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Mediacom Wants to Kill Public Broadband in Iowa

Lobbyists for Mediacom, one of America’s medium-sized cable operators, are reportedly behind the latest effort to curtail public broadband in the state of Iowa with a new bill designed to make life difficult for municipalities trying to get internet access to their residents.

Senate Study Bill 3009, proposed by Sen. Dan Dawson, the new chairman of the Iowa Senate Commerce Committee, would create an unfair playing field between cities and towns attempting to offer their residents broadband service and the state’s private cable and phone companies which often do not.

In addition to tying the hands of local officials in their efforts to obtain funding for such projects, the bill would also make a public record of private strategies used by providers to construct systems and market service to the public. Cable operators like Mediacom could be able to obtain business records from municipal providers that would give the company an unfair advantage identifying financial information and rollout schedules about where municipal systems would offer service next.

Iowa’s report for Mediacom’s lobbying activity shows their support for restricting public broadband.

The bill would also forbid communities from marketing their broadband service on bills sent for other municipal services, including power, gas, sewage, garbage removal, and water. Municipalities would also be forbidden from lowering rates to levels deemed unprofitable, even when incumbent providers like Mediacom cut prices in competitive service areas to keep business while quietly subsidizing those lower prices on the backs of their other subscribers in non-competitive areas.

Iowans can protest the new bill by sending e-mail to Sens. Dan Dawson ([email protected]) and Carrie Koelker, ([email protected]) the subcommittee chairperson reviewing the bill. Ask them to kill the bill, because Iowa needs more broadband service, not less.

N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo Vetoes Public Rural Broadband Feasibility Study as the Unserved Struggle On

No service.

Despite New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $500 million, 2015 Broadband for All initiative which guaranteed broadband service for anyone  that wanted home internet access, five years later rural broadband gaps continue to plague the state.

A bill that would set aside funds to complete a feasibility study to launch a state owned broadband provider of last resort was quietly vetoed by Cuomo at the end of 2019. Assembly member Aileen Gunther (D-Monticello) sponsored the bill after hearing scores of complaints about terrible or non-existent internet access from constituents in her district, which covers the parts of the rural Catskills region north of the Pennsylvania border.

Gunther complained that despite the governor’s broadband initiative, private phone and cable companies were still ignoring rural customers, leaving them with slow DSL service or no internet access at all. Gunther’s bill was a first step in potentially allowing the state to step in and provide service to New Yorkers unable to get broadband from any private provider.

New York has spent over $500 million on its Broadband for All program and made Charter Spectrum an integral part of its broadband expansion plans in return for approval of its 2016 acquisition of Time Warner Cable. But a growing number of the governor’s critics claim the program has failed to deliver on its mandate, stranding thousands of New Yorkers without internet service and tens of thousands more with just one option — unpopular satellite internet access.

Gunther

Gunther was upset to learn that New York was prepared to hand over more than a half billion dollars to large private telecom companies including Frontier Communications and Verizon while not being willing to spend a penny to fund projects to reach New Yorkers for-profit companies could not be dragged kicking and screaming to service.

“We’re all spending millions and millions of dollars on privately owned internet service providers,” said Gunther. “In return for promises, a lot of our communities do not have access to the internet, or if they do have access to the internet, it’s slow and these companies are not, I think, fulfilling the promises made.”

The rural broadband problem is not resolved in the Finger Lakes or Southern Tier regions of New York either. This week, Yates County announced it was joining an effort by Schuyler, Steuben, and Tioga counties, and the Southern Tier Network, to complete a broadband feasibility study to improve internet access in the four counties. Fujitsu Broadband will manage the study and hopes to have results by June. The study will target the pervasive problem of inadequate broadband service in the region, which includes crucial tourist, winery, and agricultural businesses vital to New York’s rural economy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing rural broadband initiatives in New York in 2015.

Gov. Cuomo has called such initiatives “well-intentioned” but was non committal about contributing more state funds to construct new networks or underwrite further expansion of existing ones. New York is about to begin its annual hard-fought budget negotiations in hopes of completing the state budget by April. Finding funding for such projects will probably require a powerful political advocate able to wrestle funding for further broadband improvements.

