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HissyFitWatch: Republicans Accuse the White House of Pressuring FCC on Net Neutrality

Wheeler at this morning's hearing.

Wheeler at this morning’s hearing.

Revenge-seeking Republicans spent more than two hours this morning grilling the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Thomas Wheeler, in the first of five Congressional hearings on the agency to be held over the next two weeks.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, accused the FCC of a lack of transparency regarding the recent release of Net Neutrality rules that universally ban paid fast lanes and revenue-based traffic management. Republicans accused the Obama Administration of secretly pressuring Wheeler to adopt strong Open Internet protections.

“The lack of transparency surrounding the open Internet rule-making process raises a lot of questions,” said Chaffetz.

Chaffetz, most of his Republican colleagues, and many large telecom companies object to the Net Neutrality rules and suggest Wheeler’s rumored original lighter-touch “hybrid approach” was swamped by White House objections and replaced with a much stronger Open Internet policy framed around Title II reclassification of broadband as a telecommunications service at the urging of the administration.

Chaffetz dismissed comments from four million Americans writing the FCC in favor of Net Neutrality claiming the writers did not recommend Title II reclassification of broadband, despite the fact many suggested exactly that.

To bolster Republican arguments that President Obama exercised undue influence on an independent agency, Chaffetz’s committee selectively released portions of now-unredacted email exchanges between Wheeler, agency officials, Congress, and the White House. It also included a partial e-mail exchange involving AT&T’s top lobbyist, Jim Cicconi, who is evidently on a first-name basis with some of the FCC’s highest officials, including Wheeler’s senior counselor, Philip Verveer.

In response to a November 10 news release featuring comments from FCC chairman Wheeler in response to President Barack Obama’s statements of support for strong Net Neutrality, Cicconi sent a concerned email to Wheeler’s office the Republicans chose not to disclose. But they did include Verveer’s response:

Jim,

We’re trying to schedule a conversation about this morning’s developments for some time this afternoon. I hope we’re able to connect.

Phil

In response to that, Cicconi fired off this quick response from his iPad:

I hope so too.

Now I at least understand why you pushed the hybrid.

This is awful. And bad for any semblance of agency independence too.

Too many people saw Zients going in to meet with Tom last week.

verveer

Cicconi is referring to Jeff Zients, a White House economic adviser, who met with Wheeler on Nov. 6. In Cicconi’s mind, and by extension the Republicans at today’s House hearing, that meeting represented “undue pressure from the White House.”

Republicans also attempted to prove the FCC and the White House closely collaborated on a rollout of Net Neutrality using an email from an irritated Wheeler to his senior staff shortly after his driveway was blocked by Net Neutrality activists:

FYI, Isn’t it interesting:

  1. The day of the demonstration just happens to be the day folks take action at my house.
  2. The video of [President Obama] just happens to end up on the same message as the video from [the president].
  3. The White House sends this email to their supporter list asking “pass this on to anyone who cares about saving the Internet.”

Hmmm….

wheeler demo

chaffetz

Chaffetz

But Wheeler’s message suggests he was never aware of the White House’s campaign to bolster Net Neutrality, much less a part of it.

A third email from then Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office revealed the senator was no fan of Title II reclassification of broadband to protect Net Neutrality. David Krone, Reid’s chief of staff, lectured Wheeler about keeping strong Net Neutrality off the table because it creates “problems for us.”

In May 2014, chairman Wheeler announced his plans for a hybrid approach to Net Neutrality that would likely combine bans on censorship with permission for Internet providers to set up paid fast lanes for content producers like Netflix.

Initial media reports of Wheeler’s intentions sparked a major backlash against the proposal among Net Neutrality advocates.

In a May 15, 2014 email exchange with Wheeler, Krone attempted to buck up Wheeler and his “third way” Net Neutrality plan once in the morning before it was announced and later that evening after the proposal took heavy fire in the press.

9:26 am (Krone to Wheeler)

Good luck today.

Not sure how things have landed but I trust you to make it work. Please shout if you need anything.

Spoke again with the [White House] and told them to back off Title II. Went through once again the problems it creates for us.

6:15pm (Krone to Wheeler)

Too funny. I literally just watched your remarks from this morning. Spot on. Thank you!!!

P.S. Zients was definitely reacting to press reports. Or, should I say, overreacting. My main point to the [White House] is how can you declare today that regulations written in the 1930’s will work fine for 2014 technology. Let Tom do his job and this will be fine.

reid

Another email exchange between Wheeler and John Podesta, counselor to the president, referenced a New York Times story that signaled Wheeler was backpedaling on Net Neutrality, a story later proven inaccurate.

podesta

At this morning’s hearing, Wheeler pushed back against the Republican accusations.

“There were no secret instructions from the White House,” Wheeler said. “I did not, as CEO of an independent agency, feel obligated to follow the president’s recommendation.”

C-SPAN carried this morning’s hearing with FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler appearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (2 hours, 41 minutes)

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)

Charter Cable in Talks to Acquire Bright House Networks in an All-Stock Deal; Deal May Still Fall Apart, Source Says

charterCharter Communications is in talks with Si Newhouse, Jr., the billionaire owner of Bright House Networks, to acquire the cable operator in an all-stock deal that could be worth over $12 billion, according to a report by Bloomberg News.

