I've noted for years
that while the government likes to take smaller companies quickly to task for cramming, they've long ignored the role larger telecom carriers play in the practice
. That's been changing in recent months, with the FCC hitting AT&T with a $105 million fine for facilitating cramming
back in October. The FTC noted that not only did AT&T turn a blind eye to the practice (since they make 30% or so of the profits), but they intentionally made bills harder to understand so fewer consumers would detect the scams.
Now, as had been expected, the National Journal
notes that the government is getting close to hitting Sprint for cramming as well, though it's unclear what the final fine will be:
According to the enforcement action, which hasn't been finalized, Sprint billed customers for third-party services it knew they hadn't asked for and didn't want. The planned fine is being reviewed by all five FCC commissioners, but they haven't voted to take action yet, the agency officials said. It's unclear whether Sprint and the FCC are still engaged in settlement talks.
These cramming services for years have mysteriously shown up on user bills, offering useless crap (like "premium SMS services" or horoscopes) for a $10 per month fee. The FTC sued T-Mobile earlier this year
for their role in cramming, and that case is currently ongoing.
The $43 billion spent on wireless spectrum and increased pressure to compete on price has Wall Street nervous about the wireless industry. The Wall Street Journal
notes that the combination of the $43 billion spent this month on spectrum and increased competitive pressure resulted in the big four wireless carriers losing an estimated $45 billion in value. Wall Street's worries come on the heels of admissions by AT&T and Verizon that they're starting to feel the pinch of T-Mobile's uncarrier strategy
. Of course should you actually listen to the carriers, all four have made it clear the last thing they want is a price war
T-Mobile today announced that the company's faster "wideband" LTE upgrades have gone live in New York City, the upgrades providing speed bumps of 50% and theoretical peak speeds of up to 100 Mbps downstream. According to a T-Mobile announcement
, the wideband upgrades are now available in Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Long Island and Northern NJ.
For much of the last year Verizon has stuck close to the company's strategy of fighting price reductions under the premise that a premium network comes with a premium price tag. They've also tried to downplay T-Mobile's market impact wherever possible
, company CEO declaring back in March that T-Mobile's aggressive strategy is "really nothing different than we have seen over the last couple of decades." AT&T's taken a similar approach, doing its best to portray T-Mobile as irrelevant.
But both companies quietly admitted this week that while they won't have to start giving away the store anytime soon, T-Mobile has officially started to make them sweat
Barron’s points out that both AT&T and Verizon have cited increased competition as having an impact on their quarterly churn rates and earnings per share, respectively...Verizon, meanwhile, said that its EPS this quarter could be negatively impacted by a “highly competitive and promotion-filled” market that has forced the carrier to respond in kind.
Again this shouldn't be overstated; most of AT&T and Verizon's promotions continue to be cosmetic in nature, and primarily tend to focus on discounting bigger data allotments to upsell users to costlier plans. It also should be said that while T-Mobile has made great strides on consumer-friendly policies, nobody in the wireless industry (including T-Mobile) actually wants a real price war
Despite making a lot of noise
about the company's "Network Vision" upgrades a few years back, those upgrades were too little too late, with the company still lagging behind the other three large carriers in most LTE speed and latency tests. Still, too hear Sprint CFO Joe Euteneuer tell it, with the company's Network Vision plan Sprint is headed in the right direction with the worst of the company's problems (caused in part by their Nextel deal and their WiMax detour) now behind it
"I think from a network standpoint we have been waiting to get to this point of having a network that is substantially complete," Euteneuer said...Euteneuer acknowledged that Sprint's network has been a weak spot for the carrier, saying that the company had been experiencing subscriber losses "associated with the network."...But much of the pain associated with upgrading the network is behind Sprint, and Euteneuer was upbeat about where things are headed. He cited reducing expenses and churn as the key goals for Sprint going forward.
Sprint's also trying harder to compete on price, unveiling a promotion that promises users defecting from AT&T and Verizon a 50% lower bill
if they switch (though Euteneuer then turned around and admitted the savings would be more like 20%
). Meanwhile, T-Mobile CEO John Legere had some fun at Sprint's expense after news broke of Sprint's "completed" network:
Earlier this week Sprint unveiled a new promotion
that the company states will allow current AT&T and Verizon customers defecting to Sprint to save 50% off their current data rates. To hear Sprint tell it, customers can either upload their current bill to the company's website
, or bring their AT&T/Verizon bill into a store, and the company will try to find you a comparable plan with a matching data allotment for half of what you're paying now.
Kevin Fitchard at GigaOM
notes that Verizon has started cannibalizing its old CDMA EV-DO systems for PCS spectrum, effectively farming its 3G network to help build what's technically the company's third LTE network. Verizon confirms the migration of the 1980MHz/1990MHz chunk of frequencies to LTE and confirms they're testing LTE on PCS, but notes the process of migrating 3G spectrum to 4G will be a long one. Verizon was also one of several companies expected to have scored big at the current AWS-3 auction, which this week topped $40 billion in bids. The next thing to worry about apparently? Getting spectrum for 5G
For many years people wondered why cellular carriers couldn't roll over mobile data bytes in the same way they rolled over voice minutes. According to a company announcement
, C Spire will now be doing just that, the company offering plans of $40 a month for 2 GB, $55 a month for 4 GB and $65 a month for 6 GB (including unlimited talk and text) with unused data getting rolled over to the next billing cycle. If you're a contract user on a subsidized device, the plans bump to $65 a month for 2 GB, $80 a month for 4 GB and $90 a month for 6 GB. "These plans are truly customer inspired as we want consumers to use their data however they like," proclaims C Spire.
