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Verizon Buying Prepaid Mobile Provider Tracfone in $6.25 Billion Deal

Phillip Dampier September 14, 2020 Competition, Consumer News, Reuters, TracFone, Verizon 2 Comments

(Reuters) – Verizon Communications said on Monday it will buy pre-paid mobile phones provider Tracfone, a unit of Mexican telecoms giant America Movil in a $6.25 billion cash and stock deal.

Tracfone, which serves about 21 million subscribers through more than 90,000 retail locations across the United States, said more than 13 million of its subscribers rely on Verizon’s network under an existing agreement. Verizon is the largest U.S. wireless carrier by subscribers.

The U.S. wireless industry is concentrated in the hands of three mobile carriers due to several mergers in recent years: T-Mobile, which in April completed its $23 billion merger with Sprint to solidify its position in the United States; AT&T, and Verizon.

America Movil, which was created from a state monopoly, is Mexico’s largest telecoms operator by far and is controlled by the family of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the Latin American nation’s richest man.

Verizon has not historically invested in prepaid compared with its rivals, such as T-Mobile, which revamped its MetroPCS prepaid brand and bought Sprint, which had a large prepaid business.

Verizon’s purchase of Tracfone comes at a time when the pandemic has ravaged the economy and Americans are cutting back on spending.

Tracfone had become popular with the lower end of the ultra-competitive U.S. telecoms consumer market and Verizon plans to provide new products for that segment after this “strategic acquisition,” said Hans Vestberg, chairman and chief executive of Verizon.

“This transaction firmly establishes Verizon, through the Tracfone brands, as the provider of choice in the value segment, which complements our clear leadership in the premium segment,” added Ronan Dunne, executive vice president and group CEO, Verizon Consumer Group.

Shares of Verizon were up more than 1% in morning trading. American Movil shares jumped more than 3.5% when the Mexican market opened.

The deal includes $3.125 billion in cash and $3.125 billion in Verizon stock.

Credit Suisse is acting as financial adviser to Verizon on the deal, which is expected to close in the second half of 2021.

Reporting by Ayanti Bera in Bengaluru and Drazen Jorgic in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Sheila Dang; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi, Will Dunham and Dan Grebler

Verizon Launches 4G LTE Home Broadband Service Without Data Caps, Starting at $40/Month

Verizon is introducing a new wireless home broadband service that will target customers that can get good cell phone reception from home but are stuck with slow speed DSL from the phone company, or no internet access at all.

Verizon’s new LTE Home Internet will offer customers speeds of 25-50 Mbps without data caps on Verizon’s already built 4G network. The service launched this week in Savannah, Ga., Springfield, Mo., and Tri-Cities, Tenn./Va./Ky. Starting today, Verizon says it will expand home internet access to customers outside of its existing Fios and millimeter-wave 5G Home footprints, primarily to reach rural customers.

“With LTE Home Internet, our most awarded 4G LTE network will provide internet connectivity for customers in more rural parts of America who may not have access to broadband internet service – a critical need, especially now, when so many are counting on reliable connectivity for remote work and educational needs,” said Frank Boulben, senior vice president of Consumer Marketing and Products at Verizon.

The service and equipment are sold at different prices depending on how much business you already do with Verizon:

LTE Home Internet Service Pricing

  • If you do NOT have an active Verizon mobile plan and DO NOT WISH to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $70/month.
  • If you do NOT have an active Verizon mobile plan or one that costs less than $30/month and ARE WILLING to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $60/month.
  • If you DO have an active Verizon mobile plan that costs $30/month or more and DO NOT WISH to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $50/month.
  • If you DO have an active Verizon mobile plan that costs $30/month or more and ARE WILLING to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $40/month.
  • The required LTE router costs $240 or $10/month for 24 months (0% interest) on Verizon’s Device Payment Plan. If you order the router using “device payments,” you will receive a $10/month promotional credit for the next 24 months, making the router free of charge if you stay with the service for two years. If you cancel service early, the remaining payments will become due immediately.

Although the service cannot match the speeds offered by modern cable and fiber broadband networks, Verizon’s wireless speeds do appear to qualify as “broadband service” and for the first time on a 4G LTE network, do not include any data caps or sneaky speed throttling, making it a potentially respectable option for those in rural areas looking for something better than phone company DSL.

Verizon offers this coverage check tool to determine if service is available in your area. If not, you can leave your e-mail address and phone number and Verizon will contact you as the service expands.

