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T-Mobile finalizes merger with Sprint, becoming nation's third-largest carrier

The combined company has pledged to make several changes that will benefit consumers and create jobs

T-Mobile announced on Wednesday that it has officially merged with Sprint. Under the $23 billion merger, the combined company will operate under the T-Mobile name. 

The completion of the merger follows a long period of debate between the carriers and state attorneys general, who argued that eradicating the fourth carrier would be anticompetitive. However, state officials have withdrawn their opposition to the merger in recent months. New York Attorney General Letitia James said in February that her state would not appeal the merger decision, in part because of the jobs T-Mobile promised to create.

“We are gratified that the process has yielded commitments from T-Mobile to create jobs in Rochester and engage in robust national diversity initiatives that will connect our communities with good jobs and technology,” James said at the time. 

“We hope to work with all parties to ensure that consumers get the best pricing and service possible, that networks are built out throughout our state, and that good-paying jobs are created here in New York.”

Expediting 5G rollout

The merger received approval from a federal judge back in February, with T-Mobile CEO John Legere calling the decision a “huge victory.” He thanked the court for its “thorough review of the facts we presented in our case.” 

“We’ve said it all along: the New T-Mobile will be a supercharged Un-carrier that is great for consumers and great for competition,” Legere said. “The broad and deep 5G network that only our combined companies will be able to bring to life is going to change wireless … and beyond. Look out Dumb and Dumber and Big Cable – we are coming for you … and you haven’t seen anything yet!” 

T-Mobile has argued that joining forces with rival Sprint will pave the way for a faster rollout of nationwide 5G. Earlier this year, T-Mobile promised to unveil “America’s first transformational nationwide 5G network and services” once combined with Sprint. The carrier said the change could “supercharge innovation throughout the U.S. economy.” 

Conditions of the deal

The FCC has been on board with the merger for some time now. Chairman Ajit Pai has expressed optimism that the deal will give the U.S. an edge in the race to deploying 5G.  

“After one of the most exhaustive merger reviews in Commission history, the evidence conclusively demonstrates that this transaction will bring fast 5G wireless service to many more Americans and help close the digital divide in rural areas,” Pai said in an August statement. 

As part of the merger, T-Mobile CEO John Legere has agreed to step down. COO Mike Sievert will take his place. 

The company has also agreed to help establish satellite TV company Dish Network as a fourth major wireless company for the sake of preserving competition. T-Mobile also said it would uphold its previous promise to offer "the same or better rate plans" for three years.

T-Mobile announced on Wednesday that it has officially merged with Sprint. Under the $23 billion merger, the combined company will operate under the T-Mobi...
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Motorola to roll out a remake of the Moto Razr in February

But this throwback carries a price tag that’s higher than for the iPhone 11

Motorola has announced a February 6 release date for its reboot of the Motorola Razr, a phone that dominated the cell phone universe before Apple released the iPhone in 2007.

The new phone will be available for preorders on January 26, but it isn’t clear if there will be a stampede to get in line. The new phone will sell for $1,500 -- well above the cost of an iPhone 11. Then again, cost might not be such a big headwind.

CNN reports that the company initially planned to release the Razr in early January, but it pushed back the release date because it feared it would not have enough product on hand to meet demand.

The phone can be purchased directly from Motorola and will be available exclusively to Verizon customers, at least in the beginning. The carrier is offering a payment plan of $62.49 a month -- again, well above the monthly payments for an iPhone.

Motorola teased the release in late November, playing on nostalgia for the original Razr. But plenty of industry insiders immediately questioned whether consumers would be that nostalgic, especially at that price point.

Foldable screen

A unique feature of the second-generation Razr is a foldable screen, a concept other manufacturers have struggled with. Samsung stubbed its toe when it introduced the Galaxy Fold, a device that retailed for $2,000. The phone took flak for alleged defective hinges and fragile screens.

This is the second time Motorola has tried to revive the Razr. The last time was 2011 when it introduced the Droid Razr, which failed to generate the anticipated sales.

Motorola has earned a reputation for building a solid phone for an affordable price in recent years. Its Moto Play devices have been very popular among gamers who value the big screens and longer battery life.

Motorola’s most popular phones are the ones with the smallest price tags. The MotoG7 is available for around $300. It features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 octa-core processor and an ultrawide 5.7" Max Vision HD+ display. The device is designed for optimal performance for games, movies, and photos, and it also features a 12 MP camera.

Motorola has announced a February 6 release date for its reboot of the Motorola Razr, a phone that dominated the cell phone universe before Apple released...
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RCS messaging goes live for U.S. Android users

The next evolution of messaging has come ahead of schedule

Earlier this year, Google announced that it would be upgrading the messaging capabilities of its Android devices by 2020. Now, with time to spare, all U.S. consumers who use these devices will have access to RCS messaging. 

Google’s Senior Director of Product Management Sanaz Ahari tweeted late last week that all U.S. Android users would gain access to RCS starting Monday, though she noted that updates would need to be made to Carrier Services and the company’s messaging app.

When another Twitter user asked when RCS would be available to other countries, Ahari gave a curt “Stay tuned.” 

RCS messaging

RCS -- or Rich Communication System -- has been touted as the next innovation in messaging technology, but it isn’t exactly new. Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s WhatsApp already include several of its distinguishing features, such as photo and video sharing, group messaging, and location-based functions. 

Back in October, the four major U.S. wireless carriers announced their intention to develop and deploy RCS messaging through the Cross-Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI). The goal of the initiative is to ensure that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile can meet evolving industry standards when RCS is rolled out more broadly in the U.S. and globally. 

Earlier this year, Google announced that it would be upgrading the messaging capabilities of its Android devices by 2020. Now, with time to spare, all U.S....
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AT&T expands 5G coverage to 10 cities

Consumers in these markets now have access to the carrier’s low-band 5G network

AT&T has activated its 5G network in ten cities. The faster network is available to consumers with a Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G.

“Millions of consumers and businesses across Birmingham, Ala., Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Providence, R.I., Rochester, N.Y., San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif. market areas can now access AT&T’s 5G network using the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G,” the carrier said in an announcement

AT&T was criticised earlier this year for rolling out a “5GE” network, which stood for “5G Evolution” and was essentially just upgraded LTE. The 5G network that was switched on today is actual 5G that uses low-band 850MHz spectrum technology. It’s similar to the 600MHz network that T-Mobile recently turned on

Nationwide expansion plans

AT&T added that “low-band 5G availability will continue to rapidly expand.” The cities slated to receive the network in the first half of 2020 include Boston, MA; Bridgeport, CT; Buffalo, NY; Las Vegas, NV; Louisville, KY; and New York City, with more to be added throughout the year. 

“We believe 5G technology will be game-changing, and we continue to help drive this next wave of innovation,” said Scott Mair, president of AT&T Technology Operations, in a statement. “We were the first in the U.S. to offer commercial mobile 5G, and this is the next step as we build to nationwide service in the first half of 2020.”

AT&T said its high-band spectrum -- 5G+, which is even faster than 5G -- will be coming at a “later date.” The carrier said 5G+ was designed to “serve high-traffic areas and places like arenas, campuses and more.” It’s currently offered in parts of 23 cities.

A coverage map of the current low-band 5G markets can be viewed here

AT&T; has activated its 5G network in ten cities. The faster network is available to consumers with a Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G.“Millions of consumers...
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Judge to hear arguments against Sprint-T-Mobile merger

A trial for a case brought by state attorneys general begins in New York

Lawyers for Sprint and T-Mobile will be in court today, arguing that their proposed merger should be allowed to move forward. The U.S. government has already approved the deal.

But a group of state attorneys general -- all Democrats -- have gone to court to block the merger, which would reduce the number of major wireless providers from four to three. The state officials argue that would harm consumers.

The complaint involves more than reducing the number of wireless companies. The suit contends that as the smaller players, both Sprint and T-Mobile offer packages with rates that are more affordable for low-income consumers. With these companies merging, regulators argue that those low rates will likely go up.

As a condition for approving the merger, the Justice Department required Sprint and T-Mobile to provide assistance to Dish Network so the pay-TV provider can launch a competing wireless service.

Sprint agreed to sell Boost, its prepaid wireless business, to Dish in order to help it get up to speed. Dish would also get a network of towers and billions of dollars in spectrum as part of the deal.

‘Not adequate’

In their complaint, the state officials reject that remedy, arguing that Dish’s wireless network would not be an adequate substitute for what both Sprint and T-Mobile now offer.

At issue is whether there is now a competitive landscape in the wireless industry. Sprint and T-Mobile say there is, noting that other non-traditional providers like Charter and Comcast have recently launched mobile services.

“Millions of Americans rely on mobile devices at work, at home, and to organize their lives. Competition between the mobile companies has resulted in better coverage and cheaper, more reliable service for all of us,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, when the suit was filed in June. 

Year-long investigation

Healey said her office participated in a year-long investigation which concluded that the proposed merger would give the new company the power to raise prices, significantly reduce competition for customers, lower quality, and cost thousands of retail workers their jobs. 

“We are challenging this merger to protect a service that matters to everyone,” she said.

Healey and her colleagues argue that the competition between T-Mobile and Sprint has lowered prices for all mobile phone subscribers. Since 2009, they say the average cost of mobile service in the United States has fallen by roughly 28 percent.

Sprint and T-Mobile, meanwhile, have said they need to join forces because, as individual companies, they lack the financial resources to build out 5G networks to compete with Verizon and AT&T.

If you’re looking for a wireless provider, ConsumerAffairs has gathered thousands of reviews of cell phone companies. You’ll find them here

Lawyers for Sprint and T-Mobile will be in court today, arguing that their proposed merger should be allowed to move forward. The U.S. government has alrea...
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Motorola jumps back in the mobile phone game with a new commitment to quality and 5G

Is having a phone enough, though? Consumers have struggled with the service they get from the company

If you asked consumers who they have to thank for their love of mobile phones, most would probably say Apple, or Nokia, or Samsung. Truth be known, though, it’s really Motorola that deserves the nod for creating the world's first commercial handheld mobile phone, way back in 1983.

But, despite all its innovations ranging from bag phones to flip phones and clam phones, Motorola has pretty much fallen off the map in the last few years, losing considerable consumer prowess over the last few years at the hands of Apple and Samsung. 

But, the company says to call off the EMS units because it’s going to try and regain its flagship space

Razr sharp? Better be.

The first box Motorola has checked off is a new Moto Razr, an Android-based foldable smartphone styled after the original Razr.

“The reimagination of the Razr some 15 years after the original isn't just a play on nostalgia, it's a fully formed flip phone with a whole host of fun and functional features,” is how Mike Lowe at PocketLint took to Motorola’s return home. However, he hedged his outlook with a qualifier.

“Sure, the processor isn't the best going, the cameras aren't a particularly prominent feature, and the battery life might well be questionable (we can't say for certain just yet),” Lowe said.

The second -- and maybe more important -- box Motorola hopes to tick is a phone that supports 5G, the highly anticipated technology that will give consumers the fastest service they’ve ever had. Reports say that when the company launches a “premium smartphone” sometime in early 2020, that device will have 5G capability.

None too soon, either

Motorola has taken it on the chin from ConsumerAffairs reviewers, and if Lowe’s comment about the Razr addressing issues with “build quality in a proper and convincing way” is true, then it’s none too soon.

Reflecting on his frustrations with a previous Motorola phone, Mike of Winter Haven, FL wrote that he dreaded turning on his device, “because there are always 20 to 26 updates that need to be made every time I turn it on. It is never endless and it is a pain (in) the butt. So I turned it off forever. I have accomplished what I needed to do and now use it as a doorstop.”

While some consumers having nothing but good things to say about their Moto phones, the company still has some work to do on the customer service end, particularly when things go bad.

“My phone has LED burn for the second time. There (sic) phones are shotty (sic) at best,” remarked David of Orangevale, CA. “They only give options to lose your phone for 10 days or have to redo a new one with a deposit that most people don't get back even after a fight. They need more options for their crappy phones.”

If you asked consumers who they have to thank for their love of mobile phones, most would probably say Apple, or Nokia, or Samsung. Truth be known, though,...
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Sprint overcounted Lifeline subscribers for years, report finds

Regulators say the carrier kept an inaccurate tally of the number of active government subsidy program subscribers it had

For years, Sprint failed to keep an accurate count of how many low-income customers it serves through the federal Lifeline program, according to regulatory documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal

The Journal, which obtained the documents through a public information request, found that an error in how the carrier counted subscriber usage of the Lifeline service during the years 2013 and 2014 caused dormant accounts to be kept live. Subsequently, Sprint was allowed to continue collecting subsidies for those customers. 

In one instance, a customer in Oregon died but her account retained its “active” status for months. The problem was found to be widespread, affecting thousands of accounts across the nation. Sprint discovered the problem, but it never commented on how many subscribers it lost after remedying the issue. 

Sprint’s Lifeline mistakes 

Sprint is facing a separate investigation and a potential settlement with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The agency found in September that Sprint improperly collected millions of dollars in federal subsidies for 885,000 Lifeline customers whose accounts had gone dormant. 

The carrier said its error was caused by a 2017 issue affecting the system it used to calculate usage and eligibility for Lifeline subscribers.  

“While the facts make clear that Sprint did make a mistake, it is also clear that Sprint corrected that mistake and cooperated with regulators,” a Sprint spokesman told the Journal, noting that the two incidents are separate and unrelated.

For years, Sprint failed to keep an accurate count of how many low-income customers it serves through the federal Lifeline program, according to regulatory...
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T-Mobile promises three new programs if Sprint merger happens

The carrier says it will offer a $15 per month plan and other new programs once the deal closes

In an effort to drum up support for T-Mobile’s upcoming merger with Sprint, the carrier has promised to roll out three new programs if the deal takes place. 

At an event on Thursday announcing T-Mobile’s plan to launch 5G in early December, the carrier gave details on three new programs that will join its roster of services if the $26.5 billion merger happens as planned. 

T-Mobile said its “first planned Un-carrier moves for the proposed new T-Mobile” will include new programs that will rely on the new company’s “transformational network.” 

Should the merger take place, the following initiatives would be cleared to move ahead, bringing “accessibility and connectivity to the most deserving and underserved consumers across the country,” according to T-Mobile: 

  • Connecting Heroes Initiative. A pledge to offer free 5G access — including unlimited talk, text, and smartphone data — to every first responder at every public and non-profit state and local police, fire, and emergency medical technician location across the U.S. for the next decade.

  • Project 10Million. A new program designed to “eradicate the homework gap that exists for millions of children by offering free service and hotspots and reduced cost devices to 10 million households around the U.S. over five years.” 

  • T-Mobile Connect. A new $15-a-month phone plan option which T-Mobile says is for “everyone, especially lower-income consumers.”

Combined 5G network

CEO John Legere has been making a case for the merger ever since it was first proposed a year and a half ago, saying that joining forces with Sprint will enable the creation of a “spectacular” 5G network. 

Legere noted on Thursday that the deal “has taken longer to close than we thought it would.” He added that critics of the deal “have yet to realize that what they want is what we want.” The company says that combining T-Mobile and Sprint’s networks will create "ridiculous amounts of network capacity” and will enable the creation of several enticing and competition-increasing programs for consumers. 

“Only the New T-Mobile’s transformative 5G network will FINALLY have the capacity and reach to make the BOLD moves we announced today that are squarely aimed at SOLVING inequities that have huge impacts on our society,” Legere said in a statement. 

The Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department have each given official approval for the merger. However, the deal is still opposed by 18 state attorneys general who argue that it will harm competition and raise prices for consumers.

In an effort to drum up support for T-Mobile’s upcoming merger with Sprint, the carrier has promised to roll out three new programs if the deal takes place...
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T-Mobile to launch nationwide 5G network next month

The carrier will initially offer two phones that work with the network

T-Mobile CEO John Legere announced Thursday morning that his company’s nationwide 5G network will be activated on December 6. 

The carrier had already launched its 5G network in a few markets, but the nationwide rollout will bring the network to 5,000 cities and towns before the end of the year. Legere says the network will eventually cover 200 million customers and boast speeds ten times faster than current LTE speeds by 2024.

At launch, T-Mobile will only have two devices that are compatible with the 5G network: the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G and the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G. 

Seeking support for merger 

The carrier is marketing its 5G initiative as “5G for Good” and using it as an opportunity to garner support for its upcoming merger with Sprint. 

"This deal has taken longer to close than we thought it would,” Legere said. “Some people are still asking questions -- the right questions. But these people have yet to realize that what they want is what we want.” 

T-Mobile President Mike Sievert said in the announcement that the carrier plans to combine its low-band 600MHz spectrum and its ultra-high mmWave holdings with Sprint's 2.5GHz mid-band signals to create "ridiculous amounts of network capacity." 

“This is something we could never do if the merger doesn't happen,” Sievert added. 

The Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department have each given official approval for the merger. However, the deal is still opposed by 18 state attorneys general who argue that it will harm competition and raise prices for consumers. 

T-Mobile CEO John Legere announced Thursday morning that his company’s nationwide 5G network will be activated on December 6. The carrier had already l...
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AT&T settles claim that it throttled ‘unlimited’ data plans

The telecom company will pay $60 million to make refunds to customers

AT&T has agreed to pay $60 million to settle a five-year-old complaint by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which took issue with the company’s use of the word “unlimited” to describe data plans that reduced data speeds.

In 2014, the FTC alleged that AT&T did not adequately inform consumers who signed up for “unlimited” data plans that their speeds were subject to throttling once they exceed a certain amount of data usage.

The agency levied a $100 million fine that AT&T challenged in court. The two sides have settled on the lower amount of $60 million

“AT&T promised unlimited data—without qualification—and failed to deliver on that promise,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “While it seems obvious, it bears repeating that Internet providers must tell people about any restrictions on the speed or amount of data promised.”

The practice began in 2011

The FTC said it traced the company’s throttling back to 2011 when mobile data was relatively new and networks were smaller. Both AT&T and Verizon marketed fixed amounts of monthly data for a set price.

For a higher price, AT&T offered an unlimited data plan, but the FTC says the company began slowing speeds after customers used as little as 2 gigabytes during a billing period.

A spokesman for AT&T said the company has not used that data management tool “in years” and that it agrees that the FTC’s position is in the best interest of consumers.

That position calls for AT&T and other telecom providers to clearly state that “unlimited” data plans may be subject to slower speeds after a certain amount of data is used.

AT&T’s latest unlimited plans

This week, AT&T introduced three new unlimited data plans that contain no data caps. However, the company disclosed that in areas of high network congestion some data may be slowed.

Under the terms of the settlement, AT&T is not allowed to make any claims about the speed or amount of its mobile data, including that it is “unlimited,” without disclosing any material restrictions on the speed or amount of data. 

The settlement also requires that the disclosures be made in a way that consumers are sure to see them and not buried in the fine print.

“For example, if an AT&T website advertises a data plan as unlimited, but AT&T may slow speeds after consumers reach a certain data cap, AT&T must prominently and clearly disclose those restrictions,” the FTC said in a statement.

As for the $60 million AT&T is paying in the settlement, the FTC says the money will be used to provide partial refunds to current and former customers who signed up for unlimited plans before 2011. Affected consumers will not be required to submit a claim for the refunds. 

AT&T; has agreed to pay $60 million to settle a five-year-old complaint by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which took issue with the company’s use of t...
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AT&T to launch new ‘Unlimited’ wireless plans

Two of the three plans will launch Sunday, November 3

Starting November 3, AT&T will begin rolling out modified versions of three Unlimited plans. Two new unlimited plans will be offered -- AT&T Unlimited Starter and AT&T Unlimited Extra. 

The cheapest plan, the Unlimited Starter plan (which is replacing the current Unlimited & More plan), starts at $65 for a single line or $35 per line for four lines. The plan has no high-speed data cap -- however, in areas where there is data traffic congestion, the subscriber is subject to having his or her data speed throttled.

The Unlimited Extra plan starts at $75 per month (or $40 per line each month for a family of four) and adds 15GB of mobile hotspot data. It has a data cap of 50 GB per month. 

The third plan that will be offered is called AT&T Unlimited Elite. It will cost $85 monthly, or $50 per line for four lines, and include HBO, higher video streaming resolution, 30GB of mobile hotspot per line, and 100GB of data before it gets throttled.

Rollout begins November 3

The new AT&T Unlimited Starter and AT&T Unlimited Extra plans will launch on November 3, while the AT&T Unlimited Elite plan will be available in the coming weeks. AT&T added that it will “share more information on 5G for consumers” relative to the new plans later this year.

