lot less money.

The deadline for FCC comments on Net Neutrality is Sept. 15. Sending one directly is simple, effective, and will take less than five minutes.

  1. Visit fcc.gov/comments
  2. Click on the proceeding 14-28 (usually in the top three)
  3. Complete the form and type your comments in the big box. Tell the FCC you want broadband reclassified as a common carrier under Title II as a telecommunications service and that you want strong Net Neutrality policies enacted that forbid paid fast lanes and provider interference in your Internet experience.
  4. Submit the form and you are finished.
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Democracy Now Internet Slowdown 9-10-14.mp4

If your favorite website seems to load slowly today, take a closer look: You might be experiencing the Battle for the Net’s “Internet Slowdown,” a global day of action. The Internet won’t actually be slowing down, but many sites are placing on their homepages animated “Loading” graphics , which organizers call “the proverbial ‘spinning wheel of death,’ to symbolize what the Internet might soon look like.

Large Internet service providers, or ISPs, like Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T and Verizon, are trying to change the rules that govern the Internet. Some of the biggest companies on the Internet — Netflix, Mozilla, Kickstarter, Etsy and WordPress — are joining today’s Internet Slowdown to draw attention to Net Neutrality, the principle that service providers shouldn’t be allowed to speed up, or slow down, loading times on certain websites, such as their competitors.

This comes as 27 online advocacy groups sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler Tuesday, calling on him to take part in town hall-style public hearings on Net Neutrality before ruling on the issue as early as this year. Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman talks with Tim Karr from the group Free Press, one of the main organizers of the Internet Slowdown global day of action. (7:15)

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

charlotte-time-warner-cable-arena

Time Warner Cable Arena – Charlotte, N.C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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United Arab Emirates Internet Provider du Announces Upgrade to 1Gbps for All

du's call center is 91%  female and 100% staffed by citizens of the UAE. (Photo: The National)

du’s call center is 91% female and 100% staffed by citizens of the UAE. (Photo: The National)

Broadband users across the United Arab Emirates will soon find their Internet connections upgraded to 1Gbps as the country transforms its broadband services to deliver world-class speeds without steep price increases.

ISP du announced this month it had successfully completed tests to upgrade its network to deliver 1,000Mbps service to its customers, delivering a faster data experience over a substantially improved bandwidth backbone.

“Offering 1Gbps speeds is yet another incredible triumph of our team’s efforts and a significant milestone in our progression towards offering unmatched user experience,” said Saleem AlBalooshi, executive vice president of network development and operations at du. “As always, this is designed around our customers and they stand to benefit from this initiative.”

Customers in the United Arab Emirates already enjoy substantially better telecommunication service at a lower cost compared to North America.

UAE mobile users already receive VoLTE 4G service, which allows customers to talk and browse the Internet simultaneously on a substantially upgraded LTE network. The ISP has offered wireless customers HD Voice — a better quality voice calling experience — at no extra charge since 2012. The company has also extended the technology to its older 3G mobile networks and supports HD quality landlines as well. This year, the company will deploy its LTE-A Carrier Aggregation technology to combine bandwidth available at different frequency bands to improve wireless speeds and reliability.

In April, the country introduced new regulatory policies requiring providers to sell access to their networks at reasonable wholesale prices, spurring competition and letting residents choose between different providers for the first time. Despite the open access rules, investment continues to pour into the UAE’s telecom networks for expansion and upgrades, even as customers see their bills decline.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/UAE Weekly Interview Featuring Osman Sultan CEO du 4-20-14.mp4

UAE Weekly features du’s CEO Osman Sultan who explains how du is very different from ISPs in other countries, especially in the USA and Canada. Sultan explains du doesn’t use offshore call centers, doesn’t frustrate customers with constant rate increases and usage restrictions, offers nationwide Wi-Fi, and believes in using competition to please customers, not alienate them with tricks and traps. From Dubai CITY TV-7. (April 21, 2014) (21:39)

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Love for Comcast’s Merger Fueled By $100,000+ in Contributions

Emanuel

Emanuel

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been prominently cited by Comcast as an example of a U.S. mayor that has the insight to support the company’s $45 billion buyout of Time Warner Cable.

But Comcast also had the insight to avoid mentioning it had paid Emanuel and a political slush fund controlled by him more than $100,000 before Emanuel took pen to paper in support of the merger.

The International Business Times notes the mayor of the Windy City has deposited giant campaign contributions from Comcast and its top executives for years, including two signed by the author of Comcast’s press release thanking Emanuel for his support himself — executive vice president David Cohen. In addition to a $5,000 personal donation to Emanuel, Cohen also signed a check for $10,000 payable to the notorious Chicago Committee, a political slush fund Emanuel controls and uses to keep other local politicians in line with his agenda.

Since Emanuel first ran for mayor in 2010, Comcast and its executives have spent $50,000 on his campaign. When Emanuel was a congressman, Comcast was one of his top donors — spending $46,000 total from 2003 until 2o08. Other executives gave another $25,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that Emanuel chaired at the time.

With that kind of generosity, Emanuel had no trouble signing one of Comcast’s “template” letters in support of the merger, telling the FCC it was great for Chicago and would enhance Comcast’s “generous presence” in the area. While generous to Emanuel and other politicians, Comcast has pounded Chicago residents with relentless rate increases and perennially receives dismal customer approval ratings from locals.

