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Crain’s Detroit Business reports today that Michigan is going to get $1.8 million from the feds “to launch an initiative to map and plan broadband service.” Now, you should be wondering about the timing of this announcement: December 23, just before most reporters take a long weekend. When news like this is released on a day like today, my first thought is, “Why do they want to bury this?”
The answer is in the last sentence of the article:
“Michigan is working on the project with Washington-based Connected Nation, a national non-profit organization that does broadband mapping.”
What’s wrong with that? I refer you to this article from DSLreports: One Last Warning Before America Screws Up Broadband Mapping.
EDIT: Also see “Privatizing the Public Trust: A Critical Look At Connected Nation“, a report issued by Public Knowledge, Common Cause, The Media and Democracy Coalition, and Reclaim the Media.
EDIT: Somehow I missed today’s post on DSLreports: “Connected Nation Wins Huge Chunk Of Taxpayer Money – And will likely use that money to fight against your interests…“
Do your research on Connected Nation, folks. Google is your friend.
Is Michigan going to get screwed on broadband mapping? In my humble opinion, the odds are very high. I HOPE that the Michigan Public Service Commission is smart enough to know who they’re dealing with, but even if they know, will they have any authority to alter any results that might be misleading?
Happy holidays. By the time the “watchdog media” (more like a sleeping chihuahua) gets back from the holidays, they’ll probably consider this old news, and totally ignore it. If you don’t have broadband now in your area and you want it, maybe you should think about moving to another state!
EDIT: I posted the above at around 2:30 PM. I then had to leave for a couple of hours, and by the time I got back, I found the following in my e-mail:
From: “Ditto, Jessica” [e-mail address redacted]
Date: Wed, 23 Dec 2009 13:10:40 -0800
Subject: Michigan Broadband Mapping Project
To Whom It May Concern:
In regards to your post about Michigan’s broadband mapping project I would caution you not to believe everything you read on the Internet. The timing of the announcement is nothing but the result of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration having just released the awards for 14 states and 1 U.S. territory late yesterday – Michigan being one of them. This is exciting news for Michigan as the state works to create jobs and opportunity in a technology-based economy. The Connect Michigan program has been developed over the past few months in close collaboration with the Michigan Public Service Commission. These funds will allow the state to collect critical broadband data needed to identify the unserved and underserved areas of the state. Connected Nation is proud to be lending our experience and expertise to that effort. What you may not realize is that Connected Nation has mapped eight states prior to this grant program. No other organization in the country has mapped broadband on such a comprehensive scale. We do this because our mission is to promote digital inclusion by addressing both the supply and demand for high-speed Internet.
Your blog can be a positive voice in this effort by spreading the word about the need for broadband in Michigan’s unreached areas. I hope that you will afford me the opportunity to let you know more about who we are so that we can work with you in a constructive way going forward.
877.846.7710 – Office
[Mobile telephone number redacted]
[e-mail address redacted]
My response: Ms. Ditto, I would guess that you are probably paid by your employer to attempt to counteract negative publicity that appears in blogs such as mine, and I understand you are probably just trying to earn a living. However, the problem as I understand it is twofold. First, and feel free to correct me if you think I am wrong, I have read that your organization was created by, and/or receives significant funding from AT&T. If that is true, then it gives the appearance of conflict of interest. Also, I have read editorials and articles that indicate that there is a belief that in states where your organization has previously done mapping, it has overstated the actual availability of broadband.
I freely admit that I did not do the original research on this (which is why I referred my readers to an article at DSLreports.com) but over the past year or so, I have read more than just one or two articles that question the circumstances under which your organization was started (was it a creation of AT&T, or any third-party organization hired by AT&T, or did AT&T have any hand in it?) and its source of funding (in other words, does AT&T contribute directly or indirectly to your organization’s operating expenses?).