After breaking records for bidding in a spectrum auction, the AWS-3 auction has since roared onward, with more than $34 billion in bids now collected
. That well exceeds the previous record of $18.9 billion raised during the 2008 auctions, and the AWS-3 auction may still continue for another week or two. Frequencies being bid on by companies like AT&T, Dish, Verizon and T-Mobile include two blocks in the 1695-1710 megahertz band, and four paired sets of frequencies at 1755-1780 and 2155-2180 megahertz. The next auction isn't expected until the delayed
600 MHz incentive auction occurs sometime in 2016.
Back in June T-Mobile announced
the company's "Music Freedom" plan, which exempts a select number of music streaming services from impacting consumer caps. While T-Mobile proclaimed that the idea was pro-consumer, the company faced some criticism
at the time for violating net neutrality -- since very small companies suddenly found themselves the only ones counting against usage caps.
In June of last year Google unveiled Google Loon
, the latest in a long line of similar projects that will use hot air balloons to deliver broadband and wireless services to under-served or emergency prone areas. Project Loon will use hot air balloons 49 feet wide stationed 12 miles above the planet, well above the range of commercial aircraft.
Claiming to be the fastest and largest Free Wi-Fi deployment in the world, New York City this week announced LinkNYC
, an initiative the city promises will provide Wi-Fi at speeds of a gigabit. The initiative will replace the city's aging pay phones with Wi-Fi hotspots and device charging stations, with the project funded by bright display ads that will pitch services to passers by.
Sprint continues to tinker with pricing in an attempt to turn around the company's flagging fortunes, this week announcing they're reducing the data access charge on the company's $80 and $90 Sprint Family Share Pack Plans to $15 per month per line. According to the Sprint announcement
, the promotion will run from November 14 to January 15. The data access charge for those plans was previously $25 per month, per line. Earlier this month Sprint announced
that the carrier lost 272,000 subscribers on the quarter, and that the company would be trimming another 2,000 employees as it attempts to restructure under new owner SoftBank.
A few weeks ago I noted how
security researchers had discovered that Verizon has been injecting a unique new "stealth cookie" identifier into all user traffic that tracks user online behavior, even if the consumer opts out. Using a unique Identifier Header, or UIDH, Verizon's ham-fisted system broadcasts your identity all across the web -- and remains intact and open to third-party abuse -- even if you opt-out of Verizon's behavioral ad programs.
Now the Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a complaint with the FCC and has strongly indicated that they're considering legal action against Verizon
for violating consumer privacy laws:
We're also concerned that Verizon's failure to permit its users to opt out of X-UIDH may be a violation of the federal law that requires phone companies to maintain the confidentiality of their customers' data. Only two months ago, the wireline sector of Verizon's business was hit with a $7.4 million fine by the Federal Communications Commission after it was caught using its "customers' personal information for thousands of marketing campaigns without even giving them the choice to opt out." With this header, it looks like Verizon lets its customers opt out of the marketing side of the program, but not from the disclosure of their browsing habits.
AT&T is exploring a similar service, but insists the program is in trial-mode only. The interesting bit is despite the number of savvy folks out there, Verizon appears to have been using this technology for the better part of two years without anyone noticing.
Reports had already found that Starbucks powered by Google provided faster Wi-Fi that Starbucks powered by AT&T
, and in Google Fiber neighborhoods that disparity is going to be widened. In a blog post
, Google crows that they're now feeding the Wi-Fi at the Starbucks at 41st and Main Street in Kansas City with Google Fiber, "so anyone visiting the store can get super-fast Internet with their Pumpkin Spice Latte." Last year Google announced they'd struck a deal to deliver Wi-Fi at 7,000 Starbucks locations, and says they're about halfway through connecting them all.
Sprint's latest earnings
don't quite yet scream "turnaround," despite new CEO Marcelo Claure at the helm and a deep-pocketed sugardaddy named SoftBank waiting in the wings. According to Sprint's numbers, the company posted a net loss of $765 million on the quarter, fueled by a steady stream of subscriber departures.
Like AT&T and T-Mobile, Verizon has also tweaked their More Everything plans to bring data allotments more in line with the competition. According to a Verizon statement
, Verizon's $80, 6 GB option will now provide 10 GB of data, while the company's $100, 10 GB option will now provide 15 GB -- for an unspecified "limited time." The changes follow on the heels of a number of changes last month to the company's EDGE early upgrade program
. The company has been resistant to respond to T-Mobile pricing changes, insisting they offer a "premium" network experience.
FCC boss Tom Wheeler has made it clear that the agency is being very careful when it comes to the "IP transition" away from copper networks. Speaking recently at Comptel, Wheeler proclaimed
that he wouldn't tolerate companies using the idea of an IP transition as justification to erode competing options.
Sprint today announced that the company's faster Spark LTE upgrades have arrived in seventeen new markets. According to the company's announcement
, the seventeen markets include Denver, Seattle, Columbus, Sacramento, Cleveland, and Minneapolis. The company's Spark upgrades combine Sprint's 2.5 GHz, 1900 MHz and 800 MHz bands for improved regional capacity and speeds Sprint promises should top out around 60 Mbps. Sprint says the Spark upgrades are now available in 46 markets across the country, and should be available to 100 million potential customers by the end of the year.
For a moment there Apple's new AppleSIM -- which allows iPad users to easily compare plans and switch carriers without swapping out the SIM -- looked like it might be immensely disruptive
. It becomes less impressive once you notice that Verizon isn't supporting the technology at all and AT&T is preventing it from working as intended
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