Monthly Archives August 2014

Wind Mobile Lowers Domestic Roaming Rates

WIND MobileWind Mobile – a Toronto-based carrier that operates in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta – has announced serious price adjustments for data, voice and text.

The news comes on the heels of a recent move by the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to lower domestic roaming, even passing a cap on how much carriers can charge customers.

In the past, customers traveling outside of Wind’s main Canadian service areas paid $1 per megabyte in roaming fees. The recently announced cuts are significant – customers will now pay a mere five cents for the same service.

In an interview, Wind’s chief regulatory officer Simon Lockie said that since the CRTC passed the caps, the company has “been moving quickly to pass those savings on to customers.” Wind is also offering its users the ability to retain the 3G network while roaming, instead of the previous 2G.

Wind is not the only company to begin lowering rates. Halifax’s Eastlink has reduced its prices by offering nationwide roaming plans. It is only a matter of time before other carriers begin announcing lower prices as well.

*Source: Globe and Mail

E-Rate Broadband and Tech Update

E-Rate changesLast month, I shared a post on big changes coming to the E-Rate Program. This month, I’m pleased to provide even more information about what schools can expect in the coming years.

Following are the highlights of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate Modernization Order released on July 23, 2014. We have only listed the changes that have the greatest impact. The purpose of the order is to continue support of high-speed access to schools and libraries and expand access to digital learning technologies by providing support for Wi-Fi networks within schools and libraries.

Changes include:

1. Priority One services is now known as Category One and Priority Two is known as Category Two.

2. Category One are the services needed to support connectivity to schools and libraries.

3. Category Two are the internal connections (hardware and software) on site at a school or library.

4. Funds will shift between Category One and Category Two services to meet demand.

5. The highest discount level for Category One services remains at 90%, but Category Two is reduced to 85%.

6. The highest discount rate for voice services will be 70% in 2015 (a reduction of 20%) and will decrease by 20% each funding year thereafter.

a. For example, if a school’s discount was 40% in 2014 it will be reduced to 20% in 2015 and then to 0% in 2016.

b. This will apply to all voice services including but not limited to: local and long distance service, cellular and voice-over-IP (VoIP). If the FCC takes no further action on this by the opening of funding year 2018, the phase down will continue.

7. All web hosting, email and voicemail discounts will be eliminated beginning in 2015.

8. Data plans and aircards for mobile devices will remain eligible for support only if a school or library can demonstrate that individual data plans are the most cost-effective options for providing internal broadband access for portable mobile devices.

9. Sets an annual funding target of $1 billion for eligible Category Two services for fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

10. The technology plan requirement for Category Two services is eliminated.

11. The current 2-in-5 year rule will not be in effect for applicants that receive support in fiscal year 2015 and 2016.

12. Schools applying for Category Two funding can request discounts on purchases up to $150 (pre-discount) per student over a five-year period. Libraries can request up to $2.30 (pre-discount) per square foot.

13. There is a minimum funding floor of $9,200 (pre-discount) on Category Two support for each school or library over a five-year period. Costs for services shared by more than one entity must be divided between entities.

14. The five-year budget applies to entities that receive support in 2015 and/or 2016.

15. Applicants can seek support for Category Two non-recurring services purchased on or after April 1, three months prior to the start of the funding year on July 1.

16. Funding for internal connections will be available for routers, switches, wireless access points, internal cabling, racks, wireless controller systems, firewall services, uninterruptable power supplies, caching and the software supporting each of these components. Note this is a preliminary list and the final 2015 Eligible Services List is not yet available.

17. Basic maintenance services, managed Wi-Fi, and caching are eligible for Category Two support. Support for these services will be available only to those applicants that receive Category Two support in funding years 2015 and/or 2016.

18. Category Two support is eliminated for telephone and video components (including VoIP or video-over-IP), servers (except those for caching) and storage devices. Note this is a preliminary list and the final 2015 Eligible Services List is not yet available.

19. Schools that use surveys to determine their E-Rate discount must calculate their discount using only the surveys they actually collect.