Although Emanuel’s letter told the FCC the merger would not reduce choice, elevate prices, or otherwise harm consumers, piles of Comcast’s cash may have obscured Emanuel’s vision of what ordinary Comcast customers endure. WLS-TV in Chicago reports Comcast’s customer service borders on “abusive.” (1:38)

 

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Frontier’s Buyout of AT&T Connecticut Rejected By Regulators; Deal Offers Little Benefit to Customers

puraConnecticut’s tough Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) has rejected a settlement between state officials and Frontier Communications to acquire AT&T Connecticut, saying the deal offers very little to Connecticut ratepayers.

The settlement between Frontier, Connecticut’s Consumer Counsel and the Connecticut Attorney General’s office included commitments from Frontier governing contributions to state non-profit groups, phone rates and broadband expansion.

The Authority was told it could either approve or reject the settlement, but not suggest or require changes. It decided late last week to reject the settlement deal.

The regulator cited several reasons for its disapproval:

  • PURA_new_area_code_mapA landline rate freeze offers little benefit to Connecticut ratepayers because landline rates have been stable for years and any attempt to increase them will only fuel additional disconnections;
  • Frontier’s commitments to improve broadband service in Connecticut are vague, lacking specific speed improvements and rural broadband expansion targets to meet;
  • Frontier attempted to insert weakened rules governing pole inspections, which should be part of a separate regulatory proceeding;
  • The agreement might limit PURA’s ability to launch cost-recovery proceedings and flexibility to maintain oversight over Frontier’s performance in the state;
  • A contractual agreement requiring Frontier to make specific contributions to state non-profit groups is inappropriate and unenforceable;
  • A lack of information about how Frontier and AT&T will collaborate after the transaction is complete, particularly with AT&T’s U-verse offering;
  • No details about how Frontier U-verse intends to handle Public, Educational, and Government Access channels on its television platform;
  • A lack of a detailed disaster preparedness plan from Frontier to handle major service disruptions.

PURA’s Acting Executive Secretary Nicholas Neeley said the goal is to “improve the likelihood of success of Frontier as it assumes the duties, obligations and responsibilities currently held by AT&T in Connecticut.”

“(It seeks to) balance the interests of all parties affected by this transaction, promote competition and preserve the public’s rights to safe and adequate communications services,” Neeley wrote in a public notice. “The Authority hopes that such a session will produce an amended proposal from Frontier that would be deemed acceptable for consideration.”

The rejection also seeks to protect and preserve Connecticut’s regulatory oversight power over Frontier.

Frontier received a better reception from the Communications Workers of America. The phone company has traditionally maintained reasonably good relations with its unionized workforce. CWA approved of Frontier’s purchase of AT&T Connecticut after winning commitments for new union jobs, a job security program, a payout of 100 shares of company stock to each union member, and Frontier’s commitment to prioritize Connecticut-based call centers.

Wall Street is less impressed. This morning, Morgan Stanley downgraded Frontier’s stock to “underweight,” citing complications in the AT&T Connecticut deal and Frontier’s increasing debt load. Frontier is financing $1.55 billion of the $2 billion transaction by selling two groups of senior notes of $775 million each, due in 2021 and 2024. As of June 30, Frontier had amassed $7.9 billion in debt with just $805 million in cash on hand.

Frontier's proposed northeastern service areas would add almost the entire state of Connecticut to its holdings in mostly-rural upstate New York and Pennsylvania and the urban metropolitan Rochester, N.Y. 585 area code region.

Frontier’s proposed northeastern service areas would add almost the entire state of Connecticut to its holdings in mostly rural upstate New York and Pennsylvania and the metropolitan Rochester, N.Y. 585 area code region where the company got its name.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Frontier Communications Connecticut 1-2014.mp4

Frontier Communications introduces itself to AT&T Connecticut customers in this company-produced video. (4:03)

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Special Report: Big Phone and Cable Companies Are Losing Your Calls to Rural America

Phillip Dampier August 28, 2014 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video 7 Comments

aroundtheworldBig cable and telephone companies have opened a new digital divide by losing your long distance calls to rural America to save a buck.

The problems have grown so pervasive, a FCC investigation found some of America’s biggest providers are sending some of their long distance calls destined for rural communities across the U.S. through shady, fly-by-night third-party operators in Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Japan, Bulgaria and Romania before the phone ever starts ringing on the other end. If it ever starts ringing on the other end.

In Addison County, Vt., State Representative Will Stevens knows all about it. When not representing the people of rural Shoreham, he is running Golden Russet Farm, highly dependent on his landline to deal with customers.

“Phone calls here get cut off,” he told the Addison County Independent. “Or they don’t go through at all. So many times I’ve called elsewhere and you just don’t know if the call is going through, it goes dead. It rings then goes dead. You can’t tell how many times it’s rung on the other end if at all.”

It’s even worse when callers get a recording stating the number is no longer in service.

That is what happened to Pat Plautz who runs a small map store in the town of Reedsburg, Wis. A caller from Milwaukee trying to place an order first got a recording stating her number had been disconnected. Lucky for her the caller tried again, this time connecting.

“My main concern is that people think we’re out of business,” Plautz said.

As many as one in five long-distance calls to rural communities either aren’t connected to the intended number or are corrupted by issues such as static or garbled sound, according to Communications Data Group, a telephone billing company based in Champaign, Ill.

In rural upstate New York, some callers report nearly 100% of their call attempts to certain rural customers fail.