There is a large area of Michigan that does need broadband, but let’s make sure we define broadband properly. My question to you would be, what is the minimum upload and download speeds that fit your organization’s definition of broadband? AT&T and Verizon seem to think that customers should be happy with minimal DSL speeds (particularly when they are not close to the telephone central office). For many customers that’s not true today, and in the future it won’t be true for anyone. If you are defining anything over dial-up modem speed as “broadband”, then that will not present a true picture of where broadband is available in Michigan. Today and in the future, customers will expect to be able to upload and download high-definition video without having to wait forever. Does your organization have the ability to change your definition of broadband to keep pace with the times and with customer expectations, or do you have to use a definition that has been imposed on you by someone else, and if so, who might that someone else be?
I’m sorry, but I just can’t help but think the timing of today’s announcement was a bit suspicious. Maybe there was a valid reason for it, maybe not, but I’m quite aware of the fact that companies tend to issue press releases on Friday afternoons and before holiday weekends, when the hope is that they will not get much exposure or commentary. Maybe that was not the intent here and it was just unfortunate timing, but if so, it was indeed unfortunate.
If you would care to comment on the above, I will publish your response. I want to be fair to everyone, but at the same time, I’ve had a bad experience in the past with a public relations firm hired by a major telephone company, so I’m not going to just let statements slide by without asking some questions, where I feel it is appropriate.
Thank you for your response, and happy holidays to you!
EDIT 2: I received another e-mail reply from Ms. Ditto. Basically, it seems that for some reason she wants to engage me further on this topic at some point next week, after she returns from the Christmas weekend. The meaningful part of her response was this:
“I will tell you one thing I am not with a public relations firm, nor was I hired to counteract negative publicity, although obviously my job is easier when I confront things head-on. I began working for Connected Nation because I wanted to work for a nonprofit that was doing something meaningful for others. I personally saw the impact they had in Kentucky and am excited about the work we are going to do in Michigan.”
But I didn’t say she was with a public relations firm, just that I’d had a bad experience with one. And I didn’t say that she was hired to counteract negative publicity, but I’ll bet her employer pays her while she’s attempting to do so.
I’m not even going to comment on her statement about the reason she began working for Connected Nation. I don’t want to turn this into something personal. This is not about Ms. Ditto — my whole point there was that she’s just doing her job and at this time of year, I’m not inclined to say anything negative against anyone if I can help it. But at the same time, if she’s going to try to sell me with an “Oh, shucks, we’re just a nonprofit from Kentucky” routine, there’s no way I’m buying into that. After doing just a very shallow Google search, I found the link to “Privatizing the Public Trust: A Critical Look At Connected Nation“, a report issued by Public Knowledge, Common Cause, The Media and Democracy Coalition, and Reclaim the Media. So if Ms. Ditto wants to set the record straight, it appears she has a lot more formidable opponents than I to deal with. Oh, and I found something interesting on Connected Nation’s own web site: Connected Nation Submits No Bid Response for Kentucky Broadband Mapping RFP.
Really, the only response I am interested in receiving from Connected Nation is an honest answer to the questions I asked above. To put it crudely, I want to know if, and to what extent, they’re in bed with AT&T and/or any other telephone company that has a presence in the state of Michigan. I’m certainly not going to be their sunshine pumper in the state (as if I had that kind of influence), nor do I intend at this point to carry out ongoing tirades against them (unless I’m provoked to do so). The point of this post was to alert you to this news item, and to express my personal opinion on the matter. I had frankly hoped that some other blog or news site with a lot more exposure would pick up on this, but to be honest I didn’t expect it, for the very reason I stated above — after the reporters (and the professional bloggers that blog for a living) return from the holidays, this will probably be considered old news.