“AT&T remains laser focused on offering the best unlimited options on the nation’s best and fastest network,” David Christopher, general manager, AT&T Mobility said in a statement. “These plans offer incredible value with performance, speed and reliability on the network you deserve.”

Starting November 3, AT&T; will begin rolling out modified versions of three Unlimited plans. Two new unlimited plans will be offered -- AT&T; Unlimited St...
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Major wireless carriers team up to upgrade and replace SMS messaging

The new ‘RCS’ system seeks to create a seamless experience for all consumers

All four major wireless carriers have issued a press release saying they are teaming up on a project called the “Cross-Carrier Messaging Initiative” (CCMI). 

Through the initiative, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile have agreed to “develop and deploy [a] standards-based, interoperable messaging service” known as Rich Communication Service (RCS) messaging, which may eventually replace standard SMS messaging that consumers use now. The carriers are endeavoring to bring RCS to Android smartphones in 2020. 

The companies said CCMI has been designed with the aim of ensuring that carriers enable the same RCS features that the upcoming industry standard promises. Those features include high-quality pictures and videos, better group chats, and more. 

In the announcement, Verizon said the CCMI service will: 

  • Drive a robust business-to-consumer messaging ecosystem and accelerate the adoption of Rich Communications Services (RCS)

  • Enable an enhanced experience to privately send individual or group chats across carriers with high-quality pictures and videos

  • Provide consumers with the ability to chat with their favorite brands, order a ride share, pay bills, schedule appointments, and more

  • Create a single seamless, interoperable RCS experience across carriers, both in the U.S. and globally

Replacing SMS messaging

RCS has for years been touted as promising replacement for SMS, which could bring features found in iMessage and WhatsApp to texting. However, support among carriers has been limited, and those that have adopted it “sometimes did so without adhering to the international standard for interoperability called the ‘Universal Profile,’ The Verge notes. 

The publication spoke with Doug Garland, the general manager of CCMI, who confirmed that there will be a standalone app for Android phones that supports the standard by next year. Garland added that the CCMI aims to make sure that user chats are “private” and that the app being developed delivers “an experience [customers] can trust.”

All four major wireless carriers have issued a press release saying they are teaming up on a project called the “Cross-Carrier Messaging Initiative” (CCMI)...
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AT&T says a fix for its voicemail outage is being developed

Users in several states have complained for weeks of issues accessing voicemail

Since October 1, a number of AT&T customers have reported problems accessing their voicemail. An inability to access voicemail has been reported by both iPhone and Android users in several states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Nevada, and North Carolina.

Android users have complained of seeing error messages when trying to access voicemail while iPhone owners have said they’re experiencing problems accessing Visual Voicemail.

In response to complaints posted in a 40+ page thread on the carrier’s support forums, representatives for the company claimed that the issues stem from a "vendor server problem.” A statement given to The Verge on Wednesday was similarly light on details. 

“A recent software update to some devices may be affecting our customers’ voicemail,” the company told The Verge. “We are working with the device manufacturer to issue a patch to resolve this and apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.”

At this time, no timeline has been given for the deployment of the patch. 

For now, AT&T is advising customers experiencing the issue to either wait patiently for the fix to roll out or have their mailbox rebuilt. The latter move would result in the deletion of any saved messages or messages received during the outage, The Verge noted. 

Since October 1, a number of AT&T; customers have reported problems accessing their voicemail. An inability to access voicemail has been reported by both i...
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Samsung acknowledges fingerprint reader flaw affecting Galaxy devices

The company says it will soon release a patch for a bug that lets anyone unlock a Galaxy S10 or Note 10 with a fingerprint

Samsung has provided more details on a security flaw affecting some Galaxy devices.

Earlier this week, users reported an issue with the fingerprint reader on Samsung’s Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note 10 devices. The flaw could potentially let anyone unlock a phone with their own fingerprint. 

Samsung explained on Friday that the bug was caused by an issue with the silicone cases that protect the devices’ screens. The issue made the phone act as if a valid fingerprint had been registered.  

“This issue involved ultrasonic fingerprint sensors unlocking devices after recognizing 3-dimensional patterns appearing on certain silicone screen protecting cases as users’ fingerprints,” Samsung said in a statement. 

A fix is on the way

The company said it plans to release a software patch next week that will fix the issue. In the meantime, users are urged to refrain from using front screen protective covers in order to ensure “optimum fingerprint scanning.” 

“To prevent any further issues, we advise that Galaxy Note10/10+ and S10/S10+/S10 5G users who use such covers to remove the cover, delete all previous fingerprints and newly register their fingerprints,” Samsung said. 

After the update is released and installed, Samsung says users should plan to scan their fingerprint “in its entirety, so that all portions of your fingerprint, including the center and corners have been fully scanned.”

Samsung has provided more details on a security flaw affecting some Galaxy devices.Earlier this week, users reported an issue with the fingerprint read...
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FCC gives formal approval to T-Mobile/Sprint merger

A 3-2 vote on Wednesday was split along party lines

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday gave its official approval to the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, voting 3-2 to approve the deal. The vote was split along party lines, with the FCC’s two Democratic Commissioners voting against the $26.5 billion acquisition, Reuters noted. 

Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel reiterated her concerns about the takeover in an op-ed for The Atlantic, saying that the deal would reduce the number of major wireless carriers in the U.S. to three. In a piece published Wednesday morning, Rosenworcel argued that the merger would negatively impact competition and increase prices for consumers. 

“These state officials understand something fundamental: With less competition, rates rise and innovation falls. All the evidence demonstrates that this holds true in the mobile-phone industry too,” Rosenworcel wrote. “If this merger succeeds, consumers will pay the price.”

Geoffrey Starks, the other Democratic Commissioner who voted against the merger, said that last month there was “no credible way that the merger before us can proceed” until Sprint could be investigated for allegedly misappropriating Lifeline subsidy funds for around 885,000 consumers who weren’t active subscribers of Sprint’s service. 

Republican Commissioners vote in favor

In contrast to the Democratic board members, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said that he’s fully on board with merger, which was approved by the Justice Department over the summer. 

Pai says the deal will support two of the FCC’s top priorities of “closing the digital divide in rural America and advancing United States leadership in 5G.” T-Mobile has promised to build out rural broadband and 5G, sell its Boost prepaid brand, and keep prices on hold for three years. 

The other Republican commissioners, Brendan Carr and Michael O’Rielly, have also said they support the takeover and voted to approve the deal. 

Opposition from states

The deal still faces opposition from a bipartisan group of state attorneys general, who have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the so-called “anticompetitive megamerger.” 

The states involved in the suit are New York, California, Texas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. 

Neither the DOJ or the FCC will close the merger until the suit is resolved. 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday gave its official approval to the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, voting 3-2 to approve the de...
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Economists speak out against T-Mobile merger with Sprint

Concern revolves around low-cost wireless plans for low-income consumers

In the eleventh hour, opponents have emerged to object to T-Mobile’s proposed merger with Sprint.

The Justice Department signed off on the merger in July but opponents haven’t stopped their campaign against it. But the government’s approval came with a complicated set of requirements aimed at transforming Dish Network into a wireless operator.

The Justice Department approved the merger over the summer when it concluded that Dish would build a low-cost network that would take the place of Sprint.

But a group of seven economists and antitrust experts say the court should reject the DOJ’s proposed solution, calling it “doomed to failure” and “a remedy that does not meet the standard of restoring the competition currently provided by Sprint.”

The seven economists say that for the next seven years, anyone signing up for Dish Network service will be getting rebranded T-Mobile service, which the economists contend is not actual competition.

The economists argue that it’s not even a sure bet that Dish will ever actually build its own network -- and even if it does, it’s all but certain that network won’t reach as many people as Sprint.

Last-minute attempt

The economists’ filing is a last-minute attempt to convince the court to block the government’s approval of the merger before it takes effect. The proposed settlement has to be approved in court as serving the public interest.

For T-Mobile, the stakes couldn’t be higher. If the court determines the merger doesn’t serve the public interest, it could have to start all over again.

The economists who signed the letter urging the government to block the deal says the facts are on their side. Hal Singer, an economist at Georgetown University, says the government needs to prove that reducing the number of wireless carriers from four to three won’t harm consumers.

In the eleventh hour, opponents have emerged to object to T-Mobile’s proposed merger with Sprint.The Justice Department signed off on the merger in Jul...
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FCC finds Sprint wrongly collected millions from 885,000 consumers

The mistake could affect the FCC’s decision to support the carrier’s merger with T-Mobile

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on Tuesday that it has opened an investigation into Sprint after finding that it improperly collected millions of dollars in federal subsidies. 

The funds were taken in through the FCC’s Lifeline program, which helps low-income consumers with a $9.25 monthly subsidy on phone and broadband services. Sprint argues that the money in question was collected due to confusion about a rule change that occurred in 2016. 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called it “outrageous” that the funds were taken from roughly 885,000 consumers who weren’t active subscribers of Sprint’s service. The FCC said Sprint disregarded its “non-usage rule,” which requires Lifeline providers to de-enroll subscribers who don’t use their phones. 

“Lifeline is an important component of our efforts to bring digital opportunity to low-income Americans, and stopping waste, fraud, and abuse in the program has been a top priority of mine since I’ve been at the Commission,” Pai said in a statement

“It’s outrageous that a company would claim millions of taxpayer dollars for doing nothing. This shows a careless disregard for program rules and American taxpayers,” he said. “I have asked our Enforcement Bureau to investigate this matter to determine the full extent of the problem and to propose an appropriate remedy.” 

Collected in “error”

In statements to the media, Sprint claimed the subsidy payments were collected in error after a rule change regarding how usage and eligibility for Lifeline subscribers must be calculated went into effect.

“While immaterial to Sprint’s financial results, we are committed to reimbursing federal and state governments for any subsidy payments that were collected as a result of the error,” a company spokesperson said. 

Sprint noted that it immediately reported the error to the FCC and state regulators. 

“When the error was discovered, we immediately investigated and proactively raised this issue with the FCC and appropriate state regulators. We also engaged an independent third party to review the results of our review and the effectiveness of our operational changes,” the spokesperson added. 

Possible impact on merger with T-Mobile

The FCC had previously expressed its support of Sprint’s plan to merge with T-Mobile, but FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said Sprint’s mistake “directly impacts” the agency’s views on the matter. 

In a statement, Starks said the alleged misconduct “amounts to corporate malfeasance” if found to be true. 

“There is no credible way that the merger before us can proceed until this Lifeline investigation is resolved and responsible parties are held accountable,” he said. “Without the benefit of the findings of this investigation into what appears to be the worst case of Lifeline violations in FCC history, it is impossible for us to trust in the integrity and completeness of the record, evaluate the character and fitness of the applicants, and exercise our statutorily defined obligation to grant only license transfers that serve the public interest.” 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on Tuesday that it has opened an investigation into Sprint after finding that it improperly collected...
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Pennsylvania AG joins effort to block T-Mobile/Sprint Merger

The deal is now opposed by 18 state attorneys general

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has announced he will add his name to the list of states lobbying to block T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint, bringing the total number of state attorney generals who have expressed their opposition to the merger to 18. 

In a statement published Wednesday, Shapiro pledged his commitment to protecting Pennsylvanians’ access to “affordable, reliable wireless service.” 

“The merger between T-Mobile and Sprint would severely undermine competition in the telecommunications sector, which would hurt Pennsylvanian consumers by driving up prices, limiting coverage, and diminishing quality,” he said. “I’m proud to stand with my colleague Attorneys General in opposing this merger and advocating on behalf of Pennsylvania consumers.”

Growing list of opponents

Shapiro joins the following other states in seeking to block the “anticompetitive megamerger”: New York, California, Texas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, Oregon, Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. 

In July, the Department of Justice approved the merger on the condition that the carriers sell some of their assets to Dish Network. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also said it supports the deal. 

However, pushback from so many state attorneys general threatens to derail the merger of the nation’s 3rd and 4th largest mobile wireless networks. State officials argue in the suit that the merger will harm competition and raise prices for consumers. Following news that the deal had received DOJ approval, New York AG Letitia James reiterated her concerns on Twitter. 

“I remain deeply concerned about the T-Mobile/Sprint megamerger & the irreparable harm it will cause to millions across the country,” she wrote. “Despite approval from the DOJ, the deal is bad for consumers, innovation, and workers.” 

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has announced he will add his name to the list of states lobbying to block T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint, bringi...
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New York City sues T-Mobile over ‘abusive sales tactics’

City officials say the company carried out illegal sales tactics at Metro by T-Mobile stores

New York City is suing T-Mobile, accusing the wireless carrier of violating consumer protection laws a total of 2,200 times in various parts of the city, Reuters reports.

In its complaint, New York City's Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) claims that T-Mobile engaged in “pervasive” illegal sales tactics at 56 of its Metro by T-Mobile stores. 

The city says it has evidence that the carrier sold used or reconditioned phones as new and tacked on taxes that were excessive or appeared to be “made up.” The complaint also accuses T-Mobile of getting customers to e-sign leasing contracts without informing them of the charges or requesting their consent. 

In one case, a customer thought she had purchased a phone advertised at $599 but later learned that she had unwittingly signed up for a 12-month lease costing $2,191.30. 

“With this scheme in place, Defendants have deceived NYC consumers about things as basic as the actual price of the phone to things as complicated as the terms of financing,” the complaint states.

In a statement, T-Mobile said it’s looking into the allegations as they appear to be “at odds with the integrity of our team.” 

Separately, New York is fighting to prevent T-Mobile’s $26.5 billion merger with Sprint. The state’s attorney general, Letitia James, is leading a group of states in suing to block the deal, which she argues is “bad for consumers, bad for workers, and bad for innovation.”

New York City is suing T-Mobile, accusing the wireless carrier of violating consumer protection laws a total of 2,200 times in various parts of the city, R...
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FCC circulates draft order to approve T-Mobile/Sprint merger

Ajit Pai believes the deal will ‘bring fast 5G wireless service to many more Americans’

On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai made his approval of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger official. 

Although critics have argued that allowing the two carriers to join forces would reduce competition in the industry, Pai contends that the deal would help promote competition, expedite the nationwide deployment of 5G, and help shrink the digital divide. 

“After one of the most exhaustive merger reviews in Commission history, the evidence conclusively demonstrates that this transaction will bring fast 5G wireless service to many more Americans and help close the digital divide in rural areas,” Pai said in a statement. 

The conditions included in the FCC’s draft order would “promote robust competition in mobile broadband, put critical mid-band spectrum to use, and bring new competition to the fixed broadband market,” the Republican commissioner added.

“I thank our transaction team for the thorough and careful analysis reflected in this draft Order and hope that my colleagues will vote to approve it,” he continued. 

Help with 5G deployment

Pai, who signaled his intention to approve the deal back in May, believes that if T-Mobile and Sprint become one company, the combined entity will be in a better position to compete with rivals in the effort to launch 5G. 

“Consumers will directly benefit from improvements in network quality and coverage, which in turn will foster innovation in a wide variety of sectors and services (itself creating significant public interest benefits),” the FCC said in a statement. “Moreover, the transaction will help to close the digital divide by bringing robust 5G deep into rural areas, with enforceable conditions in the draft Order requiring coverage of at least 99% of Americans within six years.”

Following months of skepticism over the merger, the Department of Justice (DOJ) gave its approval of the $26.5 billion deal last month on the condition that Sprint sell its prepaid assets to Dish network. The DOJ said the new agreement will "enable a viable facilities-based competitor to enter the market.” 

The merger is still opposed by more than a dozen state attorneys general. These officials argue that the merger will harm competition and raise prices for consumers. Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also said she’s still “not convinced that removing a competitor will lead to better outcomes for consumers.” 

“But what I am convinced of is that before the FCC votes on this new deal negotiated by Washington, the public should have the opportunity to weigh in and comment. Too much here has been done behind closed doors,” she said in a statement regarding the FCC’s draft order.

On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai made his approval of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger official. Although critics have...
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States still working to block T-Mobile/Sprint merger

Several state attorneys general argue that the start date of the merger trial should be pushed back

Last week, the $26.5 billion merger of T-Mobile and Sprint gained approval from the Department of Justice. However, the deal -- which hasn’t yet closed -- still faces opposition from close to a dozen state attorneys general.

A lawsuit filed by these officials argues that the merger will harm competition and raise prices for consumers. Following news that the deal had received DOJ approval, New York AG Letitia James reiterated her concerns on Twitter. 

“I remain deeply concerned about the T-Mobile/Sprint megamerger & the irreparable harm it will cause to millions across the country,” she wrote. “Despite approval from the DOJ, the deal is bad for consumers, innovation, and workers.” 

“This deal is based on speculative promises & will increase prices for consumers & greatly reduce competition. The American people deserve access to affordable, reliable wireless service & this deal is not the answer.”

At a status hearing on Thursday, the states involved in the suit aiming to block the deal plan to ask for the October 7 start date of the merger trial to be pushed back to December 9. State AGs argue that they are owed more time to prepare since T-Mobile and Sprint didn’t provide all the details of their settlement with the DOJ by the deadline of June 28. 

EFF also opposes the deal 

Separately, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) chimed in on Tuesday to express its opposition to the merger. In a statement, the organization raised the concern that “5G hype” could have clouded the DOJ’s judgement when choosing to green-light the deal. 

“The Sprint-T-Mobile merger has been the subject of a lot of 5G hype,” EFF said. “EFF has called attention to the political leveraging of 5G before, and this merger is the perfect example of how it can be weaponized to blow holes in consumer protection laws.” 

“From the outset, Sprint and T-Mobile repeatedly over-represented, claiming the merger would bring 5G wireless services to all Americans. The companies’ argument is that Americans must accept fewer choices at higher prices if they want to see these new services. This is just untrue.” 

Like the state attorneys general involved in the effort to block the merger, EFF argues that the deal is anticompetitive. The group says 5G could still reach all U.S. consumers through “government-regulated licenses” that promote competition.

“Those licenses can be modified with new policies to promote competition and access. In particular, instead of approving anti-competitive mergers, the government could simply change the terms of the licenses it gives companies for their use of spectrum, the radio frequencies used to transmit services,” the group said. 

Last week, the $26.5 billion merger of T-Mobile and Sprint gained approval from the Department of Justice. However, the deal -- which hasn’t yet closed --...
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Spansive recalls wireless phone chargers

Metallic accessories attached to phones placed on the chargers can overheat

Spansive of San Bruno, Calif., is recalling about 950 Spansive Source wireless, multi-phone chargers.

Metallic accessories attached to phones placed on the chargers can overheat while phones charge, posing a burn hazard to users.

The firm has received one report of a metallic phone accessory overheating when placed on the charger. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Spansive Source wireless multi-phone chargers capable of powering up to six phones simultaneously, four wirelessly and two more via USB ports located at the base of the charger.

The recalled chargers were sold in both white and charcoal colors, each with a green label at the bottom. “Spansive” is printed on the chargers.

The chargers, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively online at Spansive’s website www.spansive.com for about $200. Only chargers sold on May 23 -- 24, 2019, which are identifiable by a green label on the bottom of the charger, are included in this recall.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled phone chargers and return them to Spansive for a full refund. Spansive is contacting purchasers directly about the recall.

Consumers may contact Spansive at (800) 426-6251 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at support@spansive.com or online at www.spansive.com and click on “Spansive Source Recall Notice” at the bottom of the page for more information.

Spansive of San Bruno, Calif., is recalling about 950 Spansive Source wireless, multi-phone chargers.Metallic accessories attached to phones placed on...
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Dish hopes to have 5G wireless going by end of 2020

The nation’s newest wireless provider isn’t wasting time

Now that Dish Network has been set up as a fourth wireless provider in the wake of Sprint and T-Mobile’s merger approval, the satellite TV company isn’t waiting for the ink to dry.

Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen has made clear he plans to push ahead immediately in building out a 5G wireless network, an enormously expensive undertaking. In an interview with Axios just hours after the Justice Department greenlighted the merger, Ergen said he hopes to be providing 5G service in at least one market by the end of 2020.

Dish stepped into the role of wireless provider as a condition for regulators to allow Sprint and T-Mobile to merge because of worries the combination would reduce competition and hurt consumers. Both merger partners provided assets to Dish, including spectrum, to help it get up and running.

Part of the problem facing the satellite TV provider is that it currently has no existing wireless network. It will have to build a 5G network from scratch while its competitors will build on top of their existing 4G LTE networks.

Getting a boost from Boost

Dish is acquiring Sprint’s Boost Mobile as part of the deal and Ergen said one of the first steps the company will take is to make the prepaid service more competitive, even expanding beyond the prepaid market.