Stevens has attempted to place calls from his rural Shoreham Tel landline in Vermont across Lake Champlain to his father’s camp – 30 minutes away by car – served by the Crown Point Telephone Corporation in Crown Point, N.Y., with absolutely no success.

Rural call failures have created a number of safety fears for concerned relatives, particularly those trying to reach seasonal residents — often retirees that live in the area part of the year.

“When they can’t get through they’ll call us and ask us to check the lines, and we do and they are working properly, so then they’ll ask us if we can go out and see if the person is OK because they aren’t answering their phone,” said Shana Macey, president of the Crown Point phone company. “And we’ll do that because we’re concerned, too.”

A Nationwide Deterioration of Rural Telephone Service

In rural Wisconsin and Minnesota, even 911 calls can get lost. In west-central Minnesota, particularly those along the I-94 corridor, hard-hit communities like Brainerd and Little Falls find their 911 calls are being dropped or lost and businesses have reported huge drops in incoming long distance calls, costing them business.

Shoreham, Vt. to Crown Point, N.Y. by auto.

Shoreham, Vt. to Crown Point, N.Y. by auto.

In Kansas, home to many rural independent phone companies, long distance call problems have become so pervasive, phone companies are publishing information about the problem in their phone directories and on their websites.

Rural customers complain long distance calls often lose one side of the conversation so both parties cannot hear each other, or the call is lost in static and distortion that make it sound like it originated from the middle of Siberia.

What shocked the FCC into calling this problem “epic” earlier this year was the revelation that long distance calls between people as little as 15 miles away from each other often are routed through Siberia or other distant lands as long distance companies seek the cheapest possible way to route calls to boost profits.

Welcome to the world of “Least Cost Routing,” (LCR) a harmless-sounding phrase that often means the difference between getting a long distance call or not.

You might have experienced LCR if you have encountered any of the following:

  • Someone tells you they tried to call you but your phone never rang;
  • Someone tells you they tried to call you and the phone rang on their end, but didn’t ring on yours;
  • A call came through but the quality was poor;
  • One side of the call cannot reliably hear the other;
  • Phantom touch-tone sounds erupt in mid-conversation or distorted sounds from other phone conversations occasionally break through and can be heard by one or both parties;
  • A call came through but the Caller ID was incorrect.

Nationally, users of Google Voice, MagicJack, and other discount long distance services have probably observed at least one of these, all because the companies involved are looking for the cheapest ways possible to route your call.

But the problems have grown well beyond the deep discount providers and affect Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other phone and cable company telephone customers. Evidence suggests unregulated cable and wireless phone calls are much more likely to encounter LCR than traditional regulated landlines.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KMSP Minneapolis Dropped Calls 3-5-14.mp4

KMSP in Minneapolis reports Minnesota officials are helpless trying to resolve call completion problems because their oversight powers have been largely stripped away by deregulation and telecom lobbyists want to keep it that way. (3:14)

lcr

Least Cost Routing in action.

Deregulation Implicated in Race for High Profits, Low Call Quality

Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission, perhaps slightly perturbed after watching its oversight powers get largely stripped away by the Walker Administration at the behest of AT&T, explained the reality:

Once upon a time – back in the days of rotary phones – a phone call was carried over copper wires which formed a single circuit from end to end. Those days are gone. Today, the network is almost entirely digital, with calls reduced to bits and sent over a massive web of links provided by telephone, cable, cellular and fixed wireless providers. These networks pass calls using a complex set of computer controls, interfaces and protocols. Rural call completion issues appear to be caused by some error or errors in programming, or incompatibility in the software somewhere in the network, that prevents the call from reaching the rural telephone company at all.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker directed his Republican colleagues to draft a sweeping deregulation bill at the behest of AT&T.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker directed his Republican colleagues to draft a sweeping deregulation bill at the behest of AT&T.

The problem is bad enough in Wisconsin the PSC has devoted a section of its website to address the problem, but that is about all it can do. In 2011, Gov. Walker directed his Republican colleagues to draft a sweeping deregulation measure ghostwritten by AT&T. The bill completely stripped the PSC of its ability to investigate consumer complaints or the problems of rural call completion. The Assembly approved the Republican bill 80-13 and the Senate quickly followed on a 25-8 vote. Walker promptly signed the bill into law.

Consumer advocates and rural officials warned the bill would lead to a deterioration of telephone service in Wisconsin, especially in rural areas — exactly what has happened.

“We’re pitting urban against rural,” said Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma). “The consumer has absolutely no recourse under this bill.”

Nonsense, declared Sen. Rich Zipperer (R-Pewaukee). “We’re ready to keep up with the technology. First and foremost, this is a job creation bill,” he said.

In fact, the bill may have indeed created new jobs… for overseas, fly-by-night wholesale call connection companies in places like Bulgaria, the United Arab Emirates, and across Russia.

Hundreds of new and mysterious telecommunications companies, some literally run out of garages with a consumer residential broadband account, jumped into the wholesale call completion marketplace. Telephone and cable companies use sophisticated databases that maintain constantly changing price lists for IP-based call completion services. If a long distance company wants the cheapest possible rate, a computer will automatically choose whatever company offers it, without regard to the reputation of the company or its ability to properly route the call.

Fraud has become a serious problem, with some call connection companies charging below-market rates and then connecting calls to an artificial, never-ending ringing signal or an intercept recording stating the number is out of service. Consumers are generally not charged for unanswered calls or those to disconnected numbers, but phone and cable companies often are.