And by the way, this is one of those occasions where I honestly hope I’m wrong… nothing would make me happier than to see Connected Nation produce a fair and accurate broadband map of Michigan, that accurately shows the actual upload and download speeds that people can receive at any given location in our state. One major problem with phone companies is that they advertise broadband speeds using the weasel words “up to”, so when they don’t deliver the advertised speed they can say they only promised to deliver “up to” that speed (often still charging the end user as if they were receiving the advertised speed!). A broadband map that shows only the advertised speeds available at any particular spot on the map will not only be useless, but disingenuous. Anyway, it concerns me when these other organizations — those that have actual funding, and probably a research staff — publish articles that are critical of Connected Nation. I don’t have funding and I don’t have a research staff, so I cannot fully investigate the claims made by those organizations, nor those made by Connected Nation. But I do form opinions based on what I read, and in this country I’m allowed to share my opinions with you. If my opinions are in error, well, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Please allow me to make a couple of further points: According to the original article, the federal government is spending $1.8 million dollars on this project (and that’s just in Michigan — DSLreports adds that the feds also awarded Connected Nation grants to the tune of $1.8 million for mapping and planning in Tennessee, $1.7 million in North Carolina, $1.4 million in Nevada, and $1.7 million in Minnesota) — dollars that probably came from you and I in one way or another. And what is the point? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use that money to enhance competition by actually giving zero-interest loans to small broadband providers that promise to serve an unserved or underserved area? You may say, well, we need to know where the unserved or underserved areas are located, but then I ask whether it’s really important to pinpoint those areas to the tune of $1.8 million dollars, especially considering that the existing facilities-based broadband providers ought to be able to provide maps showing where they are able to provide service. We require wireline phone companies to produce tariff maps showing exactly where their service is available — shouldn’t broadband providers be able to provide the same information, without it costing $1.8 million?
Also, there is a part of me that wonders if such a map might serve the purpose of inhibiting competition (whether as an intended or unintentional consequence). The reason is that once you know where broadband service is available, even if it’s lousy service in some areas, that information could be used to deny loans or grants to companies that want to overbuild in those areas. In other words, even if a provider’s service in unreliable, even if contacting their customer service department is like entering a level of hell, even if their own customer services representatives don’t seem to realize they have service in the area (a not uncommon problem!), or even if the provider wants to impose ridiculously small usage caps on their customers, on the map it would still show that broadband is available. Maybe customers would really like good quality broadband service with no usage caps and at a fair price, from a company that treats them as though customers really are important, but if this map says that Crappy Broadband, Inc. already offers service in your area, then perhaps nobody else is going to get a grant or loan to provide the type of service customers will want and expect in the 21st century.
My suggestion would be that if we must go through with this project, then a truly useful map would also include independently collected customer satisfaction data – how many area residents attempted to obtain service and were told they could not, and how many think the service is vastly overpriced, and how many are so frustrated with their provider’s service, or the provider’s customer service reps, to nearly want to “go postal” on that company? For that matter, will this map even take into account the prices charged? If it doesn’t then they could justifiably claim that broadband service is available, right now, to 99%+ of Michigan residents, because just about anyone can get a commercial data line from the telephone company (a DS1 or similar data circuit). You might have to sell your firstborn to get it (okay, I exaggerate slightly), but you can get it. Therefore, a map that only shows where broadband is available, without taking the issues of prices charged and customer satisfaction into account, won’t give a complete picture of broadband availability in Michigan.
Anyway, that’s all I have to say on the subject for the moment. Hope all of you will have the happiest of holidays!
It appears some of Michigan’s smaller phone companies are upset about House Bill 4257, which has been passed by both the Michigan House and Senate, and is awaiting the Governor’s signature. From the Great Lakes IT Report:
A group of small Michigan-based telecom providers is complaining that a bill passed by the House and Senate would create a new telecom tax and favor large companies such as AT&T and Verizon over Michigan-based companies.
In the latter document, you can see the fatal flaw in this legislation:
Require the restructuring mechanism to be supported by a mandatory monthly contribution by all providers of retail intrastate telecommunications services and commercial mobile service.
It’s not surprising at all to me that AT&T again gets what it wants from the Michigan legislature. I certainly would not be opposed to seeing the terminating charge ripoff by some of the small independent phone companies (especially the ILECs) phased out, and at first glance it looks like that’s what the legislature is trying to accomplish. Except, as you read further, it looks like they are simply trying to eliminate a very visible ripoff and substitute a different kind of ripoff, one that would pick the pockets of more companies (and, ultimately, their customers) in the end.