The deal approved by the government requires T-Mobile and Sprint to open up dozens of retail locations to Dish, as well as more than 20,000 cell sites. Dish will also get “a seven-year wholesale agreement allowing it to sell T-Mobile wireless service under the Dish brands.”

While that most likely will help, Dish still faces significant challenges in leaping into the wireless business. However, it has strong incentives to do so. Satellites are aging technology and 5G could prove to be a much faster and more efficient way to distribute video programming.

Keeping pace with DIRECTV

Dish competitor DIRECTV is owned by AT&T which is currently building its own 5G network. For Dish to remain competitive it may have to bite the 5G bullet.

Roger Entner, a telecom analyst and founder of Recon Analytics LLC, told Bloomberg News that Dish will likely have to spend at least $20 billion dollars in the short term to build a network that could make use of the massive amounts of spectrum it owns.

And that may be just the beginning. More spending will be needed to establish a retail network and market the new service, competing with the huge ad budgets of Verizon, AT&T, and the newly combined Sprint and T-Mobile.

Now that Dish Network has been set up as a fourth wireless provider in the wake of Sprint and T-Mobile’s merger approval, the satellite TV company isn’t wa...
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Dish agrees to pay $5 billion for Sprint and T-Mobile assets

The agreement will likely result in DOJ approval of the Sprint-T-Mobile merger

The role of satellite company Dish in the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint has been a key sticking point for the Justice Department, which has said it wouldn’t approve the deal unless Dish replaced Sprint as the fourth major wireless carrier.  

Now, Dish has agreed to pay $5 billion for Sprint and T-Mobile’s wireless assets, Bloomberg reported, citing sources familiar with the matter. With that condition agreed upon, the Justice Department could approve the $26.5 billion merger as early as Thursday. 

A new major carrier

Under the deal, Dish will pay $1.5 billion for Sprint's Boost prepaid mobile business and around $3.5 billion for spectrum assets, according to Bloomberg. The company won’t be able to sell the assets for three years, and it will be required to offer cell phone service and will get “a seven-year wholesale agreement allowing it to sell T-Mobile wireless service under the Dish brands.”

With Dish poised to take Sprint’s place as a fourth major wireless carrier, the Justice Department’s condition of preserving competition in the mobile industry will be met. The Wall Street Journal reports that the DOJ is more than likely to approve the deal now that Dish has agreed to step in as a competitor in the industry. The FCC has already said it supports the deal. 

The merger is still opposed by at least ten state attorneys general who argue that it will harm competition and raise prices for consumers.

The role of satellite company Dish in the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint has been a key sticking point for the Justice Department, which has said i...
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The Sprint/T-Mobile merger deadline is a week away

A published report suggests the government is close to saying yes

The proposed merger between Sprint and T-Mobile has a week to go before it runs up against a July 29 deadline. Despite a lot of opposition, the deal could be close to approval.

Fox Business reports the Justice Department has informed all parties that barring any last minute issues the U.S. government will likely give its approval before the deadline. But the situation apparently remains fluid.

The network reports negotiators made significant progress last week in resolving some of the issues that thus far have prevented approval. While the two smaller wireless companies have made what some say is a compelling case for their merger, the fact remains there are powerful  groups opposing it.

Democratic lawmakers, joined by labor unions and consumer groups, have urged the Justice Department to block the deal. They point out that the merger would reduce the number of major wireless companies from four to three.

They also maintain that Sprint and T-Mobile tend to be the carriers of choice for low-income consumers because of their lower rates. They worry that if the two smaller companies become one bigger one, those rates will go up.

A new fourth carrier

To ease those concerns the parties have worked toward helping Dish Network create a fourth wireless provider, utilizing assets from both Sprint and T-Mobile. Earlier this month the Justice Department pressed the merger partners to make additional concessions to help Dish’s wireless service get up and running.

Specifically, German telecom company Deutsche Telekom, which would control the two merged wireless providers, was reportedly asked to give up more spectrum for Dish’s new service. More recent negotiations have reportedly been aimed at making sure Dish’s wireless service would be a strong competitor in the U.S. market.

Attorneys general

Democratic state attorneys general are other opponents who must be won over. While they don’t play a regulatory role in approving the merger they have the legal resources to go to court to try to block it. 

At this point, simply delaying the merger might be the same as blocking it. In April, Sprint and T-Mobile announced a July 29 deadline for completing their merger. If that deadline is missed, both parties might simply walk away.

Meeting that deadline now hinges of gaining Justice Department approval. The Federal Communications Commission has already signed off on the deal.

The proposed merger between Sprint and T-Mobile has a week to go before it runs up against a July 29th deadline. Despite a lot of opposition, the deal coul...
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Justice Department may block T-Mobile/Sprint merger if settlement isn’t reached soon

Regulatory obstacles are still holding up the deal

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has been clear that it’s skeptical of the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint. Now, the DOJ is reportedly considering filing a lawsuit to block the $26.5 billion deal if the two telecom providers do not reach a settlement by next week, CNBC reports. 

Citing “people familiar with the negotiations,” CNBC says the DOJ intends to sue to block merger if T-Mobile, Sprint, Dish, and T-Mobile’s parent company Deutsche Telekom can’t reach an agreement on issues that have been holding up the deal. 

In April, the Wall Street Journal reported that the companies had been told by Justice Department officials that the merger was not likely to be approved as structured. The Department has expressed concern that the merger -- which would reduce the number of carriers to three -- could negatively affect competition in the industry and lead to higher costs for consumers. 

Dish Network’s role in question

To assuage the DOJ’s concerns, T-Mobile and Sprint recently agreed to sell the prepaid brand Boost and make Dish a fourth wireless provider to ensure competition in the industry. The DOJ said earlier this month that it was close to approving the deal if the Dish conditions were met.

However, Deutsche Telekom is reportedly concerned that if it allows Dish to use T-Mobile’s new network while Dish builds out its own infrastructure, a cable or technology company could swoop in and buy Dish and use the T-Mobile network. Deutsche Telekom wants Dish to be cut off from the T-Mobile network if it’s purchased by a cable company, but the DOJ has said it’s not willing to allow that. 

The companies had previously announced a July 29 deadline for completing their merger, but they must first gain Justice Department approval. The Federal Communications Commission has already said it supports the deal. 

Now, reports say that if the companies can’t reach a settlement by the end of next week, the Justice Department may sue to block the merger. The ultimatum comes a month after a group of U.S. state attorneys general sued to block the merger on the grounds that it would cost consumers more than $4.5 billion a year. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has been clear that it’s skeptical of the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint. Now, the DOJ is reportedly considering fi...
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T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint is looking more likely

But the government is asking for additional concessions

The Justice Department (DOJ), which had been highly skeptical of the proposed T-Mobile-Sprint merger, may be getting closer to approving the deal. But if the merger is to get the green light, DOJ says more concessions may be in order.

Specifically, German telecom company Deutsche Telekom, which would control the two merged wireless providers, would have to make concessions, according to a report by CNBC. The Justice Department has reportedly softened its stance on the merger when it was suggested that Dish Network could emerge as a fourth wireless company.

The German company and the Department of Justice are reportedly close to an agreement to give up air space to Dish for a wireless service. If all the details are worked out, sources say a deal could be announced as early as next week.

Dish Network’s role is key

Justice Department sources say the government’s reservations about the T-Mobile merger with Sprint could be addressed by Dish Network emerging as a fourth wireless provider. According to CNBC, the government is taking steps to ensure Dish can emerge as an effective player in the wireless industry.

The government is pressing Deutsche Telekom to be generous with Dish, giving it unlimited access to its network. So far, sources say the two merger partners have resisted those efforts.

Sources have told CNBC that Dish would have limited access to a combined T-Mobile/Sprint network, allowing it access for no more than seven years. After a grace period, Dish would be required to operate on its own network.

Complicating factor

The evolution of 5G service could be a complicating factor. Dish, a cable TV provider, doesn’t have a 5G network but said it plans to build one soon.

But at this point, a deal appears to be more likely than it did a month ago. CNBC reports Dish and T-Mobile have come to a rough agreement on terms, including a revenue-sharing agreement.

Dish may also purchase additional spectrum and prepaid wireless carrier Boost Mobile from the combined Sprint/T-Mobile.

In April, Sprint and T-Mobile announced a July 29 deadline for completing their merger. To meet that date, they have to gain Justice Department approval. The Federal Communications Commission has already signed off on the deal.

The Justice Department (DOJ), which had been highly skeptical of the proposed T-Mobile-Sprint merger, may be getting closer to approving the deal. But if t...
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AT&T wireless users prevented from calling emergency services due to outage

The problem was reported across multiple states

For several hours on Tuesday morning, AT&T wireless customers in a handful of states were unable to call 911 from their cell phones, according to a report from The Verge. The issue was reported by officials in Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Florida, and several other states.

In a statement, AT&T confirmed the service outage and said the issue had been resolved as of approximately 8:00 AM.

"Earlier this morning some wireless customers may have been unable to connect to 911," the company said. "This has been resolved and we apologize to anyone who was affected."

While the outage was still active, several local law enforcement officials and fire departments used social media as a way of informing AT&T customers of alternate ways of contacting emergency services. 

“Our 911 Comm Center received notice that AT&T is experiencing outages with their mobility wireless 911 that may affect calling in,” tweeted a sheriff’s office in Winnebago County, Wisconsin. “Please have our non emergency number handy if you need us.  920-236-7300” 

A fire department in Arlington, Texas recommended calling from a landline, since the outage didn’t impact AT&T’s landline services. 

“AT&T is experiencing nationwide 911 service outage which is effecting the ability to call 911 on a cellphone,” the Arlington Fire Department tweeted. “Until the issue is resolved, AT&T customers can access Arlington 911 by either calling 817-274-4444 or utilizing a landline.” 

For several hours on Tuesday morning, AT&T; wireless customers in a handful of states were unable to call 911 from their cell phones, according to a report...
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Four additional states join lawsuit seeking to block T-Mobile/Sprint merger

More than a dozen state attorneys general have now signed on to the complaint

At a court hearing on Friday, a New York official announced that the state attorneys general of Massachusetts, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Nevada have joined a lawsuit aiming to block the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint.

In early June, nine states and the District of Columbia sued to stop the $26.5 billion deal from taking place. The lawsuit seeks to stop the merger on the grounds that it will harm competition and raise prices for consumers.

“When it comes to corporate power, bigger isn’t always better,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said of the merger, which would shrink the number of nationwide wireless carriers in the United States from four to three.

Arguments against the merger

T-Mobile and Sprint have argued that joining forces is necessary to deploy 5G wireless networks and effectively compete against Verizon and AT&T. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has said it intends to approve the merger.

However, lawmakers and labor groups have argued that if the two companies are combined, it would harm competition, raise prices, and lead to over 28,000 lost jobs.

“Millions of Americans rely on mobile devices at work, at home, and to organize their lives. Competition between the mobile companies has resulted in better coverage and cheaper, more reliable service for all of us,” Attorney General Maura Healey told Cape Cod Today.

“Our year-long investigation found that the proposed merger would give the new company the power to raise prices, significantly reduce competition for customers, lower quality, and cost thousands of retail workers their jobs. We are challenging this merger to protect a service that matters to everyone.”

The Department of Justice, which has been hesitant to approve the deal, has requested that T-Mobile and Sprint sell Boost Mobile in order to receive approval. Dish Network is reportedly negotiating the purchase of spectrum and Boost Mobile from the two companies, according to Bloomberg.

At a court hearing on Friday, a New York official announced that the state attorneys general of Massachusetts, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Nevada have joined a...
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Dish Network may pave the way for approval of the T-Mobile-Sprint merger

A report says the satellite TV company could become a wireless provider

The old saying “two’s company but three’s a crowd” apparently does not apply to mergers. Dish Network has reportedly emerged as a major player in Sprint and T-Mobile’s bid to become one company.

Bloomberg News quotes people close to the situation as saying Dish is negotiating the purchase of spectrum and Boost Mobile from the two companies that are trying to gain approval of their proposed merger from the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The Antitrust Division at DOJ has reportedly been cool to the idea of Sprint and T-Mobile joining forces because it would reduce the number of major carriers from four to three. Previously, some DOJ officials have reportedly suggested the government go to court to block the merger.

Spinning off assets -- especially those that overlap -- is a common practice among merger partners in the same industry to assure the government that it won’t have monopolistic power.

Approval may be close

According to Bloomberg, DOJ is getting close to flashing a green light for the two wireless providers, with an approval coming as early as this week. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has already signed off on the deal, saying the engineering specs appear to be in order.

When Sprint and T-Mobile announced their plan to merge they said they required the synergy of their two companies to build out a 5G network that could compete with Verizon and AT&T. But according to Bloomberg, DOJ approval could hinge on the two proposed partners selling off enough assets that another company could buy them and launch a new wireless service.

Analysts say Dish is a logical player to take up that role because it already has significant spectrum that has gone unused. Taking assets from T-Mobile and Sprint, the reasoning goes, could turn Dish into a major wireless player.

Congressional opposition

While the DOJ may be softening its position toward the proposed merger there is still opposition among elected officials, who fear T-Mobile and Sprint -- both favored by lower income consumers -- would raise their prices if they become one company. Earlier this month, nine states and the District of Columbia filed a suit in U.S. District Court to block the merger.

“I have repeatedly raised serious antitrust concerns about the harmful effects of merging T-Mobile and Sprint, two of the four remaining nationwide wireless carriers,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). “This merger would harm competition and consumers, and I am pleased that action is being taken by state attorneys general to block it. Now, the Justice Department must take similar action to stop this transaction.”

Klobuchar and other lawmakers opposed to the merger say T-Mobile and Sprint are favored by low-income consumers because both offer no contract plans, prepaid and no credit check plans, and unlimited, text, voice, and data plans.

The old saying “two’s company but three’s a crowd” apparently does not apply to mergers. Dish Network has reportedly emerged as a major player in Sprint an...
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New study finds that smartphones are quickly becoming the go-to online device

The ability to do almost everything via a mobile device leads the way

As the density of Americans owning a smartphone continues to grow -- currently at 87 percent -- the use of those smartphones as the consumer’s go-to digital device is also growing.

However, a new Pew Research Center study discovers that smartphone owners who use a phone as their online connector, use them differently than they might with a regular computer.

If you’re guessing it’s the younger consumer -- the 18-to 29-year-olds -- leading the way, you’d be right. That group’s use is trending from 41 percent in 2013 to 58 percent in 2019. But, the growth is consistent across all demographics. Take the share of adults ages 30 to 49, for instance. Their use of a smartphone to go online has nearly doubled – from 24 percent in 2013 to 47 percent today.

“These trends are part of a broader shift toward mobile technology that has changed the way people do everything from getting news to applying for jobs,” wrote Monica Anderson, a senior researcher at Pew.

“Indeed, mobile devices are not simply being used more often to go online – some Americans are forgoing traditional broadband at home altogether in favor of their smartphone. A majority of adults say they subscribe to home broadband, but about one-in-four (27 percent) do not. And growing shares of these non-adopters cite their mobile phone as a reason for not subscribing to these services.”

Wait a minute

Dropping broadband to do… everything via the phone? Like watch movies, listen to music, and shop everything?

Yep. And there are two simple reasons:

  • For one, smartphones have become so, well, smart, that digital consumers can do everything they want or need to do online. Pew found that the 45 percent who go that route has nearly doubled, many citing the savings from ditching their monthly home broadband subscription. In addition, 80 percent of those non-broadband users say they’re simply not interested in getting high-speed connections at home.

  • And, two, consumers are simply moving away from buying desktops, laptops, and tablets. That piece of the pie has fallen from 53 percent in 2013 to 30 percent today.

I’m fine as it is, thanks

Don’t care about broadband? You’re represented in the study, too. On the non-broadband user side, Pew notes that crowd never had high-speed internet at home to begin with, don’t show much interest in having it in the future.

“In previous Center surveys, Americans of all kinds have linked not having broadband to a number of disadvantages -- including difficulties finding job information or less access to government services,” Anderson said. “Despite these perceived challenges, non-adopters show little interest in becoming home broadband users in the future.”

As the density of Americans owning a smartphone continues to grow -- currently at 87 percent -- the use of those smartphones as the consumer’s go-to digita...
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Ten states reportedly preparing to sue to block T-Mobile/Sprint deal

A group of state attorneys general are preparing a lawsuit to stop the merger

T-Mobile and Sprint’s pending $26.5 billion merger is facing new opposition.

A group of at least 10 state attorneys general are in the midst of preparing a lawsuit to block the deal, Reuters reports, citing sources familiar with the matter. The lawsuit is being led by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

“When it comes to corporate power, bigger isn’t always better,” James said of the proposed merger, which would reduce the number of wireless carriers to three from four. “The T-Mobile and Sprint merger would not only cause irreparable harm to mobile subscribers nationwide by cutting access to affordable, reliable wireless service for millions of Americans.”

Since the two providers announced their intention to merge last April, the merger has faced stiff opposition from government agencies and consumer groups. Critics contend that if the deal is approved, competition would be harmed and consumers could see higher prices.

Government pushback

Though T-Mobile and Sprint say the deal would lower prices for consumers, several Democratic lawmakers argued last year that the deal could impact lower-income people.

“T-Mobile and Sprint have led the way in offering wireless products and service options that are more appealing to lower-income consumers, including no contract plans, prepaid and no credit check plans, and unlimited, text, voice, and data plans,” eight senators said in a statement last May.

Justice Department officials voiced similar concerns last month.

“T-Mobile has a reputation for aggressively seeking to cut prices and improve service to woo customers away from market leaders Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc, and staff may want to preserve that dynamic,” Reuters reported.

The FCC, on the other hand, has said it supports the deal because of its potential to speed up the deployment of 5G in the U.S and increase coverage in rural America.

T-Mobile and Sprint have until July 29 to complete their merger.

T-Mobile and Sprint’s pending $26.5 billion merger is facing new opposition. A group of at least 10 state attorneys general are in the midst of prepari...
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Justice Department wants T-Mobile, Sprint to create fourth carrier

DOJ officials have reportedly presented a new condition for approving the merger

Before the Department of Justice considers approving the $26.5 billion merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, the agency reportedly wants the two companies to “lay the groundwork” for a fourth carrier, according to Bloomberg.

The Justice Department has been hesitant to approve the deal, as it doesn’t believe the merger will be in the best interest of consumers. Back in April, the DOJ expressed concern that the merger would negatively affect competition in the industry. It also challenged the companies’ assertion that the merger would lower costs.

Now, a source familiar with the matter has informed Bloomberg that DOJ officials are demanding that the two telecom companies create a fourth carrier in order to get the deal approved. The request would mitigate the DOJ’s concern that T-Mobile would have less incentive to drop costs as a way of attracting customers after joining forces with Sprint.

“T-Mobile has a reputation for aggressively seeking to cut prices and improve service to woo customers away from market leaders Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc, and staff may want to preserve that dynamic,” Reuters reported last month, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Pending approval

While the new condition might assuage one of the DOJ’s chief concerns, it would go against the carriers’ argument that combining would help them compete with Verizon and AT&T and lower costs for consumers.

Last week, reports surfaced that Justice Department officials recommended that the merger be blocked. The news was fresh on the heels of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai saying he would approve the deal on the basis that it would help speed up the deployment of nationwide 5G and help close the digital divide in America.

Bloomberg notes that if T-Mobile and Sprint are unable to convince the Justice Department to approve the deal, the government would sue in court to “block the tie-up.”

“State attorneys general, who can enforce antitrust laws, are also concerned the merger threatens competition and could join a U.S. challenge or sue on their own if the Justice Department approved it,” the publication pointed out.

Before the Department of Justice considers approving the $26.5 billion merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, the agency reportedly wants the two companies to “lay...
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Justice Department recommends blocking T-Mobile/Sprint merger

DOJ officials are reportedly skeptical about T-Mobile’s claims about improved service and lowered costs

The Justice Department’s antitrust division has recommended filing a lawsuit to block the $26.5 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, Reuters reported Wednesday. The publication notes that Justice Department officials do not appear to believe that the merger will be in the best interest of consumers.

“T-Mobile has a reputation for aggressively seeking to cut prices and improve service to woo customers away from market leaders Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc, and staff may want to preserve that dynamic,” Reuters said, citing sources familiar with the matter.

In April, the Wall Street Journal reported that the companies had apparently been told by Justice Department staff that the merger is not likely to be approved as currently structured. The Department reportedly expressed concern that the deal would negatively affect competition in the industry. It also challenged the companies’ arguments that the merger would drive down costs.