20. The document retention period will be extended from five to 10 years after the latter of the last day of the applicable funding year, or the service delivery deadline for the funding request.

Greg Lowry is a Schooley Mitchell consultant based in San Francisco, Calif. His areas of expertise include supplier negotiation, billing analysis and contract optimization, business continuity planning, and sales and business development consulting.

Verizon Boosts Solar Infrastructure

Verizon solar infrastructureVerizon is preparing to invest almost $40 million in solar power technology at eight sites, effectively tripling their use of the technology.

The rooftop, ground-mounted and parking-structure panels will be installed in New York, California, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey. When completed, Verizon will have the largest solar-generating capacity of any U.S. telecom company.

“Solar is a proven technology,” James Gowen, Verizon’s chief sustainability officer, was quoted as saying. “It didn’t hurt that the technology is getting better and prices are coming down.”

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek

Merchant Petition Asks Court to Reconsider Swipe Fees

swipe feesA handful of merchants groups are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take a second look at the debit card swipe fee cap.

The National Association of Convenience Stores, the Food Marketing Institute, the National Restaurant Association, the National Retail Federation, Boscov’s and Miller Oil Co. all filed the petition asking the court to have another look at the Federal Reserve’s decision to cap swipe fees at 21 cents per transaction instead of lowering it.

Originally, the Federal Reserve had pegged the average incremental cost at four cents per transaction and suggested the cap should be no higher than 12 cents. However, its final decision didn’t reflect those numbers.

“There’s so much at stake here for U.S. retailers and their customers that we have no choice but to pursue this case as far as possible,” Mallory Duncan, the National Retail Federation’s senior vice president and general counsel, was quoted as saying.

“When a federal agency blatantly disregards the clear intent of legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, that’s a dispute that cannot be ignored.”

About 8 million merchants in the United States accept debit cards, so any decision will have far-reaching impact.

*Source: The Hill

SaskTel Changes User Disclosure Numbers

SaskTel Phone PlansSaskTel is revising its numbers after it was revealed the company under-reported the number of times it disclosed customer information to police and government agencies.

Initially, SaskTel said it received over 6,800 requests for such information, when in fact it received 11,610 requests. Only 4,139 were accompanied by warrants. The company handed over the information about 98 percent of the time.

According to John Meldrum, SaskTel vice-president, corporate counsel and regulatory affairs, the initial counts failed to include after-hours emergency and routine requests for names and addresses.

Other Canadian telecom providers had reported much higher numbers than SaskTel, which raised his suspicion.

“I started to wonder why the heck we had such a low number,” Meldrum was quoted as saying. “It didn’t make sense in relation to the rest of the country.”

Privacy experts have voiced concern about telcos disclosure processes, fearing customer data is being handed over without much thought and without a warrant.

Source: The Star Phoenix




Twitter to Remove Photos of the Deceased

Twitter logoIn the age of social media, it seems inevitable that our online profiles will outlive us. Of course, when someone passes away, a family member is left with the responsibility of dealing with such matters. Recently, Twitter announced that it would handle the task of removing photos and videos of deceased loved ones at the family’s request.

However, there will be some restrictions. In a tweet, Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler said, “When reviewing such media removal requests, Twitter considers public interest factors such as the newsworthiness of the content and may not be able to honor every request.”

The decision follows the high profile death of actor Robin Williams, whose daughter Zelda William removed herself from the social media site due to cruel images sent to her of her father. As well, Twitter has been working to remove images and videos of James Foley – the American journalist killed by ISIS militants – which had been posted on the site.

Interestingly enough, Twitter is not the only group to think about social media profiles in relation to the deceased. Facebook will remove the account of a user who has passed away at the request of a verified family member. The State of Delaware has passed a law bequeathing email, Facebook, or “any similar storage device which currently exists or may exist as technology develops” to the person’s family or executor of the will.

*Source: Auto World News

Elderly Woman Falls Victim to Phone Slamming

landlineEarlier this week, we discussed the practice of phone cramming, sharing a story about a scam artist who faced major Federal Trade Commission penalties for his participation in the fraudulent activity. Today we take a look at phone slamming, which has nothing to do with hanging up on someone after a particularly heated conversation.