So why do rural Americans suffer the biggest problems? Because rural telephone exchanges are allowed to charge slightly higher call completion fees to companies sending their customers’ calls into these rural areas. The higher charges help defray the higher costs incurred by rural independent phone companies to maintain service with a much smaller customer base. Verizon has millions of landline customers in New York. Crown Point Telephone has 735.

There are millions to be made in the call completion business and a growing number of cell phone companies and large phone and cable companies have teamed up with third-party call completion discounters to shave costs and increase profits. The more money to be made, the more advanced the call routing schemes have become. In the last few years, LCR has become nearly as frenzied as the stock market, with call completion rates subject to change constantly as capacity increases or decreases and as competitors try to match or beat others’ rates.

pushpollA Race to the Bottom

As flyers know, it is often cheaper to fly into a major city and catch a connecting flight to your final destination instead of booking a direct flight. The same is true for phone calls. Mr. Stevens’ call across Lake Champlain involved two high-cost rural telephone companies. So his long distance carrier (or cell phone company) likely sold the call to a third-party to handle. If that third-party found it cheaper to send the call overseas and then back again (often to avoid connection fees), that is exactly what will happen. If it found it couldn’t make any money on the call, it likely dropped it.

“In some cases, the calls become looped in the network and are never completed. In other cases, the calls are delivered via a low quality network which results in poor sound quality,” the Reedsburg Utility Commission, which also runs a local telephone company, says on its website.

In one case a call from Milwaukee to northeast Wisconsin was routed through carriers in Singapore, Dubai, and parts of Europe including Russia.

“It just kept getting shipped everywhere. It was insane,” Peter Jahn, of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s Division of Business and Communications Services, told the Journal-Sentinel.

These third-party operators have no responsibility to guarantee calls will be connected, and when their algorithm discovers it has been saddled with a money-losing call that will cost more to complete than the company is charging, it simply drops it, leaving the caller with dead silence, an artificial busy signal, or a dial tone.

“It’s something that’s been going on for years, and it’s very difficult to identify the bad actors. … Some of them could be fly-by-night operations,” admitted Bill Esbeck, executive director of the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association, which represents telephone companies.

The Murky World of Grey Routes

special reportIn fact, the industry has a different name for this type of call handling – grey routes.

“The grey route is, literally, a sub-par phone line or phone company who is intentionally selling phone service in areas that should be expensive but is cutting corners to be able to provide the service for less,” says 2600hz, a Voice over IP service provider. “An example of a grey route, in it’s simplest form, might be someone buying 50 phone lines that were on special from the phone company for six months – and putting those phone lines in their garage. Then they buy an Internet connection and funnel calls from the Internet to those cheap phone lines all day long.”

The company says grey routes are responsible for a lot of the problems will call completion and quality.

“They’re most likely using a poor quality Internet connection, poor quality equipment and aren’t interested in debugging or fixing problems with their setup – as long as they can keep you on the line long enough to bill the other party,” says the company.

“How do they achieve that? They pitch the route to the phone company who’s losing money on expensive phone calls and falsely promise them great quality. In essence, the theory goes that if only 5% of your calls go over a ‘grey route’ then phone companies can save literally millions of dollars and most customers will ‘tolerate’ the poor quality because it only occurs on such a small number of calls. Unfortunately, the side effects of such behavior range from broken Caller ID and touchtone transmission to audio quality cut-outs and generally poor sounding calls.”

Fly-by-Night Least Cost Call Routing

Fly-by-Night Least Cost Call Routing

Because many of these providers are unsophisticated, mistakes in call routing are common.

In one instance, all calls intended for an area in northern Wisconsin instead were routed to a car dealership, which was deluged with wrong-number calls.

“It took months and months to figure out who had screwed this up,” Jahn told the newspaper.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just the discount long distance providers that occasionally hand off calls to grey routes. The biggest cell phone and cable companies also use them.

For months, Pat Fretschel of Reedsburg had trouble getting calls from Milwaukee. Her callers would assume she wasn’t home and would hang up, when in fact the phone wasn’t ringing at her end of the line.

The problem only affected callers using Time Warner Cable phone service.

“Time Warner kept trying to tell me the calls were being hijacked out of California. I could never wrap my head around that,” Fretschel told the Journal-Sentinel.

Back in New England, Jackie Ambrozaitis is thankful she has a website to advertise her Falkenbury Farm Guest House, because she has no idea how many long distance calls she is missing.

Molly Worden, Jackie’s daughter who lives in Connecticut, reports to the Addison County Independent that she has problems every month reaching both her mother and a sister who also lives in Benson.

Rural first responders can't respond if they don't get a call.

Rural first responders can’t respond if they don’t get the call.

“I call Shoreham Tel and they test the line and they say it’s my phone; they tell me my phone looks for the cheapest way to send the call,” Worden says. “I’ve had people over to the house and called from several different carriers with their cell phones, I’ve tried Verizon, Sprint, Nextel, and I still can’t get through. It will ring 20 times without answer or it goes to busy. Sometimes five, six days in a row I can’t get through.”

Worden’s young children get frustrated when they can’t talk to their grandparents in Vermont, and Ambrozaitis’s 90-year-old father-in-law in Connecticut gets distressed when he can’t reach the family.

Your Health and Safety at Risk?

But the problem isn’t just annoying for friends and family trying to stay in touch.