News of the DOJ’s skepticism about the proposed merger comes just a few days after the head of the FCC said he supports it on the basis that combining the two telecom companies will speed up the deployment of 5G and help close “the digital divide in rural America.”

Arguments against the merger

The Justice Department is expected to make a final decision on the merger in about a month, sources told Reuters.

While Sprint and T-Mobile contend that joining forces will create jobs, lower prices for consumers, and lead to better 5G service, lawmakers and labor groups have argued otherwise.

“T-Mobile and Sprint have led the way in offering wireless products and service options that are more appealing to lower-income consumers, including no contract plans, prepaid and no credit check plans, and unlimited, text, voice, and data plans,” eight Democratic senators said in a statement last year.

In August, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) opposed the merger, arguing that over 28,000 jobs would be lost if the companies are cleared to merge.

The Justice Department’s antitrust division has recommended filing a lawsuit to block the $26.5 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, Reuters reporte...
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FCC chairman recommends approval of T-Mobile/Sprint merger​

Ajit Pai says the merger will help close the digital divide and speed up deployment of 5G

​Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai announced Monday that his agency intends to formally recommend the approval of the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint on the basis that it will expedite the deployment of 5G in the U.S.

“Two of the FCC’s top priorities are closing the digital divide in rural America and advancing United States leadership in 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity. The commitments made today by T-Mobile and Sprint would substantially advance each of these critical objectives,” Pai said in a statement.

Pai said the combined telecom company would help the agency fulfill its mission of shrinking the digital divide and bringing faster mobile broadband to consumers in rural areas.

If their union is approved, T-Mobile and Sprint have promised to deploy a 5G network that would cover 97 percent of the nation’s population within three years of the merger’s finalization, and 99 percent within six years. Additionally, 85 percent of rural Americans would be covered within three years and 90 percent covered within six years.

Pai said the two companies would suffer “serious consequences” if they fail to uphold their FCC commitments.

“These consequences, which could include total payments to the U.S. Treasury of billions of dollars, create a powerful incentive for the companies to meet their commitments on time,” he said.

The $26.5 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint is still awaiting approval by the FCC and the Justice Department. In April, the Wall Street Journal reported that the two providers had been told by Justice Department officials that the merger wasn’t likely to be approved as currently structured.  

Facing opposition

Sprint and T-Mobile have argued that joining forces will lead to better 5G service, the creation of U.S. jobs, and the ability the better compete with larger rivals. However, lawmakers and labor groups have contended that the merger could lead to price increases and job losses.

“T-Mobile and Sprint have led the way in offering wireless products and service options that are more appealing to lower-income consumers, including no contract plans, prepaid and no credit check plans, and unlimited, text, voice, and data plans,” eight Democratic senators said in a statement last year.

Back in August, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) formally opposed the merger. The group argued that over 28,000 jobs would be lost if the companies are combined.

​Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai announced Monday that his agency intends to formally recommend the approval of the merger of T-M...
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New study explores why we constantly check our phones

Researchers say there are common triggers that govern our phone behaviors

Smartphones affect nearly every facet of our day-to-day lives, and researchers from the University of Washington say there are consistent trends that govern why we pick up and put down our devices.

“For a couple of years I’ve been looking at people’s experiences with smartphones and listening to them talk about their frustration with the way they engage with their phones,” said researcher Alexis Hiniker. “But on the flip side, when we ask people what they find meaningful about their phone use, nobody says, ‘Oh, nothing.’ Everyone can point to experiences with their phones that have personal and persistent meaning.”

According to Hiniker, her project hinged on one important question: “How do we support that value without bringing along all the baggage?”

Understanding smartphone use

The researchers began by interviewing participants from three different age groups -- high school students, college students, and adults -- to determine what prompted them to either pick up or put down their smartphones.

The researchers found that the reasons for beginning or ending smartphone use was the same across all age groups. Participants were likely to use their phones when: in a socially awkward situation, in an unoccupied moment, they were waiting for a message, or when beginning a boring or repetitive task.

Similarly, the recognition of having spent too much time on the phone, coming across content they’d seen already, or being occupied by other things was what pushed participants to put their phones down.

“This doesn’t mean that teens use their phones the same way adults do,” said Hiniker. “But I think this compulsive itch to turn back to your phone plays out the same way across all age groups.”

Tailoring smartphone use

While many studies about smartphone use look for ways to curb the technology addiction, the researchers of this study were curious to gauge participants’ feelings towards their smartphone use.

They started this practice by asking the participants to come up with ways to moderate their smartphone use. While many participants offered solutions that would lock users out, effectively barring them from using their devices, many didn’t feel that using their phones was something to be ashamed of, or that it should be prevented.

“If the phone weren’t valuable at all, then sure, the lockout mechanism would work great,” Hiniker said. “We could just stop having phones, and the problem would be solved. But that’s not really the case.”

Because a number of participants felt they were using their phones to enhance their connection to the world, Hiniker encourages future software updates to allow consumers to interact with their technology in the best way they see fit.

“People have a pretty good sense of what matters to them,” she said. “They can try to tailor what’s on their phone to support the things that they find meaningful.”

Staying connected

Smartphone use has been targeted in recent years, especially when a study revealed that the devices were being charged with the increase in traffic deaths and injuries.

Despite that, consumers chose smartphones as their preferred device, and researchers continue to explore how using them is affecting our day-to-day lives. A recent study found that social connection is at the heart of why consumers are so attached to their smartphones.

"There is a lot of panic surrounding this topic," says Professor Samuel Veissière. "We're trying to offer some good news and show that it is our desire for human interaction that is addictive -- and there are fairly simple solutions to deal with this."

Smartphones affect nearly every facet of our day-to-day lives, and researchers from the University of Washington say there are consistent trends that gover...
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T-Mobile and Sprint extend merger deadline until July 29

Justice Department officials are still looking into the claim that the merger would create a better, faster 5G infrastructure

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), T-Mobile and Sprint announced a deadline extension for their $26 billion merger. The telecom companies now have until July 29 to get FCC and Justice Department officials on board with their proposal to merge.

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the two companies had been told by Justice Department staff that the merger isn’t likely to be approved as currently structured.

This week, Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, said he’s not sure whether he will greenlight the deal.

“I have not made up my mind,” Delrahim said in an interview with CNBC. “The investigation continues. We’ve requested some data from the companies that will be forthcoming. We don’t have a set number of meetings or a timeline.”

Consumer groups argue against the merger

The merger would combine the nation’s third and fourth largest telecommunications companies. Both Sprint and T-Mobile have insisted that the merger is crucial to their ability to compete with their larger rivals ahead of the nationwide rollout of 5G technology.

The deal has hung in the balance since it was first announced last April. It has faced stiff opposition from consumer groups who argue that the merger would lead to higher prices for consumers, as well as the loss of up to 30,000 jobs.

The 4Competition Coalition, one of the groups that has spoken out against the deal, published a statement this week reiterating that its members believe the merger should not be approved.

“In the year since T-Mobile and Sprint announced plans to merge, they have failed to show that this deal is in the public interest and complies with antitrust law,” the group said. “The companies seem to believe PR and spin will carry the day, but we believe that, based on the facts and the law, this proposed merger should be blocked.”

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), T-Mobile and Sprint announced a deadline extension for their $26 billion merger. The telecom...
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Sprint says its business isn’t as strong as it appeared

The company reportedly told regulators that it will struggle as a standalone entity

Following news that its proposed merger with T-Mobile may be on the ropes, Sprint has reportedly told regulators that its business may not be as stable as it appeared, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“[Sprint] has touted adding new wireless connections for six straight quarters. What it didn’t say until now is that many of those gains were free lines or existing customers that switched services,” the Journal said.

Sprint’s “recent gains in so-called postpaid connections… were driven by free lines given to existing Sprint customers,” the report continued.

Earlier this week, the WSJ reported that Justice Department staff recently informed the two telecom providers that the merger is unlikely to be approved as currently structured. T-Mobile CEO John Legere refuted that the merger is in trouble, tweeting that the premise of the Journal’s story was “simply untrue.”

Not on a ‘competitive path’

Sprint told regulators that, given the state it’s in, it’s unlikely to survive as a standalone company.

In a recent filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Sprint attempted to make a case for the merger by claiming that its ability to compete in the industry would be diminished if the merger isn’t approved.

“Sprint is in a very difficult situation that is only getting worse,” Sprint’s lawyers wrote. “Sprint’s lack of low-band spectrum is at the root of these network problems … Simply put, Sprint is not on a sustainable competitive path.”

The company added that its network is “deficient” and that it’s “losing customers, and it cannot generate enough cash to invest in its network, pay its debt obligations, and compete effectively.”

“Absent completing its transaction with T-Mobile, Sprint will have limited options, and is likely to be forced down either a repositioning path and/or a restructuring path,” the FCC filing continued.

The planned merger of T-Mobile and Sprint would reduce the number of carriers from 4 to 3, which critics argue could hurt competition and drive up costs for consumers. The companies have argued that the opposite would be true, claiming that the merger will result in more efficiencies that allow the combined company to reduce costs.  

Following news that its proposed merger with T-Mobile may be on the ropes, Sprint has reportedly told regulators that its business may not be as stable as...
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T-Mobile’s no-fee banking app makes nationwide debut

The company wants to help customers avoid the fees associated with traditional checking accounts

T-Mobile's mobile banking service, which launched as a pilot program last November, is now available nationwide. The mobile carrier partnered with digital bank BankMobile to offer the service, which has no fees for overdrafts or ATM use.

“Americans paid $34 billion in overdraft fees in 2017. That’s not even counting all the other fees banks charge. And consumers earned next-to-zero interest on their account balances. T-Mobile MONEY changes the game,” the carrier said in a press release.

T-Mobile said checking account customers can earn 4 percent Annual Percentage Yield (APY) on balances up to $3,000 as long as they deposit at least $200 each month. For every dollar over $3,000, the account will have a one percent APY.

Customers can also opt in to T-Mobile’s “Got Your Back” overdraft protection, so that “when the unplanned happens, they can go in-the-red, up to $50, without penalty” on the condition that they bring the account back to a positive balance within 30 days.

Helping consumers keep their money

The app also gives account holders a way to transfer money, make mobile check deposits, pay bills, send checks and even pay with mobile wallets, including Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

T-Mobile says its banking app is intended to help customers keep more of their money than they would if they had an account through a big bank.

“Traditional banks aren’t mobile-first, and they’re definitely not customer-first. As more and more people use their smartphones to manage money, we saw an opportunity to address another customer pain point,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said. “You work hard for your money … you should keep it … and with T-Mobile MONEY, you can!”

T-Mobile's mobile banking service, which launched as a pilot program last November, is now available nationwide. The mobile carrier partnered with digital...
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The T-Mobile-Sprint merger may be in trouble

A published report says the Justice Department staff is leaning against it

A published report is casting new doubt on the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile, a union that already faces opposition from some consumer groups and lawmakers.

The Wall Street Journal cites “people familiar with the matter” as saying the two telecom providers have been told by Justice Department staff that the merger is not likely to be approved as currently structured.

None of the parties involved -- T-Mobile, Sprint, and the Justice Department -- have responded to media requests for comment.

The Justice Department’s antitrust division is examining the proposed $26 billion deal to determine if it would negatively affect competition in the industry. The merger would reduce the number of major carriers from four to three. That, consumer advocates say, would lead to higher costs, especially since both T-Mobile and Sprint tend to serve lower-income customers than AT&T and Verizon.

According to The Journal, Justice Department staff met with representatives of both companies in early April and expressed their concerns about the deal. They also reportedly challenged the companies’ arguments that the merger would make both entities stronger and lower costs.

Ability to compete

Sprint and T-Mobile have steadfastly maintained that the merger is important to their ability to compete with their larger rivals when it comes to deploying a 5G network, which is more expensive than current 4G network technology.

In a blog post last month, T-Mobile CEO John Legere made a case for the merger, saying it would enable the creation of what he termed a “spectacular” 5G network that would allow for wireless high-speed internet service in underserved areas.

Legere said consumers using the planned T-Mobile-Sprint home internet service would get speeds of 100 Mbps and higher. The system would be so simple, he wrote, that consumers would be able to install it themselves.

Legere also said 5G networks will give large wired ISPs more competition than they’ve ever had before, which he predicted would lower prices for internet service. Legere has not said what 5G service would cost but has said on occasion that it would be less than what consumers are now paying for a wired connection.

Other opposition

In addition to reported opposition from the Justice Department, several Democratic lawmakers have spoken out against it.

“T-Mobile and Sprint have led the way in offering wireless products and service options that are more appealing to lower-income consumers, including no contract plans, prepaid and no credit check plans, and unlimited, text, voice, and data plans,” eight senators said in a statement 11 months ago.

In August, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) -- a union that represents 700,000 workers -- formally opposed the merger, arguing that over 28,000 jobs would be lost if the two companies are combined.

A published report is casting new doubt on the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile, a union that already faces opposition from some consumer groups and...
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T-Mobile testing home internet service for $50 per month

The company is using the pilot as a way to show that its merger with Sprint is necessary in order to take on big cable

T-Mobile has started testing an in-home internet service that will cost consumers $50 per month.

Initially, the service will only be available to “a limited few T-Mobile customers” on an invite-only basis. The company says its goal is to connect up to 50,000 households this year, mainly in rural and underserved markets.

T-Mobile said its plan to deploy 5G home internet on a larger scale is riding on the approval of its pending merger with Sprint. The service will eventually be supported by the faster 5G network, which the companies have argued can only be deployed if the merger is cleared.

“If T-Mobile’s pending merger with Sprint is approved, with the added scale and capacity of the New T-Mobile, the Un-carrier plans to cover more than half of U.S. households with 5G broadband service – in excess of 100 Mbps – by 2024,” the company said in a press release.

In response to concerns that the merger will limit competition and raise costs for consumers, the carrier has repeatedly claimed that the opposite will be true. In its announcement of the pilot, T-Mobile once again highlighted the potential savings for consumers.

“Today, consumers typically pay around $80 per month for wired in-home broadband service – $960 per year. Thanks to lower prices and more competition, one economist estimates that the New T-Mobile will save customers up to $13.65 billion a year on home broadband by 2024,” the T-Mobile said.

Aiming to fight ‘Big Cable’

The company said it has already started sending invitations to customers eligible to participate in the pilot. Customers won’t have to pay for the LTE receiver / router that will be sent to them by T-Mobile. However, they will have to set it up themselves.

Next week, the FCC will take its final round of comments on the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint. The pilot appears to be a way of demonstrating how the combined company can eventually use 5G connectivity to provide internet that is capable of competing with cable companies.

“Two weeks ago, I laid out our plans for home broadband with the New T-Mobile. Now, we’re already hard at work building toward that future,” said John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile. “We’re walking the walk and laying the foundation for a world where we can take the fight to Big Cable on behalf of consumers and offer real choice, competition and savings to Americans nationwide.”

T-Mobile has started testing an in-home internet service that will cost consumers $50 per month. Initially, the service will only be available to “a li...
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T-Mobile promises to keep prices the same if cleared to buy rival Sprint

The carrier’s CEO said the new T-Mobile will offer the same or better prices as those offered currently by T-Mobile or Sprint

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), T-Mobile CEO John Legere vowed not to increase prices for three years if the carrier’s $26 billion merger with Sprint is approved.

"To remove any remaining doubt or concerns about New T-Mobile’s prices while we are combining our networks over the next three years, T-Mobile today is submitting to the Commission a commitment that I stand behind – a commitment that New T-Mobile will make available the same or better rate plans for our services as those offered today by T-Mobile or Sprint," Legere said.

"We believe this merger makes consumers better off, and we're willing to put our money where our mouth is. Period,” Legere added.

Opposed by numerous consumer groups

T-Mobile and Sprint have argued that joining forces is necessary to introduce 5G services, as it will create a stronger competitor to AT&T and Verizon.

However, a number of consumer groups oppose the deal, arguing that eliminating one of the four largest carriers would reduce competition, cost thousands of jobs, and lead to higher prices for consumers. Legere addressed these concerns in the letter.

“Critics of our merger, largely employed by Big Telco and Big Cable, have principally argued that we are going to raise rates right after the merger closes. I want to reiterate, unequivocally, that New T-Mobile rates are NOT going to go up. Rather, our merger will ensure that American consumers will pay less and get more.”

Last week, a pair of U.S. House panels announced that they will hold a joint hearing to discuss the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint.

At the hearing, which is set to take place on February 13, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Judiciary Committee will “examine the merger’s potential impacts on consumers, workers and the wireless industry.” The CEOs of both wireless providers will testify at the hearing.

In December, the merger gained approval from U.S. national security officials. However, the deal must be approved by the FCC and DOJ before it can take place.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), T-Mobile CEO John Legere vowed not to increase prices for three years if the carrier’s $26 bill...
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U.S. House Committees to hold hearing to discuss T-Mobile/Sprint merger

Both of the companies’ CEOs are set to testify at a joint hearing in February

On Wednesday, February 13, two U.S. House panels will hold a joint hearing to discuss the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint.

The hearing will “examine the merger’s potential impacts on consumers, workers and the wireless industry,” the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Judiciary Committee said in a press release.  

T-Mobile CEO John Legere and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure are both set to testify at the hearing.

“A merger between T-Mobile and Sprint would combine two of the four largest wireless carriers and the carriers with the largest numbers of low-income customers,” the Committees said in a joint statement.

“As the Committees with oversight of the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice, we must hold this hearing to examine the effects on important issues like jobs, costs to consumers, innovation and competition,” said Pallone, Nadler, Doyle and Cicilline.  “We look forward to examining this merger from the perspective of what is in the best interest of consumers and hardworking people.”

Despite approval, opposition remains

Last month, the Sprint and T-Mobile merger was granted approval from U.S. national security officials. The news came just days after a number of parties announced their opposition to the merger.

Critics of the deal say it would reduce competition, cost thousands of jobs, and lead to higher prices for consumers. T-Mobile and Sprint have argued that joining forces is necessary to introduce 5G services.

“I am looking forward to sharing the benefits of the T-Mobile / Sprint merger with the House Commerce and Judiciary Committees on 2/13,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said. “It’s a great opportunity to explain why it’s good for consumers, good for competition and good for the country.”

Before T-Mobile’s $26 million takeover of Sprint can take place, the deal must be approved by the FCC and DOJ.

On Wednesday, February 13, two U.S. House panels will hold a joint hearing to discuss the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint.The hearing will “exam...
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T-Mobile gains Sprint merger approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States

The two wireless providers must still receive approval from the FCC and the DOJ

T-Mobile has been granted approval for its proposed merger with Sprint following “several months of negotiation with company representatives,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

T-Mobile said in a statement late Monday that the $26 billion takeover was cleared by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

The company said the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Defense (collectively referred to as Team Telecom) also confirmed that it has no objections to the merger.

“We are pleased to achieve both of these important milestones in the journey to build the New T-Mobile," said T-Mobile CEO John Legere. "We are a step closer to offering customers a supercharged disrupter that will create jobs from day one and deliver a real alternative to fixed broadband while delivering the first broad and deep nationwide 5G network for the United States...We look forward to continuing our discussions with the remaining regulatory agencies reviewing our transaction to share our story and subsequently achieve similar positive results.”

Facing opposition

T-Mobile and Sprint filed the proposed deal with the FCC on June 18. Obtaining approval by CFIUS was an important step in the process of moving forward with the deal, but the merger must still be approved by antitrust officials, including the FCC and DOJ.

Following a brief delay in September, the FCC has resumed its review of the proposed merger of the two wireless providers.

The deal is opposed by a number of parties, including a group called the 4Competition Coalition Last week, the group announced a new alliance aimed at preventing the merger from happening.

Critics of the deal say it would reduce competition, cost thousands of jobs, and lead to higher prices for consumers. If the two companies merge as planned in the first half of 2019, the number of wireless providers in the United States will drop from four to three.

T-Mobile and Sprint have argued that joining forces is necessary to introduce 5G services.

T-Mobile has been granted approval for its proposed merger with Sprint following “several months of negotiation with company representatives,” the Wall Str...
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California drops proposal to tax text messages

Regulators said a recent FCC ruling prevents the state from adding a texting surcharge

California regulators have dropped their proposal to levy a surcharge on text messages made by state residents. The California Public Utilities Commission said a new ruling by the FCC prevented the state from adding a tax on text plans.