Instead, it is something that is usually even more frustrating. Phone slamming occurs when a subscriber’s services are transferred to another provider without their consent. Typically the unethical provider contacts the company supplying the current service and falsely reports the customer is jumping ship. In some cases, an unsuspecting consumer enters a contest without reading the fine print, which has them agree to switch their phone services to another carrier.

We’re not quite sure what exactly happened in this instance, but we do know an elderly woman was without phone service for weeks after getting caught up in a slamming scam. KRCR News reported the 77-year-old California resident picked up her phone one day to discover silence on the line. After calling AT&T, it was revealed her account had been switched to Charter Communications without her permission, and her number reassigned to a different residence.

After countless phone calls – and wasting $130 on a temporary phone – the woman’s service was finally restored yesterday.

We wish this was an isolated incident, but sadly it is not. What would you do if your business telephone suddenly went dead?

Google Gives Canadian Students Discount on Textbooks

Google Play CanadaA big source of grief for university students is the high cost of textbooks, but Google Canada promises to lighten their load, literally. Students are being offered up to 80 percent off the cover price of their textbooks by downloading them through Google Play Books.

Google says textbooks covering many subjects – in both English in French – can be purchased or rented. These include “thousands of textbooks from the top publishers,” Google Canada said on its official Canadian blog.

As an extra perk, a user’s textbook library is automatically synced to cloud and can be accessed from more than one device. It is compatible on with Android devices, iOS, and the Internet.

For those who worry that a tangible textbook might be more convenient, Google has a solution.

“You can instantly search within a textbook for a particular word or phrase, bookmark chapters and pages, highlight and annotate key passages and get quick access to dictionaries, translation tools, Wikipedia and Google search,” said the post.

So, for those who are trying to make the school year as ergonomic as possible, Google Play Books may be a viable option.

*Source: Google Canada Blog

FTC Seizing Assets of Phone Crammer

Federal Trade Commission Schooley MitchellTelephone cramming may be illegal, but it sure is lucrative. Just ask Andrew Bachman, who lived a life of luxury off the proceeds of the sneaky scheme until being busted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

In a settlement released earlier this month, the FTC is set to seize over $1.2 million in assets, including bank accounts, shares in start-up companies and a Ferrari and a Mercedes. Several high-end watches were also seized.

It comes after Bachman and others were busted by the FTC for subscribing consumers to cellphone text message services without their consent. These subscriptions cost about $9.99 per month and included love tips, trivia facts and celebrity gossip.

“Ensuring that consumers are protected in the growing mobile environment is a top priority at the FTC,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a press release. “This settlement shows that we are committed to making sure that bad actors do not profit from taking advantage of consumers’ confusion about their mobile phone bills.”

The illegal charges were disguised on bills under vague names such as 77050IQ12CALL8663611606 and 25184USBFIQMIG. Many did not notice the fraudulent charges and those who did had difficulty having them removed, with many only receiving partial refunds from the phone company.

It’s just one example of an unethical practice that impacts consumers every day.

The Role of Cable Companies is Changing

tvA few decades ago, it seemed unfathomable that a cable company’s core offering would be anything but TV service. But that’s all changed according to the Leichtman Research Group, which reports the number of cable broadband subscribers has officially exceeded the number of cable TV subscribers in the United States.

“With the addition of more than 30 million broadband subscribers over the past decade, cable providers have clearly expanded well beyond their roots in cable TV service,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, Inc., in a press release “As of the end of 2Q 2014, the top cable providers now have more broadband subscribers than cable TV subscribers.”

Currently there are 49,915,000 cable broadband subscribers compared to 49,910,000 TV subscribers. That, according to Wired, demonstrates a shift in consumer priorities.

“Cable subscribers don’t have to worry about TV as they know it going away any time soon,” states the Wired article by Marcus Wohlsen. “But cable is on its way to becoming secondary, the ‘nice to have’ compared to the necessity of having broadband access.”