This Verizon-provided video introduces the company’s new LTE Home Internet service, a wireless broadband option without data caps for those looking for rural access or something better than phone company DSL. (1:25)

Internet Providers Get Ready To Cut Off Past Due Customers Unless They Agree to Payment Plans

Internet providers are preparing to cut off late-paying and non-paying customers as early as June 30, as the Federal Communications Commission’s “Keep America Connected” pledge expires next week.

In March, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai invited providers to agree to waive late fees and put off disconnections and usage overlimit charges for several months as a result of the sudden economic shutdown due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. As the pledge expires, Pai is asking providers not to immediately disconnect customers who are past due, if they agree to enroll in payment plans to pay off accrued balances. But Pai ultimately stood on the side of the nation’s multi-billion dollar phone and cable companies as he expressed his understanding why some customers will be cut off anyway and turned over to collection agencies as early as next week.

“Broadband and telephone companies, especially small ones, cannot continue to provide service without being paid for an indefinite period of time; no business in any sector of our economy could,” Pai said in a statement.

Some customers have accumulated past due balances of over $1,000 in the past four months, when one combines wireless, cable-TV, internet, and landline charges. As a result, some large providers recognize the need for long-term repayment plans if they hope to preserve customer relationships. With unemployment over 13%, even their most loyal customers may find it difficult to keep up on bills that often exceed $100 a month, and are often much more.

Those customers that lose service for non-payment may forfeit future participation in low-cost internet programs for those on public assistance, and cannot restart service without coming to terms on past due balances. That could leave desperate customers at risk of losing access to job-seeking information, education, and news about the ongoing pandemic.

Some providers are gradually announcing new programs designed to keep service on, but only if customers contact providers and agree to commit to a repayment contract.

AT&T: The company disclosed 156,000 customers are currently enrolled in Keep America Connected-related programs. AT&T expects full payment of past due charges as early as June 30, or up to 90 days after the first past-due notice was issued, whichever is later. Customers can also keep service turned on by contacting AT&T and setting up an alternate payment arrangement.

Charter/Spectrum: The company has announced it will forgive a portion of past due balances and not require full repayment, if the customer or his/her job was directly impacted by the coronavirus. Spectrum’s offer of 60 days of free internet service introduced in March was accepted by at least 400,000 customers. But for most, the offer has since expired. Spectrum has worked to convert those at the end of the free offer into paid customers, but won’t disclose how much success they have had.

Comcast: Customers enrolled in the Xfinity Assistance Program are being given the option of repaying past due amounts in up to 12 equal monthly installments. After a repayment arrangement is made, some customers are persuaded to downgrade service to more affordable plans until past due amounts are repaid. Comcast’s offer of 60 days of free internet service has ended for most customers that enrolled shortly after it was introduced. Comcast has not announced a date when its 1,000 GB usage cap is scheduled to return in most service areas.

T-Mobile: For many, service will terminate if an account is well past due. Customers who want to keep their service must call T-Mobile to make payment arrangements, but T-Mobile did not disclose any formal repayment plans or payment forgiveness. It is imperative that customers call and discuss past due accounts before service is switched off.

Verizon: Verizon will continue service for “hundreds of thousands of customers” that enrolled in the Keep America Connected pledge program, as long as they agree to make regular payments as part of a special repayment plan that will be introduced for these customers in July. Customers will be billed a portion of their past due amounts along with current service charges until repayment has been made in full.

Of the country’s largest providers, only Charter/Spectrum has agreed to forgive some past due balances outright. Others will expect to be repaid and are likely to suspend service quickly if repayment plans also fall past due.

Verizon Is Giving Customers an Extra 15 GB of Data and Introducing New, Low-Cost Plans

Phillip Dampier March 23, 2020 Consumer News, Data Caps, Verizon, Wireless Broadband No Comments

Verizon does not want their customers to worry about their wireless and home internet bills during the COVID-19 crisis, so they are introducing some new affordable plans for low-income households, waiving late and overlimit fees, and giving wireless customers an extra 15 GB on their data allowance for the next month.

Among today’s announcements:

  • Company waiving all overlimit and late fees on customers that either exceed their data allowance or cannot pay their wireless bill.
  • Verizon’s Lifeline customers will receive two months of waived internet and voice service charges and may qualify for new discounted internet plans.
  • Wireless consumer and small business customers are getting an extra 15 GB of high-speed wireless and/or hotspot data from March 25 through April 30. There is no action needed as the data will automatically be added to your plan.