"On Dec. 12, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a declaratory ruling finding that ‘text messaging’ is an information service, not a telecommunications service, under the Federal Telecommunications Act," the CPUC said in a statement.

The CPUC said that texting could have been subject to state tax under California law if it were considered a telecommunications service.

"In light of the FCC's action, assigned Commissioner Carla J. Peterman has withdrawn from the CPUC's Jan. 10, 2019 Voting Meeting" the text tax proposal.

“Illogical, anticompetitive and harmful to consumers”

Last week, the agency said it was pushing for the text tax in the hope that it would help increase funds for programs that provide telecommunications services to low-income residents. A vote on the measure was set to happen on January 10.

The proposed measure faced stiff opposition from the wireless industry, business groups, and others.

The CTIA, a trade group representing wireless companies, argued that the measure would have created inequity "between wireless carriers and other providers of messaging services," such as WhatsApp, iMessage, and Skype.

"Subjecting wireless carriers' text messaging traffic to surcharges that cannot be applied to the lion's share of messaging traffic and messaging providers is illogical, anticompetitive, and harmful to consumers," the CTIA said in a legal filing.

State residents also voiced their opposition to the idea.

"Of course California wants to tax your text messages. They would tax your toilet use if they could, " one Twitter user said.

California regulators have dropped their proposal to levy a surcharge on text messages made by state residents. The California Public Utilities Commission...
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California considering taxing text messaging

State regulators say adding surcharges on text messaging will help sustain its Public Purpose Programs

California is considering enacting a tax for text messaging to help fund a program that makes telecommunications services available to low-income consumers.

In a filing, the state’s Public Utilities Commission said adding a texting surcharge could help keep its Public Purpose Programs afloat. As consumers have migrated toward texting instead of making phone calls, the voice call revenue for these programs have dropped.

The budget rose to $998 million in 2017 from $670 million in 2011, and revenue from the telecom industry that funds the program fell to $11.3 billion last year from $16.5 billion in 2011, according to a report from California’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

“This is unsustainable over time,” CPUC stated in its report.

"Parties supporting the collection of surcharges on text messaging revenue argue that it will help preserve and advance universal service by increasing the revenue base upon which Public Purpose Programs rely. We agree," CPUC said.

Wireless industry pushing back

A vote on the tax -- which would likely appear as a flat surcharge in the small print of bills -- hasn’t yet happened. While the proposal is on the table, the wireless industry, business groups, and others are expressing their opposition to the idea.

"Of course California wants to tax your text messages. They would tax your toilet use if they could, " one Twitter user said

The CTIA, a trade group representing wireless companies, has argued that texting is an information service on par with email, not a telecommunications service subject to the agency’s ability to tax services.

"Subjecting wireless carriers' text messaging traffic to surcharges that cannot be applied to the lion's share of messaging traffic and messaging providers is illogical, anticompetitive and harmful to consumers," CTIA's filing said.

Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council business-sponsored advocacy group, called the proposal “a dumb idea.”

“This is how conversations take place in this day and age, and it’s almost like saying there should be a tax on the conversations we have.”

“May be a wash”

The CPUC contends that enacting a texting surcharge would have a minimal effect on consumers.

"If more surcharge revenues come from texting services, less would be needed from voice services," a CPUC spokesperson told the Mercury News in San Jose, California. "Generally, those consumers who create greater texting revenues may pay a bit more, whereas consumers using more voice services may pay less."

Several business groups fighting the proposal have calculated that the new charges for wireless consumers could total about $44.5 million a year.

California is considering enacting a tax for text messaging to help fund a program that makes telecommunications services available to low-income consumers...
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T-Mobile executive says Sprint deal could close in the first quarter of 2019

The deal is currently being scrutinized by regulators

At a recent conference in Barcelona, T-Mobile’s Chief Financial Officer said there’s a possibility that the company’s $26 billion acquisition of Sprint will be finalized as early as the first quarter of 2019.

At the end of April, T-Mobile agreed to buy Sprint, saying the two companies needed to join forces so they could build a robust 5G network that can compete with Verizon and AT&T.

The deal is currently being scrutinized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). The FCC is studying the engineering aspects of combining T-Mobile and Sprint, while the Justice Department is examining the competitive aspects.

T-Mobile’s CFO J. Braxton Carter said on Friday that the companies have provided 25 million pages worth of documents to the DOJ and filed a 600 page public information statement with the FCC. The companies have also held meetings with other U.S. government departments.

“The only remaining thing that is happening is depositions with the DOJ, which have started and will be completed in a few weeks,” Carter said at the conference, according to Reuters. “At this point, it’s more pointing to the second quarter as more probable (but) it could still be first quarter.”

Carter noted that, together, the two smaller telecom companies can create a much faster network.

"The combined assets of Sprint and T-Mobile can create 8 times the 5G capacity that either of us could do on a standalone basis and 15 times the speed," the executive said.

Opposition from consumer groups

Earlier this week, federal regulators kicked off the first auction of 5G spectrum. Germany is expected to start its 5G auctions early next year.

The merger has been the target of opposition from consumer and labor groups, who have expressed concern that the deal could hurt consumers.

Back in May, a group of Democratic lawmakers said they worried a merger would result in higher costs for consumers. In August, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) predicted that the merger would result in the loss of 24,000 retail jobs.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile has said that the merger will be good for consumers.

“This is another step forward in creating the new T-Mobile, so we can deliver on our promise to bring robust competition to the 5G era, giving consumers more for less and creating jobs,” John Legere, T-Mobile's CEO, said in a statement.

At a recent conference in Barcelona, T-Mobile’s Chief Financial Officer said there’s a possibility that the company’s $26 billion acquisition of Sprint wil...
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T-Mobile shareholders approve merger with Sprint

But government regulators will have the final say

T-Mobile shareholders have voted in favor of the company's merger with Sprint, a deal that would reduce the "big four" wireless carriers down to three.

The companies have said their union is necessary for the two smaller telecoms to develop the needed infrastructure to offer a robust 5G network to compete with Verizon and AT&T.

“This is another step forward in creating the new T-Mobile, so we can deliver on our promise to bring robust competition to the 5G era, giving consumers more for less and creating jobs,” said John Legere, T-Mobile's CEO.

Legere proudly points to his company's record of disrupting the wireless industry and says joining forces with Sprint will make the wireless landscape even more competitive. Both Verizon and AT&T are moving ahead with 5G deployment, offering the upgraded service in a handful of markets before the end of the year.

The bulk of T-Mobile shareholder approval of the deal came from Deutsche Telekom Holding B.V., holder of approximately 63.5 percent of T-Mobile common stock. But that was the easy part.

Regulators still considering the deal

The deal must still clear the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Justice Department. The FCC is studying the engineering aspects of combining T-Mobile and Sprint. The Justice Department is examining the competitive aspects.

Consumer advocates have already come out against the merger and several Democratic senators have expressed concern that combining the two wireless providers could result in higher prices for consumers, particularly those who purchase the companies' low-cost prepaid wireless plans.

In May, the lawmakers sent a letter to the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division and the FCC to express their thoughts on the areas of the merger they considered problematic.

“As more than three-quarters of American adults now own smartphones, including many who depend on these devices for their primary connection to the internet, an anticompetitive acquisition in the wireless market could result in higher prices for American consumers or force some people to forego their internet connection altogether,” the lawmakers wrote.

New York reportedly questions the deal

In recent days, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood has reportedly opened an investigation into the proposed deal over similar concerns.

According to a report in the New York Post, Underwood’s staff already views T-Mobile’s MetroPCS service and Sprint’s Boost and Virgin Mobile services as aggressive and has asked executives at both companies for clarification on how pricing would be affected.

Legere, meanwhile, is expressing confidence the deal will clear every regulatory hurdle, telling Bloomberg News that discussions with regulators have gone well and "we feel pretty good about our chances."

T-Mobile shareholders have voted in favor of the company's merger with Sprint, a deal that would reduce the "big four" wireless carriers down to three....
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eBay launches service to instantly sell old smartphones

But payments come in the form of eBay vouchers

How many old smartphones do you have taking up space in a desk drawer? According to a recent study by eBay, 40 percent of consumers have two or more unused devices.

There are a number of ways to get rid of these unwanted and largely outdated phones, but eBay has launched a program called eBay Instant Selling that allows consumers to sell unwanted devices and get paid instantly in the form of an eBay voucher.

While consumers have to spend the money they get on eBay, the company says they'll typically get more for their old phones than if they use traditional trade-in programs. On average, eBay says it will get the seller as much as 40 percent more than a phone retailer would pay.

"Millions of Americans have unused phones in their homes and simply don't realize how much their devices are worth, probably because trade-in values are typically so low," said Alyssa Steele, vice president of Hard Goods at eBay. "With Instant Selling, people can find out exactly how much their phone is worth, and sell their phone within a matter of minutes to immediately help fund the holidays, or maybe something off their personal wish list."

Getting started

To get started, go to eBay.com/s/phone. Enter information about the device you're selling and you'll be told if it is eligible for Instant Selling. Significantly older devices probably aren't.

Next, add some images of the device, click the list button, and accept the terms. You'll then receive an instant voucher that can be used toward the purchase of a new device on eBay. Ship your phone using an eBay shipping label you can print.

There are other methods of disposing of your unwanted device. When the new iPhones came out last month, ConsumerAffairs researched the values a consumer could expect to get from selling or trading in their old models.

We found that if you traded in your device to Apple, the values ran from $70 for an iPhone 6 to $525 for the most recent iPhone X. But consumers should definitely shop around since other online tech buyers might offer more.

When ConsumerAffairs checked prices for that same iPhone 6 on certain exchange sites, we found better prices than those that Apple offered, but lower values than Apple was allowing for factory unlocked iPhone 7 models.

Other options

Other companies, such as Gazelle, offer a way to sell both Apple and newer Android devices. The amount consumers receive largely depends on the type of device and its age.

Meanwhile, to protect your privacy and sensitive information, our friends at Techlicious point out there are six things you should do before handing over your old device to a stranger.

  • Back up data and settings

  • Back up photos and videos

  • Back up texts and call logs

  • Encrypt your data

  • Disable factory reset protection

  • Perform a factory reset

How many old smartphones do you have taking up space in a desk drawer? According to a recent study by eBay, 40 percent of consumers have two or more unused...
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T-Mobile launches 36-month extended payment option

Qualified customers can upgrade to a new smartphone for as little as $10 a month

On Friday, T-Mobile officially launched a new program that gives consumers three years to pay off certain smartphones, rather than the usual two years.

The following phones will be eligible for the 36-month extended payment plan: the Samsung Galaxy S8, S9; the LG G7 ThinQ; and the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR. Those who qualify for the plan could pay “as little as $10 a month for your new smartphone” when they trade in an eligible device, according to T-Mobile.

The devices that are eligible for trade-in include:

  • Apple iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus; Samsung Galaxy S8 series, Note8; Google Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Pixel, Pixel XL; LG V30, G7

  • iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s+, iPhone 6, iPhone 6+; Samsung: GS7 series, Note 5, GS6 series; LG: V20, G6; Motorola: Z2 Force; One Plus: 5, 5T, 6.

  • iPhone 5C, iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone SE; Samsung: GS4 series, GS5 series, Note 4; HTC: 10; LG: G5, G4, V10; Motorola Nexus 6; One Plus: 3, 3T, X, 2, 1

Depending on the condition and model of the device being traded in, customers could get up to $360 in bill credits toward the purchase of a new phone.

New deals

In a press release about the new extended payment option, T-Mobile's CEO John Legere pointed out that a family of four can sign up for the T-Mobile Essentials plan and get a new device for $50 per month per line with autopay.

“T-Mobile ONE includes all the extras — the industry’s best travel benefits, a personal Team of Experts for all your customer care needs, Netflix included for families, unlimited mobile hotspot and so much more. Starting Friday, well-qualified customers with trade-in and T-Mobile’s new 36-month EIP can get 4 lines of T-Mobile ONE and four new phones for as little as $50 a month per line with autopay,” the CEO said.

Legere also made sure he didn’t miss an opportunity to take a shot at the competition.

"Everyone knows we’ve got America’s fastest 4G LTE network and now we’ve got some of the best deals of the year on new smartphones. We’re not messing around," Legere said. "Forty dollars a month will only get you data on Dumb and Dumber’s congested networks. At T-Mobile, $40 a month will get you a hot new smartphone AND unlimited, so you can unleash everything that new phone is capable of doing!"

On Friday, T-Mobile officially launched a new program that gives consumers three years to pay off certain smartphones, rather than the usual two years....
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Verizon Wireless offering free cell service to customers impacted by Hurricane Florence

The wireless provider has been preparing for the storm

As Hurricane Florence touches down in the southeastern region of the U.S., Verizon Wireless has been preparing its network for the brunt of the storm.

The wireless provider has been working to ensure its network stays up and running for its customers, as well as for first responders who rely on the network to respond to emergencies. Prior to the hurricane, Verizon had been sandbagging and topping up backup generators and deploying mobile cell sites.

Because fewer and fewer people have landlines, wireless networks staying up during storms are more important than ever. It is for this reason that Verizon has tried to stay on top of its game in its prep for Hurricane Florence.

“I don’t have a magic crystal ball to predict the future,” said Karen Schultz, spokesperson for Verizon. “But I can tell you that we maintained 98 percent reliability during Hurricane Harvey and 90 percent of our network remained up in Florida during Irma.”

Free service during the storm

Verizon Wireless will also be offering free calling, texting, and data to customers between September 14 and September 17. The promotion will be available for postpaid and prepaid customers who live in Georgia, Virginia, and North and South Carolina.

“As we enter the final hours before Hurricane Florence makes landfall, we hope this allows our customers in these areas to worry about one less thing and focus on their safety and security,” said Russ Preite, president of the southeast market for Verizon Wireless. “This is just one way we can help residents as the potentially dangerous storm challenges the Southeast coast.”

Verizon has also lifted the speed caps on its data service for all first responders in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Maryland, Florida, and Virginia.

As Hurricane Florence touches down in the southeastern region of the U.S., Verizon Wireless has been preparing its network for the brunt of the storm.T...
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T-Mobile launches ‘Team of Experts’ to provide better customer service

Postpaid customers can access customer care employees directly instead of having to deal with a phone menu

T-Mobile has launched a new customer service initiative called Team of Experts, which gives its postpaid customers in different regions across the U.S. their own “dedicated” group of customer care representatives.

The service team can be reached by dialing 611 or messaging straight from the T-Mobile app or iMessage using Apple Business Chat.

“‘Your call is important to us’ are the six emptiest words ever robo-spoken,” said John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile. “People are fed up with horrible customer service that puts cost control ahead of customer happiness.”

Cutting down on customer frustration

T-Mobile’s new service gets customers in touch with real customer service representatives quickly, without having to listen to a robot voice or push a series of buttons on a phone menu.

“While other brands mechanize customer service, we’re going the other way – no bots, no bouncing, no BS. With Team of Experts, we’re tearing up the traditional playbook, killing the phone menu and putting people at the center of customer care, like they should be. Because at T-Mobile, our customers have always been rock stars to us,” Legere said.

The carrier also promises to shrink call times by offering more callbacks, 24/7 support, and “asynchronous” messaging help to help solve the problem fast. If a customer has to contact T-Mobile again regarding the same issue, the same team will still be there.

“They’re going to make sure that it is solved and that you’re happy with the resolution,” said Callie Field, T-Mobile’s executive VP of customer care.

However, Field acknowledged that “Team of Experts” may not completely eliminate wait times

“Sometimes there’s some things you can’t avoid — like wait times. Because let’s face it, sometimes your team’s just busy,” Field said. “The difference is that when we’re busy, we’ll promise to you that we’ll handle you in a way that puts your time first. Our default option is that when you call, instead of waiting for us, schedule a time and we’ll call you back. So it’s your time — not our time — that matters.”

Music-related announcements

To mark the beginning of the initiative’s launch, T-Mobile is giving customers one year of free Pandora Plus streaming. Users will be able to get a code to unlock their free Pandora Plus subscription in the T-Mobile Tuesdays iOS and Android app on August 28.

T-Mobile also announced that it’s partnering with Live Nation to give its customers access to last-minute reserved tickets to otherwise sold-out shows "at first day prices." On Live Nation’s website, users will be able to look for a T-Mobile Reserved Seats icon starting 30 days before select shows, confirm their T-Mobile account, and get access to the event.

T-Mobile has launched a new customer service initiative called Team of Experts, which gives its postpaid customers in different regions across the U.S. the...
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T-Mobile to launch cheaper ‘Essentials’ plan

The new plan will cost $10 less per month than the carrier’s other unlimited basics plan

This Friday, T-Mobile will launch a plan just for customers who only use their smartphones for its basic services.

The carrier’s Essentials plan includes talk, text, and data for a lower price than its other basic plan, T-Mobile One. The Essentials plan will cost $30 per line for a family of four -- $10 less than T-Mobile One. While customers will still get unlimited data, text, and talk, the plan does not include perks like international data or hotspot capabilities.

"The Un-carrier wants to make it easy," CEO John Legere said in a press release. "Give customers the options they want, but keep it simple, stupid!"

Slowing services

The company pointed out that it has the right to slow a customer’s connection if they are in an area with “heavy network demand.” Essentials customers will be first in line to experience slower speeds in these instances.

The company said in its press release that video “typically” streams at 480p, or DVD quality. T-Mobile said that its One Plus plan includes HD streaming, twice the data speed abroad, and other perks, like in-flight texting and unlimited music streaming. The Plus plan costs $10 per line more when added to a family plan, or $15 more for a single line.

T-Mobile’s Essentials plan will be available nationwide starting Aug. 10. The plan starts at $60 for a single line, $30 for the second line, and $15 per line for lines 3-6. The plan will cost an additional $5 per line for those who don’t sign up for autopay.

This Friday, T-Mobile will launch a plan just for customers who only use their smartphones for its basic services. The carrier’s Essentials plan includ...
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Cell phone bills increase for first time in nearly two years

Customers are seeing fewer and fewer promotions from wireless companies

Over the past two years, consumers have been benefiting from competition between wireless companies, as cell phone providers have been rolling out unlimited data usage and lower bills as a means of securing customers.

Now, with new consumer-price data, the continued hype over promotions seems to be fading out. According to the Labor Department, the consumer-price index -- an indicator of current offers from wireless providers -- showed a 0.3 percent increase in June from last year.

“In terms of promotional intensity, things have cooled quite a bit,” said Jeffrey Moore, lead researcher at Wave7 Research.

CTIA -- a telecommunications trade group -- reported that 95 percent of American adults now own cell phones. In all, they used 15.7 trillion megabytes in mobile data in 2017 -- up from 4.1 trillion in 2014. These numbers complicate the work of wireless providers that need to spend money to keep up with the ever-increasing demands of the industry, and also try to keep and win new customers.

Cutting back on discounts

Back in February, executives at Sprint and T-Mobile -- two companies that have been most aggressive in cutting prices -- revealed they would be cutting back on discounts for the remainder of the year. Though T-Mobile made a bid to acquire Sprint in April, the deal raised eyebrows in the Senate, as many Senators feared it would decrease competition for consumers and, ultimately, raise prices.

Former Sprint executive Matt Carter reported that both Sprint and T-Mobile have been leading the charge among wireless providers when it comes to offering discounted pricing plans in an effort to gain subscribers. However, doing so leaves the companies with less money to not only pay their debt, but also invest in network upgrades.

“At some point in time, you have to have some stabilization around your pricing plans to be able to meet all the various needs they have,” Carter said. He also noted that when Sprint and T-Mobile cut back on price discounts, it allowed “AT&T and Verizon to hold steady” on their pricing plans.

The fine print in wireless plans

Sprint recently announced a new wireless plan, offering customers a tiered plan that replaced its previous five lines for $100 option. Sprint’s new top tier plan with five lines will cost customers $22 per line per month -- a $20 increase from the previous promotion.

Like other wireless companies, Sprint is also offering customers plans with a choice of the video-streaming service Hulu and the music-streaming service Tidal, as well as a more basic unlimited plan.

“Including that kind of content is becoming important,” said Dow Draper, Sprint chief commercial officer. Draper also noted that customers’ bills are likely lower than before when factoring in the additional benefits of the new plans.

Similarly, AT&T has been offering customers subscriptions to DirecTV and HBO, while T-Mobile began offering access to Netflix with wireless plans.

Last month, Verizon unveiled a new -- but also pricier -- unlimited data plan entitled “aboveunlimited.” The new plan allows customers to select different tiers of unlimited data plans within one single plan. Despite the raise in price, Verizon executives are confident with the new plan, as it gives customers the opportunity to choose the plan that best suits their needs for every person in the family.