Bright House Networks serves 2.5 million customers, primarily in central Florida but also in parts of Alabama, Indiana, California and Michigan. Bright House has been closely controlled by the Newhouse family and has avoided efforts to consolidate the cable industry for more than two decades.

The deal is not yet finalized, according to two people asking not to be identified discussing confidential details of the deal. A side dispute over who will control voting shares of Charter after any acquisition remains at issue. John Malone’s Liberty Broadband, the largest single shareholder of Charter, is said to be seeking a larger ownership share of Charter Communications in what analysts expect will be a gradual takeover of Charter by Malone.

This afternoon, Bright House confirmed acquisition talks are underway.

brighthouse1“While we have had conversations with many parties about this transaction, we do not have an agreement with anyone regarding future plans for Bright House,” a company spokeswoman said in the statement.

The deal may also depend on whether regulators approve the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Time Warner Cable currently represents Bright House in most cable programming negotiations and the two cable companies have closely worked together on technology and services for more than a decade. That collaboration is likely to end if the Comcast merger is approved, stranding New House as a small independent operator.

Charter was long-expected to make offers to acquire other cable operators in its quest to grow larger, especially after failing in its bid to acquire Time Warner Cable for itself. An acquisition of Bright House by Charter would allow the company to further expand its presence in the south and midwest where it focuses most of its cable operations.

But it is not a done deal yet. The talks between Charter and Bright House could still fall apart and may not result in a deal, one source cautioned.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Charter in Talks to Buy Newhouse Bright House Networks 3-12-15.flv

Bloomberg News reports Charter Communications is in talks with the Newhouse family to acquire Bright House Networks in an all-stock deal. (1:22)

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)

New Zealand Soars Past U.S. in Fiber Broadband Revolution; Now #1 in Fiber Among OECD Nations

Dunedin is New Zealand's "Gigatown" and ISP Orcon sells unlimited access to gigabit speeds for $68.50US a month.

Dunedin is New Zealand’s “Gigatown” and ISP Orcon sells residents unlimited access to gigabit speeds for $68.50US a month.

New Zealand is now the world leader in fiber optic broadband deployment, achieving an annual growth rate of 272 percent and on the way to becoming one of the top 10 nations for broadband speed.

“We are now ahead of Australia, the United States and Japan for fixed broadband, with more than 31 broadband subscriptions for every 100 New Zealanders signed up for this service,” said Amy Adams, New Zealand’s Communications Minister. “This is an impressive jump and demonstrates the impact that the government’s $2 billion investment in the Ultra-fast Broadband and Rural Broadband Initiative program is having on the telecommunications services available to New Zealanders. People are increasingly choosing fiber for its superior speeds, capacity and reliability as the build continues across New Zealand.”

Before the government intervened, broadband in New Zealand was notoriously slow and rationed with low usage allowances and speed throttling. Most of the country received ADSL service, a technology that is rapidly being discarded by most developed nations in favor of VDSL in rural areas and fiber optic broadband in urban and suburban communities. Government policy defined broadband as an essential service for the country’s current and future economic growth and implemented a nationwide broadband improvement plan designed to replace or augment outdated copper telephone lines with fiber optic infrastructure.

While countries like the United States and Canada effectively allow private corporations to define and control their digital destinies, New Zealand believes transformational ultra-fast broadband is too important to leave in the hands of industry alone.

“Fiber is very much like electricity was 100 years ago,” said Maxine Elliot, CEO of Ultra-Fast Fibre (New Zealand). “It’s the single biggest infrastructure build we have done in a long time and it will make that kind of difference in our lives. I think when they first began building out electricity, it was all about a light bulb. No one could have imagined we would have microwaves and computers. We cannot begin to imagine the change that we are about to see with fiber.”

Flag of New Zealand

The explosive growth of fiber broadband has helped the country leap ahead of much larger OECD members like Australia and the United States.

“Over the past ten years, we have moved up from 22nd place out of 30 OECD countries in June 2004 to being 15th out of 34 OECD countries for fixed broadband subscriptions as at June 2014,” Adams noted. “At the same time, the quality of people’s broadband packages is improving, with greater numbers of customers using VDSL or fiber, rather than the older ADSL technology.”

The fiber infrastructure has also led to other benefits not originally anticipated. Wireless companies throughout the country have tapped into the fiber connections which deliver backhaul connectivity between cell towers and the fiber broadband network, allowing greater wireless broadband speeds and more capacity. Today, New Zealand is in the top 10 in the OECD for wireless broadband.

New Zealand’s fiber network has allowed providers to cut prices, increase speeds, and offer unlimited access as an affordable option for customers who want the service. It is also expected to dramatically cut the costs of maintaining the country’s telecom network, which were growing as older copper infrastructure aged.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Ultra Fast Fibre Why ultra-fast broadband.mp4

New Zealand believes its digital future depends on fiber optics, not on last generation DSL from the phone company. This video explains the immediate benefits of discarding century-old copper infrastructure in favor of fiber optics. (3:17)

http://phillipdampier.com/video/Ultrafast Fibre Installation process.mp4

Ultra-Fast Fibre installation is orderly, on time, and technicians will even plant new grass seed and color-match any replacement concrete or driveway patches. This video explains the three-step process customers go through to get fiber service installed. (3:59)

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