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Charter Donating $10 Million to Civil Rights Groups That Lobbied for Time Warner Cable Merger

Al Sharpton: Friend of Charter/Spectrum

During a period of renewed consciousness about the Black Lives Matter movement, many U.S. corporations are stepping up to donate money and resources to address what they call systemic racism. Charter Communications, which owns and operates Spectrum, is one such company.

The cable and broadband provider announced this week it was “investing $10 million” with the National Urban League and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. The two civil rights groups coincidentally are long-standing recipients of Charter’s sponsorships and donations and are among the cable company’s best non-profit friends, reliably writing letters to regulators urging them to approve whatever is on the cable company’s agenda, including mergers and acquisitions, rolling back regulations, or blocking pro-consumer legislation.

Charter claimed in a press release its $10 million “investment” would help provide low-interest loans to businesses in underserved communities:

Charter’s Spectrum Community Investment Loan Fund (the Loan Fund) will invest $3 million in NUL’s community development financial institution (CDFI), the Urban Empowerment Fund (UEF), which will make individual loans to minority-owned small businesses and, under the direction of and on behalf of NAN, the Loan Fund will invest an additional $3 million in low-interest loans directly to CDFIs. In addition, Charter will provide $3.5 million in PSA value to promote its partners’ Loan Fund opportunities, and will contribute a $500,000 capacity grant to the NUL for revitalizing its CDFI platform including funding for staffing, infrastructure, and operations.

“In all communities, small business ownership and growth are fundamental to developing and sustaining economic power, which is critical to their long-term success,” said Tom Rutledge, chairman and CEO of Charter Communications. “Building on our valued partnerships with the National Urban League and National Action Network, these investments will support small diverse-owned businesses through access to much-needed low-interest capital and help build thriving communities across the country.”

The contributions might also be seen as “returning the favor” for the groups’ work on behalf of Charter’s 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Both non-profit groups were instrumental in contacting state and federal regulators, urging them to approve that merger that proved unpopular with many consumers.

FCC’s Ajit Pai Will Meet Privately With Wall Street Analysts in Closed Door Meeting

Phillip Dampier June 17, 2020 Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Pai

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai will meet with Wall Street analysts at a Wells Fargo investors conference on Thursday closed to the public and news media.

Pai is expected to focus most of his remarks on the topics of 5G wireless networks and forthcoming spectrum auctions, but will also likely praise the Trump Administration’s overall deregulatory policies and achievements Pai feels point to the regulator’s recent successes. In attendance will be top executives from T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, and the powerful D.C. law firm Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP that specializes in serving telecommunications industry clients. That firm will present a regulatory discussion entitled, “Will Washington Topple Tech and Telecom.”

A review of past investor conferences shows it is rare for a chairman of the FCC to appear at such private events, usually attended by professional analysts working for Wall Street investment firms and top executives from the businesses analysts cover for their investor clients. The propriety of public officials attending closed door events with the industries they regulate is controversial, particularly because topics discussed during informal meetings are not always disclosed to the public through “ex parte” notices filed with the Commission. But Pai has proven to be an industry-friendly chairman and formerly served as counsel for Verizon Communications.

A transcript of Pai’s formal remarks at the event will be published on the FCC’s website within a few days of his speech, and it likely Pai will speak on issues already a part of the agency’s public record. Normally the opportunity to strengthen personal ties between regulators like Pai and the regulated and a chance to meet Pai to exchange views is worth gold to many investors, but this specific event will be conducted entirely “virtually” online.

Defenders claim such meetings allow the FCC to become better informed about Wall Street investor concerns not discussed by corporate executives worried about any negative impact on their stock price. They also contend there is no opportunity for Pai to engage in “ex parte” discussions because the event is entirely webcast online. But critics note regulators that appear at such industry events rarely attend Question and Answer events open to the public. Critics view that as further evidence of the kinds of cozy D.C. relationships between the government and special interests many ‘good government’ groups decry as a conflict of interest.

T-Sprint Promised 11,000 New Jobs to Regulators, Started Laying Off Sprint Employees Instead

Despite repeatedly promising the public and regulators that a merger of T-Mobile and Sprint would create thousands of new jobs, this week hundreds of Sprint employees are learning their old jobs are gone.

In a brief six minute conference call Monday hosted by T-Mobile vice president James Kirby, almost 400 people on the call learned their jobs with Sprint’s inside sales division were being eliminated and their last day of employment will be Aug. 17. It was just one of several conference calls announcing layoffs for Sprint’s sales teams, according to Techcrunch, notably those working on business and commercial sales. Other jobs targeted for cuts included national retail account executives, and indirect sales-affiliated account managers and executives.