The interesting twist is that due to federal law and court ruling, the state cannot force VoIP providers to become unwilling contributors to this scam. And I doubt the other companies are just going to quietly accept this, any more than AT&T or Verizon would quietly accept new legislation that picks their pockets. If the Governor signs this bill, it will wind up in the courts, and the state will be forced to spend tax money to attempt to defend this legislation — and my guess (I’m not a lawyer, so all I can do is guess) is that the state will probably lose, and the taxpayers will have to eat the legal bills.
The other possibility is that, as the CEO of ACD.net suggests, all the CLECs will suddenly become VoIP companies. That’s not a farfetched notion – all they have to do is figure out some way to get broadband service to their customers, then put them on a VoIP switch.
If this bill does pass, I have a suggestion for the independent CLECs: Pool your resources and form a cooperative to build your own statewide fiber-optic broadband network, initially to reach your existing customers, but feel free to branch it out to the rest of us so we have another alternative to DSL and cable broadband. Then provision your customers using VoIP only. Maybe you could even get some of the smaller cell providers to participate with you in building this network. Build it with plenty of capacity from the start, so you never have to ration (or meter) bandwidth, and don’t let an ILEC anywhere near it (unless they want to become a VoIP-only company, too).
Interesting side thought: I wonder how will this would impact a company like Allband Communications, which probably benefits greatly from rural subsidies and terminating charges (and is one of the few companies that might not be able to survive without them, given the sparse population of the area they serve), but delivers all their telephone service using what is essentially VoIP (if the cable companies can call their service VoIP, then so could Allband, since it’s totally delivered over fiber to the home!). Would they get the sweetest deal of all, being able to receive funds from the “restructured mechanism” but not having to pay into it? I don’t know the answer to that, but the thought crosses my mind that if this legislation passes, Michigan could potentially become the VoIP state, as every provider attempts (insofar as is possible) to avoid paying into this screwy scheme.
DSLreports.com: Wisconsin Data Shows AT&T’s ‘Franchise Reform’ Was A Joke – Now consumers get higher prices AND no consumer protection laws…
A long time ago, this blog had a somewhat different direction than it does today. Part of what I tried to do was expose the abusive practices of the large phone companies, and (among other things) try to stop them from basically writing the communications laws that were supposed to regulate them. One of the reasons I shifted directions was because, basically, we customers lost, and I don’t enjoy beating a dead horse. And only now, it seems, is the reality of what happened finally dawning on state officials, as indicated in Karl Bode’s article on the BroadbandReports.com/DSLreports.com site:
We’ve discussed how a significant number of states passed new state level video franchise laws at the behest of phone company lobbyists, but didn’t really realize what they were signing up for. Bills that consumers were told would result in lower TV prices by making it easier for phone companies to jump into the TV business, in many cases were little more than phone company wish lists — aimed at legalizing the cherry picking of next-gen broadband deployment, eliminating local authority (even eminent domain rights) and in some cases eliminating tough consumer protection laws.
The one thing the laws were supposed to do — lower TV prices — never actually happened.
One of the worst of these bills approved by duped lawmakers was in Wisconsin, where AT&T both wrote and lobbied for a bill that essentially gutted all consumer protections in the state under the auspices of cheaper TV. State residents used to have the right to prompt repairs, saw ensured refunds for service outages, mandated notice of rate increases or service deletions, and carriers had to provide a written notice of disconnection. Not any more. Now a new Wisconsin state audit shows that basic TV prices continue to skyrocket:
One Wisconsin legislator (Representative Gary Hebl of Sun Prairie) has introduced a new bill that, he says, “puts people first, not corporations.” Well, if that’s really true, it’s about damn time (pardon my expressiveness, but it is!). All laws ought to do that. Our Constitution ought to do that. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Rep. Hebl’s bill ever gets passed into law.