Even after spending $500 million, New York’s rural broadband problem has not been resolved. That offers insight into the merits of other state broadband programs, which often limit annual broadband expansion funding to under $30 million annually.

Those still without service are likely in high-cost service areas, where each customer could cost over $20,000 to reach. New York’s Broadband for All program relied on a reverse auction that required private companies to bid to service each unserved address. No wireline provider bid on any high-cost service areas, leaving Hughes Satellite as a subsidized satellite provider of last resort. But inadequate broadband mapping left scores of rural New Yorkers behind without even the option of subsidized satellite internet access.

Cheap $39 Smartphone Sold By a U.S. Subsidized Lifeline Provider is a Malware Nightmare

The Unimax U683CL

An inexpensive $39 Chinese-made smartphone offered by a U.S. government-subsidized Lifeline mobile phone service provider is wide open to malware and trojan horse apps, leaving users exposed to privacy violations, adware, and auto-installed backdoor apps that might expose some to fraud.

Malwarebytes Labs, an online security company, issued a serious warning to the public about the Unimax U683CL smartphone’s compromised-from-the-box status, and criticized provider Assurance Wireless for selling the phone and ignoring repeated warnings sent to the company about the phone.

“Assurance Wireless by Virgin Mobile offers the UMX U683CL phone as their most budget conscious option. At only $35 [$39 as of Jan. 13, 2020] under the government-funded program, it’s an attractive offering,” Nathan Collier, a senior malware intelligence analyst at Malwarebytes Labs writes in a company blog. “However, what it comes installed with is appalling.”

Malwarebytes began getting complaints about the phone last fall, and secured one to investigate further. It quickly emerged the phone arrived with questionable software pre-installed:

The first questionable app found on the UMX U683CL poses as an updater named Wireless Update. Yes, it is capable of updating the mobile device. In fact, it’s the only way to update the mobile device’s operating system (OS). Conversely, it is also capable of auto-installing apps without user consent.

Thus, we detect this app as Android/PUP.Riskware.Autoins.Fota.fbcvd, a detection name that should sound familiar to Malwarebytes for Android customers. That’s because the app is actually a variant of Adups, a China-based company caught collecting user data, creating backdoors for mobile devices and, yes, developing auto-installers.

From the moment you log into the mobile device, Wireless Update starts auto-installing apps. To repeat: There is no user consent collected to do so, no buttons to click to accept the installs, it just installs apps on its own. While the apps it installs are initially clean and free of malware, it’s important to note that these apps are added to the device with zero notification or permission required from the user. This opens the potential for malware to unknowingly be installed in a future update to any of the apps added by Wireless Update at any time.

The second piece of unremovable malware is the UMX’s own “Settings” app, crucial to operating the phone. Researchers called this “heavily-obfuscated malware” that is detected as Android/Trojan.Dropper.Agent.UMX. This app quietly downloads and installs apps without the user’s permission, most recently including a variant of HiddenAds, which forces users to endure frequent advertising screens on their phone, even when not web browsing.

The malware activates the moment a user powers on their phone for the first time. Most customers will simply be annoyed if ad-related apps automatically install, but with a security-compromised phone opening the door to more malware in the future, this “lowers the bar on bad behavior by app development companies,” according to Collier.

“Budget should not dictate whether a user can remain safe on his or her mobile device. Shell out thousands for an iPhone, and escape pre-installed maliciousness. But use government-assisted funding to purchase a device and pay the price in malware? That’s not the type of malware-free existence we envision at Malwarebytes,” Collier said.

“We informed Assurance Wireless of our findings and asked them point blank why a U.S.-funded mobile carrier is selling a mobile device infected with pre-installed malware? After giving them adequate time to respond, we unfortunately never heard back,” Collier added.

Rep. Brindisi Questions Spectrum’s “Unfair and Sneaky” Debt Collection Practices

Brindisi, as he appeared in a campaign ad slamming Charter Spectrum in the summer of 2018.

Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), who made his battle with Spectrum into an election issue in 2018, is not done with the cable company yet.

This week, Brindisi appealed to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to launch an investigation into the cable company’s debt collection practices.

“Fighting Spectrum on rising rates also includes making sure they can’t use debt collection as another money-making tactic,” said Brindisi. “And the only way to get to the bottom of this is for the CFPB to ask the questions I outline in my letter.”

Brindisi is targeting Credit Management L.P., a Plano, Tex. collection agency that Spectrum relies on to pursue former customers, often to seek compensation for “lost or unreturned equipment.”

“After believing they had paid their final bill in full and returned their equipment, customers are finding themselves face-to-face with this unknown debt collector from Plano, Texas,” Brindisi told the CFPB. “One former Spectrum customer learned from Credit Management L.P. that they owed over $100 long after amicably ending their service. Spectrum never notified this customer they owed a penny. Instead, they sent them to collections, potentially damaging their credit rating and giving up their social security number and other personal information.”

In some cases, customers are being turned over to the collection agency for as little as an allegedly unreturned remote control. As a result, consumers are ending up with damaged credit because of the reported collection activity.

“The Better Business Bureau has logged hundreds of complaints about Credit Management L.P.,” Brindisi added. “Many of these complaints have been about their debt collection practices related to cable and internet companies. Customers have specifically named Spectrum and other cable companies as the source of the erroneous debt. A consumer should not be sent to a debt collector, without warning, for a missing remote control. That is both unfair and a sneaky way Spectrum might be padding its bottom line, which would be unacceptable, worthy of investigation and potentially in violation of federal rules.”

Brindisi wants the CFPB to determine how many customers are being pursued by Credit Management, L.P., how those customers are contacted, how much of the collection agency’s efforts relate to being compensated for allegedly unreturned equipment as opposed to late or non-payment of monthly cable bills, and how the agency handles customers’ private personal information.  Brindisi also wants the CFPB to determine if the collection practices violate federal law.

Brindisi also urged constituents being contacted by Credit Management L.P., on behalf of Spectrum, to call his office at (315) 732-0713.

In addition to running campaign commercials that slammed Spectrum, Brindisi has doggedly pursued the cable industry as a freshman congressman representing an Upstate New York district extending from the east end of Lake Ontario through Central New York to the Pennsylvania border, including the cities of Utica, Rome and Binghamton. Brindisi introduced the Transparency for Cable Consumers Act, promising to provide better oversight of cable and internet providers and hold companies accountable that are fined by a state Public Service Commission. In November, Brindisi slammed Spectrum in an opinion piece outlining his efforts to hold Spectrum accountable. Brindisi also recently launched a district-wide survey of home internet speeds and service to determine if internet customers are getting advertised internet speeds.

CREDO Mobile Closes Progressive CREDO Action Campaign Without Explanation

Phillip Dampier January 7, 2020 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

Several progressives were surprised to learn that CREDO Mobile (formerly Working Assets Wireless), a mobile virtual network operator that advocates for progressive causes, today closed down its CREDO Action activism arm and announced it was ceasing all further involvement in activism campaigns.

The CREDO Action website, which had recently been protesting against perceived Republican bias against the impeachment of President Donald Trump, was the advocacy arm of CREDO, a self-described social change organization that funds grassroots activism campaigns and progressive non-profit groups with revenue earned from CREDO branded credit cards, CREDO Mobile phone service and CREDO Energy. The group, originally launched in 1985 under the Working Assets Long Distance brand, had been integrally involved in many progressive campaigns, including preserving net neutrality, and has been a strong supporter of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

No explanation was given on the CREDO Action website, beyond thanking supporters and linking to a video reviewing the group’s major accomplishments in 2019. Many progressives were shocked by the surprising announcement, which came this afternoon without warning.

The decision is likely to cause the loss of jobs for at least a dozen of CREDO Action’s leadership and campaign staffers, who managed the group’s outreach and calls to action.

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  • Alan Rodin: I have contacted the Simmons Hanly Conroy law firm. They are one of the top class action law firm in the U.S. If you would like to join a class action...
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