So far, the pattern of layoffs is clearly favoring T-Mobile, with only a handful of top Sprint executives remaining with the company. In 2018, Sprint disclosed it had about 6,000 employees working in its headquarters city — Overland Park, Kan. T-Mobile has already made it clear it was slimming down Sprint’s operations there. A year ago, Sprint sold its headquarters campus to Wichita-based Occidental Management in a sale-leaseback deal, which freed up cash for Sprint, while allowing the company to continue renting the same office space. Consolidation is expected to reduce the number of buildings leased by the wireless carrier from 11 to just four.

According to employee messaging forum, thelayoff.com, many independent Sprint retailers are also being notified by T-Mobile their contracts to sell Sprint devices are being terminated in 120 days, which may result in store closures and additional job losses.

The job losses come despite repeated promises from former T-Mobile CEO John Legere to regulators and employees that the merger would result in job growth.

“In total, New T-Mobile will have more than 11,000 additional employees on our payroll by 2024 compared to what the combined standalone companies would have,” Legere claimed in an open letter last April.

Maryland Sues Cricket Wireless, AT&T For Selling Phones That Stopped Working A Year Later

Cricket Wireless and AT&T are being sued by Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh for allegedly selling phones both companies knew would stop working on Cricket’s network a year after the two companies merged.

Frosh announced the lawsuit on Monday, claiming both wireless companies violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act.

Cricket formerly operated its own mobile network, which relied on CDMA technology. Customers were required to use devices compatible with that mobile standard to access the Cricket network. In July 2013, AT&T agreed to acquire Cricket Wireless’ parent, Leap Wireless, for $1.2 billion. The FCC approved the acquisition in March 2014. Cricket, now under AT&T’s ownership, continued to sell CDMA mobile devices to consumers for the next year. Frosh contends both companies knew AT&T was planning to decommission Cricket’s cellular network and move customers to AT&T’s own network, which uses GSM technology incompatible with CDMA.

Frosh

That left customers with devices that stopped working with their Cricket service, requiring many to purchase new phones compatible with AT&T’s GSM network. Other customers discovered their Cricket phones were locked exclusively to Cricket’s network, and the company refused to unlock the phones so they could be used on a competitor’s network. Many customers complained their costly smartphones were less than a year old before they stopped working. Cricket’s only solution was to buy a new device, often costing hundreds of dollars.

“Cricket and AT&T continued to market and sell a product to consumers they knew wouldn’t work after their merger was complete,” said Frosh. “This practice, we allege, was undertaken to maximize profit from the sale of expensive smartphones without regard for the harm it would cause consumers.”

The lawsuit is seeking restitution, an injunction preventing Cricket and AT&T from engaging in unfair or deceptive trade practices, as well as civil penalties and costs.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Wednesday, September 9, 2020, at the Office of Administrative Hearings in Hunt Valley, Md. For more information, Maryland residents can call the Consumer Protection Division hotline at 410-528-8662 or toll free at 1-888-743-0023.

FCC Chair Calls T-Mobile Network Outage ‘Unacceptable’, Vows Probe

(Reuters) – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will probe an extensive T-Mobile network outage that impacted customers across the United States, the head of the U.S. telecommunications regulatory agency said on Monday.

“The T-Mobile network outage is unacceptable. The @FCC is launching an investigation. We’re demanding answers – and so are American consumers,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said on Twitter.

Neville Ray, president of technology at T-Mobile, said on Twitter Monday that engineers were working to resolve a voice and data issue that has affected customers around the country.

He said later that data services were now available and some calls were completing. “Alternate services like WhatsApp, Signal, iMessage, Facetime etc. are available,” he added.

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert addressed the outage on a network status page on the company’s website late last evening:

Starting just after 12 pm ET and continuing throughout the day, T-Mobile has been experiencing a voice and text issue that has intermittently impacted customers in markets across the U.S. We are recovering from this now but it may still take several more hours before customer calling and texting is fully recovered. Neville Ray has shared updates throughout the day but I wanted to share the latest on what we know and what we’re doing to address it. This is an IP traffic related issue that has created significant capacity issues in the network core throughout the day. Data services have been working throughout the day and customers have been using services like FaceTime, iMessage, Google Meet, Google Duo, Zoom, Skype and others to connect.

I can assure you that we have hundreds of our engineers and vendor partner staff working to resolve this issue and our team will be working through the night as needed to get the network fully operational. 

Pai

Early this morning, Sievert provided this update: “These issues are now resolved. We again apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your patience.”

T-Mobile had 86 million customers at the end of 2019. T-Mobile did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the outage.

In 2018, Pai backed the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint Corp saying it would lead to improved 5G coverage in the United States and would bring much faster mobile broadband to rural Americans.

T-Mobile on April 1 officially completed its $23 billion merger with Sprint, solidifying its position as the No.3 wireless providers in the United States.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Stephen Coates

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