“I think it’s fair to say objectively based on our performance since some of our competitors changed their offerings, we’ve not seen any increase in our churn,” said Ronan Dunne, president of Verizon Wireless. “We’ve continued to see high levels of customer engagement and satisfaction.”

Over the past two years, consumers have been benefiting from competition between wireless companies, as cell phone providers have been rolling out unlimite...
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U.S. authorities temporarily lift ZTE ban

A temporary reprieve will allow the company to support existing networks and phones

The U.S. Commerce Department is allowing China’s ZTE to partially resume business operations while regulators mull over whether its seven-year ban should be lifted.

From July 2 through August 1, the company’s restrictions will be temporarily eased so that ZTE can provide support for telecom networks and ZTE phones that were available to the public on or before April 15, when the company was initially banned from receiving crucial parts from U.S.-based suppliers.

It’s not clear whether a permanent order will follow, but ZTE is expected to be in full compliance with U.S. demands by Aug. 1, Bloomberg reports.

The telecom giant was hit with the ban almost three months ago after it failed to follow through with penalties it received for exporting sensitive technology to Iran and North Korea. It was forced to shut down operations and has been largely inactive since then.

In May, President Trump said he was considering lifting penalties on ZTE as a favor to Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Trump administration and ZTE settled on a deal that required the company to pay another $1 billion in fines, replace its management team, and hire U.S. compliance officers.

Last week, ZTE followed through with the terms by firing its executive team and appointing a new chairman. The company has reportedly lost at least $3 billion since it was forced to cease major operations in April.

Last month, the Senate voted unanimously to reinstate the ban on ZTE citing national security concerns.

The U.S. Commerce Department is allowing China’s ZTE to partially resume business operations while regulators mull over whether its seven-year ban should b...
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Samsung phones reported to randomly send out photos and messages

The snag is apparently related to the Samsung Messages app

Samsung users are grumbling about their Galaxy S9 and Note 8 phones randomly sending out photos and texts to people in their contact list. The glitch reportedly leaves no record of anything ever being sent.

News of the problem started showing up in Samsung’s community support forums and spread quickly across the techsphere. While Samsung hasn’t released an official explanation, people who’ve experienced the mishap report the fault rests with Samsung Messages, Galaxy devices’ default messaging app.

"S9+ sent my entire photo gallery to my girlfriend last night, wrote one Galaxy S9 owner on Samsung’s support forum. "Last night around 2:30 am, my phone sent her my entire photo gallery over text but there was no record of it on my messages app. However, there was record of it on tmobile logs. Why would this happen?" As hard as he tried to find an answer, the user said no one in the comments section of the forum could figure out why it happened.

However, there are plenty of theories elsewhere as to why this is happening. Some of the complainers say they’re T-Mobile customers, which led techies to question if the issue was related to one of T-Mobile’s RCS (Rich Communication Services) updates. When ConsumerAffairs asked T-Mobile for comment, a company spokesperson referred us to Samsung.

Another hypothesis is that the problem affects only shared plans because some customers report the photos had been sent only to partners or family members.

Is there a fix?

In a statement to ConsumerAffairs, Samsung said that it will be continuing to monitor the issue.

"Samsung has reviewed this matter thoroughly these past few days; however, there were no hardware or software issues found to be relevant to this particular case. While there have been no known similar customer reports globally, we will continue to investigate this issue further. We encourage any customers who may have questions or concerns to contact their local Customer Service center at 1-800-SAMSUNG," a company representative said

While Samsung has yet to report a definitive fix, but TechCrunch reported two possible fixes for those concerned about their Galaxy S9 and Note 8 phones.

The first solution involves going into the phone’s "app settings" and turning off Samsung Message’s ability to access your storage. The upside is that taking that step will prevent the phone from sending anything -- including photos -- that’s stored on your phone. The downside is that you’ll have to turn permissions on again if you want to send photos or files through the Samsung Messages app.

The second solution is to stop using Samsung Messages until the company says the issue has been resolved and switch to a third-party messaging app instead.

Samsung users are grumbling about their Galaxy S9 and Note 8 phones randomly sending out photos and texts to people in their contact list. The glitch repor...
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Helmets R Us recalls Rollerblade-branded helmets

The helmets fail to meet the federal safety standard

Helmets R Us of Tacoma, Wash., is recalling about 9,700 Rollerblade helmets.

The helmets do not meet the federal safety standard, posing a risk of head injury.

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Rollerblade-branded Helmets R Us helmets, used in schools’ physical education programs. The recalled helmets are white and Rollerblade is printed on the side in black.

They were manufactured from September 2011, through April 2017. Model 16, SK-501N and the manufactured date (in MM/YYYY format) are printed on a label on the inside of the helmet. “Distributed by: Helmets R Us” is printed on another label inside of the helmet.

The helmets, manufactured in China, were sold to schools nationwide for use in physical education programs from September 201,1 through April 2018, for about $16.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled helmets and contact Helmets R Us to receive a free replacement helmet. Helmets R Us is contacting all known purchasers directly.

Consumers may contact Helmets R Us toll-free at 877-777-9287 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at helmet.recall@helmetsrus.net or online at http://helmetsrus.net for more information.

Helmets R Us of Tacoma, Wash., is recalling about 9,700 Rollerblade helmets.The helmets do not meet the federal safety standard, posing a risk of head...
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AT&T managers allegedly encouraged unethical DirecTV Now sales pitches

Former employees say they were pushed to trick customers into purchasing subscriptions

Former AT&T employees are speaking out against the company for allegedly pushing unethical sales practices on its sales teams in hopes of getting customers to subscribe to its streaming service, DirecTV Now. The groups says that consumers paid for unexpected services once they were subscribed. The company’s subscription service currently has 1.46 million subscribers.

According to an investigative report by Hawaii News Now, employees were getting fired for engaging in the very practices that upper management had been encouraging.

The report details how sales representatives would offer customers a trial service of DirecTV Now and promise to cancel the subscription for the customer prior to the automatic renewal that would cost $35 per month. Cancelling the trial for customers goes against AT&T’s policy, but employees were urged to go ahead with the practice.

“We were told by managers to cancel it to avoid any future headaches, but a lot slips through the cracks,” said Abraham Buonya, a former AT&T employee and Hawaii’s leading AT&T salesman for two years.

Getting into trouble

Though encouraged by upper management to cancel subscriptions -- even though it was against policy -- many AT&T employees say they didn’t always cancel customers’ subscriptions, leading to charges of $35 per month. Some subscribers were paying the $35 for up to seven months, despite not ever using the DirecTV Now subscription.

In some cases, AT&T sales representatives would allegedly sign a customer up for three DirecTV Now subscriptions on one single account.

All of this supposedly occurred while AT&T was running a promotion that gave customers the DirecTV subscription for just $10. However, AT&T’s system allowed employees to sign up a single customer for three individual subscriptions on one credit card, thus increasing the total number of subscriptions and meeting the quota placed on AT&T retailers.

“My manager picked up my iPad, which was signed in under me, made a fake email and then activated a DirecTV Now subscription on the email and then said if I can do it, here you go, you can do the next one,” a fired AT&T employee told Hawaii News Now.

The former employees say retailers used a similar tactic when customers came in to buy a new phone. Sales representatives would tell the customers that the purchase carried a fee, even though it didn’t. The fee could be waived, however, if the customer agreed to sign up for a trial of DirecTV Now. The trial -- which was $10 -- cost less than the fee, and customers would oftentimes agree to try the service.

“Last fall, we detected some simultaneous customer orders and cancellations of a free product trial,” an AT&T spokesperson told Hawaii News Now. “We determined some employees had violated our policies and based on our findings we took appropriate action.”

Why was this so important?

Because of the tight competition amongst AT&T retailers nationwide, many stores allegedly felt compelled to go to great -- even unethical -- lengths to be the top store. Phones don’t pull in as much of a revenue for AT&T, and so TV sales are an important part of day-to-day transactions.

Hawaii had been one of the top DirecTV Now subscription sellers in the country, though an employee who asked to remain anonymous said that roughly 90 percent of those sales were done unethically.

Buonya reported that goals for stores “would be met” no matter how lofty they seemed to employees.

“They kept pressuring us to do it,” Buonya said. Buonya was among five people at his store that were fired.

Both current and former AT&T employees are encouraging customers to be extra diligent when reviewing their statements. The phone company also reported they will be reversing unauthorized charges for customers that were affected by these sales tactics.

“Check your statements,” a current employee said. “I have no doubt that there are still people that are being charged.”

Former AT&T employees are exposing the company for pushing unethical sales practices on its sales teams in the hope of getting customers to subscribe to i...
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Security researcher says breaking into locked iPhone not that hard

Apple disagrees, calling the testing 'incorrect'

Apple's security for its locked iPhones is said to be ironclad, but a cybersecurity expert says it can be circumvented, as long as you have a Lightning cable connecting the phone to a computer.

As a security feature, an iPhone can only be unlocked if you enter the correct password, and to prevent someone from guessing, the device only gives a user 10 tries. After that, a user is locked out, sometimes permanently.

The issue was in the news a couple of years ago after police seized the iPhone belonging to a man who murdered co-workers attending a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif. Apple refused to unlock the phone, forcing authorities to turn to outside experts in an effort to crack the device.

'Brute force'

According to Matthew Hickey, a security expert and co-founder of Hacker House, a cybersecurity firm, it's not that hard to open a locked iPhone using a "brute force" method. In a series of tweets, Hickey said that if you connect the phone to a computer using a Lightning cable and enter passwords using the keyboard, instead of typing directly on the phone, you can enter an unlimited number of passwords with no adverse consequences.

When technology websites began reporting this over the weekend, Apple responded, saying it's not true. Technology site Engadget reports an Apple spokesperson as saying the phones have no vulnerability and the claim that they do is "the result of incorrect testing."

Hickey, meanwhile, posted a video on Vimeo, demonstrating his methods of cracking an iPhone.

Apple's security for its locked iPhones is said to be ironclad, but a cybersecurity expert says it can be circumvented, as long as you have a Lightning cab...
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ZTE resumes trading after two-month hiatus

Shares plunged 40 percent after ZTE agreed to pay $1.4 billion in penalties

Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE announced that it has resumed trading following a two-month suspension, which ended last week.

Back in April, ZTE was hit with a seven-year ban on buying U.S. components after it was caught illegally trading with Iran and North Korea. The company said the ban would threaten its survival and likely hurt many U.S. companies.

As part of a deal to keep the company in business, ZTE agreed to pay up to $1.4 billion in penalties to the U.S. government and $400 million in escrow to cover any future violations. ZTE also agreed to replace its management team within 30 days, open itself up to U.S. inspections of its sites, and improve public disclosure of its supply chain.

The company said in filings on Tuesday that it would restart business operations “as soon as practicable,” but the sales ban will not be lifted until ZTE pays the fines.

The company added that it would re-publish its first-quarter financial results after assessing the impact of the seven-year ban and the settlement agreement.

Shares of ZTE Corp reportedly tumbled 42 percent as it resumed trading in Hong Kong following the two-month trading halt, which began April 17.

“While the nightmare is now over, ZTE will likely have to deal with many changes,” analysts Edison Lee and Timothy Chau at Jefferies told Bloomberg. “We expect significant near-term selling pressure and a volatile stock price.”

Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE announced that it has resumed trading following a two-month suspension, which ended last week.Back in Ap...
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Trump administration reaches deal with ZTE to lift seven-year ban

The settlement involves a hefty fine and a U.S.-chosen compliance team

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed to CNBC on Thursday that the Trump administration has struck a “definitive agreement” with Chinese telecom company ZTE involving a $1 billion fine and $400 million in escrow.

The news follows reports that ZTE had agreed in principle to the deal, which would end its seven-year ban on doing business with crucial U.S.-based suppliers including Qualcomm, Corning and Google.

In addition to the $1 billion penalty, the deal requires that the company change its board of directors and executive team within 30 days. The settlement also includes a U.S.-chosen compliance team.

"We are literally embedding a compliance department of our choosing into the company to monitor it going forward. They will pay for those people, but the people will report to the new chairman," Ross told CNBC.

Stringent settlement

The $400 million in escrow included in the deal is intended to cover any future violations.

"If they do violate it again, in addition to the billion dollars they are paying us up front, we had them put $400 million in escrow. The total deal is $1.4 billion. That money will be forfeited if they violate anything ... and we still retain the power to shut them down again," Ross said.

"This is a pretty strict settlement," Ross added. "The strictest and largest settlement fine that has ever been brought by the Commerce Department against any violator of export controls."

Ross said the settlement serves as a warning to other companies not to mess with U.S. trade policies.

"This should serve as a very good deterrent not only for them but for other potential bad actors," he said.

Critics cite national security threat

Lawmakers from both sides have pointed out that removing the ban could pose a potentially serious threat to national security. Before the deal had officially gone through, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed his concern on Twitter.

“If these reports are true, @realDonaldTrump has put China, not the United States, first. By letting ZTE off the hook, the president who roared like a lion is governing like a lamb when it comes to China. Congress should move in a bipartisan fashion to block this deal right away,” Schumer tweeted.

In a statement on Thursday, Schumer said, "When it comes to China, despite [Trump's] tough talk, this deal with ZTE proves the president just shoots blanks."

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed to CNBC on Thursday that the Trump administration has struck a “definitive agreement” with Chinese telecom company...
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ZTE has agreed in principle to deal that would lift U.S. ban

The deal would involve a total fine of up to $1.7 billion

ZTE has agreed in principle to a settlement that would lift a U.S. Commerce Department ban preventing it from receiving crucial parts and components from American suppliers.

The ban was put in place after ZTE was found to have broken a 2017 agreement by illegally shipping goods to Iran and North Korea.

The Chinese telecom company halted major operations in May as a result of the seven-year ban imposed in April, which the company called a “death sentence.” Later in the month, however, President Donald Trump tweeted that he was pushing the Commerce Department to work with ZTE to lift the ban.

On Tuesday, the Commerce Department said that although “no definitive agreement has been signed by both parties,” the tentative deal includes a $1 billion fine against ZTE plus $400 million in escrow in case of future violations.  

"The Commerce Department plans to amend its 2017 settlement agreement and count the $361 million ZTE paid as a part of that, allowing the United States to claim a total penalty of as much as $1.7 billion, the sources said,” according to Reuters.

The deal would also require that the company replace its board and executive team within 30 days. The amended settlement agreement has not yet been signed, the sources added.

Met with concern  

Chuck Schumer (D - New York) said on Tuesday that the preliminary agreement shows Trump put China first -- a dramatic shift from his “America first” stance.

“If these reports are true, @realDonaldTrump has put China, not the United States, first. By letting ZTE off the hook, the president who roared like a lion is governing like a lamb when it comes to China. Congress should move in a bipartisan fashion to block this deal right away,” Schumer tweeted.

Mark Warner (D - Virginia) echoed the concerns previously expressed by lawmakers on both sides when he said that the move would pose a security threat.  

"If these reports are accurate, this is a huge mistake," he said in a statement. "ZTE poses a threat to our national security. That's not just my opinion – it's the unanimous conclusion of our intelligence community."

President Trump has said that reviving the embattled company is "reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi."

ZTE has agreed in principle to a settlement that would lift a U.S. Commerce Department ban preventing it from receiving crucial parts and components from A...
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U.S., China agree on outline to end ZTE ban

The Trump administration may lift the ban on smartphone maker ZTE

The United States and China have reportedly agreed on a “broad outline” that would end the seven-year ban on ZTE buying American technology, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Although the details haven’t been ironed out, the agreement would involve major changes to management and potentially heavy fines, sources familiar with the matter told the Journal. If the deal goes through, ZTE’s business would be saved.

The company said previously that it had halted “major operating activities” as a result of the ban, which prevented it from receiving parts from many of its most crucial U.S.-based suppliers, including Qualcomm.

Not off the hook

As part of the agreement, Beijing offered to remove tariffs on billions of dollars of U.S. farm products. However, one of the WSJ’s sources said “the White House was meticulous in affirming that the case is a law enforcement matter and not a bargaining chip in negotiations.”

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNBC that ZTE is “not going to get off scot-free” and that it still faces fines, as well as “very severe compliance measures, a new board of directors, [and] a new management team.”

Talk of the tentative deal comes after President Trump announced earlier this month that sanctions against ZTE had cost "too many jobs in China." In a tweet, he pledged to get the company back in business.

“President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done,” he said.

Lawmakers express concern

Trump’s pledge to save the embattled company was previously met with concern from lawmakers in both parties, who argued that overturning the ban could pose a potential security threat.

"ZTE is a Chinese telecommunications company that has been exhaustively investigated by the U.S. intelligence community, other areas of the government and the U.S. Congress,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland).

“They're widely suspected of spying for the Chinese government, and we cannot allow them to infiltrate U.S. networks or give them access to the U.S. market while they continue to be beholden to their government," Ruppersberger said.

Last Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to accept an amendment to a bill that upheld sanctions against ZTE.

The United States and China have reportedly agreed on a “broad outline” that would end the seven-year ban on ZTE buying American technology, according to t...
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House panel rejects Trump administration’s efforts to overturn ZTE ban

An amendment would keep sanctions against Chinese smartphone maker ZTE

On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to accept an amendment to a bill that would uphold sanctions against ZTE.

The action comes days after President Donald Trump sent out a surprising tweet calling for the Commerce Department to help give ZTE "a way to get back into business, fast.”

The amendment’s author, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland), said the amendment will stop the Commerce Department from renegotiating sanctions on ZTE.

“Supporting this amendment will show that the U.S. government stands behind the sanctions that it enacts, and will enforce them. It also further prevents foreign companies beholden to their governments from further infiltrating our U.S. networks,” Ruppersberger said in a statement.

Banned from receiving essential parts

Last month, Chinese smartphone maker ZTE was hit with a denial order that prevents it from receiving parts and components from U.S.-based vendors. As a result of the seven-year ban, ZTE recently announced that it had been forced to shut down its “major operating activities.”  

The ban was handed down after the government determined that ZTE had violated the terms of a 2017 settlement by failing to fire employees involved in illegally shipping U.S. equipment to Iran and North Korea. ZTE said previously that it was working to get the seven-year ban suspended.

A day after Trump tweeted about his intent to help the company, he followed up with another tweet that said ZTE "buys a big percentage of individual parts from US companies" and that the company is "reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi."

Security threat

Lawmakers from both parties were quick to point out the potential security risks of overturning the seven-year ban. Democrats and Republicans argue that Chinese telecom companies spy on Americans and steal intellectual property.

"ZTE is a Chinese telecommunications company that has been exhaustively investigated by the U.S. intelligence community, other areas of the government and the U.S. Congress,” Ruppersberger said.

“They're widely suspected of spying for the Chinese government, and we cannot allow them to infiltrate U.S. networks or give them access to the U.S. market while they continue to be beholden to their government," Ruppersberger said.

Senator Marco Rubio (R - Fla.) tweeted Monday that the U.S. would be "crazy" to allow ZTE to operate in the U.S. "without tighter restrictions."

"Any telecomm firm in #China can be forced to act as a tool of Chinese espionage without a court order or other review process," Rubio said.

Ruppersberger said the amendment will "prevent a foreign company that is beholden to its government – and that ignores embargoes – from infiltrating the devices and networks that are now indispensable to American life.”

On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to accept an amendment to a bill that would uphold sanctions against ZTE. The action...
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ZTE halts major business operations

The company said it is seeking to modify or reverse its seven year ban on importing U.S. parts

Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE has announced that it has ceased its main business operations as it attempts to figure out how to proceed under the ban preventing it from receiving parts from U.S. suppliers.

“As a result of the Denial Order, the major operating activities of the company have ceased,” the company wrote in an exchange filing.

Last month, the U.S. government imposed a seven-year ban forbidding the company from getting parts from U.S.-based suppliers, such as Qualcomm and Dolby. The ban was handed down after ZTE was found to have violated U.S. export restrictions by illegally shipping goods to Iran, lying about it, and then failing to reprimand employees who violated the law.

Intent on resolving the ban

ZTE said previously that the ban would “severely impact” its business and likely hurt many U.S. companies. The company said on Sunday that it had submitted a request to the U.S. Commerce Department for the suspension of the ban.

ZTE now says it is trying to have the ban modified or reversed.

The company said it has been in touch with the U.S. government “in order to facilitate the modification or reversal of the Denial Order by the U.S. Government and forge a positive outcome in the development of matters.”