Here in Michigan, our legislators have been sold a similar bill of goods. About the only thing that did not happen here is that we did not completely do away with quality-of-service requirements. But our wonderful Michigan legislators did pretty much eliminate all other consumer protections. They turned the Michigan Public Service Commission from an agency that was able to help consumers solve most any communications-related issue, to an agency that’s pretty toothless with regard to anything telecommunications-related. Unless you are subscribing to one specific landline service that virtually no one has or wants (PBLES), you now have very little protection against abusive practices by the phone company, unless you want to take them to court or file a complaint with the state Attorney General’s office (actually, I think aggrieved customers ought to complain to their state legislators – they made this mess, let them clean it up!).
(Just so as not to mislead anyone, I will say that complaints to the MPSC sometimes do still bring results, but only because the MPSC knows how to reach the top executives at some of the phone companies. The MPSC usually can’t force the phone companies to help you anymore, but sometimes they can present your case to a high enough official that you’ll still get the desired results. And, if you actually do have a quality of service issue – your phone doesn’t work and they tell you they can’t fix it for another month – then the MPSC does still have some authority in that type of situation).
One other point: For nearly two decades, the Michigan Telecommunications Act had a “sunset” provision, such that it automatically came up for a rewrite every four or five years. The phone companies always saw this as a chance to re-craft the law to be even more to their liking, while consumer groups and legislators that felt they’d been “hoodwinked” the last time around saw it as a chance to restore some previously lost customer protections. But a funny thing happened on the way to the latest rewrite – a couple of years ago, the Michigan legislature quietly killed the sunset provision, making the current Michigan Telecommunications Act the one we’ll probably be stuck with for decades to come. This indicates to me that the phone companies got what they really wanted last time around, and had no intention of letting the applecart be upset by disgruntled consumers or legislators in 2009.
Of course, any one of our legislators could, on their own initiative, introduce legislation that would attempt to undo the damage that was done in the last Michigan Telecommunications Act rewrite. But unless they receive enough complaints from affected citizens, I doubt they’ll want to poke that particular beehive (the bees being the big telco lobbyists and lawyers, which would probably come into the state in full fury if there were ever any serious attempt at reform).
One way consumers could make an effective statement is to “vote with their feet”, and refuse to purchase any service from a large company that abuses their customers (especially when there are any other viable options available). But most customers don’t have that kind of willpower – all the “evil corporation” has to do is dangle a shiny enough carrot off the stick (in the form of a great “limited time promotional offer”) and we, like a bunch of stupid jackasses, subscribe to their services.
Like I said, I’m not into beating dead horses – once they’ve been dead long enough, they really start to stink — kind of like our Michigan legislature (and, presumably, their brethren in Wisconsin) when the big corporate interests come around.
I just has the distinct displeasure of trying, unsuccessfully, to help a friend obtain AT&T DSL service at his home. Right now he has phone service from a competitive phone company, but what he wants to do is get the least expensive DSL service that AT&T offers (the variety they have been advertising on TV, that does not require the customer to have their dial tone), then use VoIP for his phone service — but he doesn’t want to disconnect his current voice service until everything else is up and working. Apparently, he might as well be wanting a flying car or a time machine. Even putting aside the issue of the competitive phone service, the first thing that needs to be done is to get the DSL installed, and if ever a company acts like they don’t want your business, it’s AT&T.
On his first attempt, he picked an AT&T number out of the phone book and called that. That attempt apparently came to a screeching halt when AT&T told him they could not install DSL as long as he had phone service from the competitive phone company. Actually, there’s no TECHNICAL reason that you can’t provide DSL from one company and voice from another on the same pair, but for whatever reason it’s apparently just not done. I wasn’t listening in on that call so I don’t know all the details, but after that we did a three-way call to see if we’d have any better luck (and honestly, I wanted to hear if it was as bad as he’d described it).
