Confirming rumors from earlier this month
, AT&T has confirmed the company is getting very close to launching their version of higher-audio-quality voice over LTE service (VoLTE). According to an AT&T announcement
, AT&T's belated VoLTE implementation will launch on May 23 "in select areas" in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and "will continue to expand on a market-by-market basis." Handset support at launch is also expected to be very limited, with VoLTE only supported on the Galaxy S4 Mini at launch, "with more devices to come." AT&T had originally stated they'd hoped to launch VoLTE before the end of 2013, though like Verizon faced delays due to interoperability issues.
AT&T recently threatened to take their ball and go home
(read: not participate in the upcoming 600 MHz spectrum auction) if the government imposed rules trying to ensure that smaller competitors weren't blocked by larger carriers when it comes to grabbing valuable spectrum. After meeting with FCC officials AT&T appears to have changed their tune
, now insisting that "our desire to participate in this auction and our hope for a successful auction is unchanged."
What happened? The FCC released a few more details on the spectrum auction process, making it clear that initially, nobody will be blocked from bidding on spectrum:
When the auction reaches a “trigger” point that the Commission will set in advance of the auction – largely based on meeting a price threshold – wireless providers with a dominant low-band position in a license area will be constrained from bidding on a few “reserved” spectrum blocks.
We've discussed at length how AT&T's "IP transition" is being framed as some sort of evolutionary transition toward a "glorious all-IP future," but is really largely about AT&T gutting regulations in order to hang up on POTS and DSL users they simply don't want to upgrade
. After Verizon used Sandy as an excuse to refuse to upgrade their own unwanted POTS and DSL customers, the FCC stepped in to mandate two small IP transition trials
to help analyze what kind of problems we can expect as users are cut off from the PSTN and pushed on to wireless.
Back in June of 2010
, you might recall that a security hole in AT&T's website allowed two individuals to gain access to the e-mail addresses of 114,000 owners of 3G Apple iPads, including "dozens of CEOs, military officials, and top politicians." A group calling itself Goatse Security at the time claimed responsibility for the "hack," which in addition to e-mail addresses resulted the group obtaining user ICC-IDs -- used to identify their specific iPad on the AT&T network.
One of those two individuals responsible for obtaining the data was Andrew Auernheimer (aka "Weev") an Internet-famous troll who was recently convicted of accessing a computer without authorization and identity fraud, and sentenced to serve 41 months in prison.
As we've frequently discussed, AT&T and Verizon are in the process of going state by state gutting consumer protections on DSL and landlines in preparation of hanging up on users they don't want to upgrade. This has been pitched by the carriers as part of the "IP transition
" and states are often told by killing consumer protections they'll see better and greater networks than ever
AT&T today announced that their first "IP transition" trials as the company eyes shutting down its copper networks will occur in West Delray Beach, Florida (Kings Point) and Carbon Hill, Alabama. According to an AT&T announcement
, these locations will be the sites of multi-year trials with FCC oversight aimed at studying the impact of migrating away from copper networks and the PSTN.
It looks like that new round of AT&T U-Verse rate hikes
won't come without some
small benefits. User Darknessfall
directs our attention to the fact that AT&T appears to have boosted upstream speeds ever so slightly on several of the company's U-Verse broadband tiers. AT&T's Max Turbo U-verse tier (24 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up) now offers 5 Mbps upstream. The company's Max Plus (18 Mbps down, 1.5 Mbps up) now offers 2 Mbps upstream. According to this ongoing discussion thread in our forums
, it's unclear if any of the company's faster tiers will also be seeing upstream boosts (I've dropped a line to check).
The FCC today voted unanimously to begin conducting voluntary trials to ensure a relatively smooth and reasonable transition away from the PSTN and copper networks. The push for such trials began in earnest after Verizon refused to repair the DSL and copper POTS lines of hurricane Sandy victims, instead forcing them to instead use an inferior wireless-based product
known as VoiceLink, which doesn't work with alarm systems, has numerous glitches, and doesn't provide data connectivity.
At the same time that T-Mobile is running what's actually a pretty funny bogus press release
in several major papers mocking AT&T, AT&T is announcing a new promotion aimed at keeping customers from defecting to T-Mobile. According to the AT&T announcement
and promotion website
, AT&T is offering users a $100 credit for every new smartphone, tablet, feature phone, mobile hotspot or Wireless Home Phone line of service they add to their account. According to AT&T, the promotion runs through March 31.