ZTE said in its statement that it has sufficient cash and will adhere to its commercial obligations.

“As of now, the company maintains sufficient cash and strictly adheres to its commercial obligations subject in compliance with laws and regulations,” the company wrote.

ZTE sees the next two weeks as crucial to its effort to resolve the situation with the U.S. government. “The company is currently working hard to speedily resolve this impasse,” said an email allegedly sent to Bloomberg senior staff.

Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE has announced that it has ceased its main business operations as it attempts to figure out how to proceed under the ban...
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ZTE has requested an end to its ban on purchasing U.S. technology

The company has ‘formally submitted’ a request to suspend the seven-year ban

Chinese electronics maker ZTE said it has submitted a formal request to the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) asking it for a reprieve of the order preventing it from doing business with U.S. technology exporters.

The filing comes roughly a month after the Commerce Department imposed a seven-year export ban on the company after finding that it lied to American officials about reproaching employees who violated U.S. sanctions on North Korea and Iran. The company pleaded guilty to the charges in March last year and was hit with $1.2 billion in fines.

ZTE previously said that the technology purchase ban threatens its existence and is likely to hurt many U.S. companies.

“The Denial Order will not only severely impact the survival and development of ZTE, but will also cause damages to all partners of ZTE including a large number of U.S. companies,” ZTE said in a statement last month.

Stay of the Denial Order

The company’s filing to the Shenzhen stock exchange on Sunday did not give details of its request, but it did say that it had provided supplemental material at the BIS's request.

ZTE Chairman Yin Yimin previously called the export ban “unfair and unacceptable” since the company had self-reported the settlement violations to Washington. The company implied that its lack of disciplinary action toward the 35 employees in question wasn’t an intentional act of defiance.

The company added that, if necessary, it could “take judicial measures to protect the legal rights and interests of our company, our employees and our shareholders.” No litigation against the U.S. has been started at this point.

The export ban came amid growing trade tensions between the U.S. and China which centered on technology-related intellectual property.

Chinese electronics maker ZTE said it has submitted a formal request to the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) asking it for a...
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T-Mobile and Sprint reportedly joining forces

Reports suggest that a merger announcement could come within a week

T-Mobile and Sprint, the smallest of the big four wireless providers, reportedly plan to merge, creating a bigger rival to AT&T; and Verizon.

In an exclusive report, Reuters says the two telecom companies have been quietly negotiating details of their union and could be ready to announce a deal as early as next week. Neither company has publicly commented on the report.

A combination of Sprint and T-Mobile would create a wireless company with more than 127 million customers and reduce the number of competitors in a nearly saturated wireless market. For mobile communications companies to grow, they usually have to take customers away from their rivals.

Would require regulatory approval

Since a merger would reduce the number of companies offering wireless services, the deal would have to win approval from federal regulators, including the antitrust division of the U.S. Justice Department.

This would not be the first attempt to shrink the number of telecom competitors through merger. AT&T; attempted to merge with T-Mobile back in 2011, a deal that encountered so much opposition from the Justice Department that AT&T; eventually backed away.

Consumer advocates were vocal opponents of the deal as well, with an official at Consumers Union warning that the merger would have “dangerous consequences” for mobile customers.

But the Communications Workers of America backed the proposed deal, saying it would create 96,000 new positions while protecting existing jobs.

Changes in the industry

The wireless landscape has changed significantly since 2011, with the smaller players increasing the size of their networks and independent providers like Cricket Wireless and Boost Mobile providing consumers with more low-cost options.

Regulators might see the merger as reducing the number of providers, but they might also view the deal as creating a more powerful competitor for AT&T; and Verizon, the two dominant companies.

For their part, Verizon and AT&T; have moved toward becoming content providers. Verizon offers a TV programming service and recently acquired Yahoo. AT&T; owns DIRECTV and is currently defending its deal to acquire Time Warner in court after being challenged by the Trump administration.

Reuters reports its sources agree that a successful agreement to merge T-Mobile and Sprint is not a certainty. The two companies' main shareholders are trying to agree on a corporate structure that protects their interests.

T-Mobile and Sprint, the smallest of the big four wireless providers, reportedly plan to merge, creating a bigger rival to AT&T; and Verizon.In an excl...
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ZTE says export ban will ‘severely affect’ its business

The company says the ban will likely hurt many U.S. companies

Chinese electronics maker ZTE issued a statement today in response to the government’s decision to ban the company’s American exports for the next seven years. In its statement, the company warned that the ban could threaten its survival and negatively impact American companies.

“The Denial Order will not only severely impact the survival and development of ZTE, but will also cause damages to all partners of ZTE including a large number of U.S. companies,” ZTE said.

Illegal shipping and false statements

The ban was handed down earlier this month, one year after ZTE pleaded guilty to illegally shipping telecoms equipment to Iran and North Korea. The company agreed to pay $1.19 billion in penalties.

However, the U.S. said that ZTE made "false statements" to the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) while the investigation was still ongoing. The false statements centered around the disciplinary actions it took toward employees who were involved in the incident.

ZTE allegedly violated the terms of a 2017 plea agreement by giving employees who acted illegally full bonuses. The company also admitted that it did not fire all 35 of the employees who violated the law.

The denial of export privileges will keep ZTE from getting parts or software from U.S.-based suppliers, such as Qualcomm and Dolby.

Efforts to comply

Now, the company is saying that it tried to comply with the US and invested “tremendous resources in export compliance.” It said measures were taken against employees who may have been responsible for the incident. Additionally, ZTE said it spent $50 million on an export control compliance program in 2017.

"It is unacceptable that BIS insists on unfairly imposing the most severe penalty on ZTE even before the completion of investigation of facts, ignoring the continuous diligent work of ZTE and the progress we have made on export compliance," the company said.

ZTE says it will continue its efforts to “resolve the issue through communication.”

The company added that, if necessary, it could “take judicial measures to protect the legal rights and interests of our company, our employees and our shareholders, and to fulfill obligations and take responsibilities to our global customers, end users, partners and suppliers."

A leaked internal memo suggests that ZTE has assembled a crisis team to deal with the situation.

Chinese electronics maker ZTE issued a statement today in response to the government’s decision to ban the company’s American exports for the next seven ye...
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Government reportedly investigating AT&T and Verizon for collusion

The telecom giants are suspected of making it harder to switch carriers

Antitrust lawyers at the Justice Department are reportedly investigating AT&T and Verizon for possible collusion.

Published reports cite people close to the investigation as saying the government is trying to determine whether the rival wireless carriers have worked together to make it more difficult for consumers to switch from one cell phone company to another.

The Justice Department has a policy of not commenting on potential investigations.

Specifically, the probe is focusing on whether the two telecom giants have tried to block embedded SIM (eSIM) technology, a way to make it easier to switch from one communication system to another.

According to Engadget, eSIM integrates the identification technology contained on the plastic SIM card and places it into the device's processor or modem. That way, consumers can switch carriers without having to get a new SIM card.

Customer retention

For major wireless companies, losing customers to another carrier is costly. Not only does the company lose revenue, it must spend money through marketing to gain a new customer to make up for the one it lost.

Bloomberg News reports that Apple, which has been a major developer of eSIM technology, is one of the parties raising the collusion complaint. The news service quotes a Verizon spokesman as saying the whole matter is "a difference of opinion" with hardware makers on what the standard should be for the switching technology.

“Any good government inquiry is looked at and ultimately decided on merit,” Verizon's Rich Young told Bloomberg. “That was the case in 2016 and we are very confident the government will reach the same conclusion this time.”

More customers plan to switch

The data site Statista notes that consumers increasingly are looking for better deals from cell phone companies. In the spring of 2008, it counted 17.7 million wireless customers who planned to switch to another carrier. By the spring of 2017, the number had grown to over 25 million.

AT&T is already involved with the Justice Department in a lawsuit over its proposed merger with Time Warner.

The government argues that the combined company would be too big and powerful. However, AT&T says merging its wireless business with a content producer like Time Warner would not harm competition.

Antitrust lawyers at the Justice Department are reportedly investigating AT&T; and Verizon for possible collusion.Published reports cite people close t...
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Department of Commerce bans ZTE from exporting tech from U.S.

The company demonstrated a pattern of lying, officials say

Earlier today, Chinese electronics maker ZTE was hit with a seven-year ban on American exports from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The restriction will keep ZTE from getting parts from U.S.-based suppliers, such as Qualcomm and Dolby.

The ban comes a year after ZTE allegedly violated the terms of a 2017 settlement.

In March 2017, the electronics giant pleaded guilty of illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea and agreed to pay $1.2 billion in penalties. The company was also supposed to revoke the bonuses of any employees involved.

However, the company was found to have violated the terms of the settlement when it was discovered that employees who engaged in illegal conduct were not penalized. Some of them even got their full 2016 pay bonuses.

Didn’t honor the agreement

"ZTE made false statements to the U.S. Government when they were originally caught and put on the Entity List, made false statements during the reprieve it was given, and made false statements again during its probation," Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross, Jr. said in a statement.

“ZTE misled the Department of Commerce. Instead of reprimanding ZTE staff and senior management, ZTE rewarded them. This egregious behavior cannot be ignored.”

A senior department official told Reuters that ZTE, “provided information back to us basically admitting that they had made these false statements.”

“We can’t trust what they are telling us is truthful,” the official continued. “And in international commerce, truth is pretty important.”

The export ban comes amid escalating tariffs and growing fear of a trade war between the U.S. and China.

Earlier today, Chinese electronics maker ZTE was hit with a seven-year ban on American exports from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The restriction will k...
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Robocalls surge 24 percent in February

Two government agencies plan events to help stop them

Consumers were bombarded with nearly 2.75 million robocalls in February, up 24 percent over February 2017, according to YouMail, a visual voicemail service.

That works out to more than 98 million robocalls per day, a new record volume counted by the YouMail Robocall Index.

"We know the robocalling problem continues to bedevil U.S. consumers and businesses by wasting our time, costing us money and causing untold levels of frustration for Americans in all walks of life," said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail.

Quilici says consumers should avoid answering calls from unknown numbers and instead let them go directly to voicemail. He also recommends an app that blocks robocalls.

Government agencies, meanwhile, may take steps to reduce the number of these computer-generated calls, which are illegal when made to cell phones.

In recent years, robocalls have become a favorite tool for scammers, allowing them to target thousands of potential victims in a matter of seconds.

United front against robocalls

In the next few weeks, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plan to hold joint events to fight illegal robocalls -- especially those that employ caller ID spoofing, a tactic which makes it appear as though the call is coming from a different number, exchange, or area code.

“Scam robocalls and deceptive spoofing are real threats to American consumers, and they are the number one consumer complaint at the FCC,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “We’re committed to confronting this problem using every tool we have. I’m pleased to announce these efforts in our continued work with the FTC to protect consumers.”

On March 23, the two agencies will conduct a policy forum to explore the regulatory challenges in controlling the proliferation of robocalls. Specifically, the forum will look for ways to allow telephone companies to block calls generated by machines. Registration is not required for this event.  It will be webcast at fcc.gov/live with open captions.

Then on April 23, the two agencies will co-host a technology expo for consumers at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery in Washington, D.C. The event will feature technologies, devices, and applications to deflect unwanted robocalls.

Additional information is available here.

While the FCC previously proposed rules designed to curb robocalls, a coalition of consumer groups says the rules need more teeth. The FCC proposal would allow voice service providers to block some "spoofed" robocalls.

Consumers were bombarded with nearly 2.75 million robocalls in February, up 24 percent over February 2017, according to YouMail, a visual voicemail service...
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BlackBerry sues Facebook over patent infringement

The company claims Facebook uses services that are based on BlackBerry’s patented technology

BlackBerry Limited is suing Facebook over patent infringement, according to a lawsuit filed in a U.S. District Court in California.

In the lengthy 117-page lawsuit, BlackBerry claims that Facebook “created mobile messaging applications that co-opt Blackberry’s innovations,” and use a number of patents that made BlackBerry’s products “such a critical and commercial success in the first place.”

"[W]e have a strong claim that Facebook has infringed on our intellectual property, and after several years of dialogue, we also have an obligation to our shareholders to pursue appropriate legal remedies," BlackBerry said in a statement.

Patents held by BlackBerry include message encryption, battery and message notifications, and combining messaging with gaming.

Facebook dismisses claims

Blackberry contends that Facebook, its Instagram photo sharing app, and its WhatsApp messaging service use technologies -- such as cross-platform sharing -- that are based on existing Blackberry patents.

"As a cybersecurity and embedded software leader, BlackBerry's view is that Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp could make great partners in our drive toward a securely connected future, and we continue to hold this door open to them," BlackBerry said.

Facebook dismissed the claims and said it plans to fight back.

“BlackBerry’s suit sadly reflects the current state of its messaging business,” said Facebook’s Deputy General Counsel Paul Grewal. “Having abandoned its efforts to innovate, BlackBerry is now looking to tax the innovation of others. We intend to fight.”

Blackberry is seeking “redress for the harm caused by Defendants’ unlawful use of BlackBerry’s intellectual property,” which may include injunctive relief and damages accounting for lost profits.

BlackBerry Limited is suing Facebook over patent infringement, according to a lawsuit filed in a U.S. District Court in California.In the lengthy 117-p...
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Consumer groups want tougher rules to block robocalls

Advocates urge the FCC to require meaningful authentication for all calls

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed new rules aimed at curbing unwanted robocalls, but a coalition of consumer groups argues the rules don't go far enough.

The FCC proposal would allow voice service providers to block some "spoofed" robocalls -- calls that appear to originate from a local number when they could be made from overseas.

But in comments filed with the agency by the National Consumer Law Center, Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Action, National Association of Consumer Advocates, and Public Citizen argue the proposed rule is already behind the curve.

“The FCC rules do something: they allow telephone companies to block spoofed calls from numbers that do not actually exist. But spoofers have simply moved to make fraudulent calls from real numbers—meaning that the rules do not cut down on the spoofed calls at all,” said National Consumer Law Center Senior Counsel Margot Saunders.

Saunders likens it to closing one door of a double door to keep the mice out, but if the second door is open, the mice will simply use it.

"Moreover, the rules are not even mandatory so telephone companies are free to ignore them,” she said.

Recommendations

The groups call for some type of meaningful authentication for all calls, along with a robust robocall-blocking tool. That, they say, would take care of most of the problem.

Scammers have made extensive use of robocalls in recent years, since the technology allows one operator to make a large number of calls at once. When a recipient answers, a recorded voice is designed to keep them on the line. Since a large percentage of scam calls end in hang ups, it allows a fraudster to focus on the few potential victims who are still listening when the message ends.

The consumer groups say the FCC rule should require telephone companies to provide free, effective caller ID authentication for every call, along with free call-blocking services. Some mobile providers already have that capability.

“Bad actors are continuing to find ways around the rules to prevent fraudulent robocalls and take advantage of consumers, but there is more that can be done to protect consumers,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst at Consumers Union.

“The FCC should ensure that consumers can control the calls they receive by requiring that phone companies provide blocking technology free of charge to consumers.”

Staggering number of robocalls

In 2016, the YouMail National Robocall Index (YNRI) estimated that somewhere around 2.3 billion robocalls were made in the U.S. in the month of January alone, a staggering 51,523 calls per minute.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says some types of robocalls are permitted under the law. For example, your doctor's office may use a robocall to remind you of an appointment. Political messages may be delivered with a robocall, as can messages from debt collectors.

However, using a robocall to sell any type of product or service is illegal. When you get one of these calls, you should hang up immediately, the FTC advises.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed new rules aimed at curbing unwanted robocalls, but a coalition of consumer groups argues the rules...
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AT&T: first 5G device won't be a smartphone

The company plans to produce a device that will work like a 5G modem

Telecom giant AT&T is moving ahead with plans to develop its 5G wireless network, but company CEO Randall Stephenson says the first device to connect to the super high-speed network won't be a smartphone.

In a conference call following Wednesday's AT&T earnings report, Stephenson said smartphone manufacturers are still on the drawing board when it comes to making a 5G phone. So Stephenson says AT&T will produce a device, called a "puck," that will act like a mobile hotspot, allowing consumers to connect their existing devices to the 5G network.

AT&T has not said when the puck would be available or how much it would cost. However, Stephenson says the device will be a way for customers to sample the 5G service before purchasing a 5G smartphone.

"We're getting the equipment manufacturing moving, we're getting the supply chains moving, we're doing the sell-side acquisition, we're doing all the build type work, but getting the handsets at scale penetrated into the market will slow things down," Stephenson told investors and analysts.

"So, that's why we're going to be offering pucks in the first part of our deployment in these 12 markets, so it is a mobile solution."

Will work like a modem

Stephenson says consumers will be able to use the pucks like a modem. Once connected, they will be able to access the internet using AT&T's 5G network with a full gigabit throughput.

But Stephenson said he thinks one of the biggest advantages 5G will offer is a huge reduction in latency, the time between an online command is entered and when it is executed. Reducing latency will make 5G more efficient for certain uses, such as virtual reality and self-driving vehicles.

"People say 5G and you're thinking about speed," Stephenson said. "And speed and throughput are important. But the most important element is latency and having low latency 5G is the first technological innovation that truly gets us to low latency."

Twelve markets this year

A month ago AT&T announced that it would deploy 5G wireless service in at least a dozen markets by late 2018, as the first step in a nationwide build out. In December, Verizon also announced it planned to offer 5G wireless service in up to five U.S. markets in 2018.

Telecom experts say the transition from 4G to 5G will be a fundamental, not incremental, change. Instead of being limited to connecting hundreds of millions of cell phones and tablets used by people, 5G networks will support billions of connected things.

Stephenson told analysts that once a nationwide wireless 5G network is up and running, it could replace most fiber optic networks.

Telecom giant AT&T; is moving ahead with plans to develop its 5G wireless network, but company CEO Randall Stephenson says the first device to connect to t...
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Judge turns aside pleas for cheaper phone calls for prisoners

Nothing gives prisoners the right to reasonably priced calls, the court finds

Back in the last millennium, Congress tried to increase competition in the telephone industry and passed a gigantic bill that, a few decades later, has created a patchwork in which some types of consumers enjoy plenty of companies competing for their business while others enjoy nearly none.

Residents in affluent areas, for example, often have multiple broadband carriers offering high-speed fiber connections at competitive prices while rural consumers are stuck with slow-speed telephone lines.

But of everyone affected by the legislation, no one has fared worse than prisoners and their families. Local and state governments, seeing an opportunity to make a few bucks off the backs of prisoners, have cut deals with private providers who operate the jailhouse phone systems, charging exorbitant rates to those unlucky enough to place or get a call from prison.

You might think the courts would outlaw the practice, but despite a few limited actions, that hasn't been the case so far. Just yesterday, a federal judge in California pitched four lawsuits challenging the price-gouging, according to a Courthouse News Service report. 

"Grossly excessive" rates

Plaintiffs had charged that Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties had contracted with Global Tel Link Corp. and Securus Technologies, allowing them to charge "grossly excessive" rates to inamtes and their families.

The plaintiffs had argued the Ninth Circuit has recognized a First Amendment right to telephone access, and that the commissions amount to unconstitutional taxes on that right.

But U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers granted a motion by the counties to dismiss the suits.

“That the commissions charged may result in higher phone rates, which, in turn, may reduce the frequency and length of phone calls made, does not constitute a governmental restriction on plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” Gonzalez Rogers wrote in a 26-page order.

Gonzalez Rogers said the Ninth Circuit ruling applied to prisoners who were denied access to a telephone and did not deal with pricing issues.

The judge also turned aside the claim that the counties were in violation of antitrust laws, noting that state law bars antitrust action against governmental units.

Back in the last millennium, Congress tried to increase competition in the telephone industry and passed a gigantic bill that, a few decades later, has cre...
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Congressman wants action on battery fires, explosions

Wants to know what the CPSC and FDA are doing about the problem

A New Jersey Congressman would like to energize the federal agencies he thinks should be doing more about the problem of fires and explosions caused by lithium-ion batteries.

The problem is not exactly new. The batteries have been causing problems for years, in hoverboards, laptops, smartphones, e-cigarettes and other gadgets, and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) says the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should do something about it.

In a letter to the heads of each agency, Pallone is asking for a briefing to find out what, if anything, is being done. He notes that both agencies made an initial effort but that not much appears to have happened since then. 