Doctors “have been unable to reach patients, hospitals have been unable to reach on-call emergency surgeons, and there is a reported instance in which a 911 call center was unable to make emergency call backs,” the National Exchange Carrier Association, which represents rural telecom companies, said in an Aug. 18 letter to the Federal Communications Commission.

“I’m concerned we’ll have a major event where perhaps a first responder doesn’t know that they were called out,” says Steve Head, engineer at HEADSolutions, consultant to the telecommunications industry. Head is working with Waitsfield Telecom, and has been instrumental in recognizing and revealing the extent of the rural connectivity problem nationwide. “We had at least one incident of a hospital trying to get ahold of a patient to schedule surgery and could not get through, and if they had not been able to get ahold of him for this surgery opening it was not going to be able to be done for some time,” he said. “That was major.”

“I Have Regulatory Authority Over Telegraph Lines” – State Regulators Helpless to Intervene

Trying to resolve this problem has fallen largely on the FCC in Washington as telephone company oversight and consumer protection laws in the states have not kept up with technology or have been wiped off the books in deregulation measures.

Rothman

Rothman

“I have regulatory authority over telegraph lines,” complained Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “Currently, wholesale transport providers are not defined in statute, they’re unknown.”

In Minnesota, attempts at wholesale deregulation have not been successful, and landline phone companies still fall under some state regulation. Cell phones are covered by the FCC, and, as Rothman explained, cable is pretty much a free-for-all.

Any attempt to place oversight or regulation on telecom companies rings alarm bells and the lobbyists quickly arrive in Rothman’s office, “all lined up, someone from Verizon, another from Sprint, and a representative from a trade group representing cable.”

“Regulation worked for a long time but customers didn’t have a choice. Now they have a choice, but the quality of calls may have declined,” said Rob Souza, senior vice president of Otelco, the Maine-based communication company that bought Shoreham Tel 13 months ago. “I’ve been in this business 40 years, and the modernization of the telecommunications system has been extraordinary. It’s a good, solid reliable system. But when people don’t play by the rules, you get more service problems. That’s not an indictment of the system, but on some people who are trying to shave every penny out of it.”

Inadequate FCC Fines Are Just the Cost of Maintaining a Very Profitable Business

Among those include Matrix Telecom Inc. of Irving, Tex., fined $875,000 by the FCC to resolve a call-completion investigation. Similar agreements were reached with Level 3 Communications LLC for $975,000 in March and Windstream Corp. for $2.5 million in February.

But those amounts are miniscule in comparison to the potential financial benefits reaped from LCR.

“In the short-term, it’s going to take the FCC cracking down and making those fines larger, so the cost of not doing what the carriers are supposed to do is greater than doing what they’re supposed to,” said Reedsburg Utility Commission general manager Brett Schuppner.

But the FCC isn’t immune to lobbying either, and powerhouse AT&T is at the front of the line fiercely fighting to weaken new FCC rules to a level that would qualify them as homeopathic.

CommLawBlog fingered AT&T as the worst offender. The phone company recently filed a petition to change FCC rules designed to find and track the source of degradation of rural calls. The company also wants waivers for its wireless traffic and intaLATA toll calls (those placed to nearby areas outside of a customer’s local toll-free calling zone). They are also seeking a six month extension of a reporting deadline. This is significant, CommLawBlog says, because AT&T is the largest interexchange carrier with the most traffic sent to many rural areas in the country. Letting them effectively “opt out” could nullify many of the benefits of the new rural call completion rules.

Those suggested changes from AT&T are getting a cold response from groups like the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, which complain that rural call completion problems have been ongoing for years and now is not the time to weaken FCC rules.

On a separate front, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) has introduced a bill requiring the FCC to keep a registry of the companies responsible for routing long-distance calls. It also would set service quality standards for the carriers.

The bill has little chance of being passed because of significant Republican opposition.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KTVM Montana Incomplete Calls Madison County 4-24-14.mp4

In rural Montana, long distance telephone calls often don’t reach homes and businesses. KTVM talks with a business owner in Madison County who thinks it’s unfair rural America is stuck with substandard service. (1:40)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/You Might Have to Call Again If I Live in Rural America.flv

David Lewis, CEO of ANPI talks about Rural Call Completion at the IP Possibilities Conference and Expo. Lewis goes into greater detail about how this problem developed, how it affects customers, and what solutions are available to fix it. Because Lewis is speaking to an audience of mostly telecom professionals, we’ve provided a “cheat sheet” to explain some of the jargon. (11:43)

Telco Jargon Translated (in chronological order as it appears in the video)

Tier 1 Carriers – The biggest IP networks
CLEC’s – Competitive local phone companies (Time Warner, Comcast, MagicJack, Vonage, etc.)
ILEC’s – Incumbent local phone companies that have been around for decades
RBOC – A former regional Bell company (eg. Verizon, AT&T, SBC, Qwest, etc.)
Termination – When a call successfully reaches the called party’s phone number
PSTN – The network that powers your traditional landline
Enhanced 911 – 911 operators automatically get your calling location and other pertinent details
PSAPs – a 911 call center
Rate Deck – Essentially a price list showing the cost to complete calls to different areas
Bypassing Access – Getting around the traditional compensation system for calls made to rural telephone companies
Feature Group D – a type of telecommunication trunk used to provide “equal access” capability from telecommunication carriers and central offices (where the switching equipment is located and customer lines are connected and terminated) to the access tandem. The caller’s number is passed along to the next carrier in the call chain for Caller ID and 911.