“We understand the hardships that many of our customers are facing, and we’re doing our part to ensure they have broadband internet connectivity during this unprecedented time,” said Ronan Dunne, CEO Verizon Consumer Group. “With so many Americans working and learning remotely from home, having access to reliable and affordable internet is more important than ever before.”

Effective April 3, Verizon is introducing a new broadband discount program for new FiOS Internet customers that qualify through the Lifeline program. Customers may select any Verizon FiOS speed among Verizon’s Mix & Match plans and receive a $20 discount per month. New customers can get FiOS Home Internet 200/200 Mbps service for $19.99/mo, 400/400 Mbps service for $39.99/mo, or gigabit service for $59.99/mo, with Disney+ included for one year and the first two months of the router rental charge waived (there is no router rental charge for gigabit plan customers).

The extra 15 GB of data won’t be much help for Verizon’s unlimited customers, but it also applies to hotspot service, which is usually limited.

“While more than half of our wireless customer base is on an unlimited data plan, including all of our FiOS and DSL broadband internet customers, we recognize there are many who may need additional connectivity during these trying times,” Ronan added. “We’re here for you and we’ll make sure you have what you need to stay connected.”

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint Face Huge Fines for Reselling Your Location Data to… Anyone

Phillip Dampier February 27, 2020 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon No Comments

The Federal Communications Commission will seek hundreds of millions of dollars in fines from America’s four largest wireless companies after company officials apparently lied to Congress and regulators about ending the lucrative sale of customer locations to third parties in early 2019.

The Wall Street Journal reported the FCC has sent Notices of Apparent Liability to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint accusing the companies of continuing to sell the real-time locations of customers after telling Congress they would stop.

The companies allegedly routinely sold personal customer data to middlemen companies that had very few controls over who ultimately received that information. Clients included private investigators, debt collectors, police agencies, and even potentially ex-partners engaged in stalking. Customers have never been clearly informed that their location data was subject to resale to third parties, and privacy concerns were immediately raised after revelations data aggregators LocationSmart, Inc., and Zumigo, Inc., were selling data to inappropriate entities and individuals.

After being exposed in early 2019, all four carriers promised to end or curtail the practice, but an FCC investigation found carriers were not being forthright.

In January, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai disclosed the practice because of ongoing oversight by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which had demanded an investigation by the FCC early last year. In a letter to the Committee, Pai wrote that the agency found U.S. carriers “apparently” broke the law by continuing to sell location data.

“I am committed to ensuring that all entities subject to our jurisdiction comply with the Communications Act and the FCC’s rules, including those that protect consumers’ sensitive information, such as real-time location data,” Pai wrote.

Too little, too late, according to Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who chairs the Committee.

(Image by Brad Jonas originally for Pando.com)

“Following our longstanding calls to take action, the FCC finally informed the Committee today that one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal privacy protections by turning a blind eye to the widespread disclosure of consumers’ real-time location data,” Pallone said in a statement in January, 2019. “This is certainly a step in the right direction, but I’ll be watching to make sure the FCC doesn’t just let these lawbreakers off the hook with a slap on the wrist.”

Today’s revelations infuriated Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) who tweeted:

“Ajit Pai has failed to protect consumers at every turn. This issue came to light after my office and dedicated journalists discovered how wireless carriers shared Americans’ locations without consent. He investigated only after public pressure mounted.”

Consumers often unwittingly share their real-time locations with cell phone providers whenever their phones are switched on and connected to a cellular or Wi-Fi network. Carriers have developed a lucrative business reselling that information to third parties, typically data aggregators that combine location information with data collected from other companies and sell it on. Buyers often include law enforcement agencies and private investigators, but one reporter found it simple as an individual to get real-time data about his location by paying $300 to a data aggregator. Privacy advocates worry that stalkers could easily track their victims through such services, with victims unaware their own cell phone company betrayed their location in return for money.

A Notice of Apparent Liability demands a written response from a targeted individual or company to explain why they should not be subject to the monetary penalty specified in the letter. Many companies win significant reductions or fine waivers through negotiations with the FCC. The Journal reports that so far, the FCC has not been willing to offer settlements, but that could change as carriers try to negotiate a settlement through the agency’s administrative process.

The article does not specify the exact fines targeted for each carrier. AT&T and Verizon have more than adequate financial resources to pay almost any fine in full. But a multi-million fine against T-Mobile and Sprint could complicate the final agreement between T-Mobile and Sprint to merge, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks. Under the revised merger agreement, both companies agreed to split any expenses related to liabilities up to $200 million, leaving Sprint investor-owner SoftBank responsible for the rest.

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