The first thing we did was to call the number that is advertised on the AT&T commercials for $19.95 DSL. That, apparently, is your ticket into the seven circles of telephone hell. If I’d been playing a drinking game, taking a drink every time we heard the phrase “your call is important to us”, I would not be drunk – I’d likely be quite dead. We heard it from female voices, male voices, and disembodied voices that sounded like they were continents away. I’d guess we were transferred at least half a dozen times, sometimes by voice response systems that didn’t even wait for a response and just seemed to randomly transfer the call. The last time we were transferred, it was by some guy with a distinct accent — it sort of sounded Indian, but by that time the quality of the connection was so poor it was hard to tell — who told us that if we got cut off, we could call the AT&T DSL department directly on 877-722-9337 (my friend repeated the number back TWICE to make sure he’d heard it right, and I copied it down also). That number may have belonged to AT&T at one time, but now it apparently belongs to an “enhanced” directory service (that has a web site at http://www.callingten.com/). When their recording first answers, it almost sounds like you are being charged $4.95 (or some amount, it was hard to hear) for the call (I think you actually have to call a different number for that to happen, but it wasn’t really all that clear).
Anyway, when we got cut off after talking to the guy with the accent, and then getting the recording at the directory service, I finally went prowling around AT&T’s web site and found another number for Internet service – 1-800-288-2020 – and again we had to go through a voice response system and several minutes of wait. Finally we reached someone who actually tried to be helpful, but it took her several minutes to find my friend’s address in their system (he lives in an apartment complex, but still, they do offer service there, so it shouldn’t have been a major undertaking to find the address). Then she asked a bunch of questions about his phone, Internet, and television usage (I would have probably politely declined to answer, but he went along), and from that she deduced that he should order a triple play package that, if I recall correctly, would have cost over $70 a month. When he said he was just interested in the basic low-speed DSL, she then (after some more time passed) said that they could not put the DSL on the same pair as the existing phone service (well, she didn’t exactly say it that way, but that’s what we figured out that she meant, after some conversation). At least she didn’t say he couldn’t get it at all.
But the real deal killer was that apparently she wasn’t at all aware of a promotion my friend had seen online. According to him, the deal was that if you made a one-year service commitment, you got a free DSL modem and $100 back (I’m a bit skeptical about the $100 for that class of service, but I could see the free DSL modem as a possibility, given that AT&T probably buys them in bulk). However, this representative basically said he’d have to commit to service for a year or pay an early termination penalty if he dropped the service before the year was up, and she couldn’t give him anything free or in any way sweeten the offer — he’d still have to pay about $50 for a DSL modem, plus a shipping charge! It sounded as though she had no idea what deals might be offered on the web site. My friend wasn’t willing to set himself up for a possible termination charge, if for some reason he had to discontinue service (and I’m betting he wouldn’t — he’s the kind of guy that doesn’t like change much, so once they had him as a customer they’d likely have him for years — but in an apartment situation you just never know. If there is a fire or a pipe breaks or something, he could be forced to move out with very little notice). After having been on the phone for over three hours, and being told that “your call is important to us” when clearly it was NOT, his sense of humor had long since evaporated and to basically be told, “this is the deal, take it or leave it” was just a bit too much to take under the circumstances.
I don’t know if my friend will ever get DSL service now or not. He was somewhat enthused about it before this morning, but that certainly wasn’t his attitude by the time he was going into the fourth hour of phone hell. I am SO glad I don’t personally live in an area where AT&T and Comcast are the only viable choices available (my friend lives in Gaines Township which is near Wyoming, Michigan, in the Grand Rapids metro area, but not close enough to downtown to be within range of any inexpensive wireless services, as far as we know).
Why does AT&T bother to advertise the service if they don’t want people to get it? Is it just bait-and-switch – you can call in for the $19.95 offer but if they can’t upsell you to something more expensive then they don’t care if you take their service or not? I might be inclined to actually believe that, but then I realize that most of the “phone hell” occurred before they had even determined why my friend was calling.