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Framily Values: Sprint’s Dan Hesse Out, What T-Mobile Merger? and Major Layoffs Ahead

Out: Hesse

Out: Hesse

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has left the building. He won’t be the last.

Hesse was appointed to lead Sprint in December 2007 after the catastrophic mess created when Sprint and Nextel merged. Now he’s gone because of his catastrophic failure to convince regulators a merger with T-Mobile USA made sense.

Brightstar Corporation CEO Marcelo Claure, appointed to Sprint’s board of directors by Softbank Mobile CEO Masayoshi Son earlier this year, is now in charge, and his commitment to save Sprint isn’t much different from what Hesse promised almost seven years earlier.

“The strategy is simple,” Mr. Claure said in an interview Monday. “We have to get back in the game.”

On a company-wide town hall call on Thursday, Claure outlined his three priorities: cut prices, improve the network, and decrease operational costs. Priority number one, price reductions, which have already started.

In: Claure

In: Claure

Claure blasted Sprint’s current pricing models, which he admitted were out of line considering how bad Sprint’s network is these days. He also trashed Sprint’s upgrade efforts, calling the “rip and replace” method of upgrading individual cell sites too slow, admitted social media networks were loaded with negative comments about Sprint’s performance, and that absolutely nobody understood the company’s most recent marketing attempt – a talking hamster selling Sprint’s Framily plan.

“We’re going to change our plans to make sure they are simple and attractive and make sure every customer in America thinks twice about signing up to a competitor,” he said. “When you have a great network, you don’t have to compete on price. When your network is behind, unfortunately you have to compete on value and price.”

Sprint’s network isn’t just behind, it’s downright prehistoric in places. Its 3G network borders on unusable in large cities, WiMAX is on life support, and Sprint’s 4G LTE network expansion is taking so long, by the time it is finished, LTE might be considered passé.  Hesse had avoided a more aggressive timetable to protect Sprint’s share price from the precipitous drop that would come from an upgrade spending spree.

Those days are over.

Claure warned the changes for Sprint would not just include price cuts and upgrades. It will also mean major job cuts, although Claure would not specify exactly how many Sprint employees were headed for the unemployment office. Unlimited data may also be headed for the door – Claure would not commit to retaining the unlimited use wireless data plans Sprint has been known for under Hesse’s leadership. Kansas City officials are also worried Sprint’s new executive team wants to move the company headquarters west, likely to California.

sprintnextelMasayoshi Son and Claure both agree that U.S. regulators were no fans of Sprint either — sending clear and unambiguous warnings that continued efforts to merge Sprint with T-Mobile USA were futile. So a proposed merger between the two companies is off. T-Mobile USA CEO John Legere wasted no time piling on, advising Sprint customers in tweets to #SprintLikeHell to another wireless carrier (preferably his).

Some predictable grumbling from Wall Street has also been heard over Claure’s plans to disrupt the comfortable profits earned by American wireless companies.

“Expect capital spending to rise,” says analyst firm Moffett Nathanson in a research note. “They will also have to cut their service prices, which are simply are too high relative to competitors.”

With a dramatic cut in prices, Sprint’s financials will look “ugly” in the coming quarters.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Here is Why Sprint Stopped Talks With T-Mobile 8-6-14.flv

Sprint ended talks to acquire T-Mobile US a person with knowledge of the matter said, as regulatory concerns outweighed the potential benefits of combining the third- and fourth-largest U.S. wireless carries. Bloomberg’s Alex Sherman reports on “Market Makers.” (4:07)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Sprint Faces Tough Road Running Business 8-6-14.flv

Craig Moffett, founder of MoffettNathanson LLC, talks about reports of Sprint Corp.’s decision to end talks to acquire T-Mobile US Inc. due to regulatory concerns. Moffett speaks with Tom Keene and Brendan Greeley on Bloomberg Television’s “Surveillance.” (3:25)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Sprints Dropped T-Mobile Bid Adds Options Ergen 8-7-14.flv

Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen said Sprint’s decision to drop its bid for T-Mobile US has opened up more options for his satellite-TV carrier as it looks for ways to expand into the wireless business. Alex Sherman reports on “In The Loop.” (4:01)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Sprint CEO Right Man for Right Company 8-11-14.flv

Patterson Advisory Group Chairman and CEO Jim Patterson and Bloomberg Intelligence Telecom Analyst John Butler discuss challenges facing Sprint’s new CEO Marcelo Claure. Patterson and Butler speak on “In The Loop.” (5:47)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Is Sprints New CEO up to the Challenges He Faces 8-11-14.flv

Bill Ho, principal analyst at 556 Ventures, and Bloomberg Intelligence’s John Butler discuss expectations for Sprint’s new Chief Executive Officer Marcello Claure and look at the challenges he faces as the head of the nation’s number three wireless company. They speak on “Market Makers.” (6:56)

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Approving Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger Opens the Door for Massive Cable Consolidation

Liberty Global logo 2012Although Charter Communications did not succeed in its bid to assume control of Time Warner Cable, it isn’t crying about its loss to Comcast either.

Greg Maffei, president and CEO of Liberty Media Corp., which has very close ties to John Malone, former cable magnate, says if the merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable is approved, it will start a race to merge the rest of the cable industry into just a handful of cable operators serving almost the entire country.