As a sort of counter-point to former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps' claim that we should classify ISPs as common carriers to preserve net neutrality
, the EFF has penned a blog post
effectively arguing that the FCC really isn't going to save us from network neutrality violations because they're a broken agency in the pockets of industry. Unlock Copps, the EFF fears that giving the FCC any additional authority opens the door toward even worse rules and regulations:
In light of these threats it is tempting to reach for easy solutions.
, the Obama Administration today outlined
(pdf) a series of NSA surveillance reforms that, while featuring small improvements on very select issues, fall far short of the 47 reforms recommended by his own advisory panel
, or those pushed for by privacy and civil liberty advocates. Among some of the changes Obama stated the government will take moving forward:
• The government will no longer hold on to collected "metadata" (tags on call times, participants) themselves, meaning the phone companies will hold it (raw recordings and data wasn't included in this promise).
For years we've talked about how AT&T's long-festering plan to introduce a "1-800 number for mobile data" was a pretty bad idea
, given it gave more power to AT&T, while giving the biggest content companies with the deepest pockets an unfair advantage over smaller content companies and startups. Last week AT&T formally introduced the idea under the moniker of "Sponsored Data
," heavily playing up the benefit of having select content (ESPN, etc.) not count against a user's usage cap.
AT&T is planning to spend much of this year focused on deploying small cells to high traffic locations such as malls, stadiums and large urban parks, in order to ease congestion and improve wireless network performance. As Kevin Fitchard at GigaOM
explains, AT&T Associate VP of Small Cells Gordon Mansfield has spent much of the past year tinkering with small cells in every possible way (from right next to a competitors' small cell, to right next to an AT&T U-Verse modem) to eliminate potential interference or technical problems. AT&T plans to install 40,000 of the devices nationwide by the end of 2015, and their small cell deployment when completed will be among the largest in the world.
Their press release
indicates that it will be like a toll-free phone call, or like free shipping, but it will likely be more like advertising supported content.
"With the new Sponsored Data service, data charges resulting from eligible uses will be billed directly to the sponsoring company; the customer simply enjoys their content via AT&T’s wireless data network.
AT&T last week unveiled their new mobile share value plans
, aimed at getting users off contract and driving them to larger, more expensive data plans. The service was in response to T-Mobile, though AT&T continues to insist that T-Mobile is having no effect on their pricing strategies.
Last month AT&T and Verizon shareholders pressured the two companies into detailing their cooperation with the NSA
, arguing that their relationship with the agency harmed consumer trust, and therefore the companies as a whole. AT&T's response to those investors? It's none of your business. In a letter sent to investors this week
, AT&T stated that its dealings with the NSA were "ordinary business matters" not subject to shareholder approval, and that "protecting customer privacy is a management function" not involving shareholders. As such, AT&T says they'd prefer it if any mention of the NSA was excluded from the ballot for AT&T’s annual shareholder meeting next spring.
Back in April, wireless carriers and the government announced
that they'd be collaborating on building a new nationwide database to track stolen phones (specifically the IMEI number, not just the SIM card ID). The goal is to reduce the time that stolen phones remain useful, thereby drying up the market for stolen phones and reducing the ability of criminals to use the devices to dodge surveillance.
Senator Chuck Schumer has come rushing to the defense of AT&T and Verizon in a letter to new FCC boss Tom Wheeler, urging the agency not to impose restrictions that could cap the amount of spectrum the nation's dominant carriers can obtain at auction. There has been a growing push (in part by T-Mobile and Sprint) to impose new ownership limits on the largest carriers ahead of next year's auction in order to prevent the carriers from spectrum squatting and thereby limiting the number of competitors that can come to market.
According to Schumer's letter
, capping the amount of spectrum AT&T and Verizon can own moving forward would "lower the potential return and disincentivize broadcasters from offering their spectrum for auction."
Back in April, the Department of Justice warned the FCC
that they should potentially cap the amount of spectrum AT&T and Verizon can acquire moving forward to prevent the two companies from hoarding spectrum anti-competitively.
"Today, the two leading carriers have the vast majority of low-frequency spectrum, whereas the two other nationwide carriers have virtually none," wrote the DOJ. "This results in the two smaller nationwide carriers having a somewhat diminished ability to compete, particularly in rural areas where the cost to build out coverage is higher with high-frequency spectrum."
AT&T executives have railed against that recommendation publicly ever since, claiming in an April letter to the FCC
(pdf) that such restrictions would be "unlawful."
I've talked a lot about how AT&T and Verizon are going state
gutting regulations that cover copper networks so they can back away from unwanted POTS and DSL customers they refuse to upgrade. Both companies have framed this largely cost-savings decision as an "evolutionary step toward the IP age," even if the real-world impact for many may involve losing DSL as a competitive option
, losing reliable POTS lines, and higher prices and less competition for everyone.
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