I have three takeaways from this: First, if Comcast would just offer an entry-level DSL service for people who are, shall we say, not wealthy, they could clean AT&T’s clock. I know a lot of people don’t like Comcast and there is probably good reason for that, but I have a feeling that if my friend had been willing to pay their rate, he wouldn’t have been on the phone with them for more than ten or fifteen minutes tops. He certainly would not have been transferred all over creation because a particular rep didn’t handle Michigan, or DSL, or whatever the excuse was. Now, I have no way to know what his actual installation experience might have been, but at least trying to sign up for the service probably wouldn’t have seemed something akin to a root canal. Comcast really shoots themselves in the foot by doing that “introductory rate” nonsense — by now everyone is on to that (ironically, in part due to AT&T commercials) so what they really need is a low rate option with limited connection speed, for people who don’t do much more than check e-mail and go to a few web pages.
Second, after all this time, AT&T still acts like they are the only game in town, and that they really don’t need to give a damn whether ordering a service is a pleasant, or at least non-painful experience. In my opinion, any time a customer hears a recording saying “your call is important to us”, that’s a massive fail on the part of a company. If you really thought the call was important, you’d answer it, and to tell us the call is important to you when it clearly isn’t is a massive insult. And you wouldn’t put numbers in your television ads that go to people who have no ability to help the customer with ordering service, and who must transfer them several times before finally losing the call completely (actually terminating with a bust of hold music played at about four times normal volume, just before the call dropped entirely). And speaking of which, I thought AT&T was originally a phone company – so why is their own phone service so dreadful?
Third, the phone companies still do everything they can to inhibit competition. As I said earlier, there’s no TECHNICAL reason you can’t have voice service from one company and DSL from another on the same pair (and the plan was to drop the existing voice service anyway, but only after the DSL was working). But apparently AT&T can’t make that happen, for whatever reason. My friend doesn’t know how many usable pairs are run into each apartment (in particular, whether there’s more than one) and due to family circumstances it would be pretty difficult for me to go over there and trace out the wiring for him right now – it’s just a bit too far away, and I can’t be away that long right now.
I know from reading sites like The Consumerist that dealing with companies like AT&T is getting to be a really horrible experience, but until I listened in on my friend’s attempts to get DSL service this afternoon, I had no idea it was that bad. Now I understand why the iPhone users are so upset that Apple forged an exclusive deal with AT&T in the U.S. – based on what I heard this afternoon, the “AT&T experience” is almost the exact opposite of what Apple users have come to expect from Apple. Does AT&T have a death wish, or are they really just that incompetent?
They stopped the taping when the audience indicated they were not in favor of AT&T’s filtering plans! The story is here:
And here’s the YouTube-posted video:
I found this via a news item on BroadbandReports.com.
AT&T stockholders, have you considered the possible unintended consequences of AT&T’s content filtering plans?
If not, Slate Magazine lays it out for you. Here’s an excerpt:
….. But the most serious problems for AT&T may be legal. Since the beginnings of the phone system, carriers have always wanted to avoid liability for what happens on their lines, be it a bank robbery or someones divorce. Hence the grand bargain of common carriage: The Bell company carried all conversations equally, and in exchange bore no liability for what people used the phone for. Fair deal.
AT&Ts new strategy reverses that position and exposes it to so much potential liability that adopting it would arguably violate AT&Ts fiduciary duty to its shareholders. …..
If you own AT&T stock… well, okay, anybody that owns AT&T stock probably isn’t reading this blog. But on the off chance that you know someone who owns AT&T stock, you might want to give them the above link. I’m certainly not a communications lawyer, so I cannot say whether AT&T is setting themselves up for increased legal exposure. But having said that, even with my limited knowledge of the situation, the points that are made in that article seem quite valid to me. What do you think?
Is AT&T really going to open up their cellular network? If you’re a reader of USA Today you might believe that, but Cynthia Brumfield of IP Democracy offers a different take:
USA Today’s Leslie Cauley has this puzzling piece today that carries the headline “AT&T flings cellphone network wide open.” Say what? Just like that AT&T is following in Verizon’s footstep by allowing any application, any device to work on its network?
Ms. Brumfield isn’t quite buying it yet…
For one thing, as Ryan Block notes, this is a PR game by the nations top mobile provider. AT&T is no more open today than it was yesterday. What AT&T means by “open” is that you can take your SIM subscriber identification module card out of your AT&T phone and plop it into any non-AT&T phone and run on AT&Ts network.