Comcast’s argument is that since it does not compete with Time Warner Cable, there are no antitrust or anti-competitive reasons why it should not be allowed to buy Time Warner Cable. If state and federal regulators believe that, nothing precludes a company like Charter (Liberty has an ownership interest in the cable company) snapping up every other cable operator in the country. In fact, Charter has signaled consolidation is precisely its intention, alerting investors it intends to play a very aggressive role in mergers and acquisitions once it sees what regulators feel about the Comcast-Time Warner deal.

Likely targets for Charter include:

  • Atlantic Broadband
  • CableONE
  • Cablevision
  • Mediacom
  • Midcontinent Communications

Cox remains privately held and Bright House Networks is tied up in contractual obligations with Time Warner Cable.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Maffei Charter Is Logical Acquirer of Cable Assets 8-6-14.flv

Greg Maffei, president and chief executive officer of Liberty Media Corp., talks about the outlook for Charter Communications Inc. and the cable industry. Speaking with Betty Liu on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop,” Maffei also discusses the decision by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. to withdraw its $75 billion takeover bid for Time Warner Inc. (5:40)

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Another Comcast Customer Service Catastrophe: $182 in Surprise Charges for a Service Call

The Don't Care Bears

The Don’t Care Bears

While regulators contemplate forcing 11 million Time Warner Cable customers to endure the hell on earth that is Comcast customer service, another horror story emerged this week from a California man who faced $181.94 more on his cable bill than he expected, all because of a service call to check on an Internet service problem that turned out to be Comcast’s fault.

While Time Warner Cable customers usually get an American customer call center to handle these problems, Comcast relies on English-challenged, underpaid offshore customer care dens staffed by “screen readers” that refuse to go off-script to handle the problems of Comcast customers like Tim Davis.

Before digging into the specifics of Davis’ $182 debacle, The Consumerist noted a critical admission from the Comcast call center agent – a word to the wise about getting your complaints about Comcast’s billing errors and inaccurate charges addressed: If you don’t record all of your calls with Comcast customer service to keep a complete audible record of their promises and commitments, you have absolutely no recourse to get invalid charges and other billing mistakes removed from your bill.

“[...]Since I advised my manager that there is a recording and you were misinformed, then she’s the one who can approve that $82,” said Comcast’s customer service representative.

Seemingly flabbergasted, Davis asks to confirm, “You’re telling me that if I didn’t have a recording of that call, you wouldn’t have been able to do it?”

“Yes, that is correct,” answers the rep, confirming that the only way to get Comcast to erase a bogus charge from your account is to have recorded evidence that you were promised in advance that the call would be free.

Davis decided to turn his Comcast nightmare into a NSFW YouTube video.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Comcast Doesnt Do Service Credits Without a Recording Saying Otherwise 8-11-14.mp4

‘You want a service credit? Who the heck do you think you’re talking to. This is Vasee – Employee 5#$ at Comcast’s English-challenged offshore customer call center. We don’t do service credits. Oh wait, you have a recording?’ (Only Comcast would put $$$-signs in the ID numbers of their employees.) (Warning: Strong Language) (13:56)

Although initially promised there would be no charge for the service call because it was an “outside issue,” when Davis’ monthly Comcast bill arrived, there were several mystery charges totaling $181.94 for service call work that Davis said was never done.

fail

The charges represent a “failed video self-install kit,” a “failed Internet self-install kit,” and a wireless network set up charge for work Davis claims was neither sought or provided. Comcast automatically credited back the Wi-Fi setup fee and a portion of the other charges, still leaving Davis with $82 in fees to argue about for a “free service call.”

The representative insisted that Comcast charges $50 for every service call for any reason. That will be unpleasant news to Time Warner Cable customers who pay no fees for service calls that address technical issues that are not the fault of customers.

The Consumerist details the rest of the painful experience:

After being put on hold for an hour, Davis hung up and tried again, this time reaching a supposed “supervisor,” who points out that the $49.95 WiFi setup charge is offset by a $49.95 “service discount,” so that’s free… even though it shouldn’t have been charged to begin with.

She also says there is a $49.99 discount on the supposed “Failed Self Install,” meaning Davis is being charged $50 for the nonexistent failed install, plus the remaining $32 for the failed self-install kit charge. A total of $82 that is still being disputed at this point.

She then offers to give him “BLAST+” Internet service for 12 months free of charge instead of simply taking off the remainder of the questionable charges. This semi-upgrade only has a retail value of $60, meaning he’d still be on the hook for $22 for a call that he’d been told would be free.

Davis, understandably, doesn’t want a cheap Internet service upgrade spread out over 12 months. He wants and asks to have the full $82 refunded.

The rep balks, saying she can’t issue him the credit because it is a “valid charge.”

“Every time we send out a technician there’s a $50 charge for that,” she explains.

“Well, I have a call recorded where the agent tells me in no uncertain terms that there will be no charge,” counters Davis. “You can not bill me for something that I did not authorize. You can not tell me that it’s free, then bill me anyway and then tell me that you can not un-bill me or credit me for the bill.”

“I apologize for that, but there’s no way that I can credit the account,” says the rep, desperately trying to jump back on to her script. “We value you as a customer, that’s why I am trying to check what I can give you.”

As soon as Davis produced the recording that indicated there would be no charge, a senior supervisor quickly approved a credit — several calls and hours later.

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Surprise Bid for T-Mobile USA from Iliad’s Free Mobile Has Wireless Competitors, Wall Street Unnerved

french revolutionThe French Revolution in wireless could be spreading across the United States if Paris-based Iliad is successful in its surprise $15 billion bid to acquire T-Mobile USA (right out from under Sprint and Japan-based Softbank). Wall Street hopes it isn’t true.