Full article here:
IP Democracy: AT&T is Open??? I Need More Information Here
We certainly welcome any willingness by wireless carriers to open up their networks, but we seen one to many cases of telecommunications companies appearing to promise the moon, and then when you read the fine print you’re lucky if you get a couple shovelfuls of comet dust. We’re still waiting for the “Naked DSL” that AT&T has promised (as a condition of the AT&T/BellSouth merger) – some say it actually is available (in certain parts of the country, and maybe then only if you know exactly how to order it), but here in Michigan it seems to be a hard thing to come by. So I’m naturally inclined to wonder if AT&T will actually only open their network to customers willing to go the extra mile, and jump through a series of hoops in order to use an unlocked device (and yes, I wonder the same thing about Verizon).
Excerpt from an AT&T press release:
SAN ANTONIO, Dec. 3 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) announced today plans to exit the shrinking pay phone business by the end of 2008. Existing contracts and customer service commitments will continue to be honored during the period that the business is being phased out. AT&T’s Public Communications unit has continued to experience significant pressure from reduced pay phone usage, primarily as a result of the growth of alternative communications choices, such as wireless phones and personal communication devices.
The company plans to phase out both public pay phones and phones provided under contracts at government correctional facilities through the end of next year. All customers will receive advance notification of specific plans as well as information on other potential providers and product options.
The move affects AT&T pay phones in the company’s traditional 13-state service area only. BellSouth Corp., which was acquired by AT&T Inc. in late 2006, had previously exited the pay phone business in its nine-state service area. AT&T’s wholesale pay phone services are not affected.
Full press release:
AT&T Announces Intention to Withdraw From Pay Phone Business by End of 2008
Sometimes it just seems like a pile-on where Vonage is concerned – now it’s AT&T that wants to take a bite out of Vonage:
That article is from the Howard University publication, The Hilltop, which offers this refreshing observation:
Many students around Howard Universitys campus look at the suit as one of greed on AT&Ts part. It seems difficult to find sympathy for a company that has dominated the communications industry for decades.
Sophomore broadcast journalism major Curtis McCloud said, “AT&T should know that there is enough phone, Internet and satellite television business to go around. If they invented this packet deal, thats one thing. But if they simply took technology that was already out there and made it better, why wouldnt they think that other companies would soon follow?”
McCloud said, “One thing competition in an industry does is cause lower rates of service or product for the consumer. It seems to me as though AT&T is at its old tricks again by trying to hold a monopoly on a service so that they can regulate the price – big business at its finest.”
It’s my hope that maybe the students of this generation will be the ones to reverse the trend toward taking the entire concept of “intellectual property” to the point of absurdity – and beyond! Actually, there is a simple solution if our lawmakers would have the guts to do it, and that is to strip the rights of corporations so that they are no longer entitled to file lawsuits or own patents in the name of a corporation. If a real, flesh and blood person (or even a group of named persons, e.g. a partnership) were required to file and participate in each lawsuit, there would not be nearly as many of them. If only actual inventors could hold patents (or at very least, if they could only assign the rights to other named persons), I doubt you’d see nearly as many silly patent lawsuits – especially those that seem designed to put a competitor out of business.
Many of the problems in our society began, in my opinion, when we started giving soulless corporations all the rights of individual persons, and promoting the legal fiction that a corporation is the same as a person. No, I’m not saying that all corporations are entirely bad, but the larger they become, it seems the more likely they are to tend toward evil. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that they are evil that helps them become large, or if becoming evil is a consequence of becoming large, but it sure seems to me like the two tend to go hand in hand much of the time.
Unfortunately, at my age, I sort of doubt I will live to see large corporations put in their place. But you never know, maybe this will be the generation that finally sees the evil and does not turn away, but instead actually comes against it, once they become the lawmakers.
Edit (November 9): The Associated Press and several other sources are reporting that Vonage is in talks with AT&T to settle the patent suit for $39 million, which would be paid out over the next five years.