If you named one wireless carrier in the world guaranteed to provoke groans, sweat, and Excedrin headaches from powerful wireless industry executives living high on 40%+ annual margins, Iliad and its notorious Free Mobile would be the chief provocateur. Initially dismissed as an irrelevant upstart (much like T-Mobile itself) when it announced service on a less-robust network in 2012, as soon as Free Mobile announced its groundbreaking prices, panic was rife in the boardrooms and executive suites of competitors Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom, who couldn’t slash their own prices fast enough.

As one wireless executive in Paris put it, when Free Mobile launched, “the tsunami hit.”

In short order, Free Mobile has taken nearly five million of their competitors’ very profitable customers in France, mostly from its vicious price-cutting that results in rates half that of any other competitor.

Orange and other carriers promptly announced slashed shareholder dividend payouts and implemented cost-saving measures after being forced to cut pricing.

American wireless executives visiting Europe were aghast at the prices charged by the French upstart, suggesting they were reckless and would eliminate necessary investment in upgrades. Although France has been behind the United States in launching 4G service upgrades, French customer satisfaction with their wireless service is higher than in the U.S., and Free Mobile has the lowest customer loss (churn) rate of any carrier in France.

Iliad’s reputation as a nasty competitor is fine with self-made billionaire CEO Xavier Niel, who has become extremely wealthy selling cutting edge, yet affordable, telecommunications products without losing touch of his more modest roots. But he is reviled by most of his competitors for disrupting the comfortable wireless service business models his competitors have maintained for years. Niel has thrown marketing bombs into every sector of the French telecom market, ruthlessly cutting prices for customers while relying on in-house innovations to keep costs low.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Euronews Telecoms turmoil in France 2012.mp4

Euronews reported on the turmoil Iliad caused incumbent wireless carriers when it forced them to respond with major price-cuts to stay competitive. (0:44)

freemobileFree’s customer care center is run on Ubuntu-based, inexpensive notebook and desktop computers. Free’s wired broadband, television, and phone service is powered by set-top boxes and network devices custom-developed inside Iliad to keep costs down. Its creative spirit has been compared to Google, much to the chagrin of its “business by the book” competitors.

“It’s not done like this,” is a common refrain heard when Free Mobile announces more price cuts, an easing of usage caps, or completely free add-ons.

Today, a typical Free Mobile customer pays $26.75US a month for wireless service which includes:

  • Unlimited calls to France and 100 other destinations, including the U.S., Canada, China, and all French overseas departments (eg. Guadeloupe, Tahiti, Mayotte, etc.);
  • Unlimited SMS/text messages;
  • Unlimited MMS messages to French numbers;
  • 20GB of 4G access before the speed throttle kicks in;
  • Unlimited free Wi-Fi on Free’s extensive Wi-Fi network.

A Free Mobile customer that also subscribes to Free’s wired broadband or television service gets an even bigger discount. Their monthly wireless bill for the same features? $21.40US a month.

Niel said the reason he has not brought the Free Mobile brand to the United States is because the wireless industry here is highly anti-competitive. The fact T-Mobile USA is now up for sale represents ‘the opportunity of a lifetime,’ a “one-time opportunity to enter the world’s-largest telecoms market,” a person familiar with the matter said prior to the announcement.

“The competitive landscape in the U.S. is a lot less aggressive than what we are used to in France,” added Niel. “There is enormous potential. It is almost too good to be true.”

A number of Wall Street analysts who prefer the current business model of high cost/high profits are keeping their fingers crossed the Iliad offer is just a pipe dream. Some, including analysts on Bloomberg TV, dismissed Niel as a former pornographer and suggested “for the guppies, it is whale season,” a reference to Iliad’s small size relative to T-Mobile USA.

“To say this is surprising is something of an understatement; it is one of the most bizarre bits of potential M&A we have ever witnessed in the sector,” said analysts from Espirito Santo in a note to investors.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Who Is T-Mobiles New French Suitor 8-1-14.flv

Some on Wall Street are mocking the deal as a guppy hoping to swallow a whale. T-Mobile is considerably larger than Iliad, says CNBC. “It’s preposterous. Who put them up to it?” (6:18)

“Iliad is about a third of the size of T-Mobile US, and we don’t think there would be synergies from the deal,” said Jonathan Chaplin, an analyst at New Street Research, in a note. “It would be tough to finance without Xavier Neil relinquishing control. Sprint and anyone else with synergies should be able to outbid them.”

Should Free Mobile enter the United States, its cutthroat pricing would make CEO John Legere’s “bad wireless boy” campaign to make T-Mobile the “uncarrier” quaint in comparison. Every wireless carrier in the U.S. could be forced to cut rates by one-third or more to stay competitive should Niel adopt a similar business model for Free Mobile in the U.S. market.

Some worry that Softbank’s bid to merge Sprint and T-Mobile together has just become even less likely with the possibility of a new player in the U.S. market, competing against three other carriers, not two as the Softbank deal proposes.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Sprint Deal with T-Mobile Has Little Chance 8-1-14.flv

CNBC spoke with Nik Stanojevic, equity analyst at Brewin Dolphin, who was surprised Iliad threw in a bid for T-Mobile, but believes Softbank/Sprint’s deal to acquire T-Mobile has very little chance getting by regulators. (2:40)

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