Known fire risks

“For at least a decade, the known fire risks associated with lithium-ion batteries has resulted in countless Americans suffering from burns and disfigurements,” Pallone wrote. “It is a welcome start that CPSC has directed staff to address battery hazards, and that FDA has conducted a public workshop to explore the dangers of e-cigarette batteries. But work at both of your agencies has only just begun to address known battery safety problems that have harmed consumers. The federal government – through CPSC, FDA, and other agencies – must take even more decisive action with regard to the batteries themselves.”

Specifically, Pallone asked:

  • What are CPSC and FDA doing to collect data on the number of incidences of dangerous battery safety failures, such as fires or explosions?
  • What research has staff at CPSC and FDA done to inform policy actions, such as a consumer product safety rule or other safety standards?
  • What are CPSC and FDA doing to coordinate with each other and with other federal agencies?
  • Do CPSC and FDA have adequate resources to address battery safety problems in consumer devices?

Pallone is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. His letter went to CPSC Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle and FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

A New Jersey Congressman would like to energize the federal agencies he thinks should be doing more about the problem of fires and explosions caused by lit...
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Net neutrality fight turns nasty

Verizon VP accuses opponents of using the issue to raise funds

The fight over net neutrality is turning nasty. Although it's a topic that doesn't stir much interest in your average consumer, those who have opinions hold them very strongly.

Take Craig Sillman. He's a Verizon vice president in charge of what is called "public policy" (i.e., lobbying), and he is not happy with groups that describe themselves as "public policy" advocates, like Free Press and Fight for the Future.

Sillman says a lot of these groups are just out to raise money from their supporters and will say whatever it takes to make their point.  

"You gotta understand, there are a lot of advocacy groups out there that fundraise on this issue," said Sillman. "So how do you fundraise? You stir people up with outrageous claims. Unfortunately, we live in a time where people have discovered that it doesn't matter what's true, you just say things to rile up the base."

So is this a gotcha' incident? Something Sillman said behind closed doors? No, oddly enough it's part of a video released by Verizon recently. It's what you might call a "fake news" video in which an apparent Verizon employee identified only as "Jeremy" questions Sillman as though he were a reporter.

But despite Sillman's rather self-serving claim, non-profit advocacy groups aren't the only ones expressing concern about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman's plan to deep-six net neutrality rules -- and not everyone is driven by financial motives.

"Open and equal access"

“The internet must remain open and accessible to everyone,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in a recent statement. “Open and equal access to the internet is crucial to information sharing and competition. The FCC’s proposal would allow internet service providers to pick winners and losers among content providers and their customers. I urge the FCC Commissioners to vote against this proposal.”

Sillman would perhaps say that Madigan is just saying what she thinks voters want to hear, but judging from the mail and the reader statistics that let websites like ours count how many people read a given story, net neutrality is not exactly a barn-burner topic.

It is true that conservative interests and Republicans tend to favor deregulating big telecom companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast while liberals and Democrats generally want to treat them like utilities, regulating rates and requiring that all users get the level of service they're paying for.

In the case of net neutrality, the rules put in place by the Obama-era FCC require companies like Verizon to treat all traffic equally. Since Verizon owns AOL, Yahoo, and other content providers, critics say it might tend to favor its own traffic over competitors. This is the allegation that Sillman and new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai say is strictly theoretical and doesn't have to be dealt with until and if it actually becomes a problem.

Critics like Madigan disagree. "Existing net neutrality rules prohibit internet service providers like AT&T or Comcast from discriminating among customers and content providers. They also ensure that when consumers purchase internet access, they can reach the content of their choice without interference and that any website can reach customers without having to negotiate or pay for special access," she said.

What could actually happen if net neutrality rules are scrapped? Madigan lists these possibilities:

  • Consumers being unable or forced to pay to access certain websites;
  • Decreased competition as start-ups fight for access with larger, established companies; and
  • Telecommunications companies that also own media companies giving preferential treatment to media content they own, putting smaller content providers and their customers at a disadvantage.

"No evidence of systemic failure"

FCC chair Pai has argued that there was no need to implement the net neutrality rules in the first place. 

"There was no evidence of systemic failure in the Internet marketplace. As I said at the time, 'One could read the entire document . . . without finding anything more than hypothesized harms.' Or, in other words, public-utility regulation was a solution that wouldn’t work for a problem that didn’t exist," he said in a speech late last year. 

The FCC is expected to vote at its May 18 meeting to eliminate the new rules. Free Press, one of the groups that drew Sillman's wrath, has been trying to raise $100,000 to fight the repeal.

"It's official. Trump and Pai plan to destroy net neutrality," says the FreePress.net site, insisting it's not too late. "Chairman Pai could still back down if he wants to leave the dark side."

The fight over net neutrality is turning nasty. Although it's a topic that doesn't stir much interest in your average consumer, those who have opinions hol...
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Why you should think twice about texting business information

It's not that businesslike and might not be all that secure

It's not just teenagers who spend their days texting. Sending short text messages over a mobile device has become the preferred way to communicate, even at work.

Texting is also being pushed on businesses, with the argument that it's the most effective way to communicate with customers and employees.

Maybe sending general marketing information to customers via text is something to consider, but TeleMessage, which provides secure messaging systems for businesses, warns that transmitting sensitive business information via text is inherently risky.

It even says using consumer chat apps like WhatsApp and iMessage for business purposes can be playing with fire. Yet, it cites surveys showing nearly all employees are using their smartphones to transmit work-related information.

TeleMessage says the most common threat is an employee losing his or her smartphone. When that happens, it says 68% of victims never recover their phones. The person who finds it then has access to the text messages sent and received on the device.

Phones can be hacked

Beyond lost or stolen phones, there's concern about hacks. TeleMessage says it only takes one text to hack 950 million android phones. It says one Android flaw produced six critical vulnerabilities on 95% of Android devices.

As employees are embracing consumer messaging apps, IT administrators are increasingly concerned about employees downloading the latest popular messaging app and using it to send and receive the company's latest sales figures and other information that shouldn't fall into the wrong hands.

Other reasons

The technology website ZDNet agrees that employees should avoid texting for business purposes, arguing email is always a preferred way to communicate.

But ZDNet doesn't cite security concerns as a reason for not using texts for work-related communication. It points out that texts tend to be viewed as more casual, and there is the risk an employee won't give information transmitted in a text the attention it deserves.

It points out email provides a more business-like platform and leaves a more robust paper trail in the event of litigation.

It's not just teenagers who spend their days texting. Sending short text messages over a mobile device has become the preferred way to communicate, even at...
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Samsung reeling in aftermath of fires in Galaxy Note 7 phones and other products

Consumers seething over the company's business-as-usual response to fires

Samsung is feeling the heat from its disastrous handling of the fire-prone Galaxy Note 7 smartphones. Critics are comparing the bungled response to the Note 7 crisis to Samsung's handling of a rash of washing machine fires in Australia a few years ago.

Samsung recalled 150,000 Australian washing machines in April 2013 after a series of house fires were blamed on the machines. But first it tried to get consumers to use tape and a plastic bag to solve the problem, a solution that only increased consumer outrage and was itself blamed for several more fires.

Consumers in the U.S. have also reported fires in their Samsung washers, as we reported a few weeks ago, but so far no recall has been issued. Federal safety officials, however, warned consumers that the machines could shake themselves to pieces and cause injuries or damage.

Repercussions from the Note7 debacle are rippling through all corners of Samsung's business. A report today says that an expected deal with FCA (formerly Chrysler) has been delayed while Samsung, South Korea's largest company, tries to work its way through the aftermath of the smartphone recall and subsequent market withdrawal.

FCA and Samsung had been reported to be close to a deal involving electronic components for the company's Chrysler, Jeep, Fiat, and other auto brands.

The fallout from the Galaxy fires threatens to tarnish Samsung's other consumer products, which have experienced their own problems with unexpected fires and, more significantly, with a response that is best described as business as usual.

We heard from Lyn of Palm Harbor, Fla., about the red-hot charger that came with her Samsung tablet.

"Charger got so hot we had to use gloves to remove it from the wall. Went to the AT&T store ... where we purchased it, they told us we would have to contact AT&T corporate to get a replacement. Called corporate and we were told to contact the manufacturer," Lyn said. "We did and were informed that they would not replace charger. The warranty only covered the device. If you can't charge it you can"t use the device!!! Stay away from Samsung products. No Samsung, No FIRES."

Microwaves

Samsung microwaves have for years generated red-hot consumer complaints about fires, most recently from Bill of Palm Harbor, Fla.

"Bought new Samsung microwave (me21h706mqs) and after one week it caught on fire at the plastic piece in rear corner. Lucky we were at microwave watching or whole house could have caught on fire. Huge plastic smoke and horrible smell," Bill said in a ConsumerAffairs review a few days ago. Bill called Samsung and after calling three different numbers got little satisfaction.

"Samsung was not impressed their unit caught fire and really did not care. Said they would send tech in 2-3 days. ... Basically they hung up on me after I requested someone come out on Monday to remove."

Tracy of Winston-Salem, N.C., said she was boiling pasta when her microwave caught fire.

"I wasn't even using the inside of the microwave at the time. I was using the exhaust fan for I was boiling pasta on the stovetop. Flames all in the microwave, I had to use the fire extinguisher. I am so glad I was home when this happened! My model number ME18H704SFS."

By-the-book

A common theme in many of the microwave fire complaints submitted by ConsumerAffairs readers is the by-the-book response from Samsung's customer service representatives.

"Purchased Samsung Microwave Model Number ME18H704SFG on 07-03-2016 from HHgregg. They delivered the Microwave on Saturday 07-09-2016. Used the Microwave Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning 07-11-2016 my wife screamed 'FIRE' so I ran to the Kitchen where the Microwave door was open and a flame about 4-5 inches long was jetting out ... I got the Fire Extinguisher and put it out then unplugged it," said Joey of Sicklerville, N.J.

Joey said he called Samsung and "spoke to a lady there who gave me a transaction number and said a product specialist would call me back within 4 hours." The return call didn't happen, Joey said, but eventually a service call was scheduled for several days later. Like other owners of burned microwaves, Joey said he didn't want service, he wanted a new microwave.

 "I told her I did not want them to attempt to repair this unit and give it back to me. She said the service person would not take the unit but would take photos and send to Samsung where they would determine if it could be repaired. I told her I would not let that unit back into my home. She said if you refuse the service then you will be left with a broken microwave," Joey said.

Ovens & ranges

You expect a range to get hot but, ideally, the heat is confined to the oven and cooking surfaces. That's not always the case with Samsung ovens and ranges, consumers say.

"Our two year old Samsung NE58F9500SS began sending strong fumes of burning plastic upon oven preheat," said Nancy of Midlothian, Va. "Repeated email and phone contact with customer service about this fire hazard was a test of patience. Each contact told us to wait 24 more hours and we would be contacted by someone. Days passed. No oven. No stove. Wires attached to the back of the oven, melted. Plastic on the terminal block melted. This is DANGEROUS and deserves immediate attention," Nancy said. "We paid $1,533.35 for this poor workmanship and poor service."

Remi of Piscataway, N.J., wasn't as lucky as Nancy.

"I opened the broiler to place a tray inside and flames shot out of it and singed face and hair. The fire department, EMT and PSEG responded to the incident. The oven was tagged 'defective' and the gas line was shut off," Remi said. "I have been in constant communication with Samsung regarding the oven. I inquired about being compensated for food due to the 'loss of use' and was told that they do not provide compensation."

"Last week, I was advised that they would swap out the oven. I advised them that before I would commit to this resolution, I was like to know the cause of the fire. I was informed that this information could not be released to me," Remi said. "As a consumer who purchased this item, was injured by it and could have received extensive damage to my house, I believe that I should be informed of the cause and/defect of the unit."

Dinner was interrupted at Sheila's home in Albany, Ga. "Yesterday in the middle of preparing dinner, the range shot fire with a loud explosion. Samsung does not stand behind their products and you would think that a new stove that we paid $900.00 for would last longer than 2 1/2 years," she said.

Refrigerators

We haven't seen many reports of Samsung refrigerators actually igniting, but many consumers have complained of conditions that they thought were fire hazards.

"After 4 years of owning a French door Samsung refrigerator (RF267AARS/XAA), the coils started freezing up. I called out a Samsung repair service and they discovered that the evaporator coils had melted my liner and it is not repairable. It was so badly burnt inside that I am surprised it did not catch fire," said Jerri of Dripping Springs, Texas.

"When I contacted Samsung customer service about this hazard, I was put on hold for 30 minutes and then told that they could only refund me a partial credit for the refrigerator. When I asked if there have been similar problems with other refrigerators, they could not tell me," Jerri said.

Donald of North Kingstown, R.I., found singed components in his freezer compartment.

"After removing the cover in the freezer that covers the coils I found a lot of burnt areas and cracks in the freezer compartment. Also the defrost sensor was also burnt," he said. "I replaced the sensor and also took pictures of the freezer compartment showing the burnt areas and areas where the compartment was bubbling up from heat. This frig is a fire hazard."

Not everyone is so lucky. 

"Caused damage throughout house," said a consumer in Australia who asked to remain anonymous. "Had temporary accommodation for a year. Everything lost. Fire brigade recognised incident as a fridge fire. Fortunately happened when house was empty overnight. Samsung deny all liability and claim a waste bin must have caught fire in front of the fridge!"

Dishwashers

Aurelia of Wentzville, Mo., didn't have a fire in her Samsung dishwasher but was afraid that she was about to. She said numerous repair visits failed to resolve a water leak. After the last repair, "we ran a load [and] after 40+ minutes we got the LC* warning light."

"This indicated water to electric leak, it's recommended to shut off circuit to the unit to prevent further damage or fire.," Aurelia said. After all the attempts to repair her dishwasher, she said she expects to be told she is out of warranty and on her own.

Samsung has denied the incidents are linked and has said its warranty and repair services are adequate to handle the problems. Whether that is sufficient to reassure consumers is the question the company must now face.

Fire mars the back of a consumer's Samsung microwave.Samsung is feeling the heat from its disastrous handling of the fire-prone Galaxy Note 7 smartph...
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Sprint announces initiative to provide low-income students with free wireless devices and service

The 1Million Project will help close the digital divide and give students equal opportunity to succeed

The educational system has been greatly enhanced through technology in recent years. While smartboards, interactive maps, and a plethora of online tools have benefited students in the classroom, having access to something as basic as the internet outside of school also lends a huge advantage.

Unfortunately, not all students are able to go online outside of school. Children of families that can’t afford expensive smartphones or other internet-connected devices can often lag behind, which contributes to ever-widening educational and opportunity gaps. But a new announcement from Sprint may go a long way towards evening the playing field.

The company announced today that it will be giving away one million internet-connected devices and providing four years of internet access to low-income high school students across the U.S. It marks the largest corporate initiative to bridge the digital divide and close the “Homework Gap," according to the company.

“Education is the foundation for our society to prosper, and the internet is an incredibly powerful tool for learning. But it’s a huge problem in America that we have 5 million households with children that lack internet connections. Those kids have a huge disadvantage and we are failing them. All of us at Sprint are committed to changing this by providing 1 million students in need with free devices and free wireless connections,” said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure.

Equal opportunity to succeed

Sprint’s new initiative, called the 1Million Project, may go a long way towards giving low-income children an equal opportunity to succeed. A report from the Pew Research Center found that students who come from low-income families are four times more likely than middle- and upper-income students to have no access to broadband internet. This is a big problem, since the report also found that 70% of teachers are assigning homework that requires some kind of web access.

Not having access to the internet also tends to lower parent engagement in their children’s education. Teachers often choose to correspond with parents via email these days, and online grading systems make it possible for parents with an internet access to keep tabs on how their child is doing in class. Not having those connections can result in parents who are simply out of the loop.

And when it comes time for a student to graduate, not having internet access could hamper future prospects. Applicants often have to apply for jobs online, and students wishing to learn more about scholarship opportunities and college applications will find the information on the internet.

Providing devices

In order to accomplish its goal, Sprint will be partnering with various non-profit agencies and manufacturers to provide free devices. Students may choose to receive a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or hotspot device, along with 3GB of high-speed LTE data per month.

For students who go over the 3GB limit, unlimited data at 2G speeds will be available. Students who choose a smartphone will be able to use it as a hotspot and can use the device for unlimited domestic calls and texts while on the Sprint network.

Funding for the initiative will come from donations from device manufacturers and through special events, donation drives, and other events hosted by Sprint and the Sprint Foundation. A pilot program is planned for launch in January of 2017.

The educational system has been greatly enhanced through technology in recent years. While smartboards, interactive maps, and a plethora of online tools ha...
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AT&T, Verizon lift data caps for some customers

Net neutrality activists are unhappy about the 'zero rating' plans

Net neutrality is supposed to mean that all content on the Internet is treated equally by carriers, but wireless carriers are finding ways to push the envelope.

In the latest example, AT&T is lifting wireless data caps for customers who also subscribe to DirecTV or U-Verse, meaning those customers can watch life or recorded shows on their wireless device without burning up their monthly data ration. 

To take advantage of it, you'll need the latest DirecTV app, already available for iOS and coming soon for Android.

Verizon, meanwhile, has added NFL mobile service to its Go90 short video service on the "zero rating" list. Verizon Wireless customers can watch either without eating into their data cap. But be careful! If you gorge on ESPN or YouTube, it's a different story -- each digit will count against you.

You can thank T-Mobile for starting all this with its Binge On service, which offers zero data usage counts for a long list of video attractions.

It's basically a marketing ploy intended to encourage customers to load up on services from the same provider -- to get both wireless and satellite or cable TV from AT&T or Verizon. 

It's a sore point, though, for consumer activists, who say that while the zero rating deals may be technically legal, they violate the spirit of net neutrality. They're pushing the Federal Communications Commission to clamp down on the practice, but so far the FCC has apparently found nothing actionable about it.

Net neutrality is supposed to mean that all content on the Internet is treated equally by carriers, but wireless carriers are finding ways to push the enve...
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Sprint joins Southwest, Delta in bad backup derby

9-1-1 service fails throughout the Washington, D.C., area

Everyone tries to be on their best behavior in Washington, hoping Congress won't get annoyed and crush them. Too bad no one told Sprint about that before it joined Southwest and Delta airlines in staging a spectacular display of poor redundancy.

It all started Tuesday when the Fairfax County (Va.) Police Department issued a warning that some cell phone calls weren't getting through to its 9-1-1 center. Then it narrowed it down a bit more, pinpointing Sprint as the carrier that was having problems.

As the day wore on, the problem spread to D.C. and on into Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and the tristate peninsula known locally as the Eastern Shore. Sprint chimed in and said that some landline calls were also going nowhere.

What could it have been?

Like the Southwest and Delta failures, the Sprint debacle started small and then quickly got out of hand when backups didn't work as expected and small failures cascaded into big ones.

Sprint said a fire in D.C. caused problems at Sprint's data center in Reston, Va. How a fire across the street from Sprint's switch in D.C. caused issues 20 miles away wasn't quite clear, but apparently, emergency Sprint generators in D.C. didn't kick in as they were supposed to and, as so often happens, one thing led to another.

Things were apparently back on track Wednesday morning. As far as is known, no one was harmed because of the outage, but it was another reminder that the systems consumers count on to be there when they need them don't always come through. 

And by the way, emergency responders for years have insisted on referring to the nationwide emergency number as "9-1-1" -- with dashes -- on the theory that if we call it "nine-eleven," panicked callers may look in vain for the "11" button on their keypad. 

Could be, but in the age of texting, do we really expect anyone to text "9," then "-," then "1," then "-" and so on?

Just asking.

Everyone tries to be on their best behavior in Washington, hoping Congress won't get annoyed and crush them. Too bad no one told Sprint about that before i...
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New app interrupts unproductive screen time with learning moments

Finny may help parents stave off device addiction in kids

Parents of kids who are constantly glued to devices may desire a way to surreptitiously incorporate a few learning experiences into their screen time.

Now, a new app called Finny may be able to help parents make device time productive.

The average kid now spends more than seven hours a day on media and devices, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And more often than not, it’s games and social media apps that capture a child’s attention.

By enabling parents to transform an unproductive app into an occasionally educational experience, Finny sees itself as a platform that can help end device addiction.

Monitors device usage

“Their games, your rules,” is the motto behind the app, which is free for Android and iOS. A hybrid of parental control and education, the app works by monitoring device usage.

Not only does Finny give parents an idea of how their 7 to 14 year olds are spending their time on mobile devices, it can keep kids from wasting time on unproductive apps.

Before a child can become too consumed by an unproductive game or app, Finny will interrupt with a learning moment. Educational interruptions could be anything from the introduction of new academic content, reinforcement of old academic content, or the promotion of physical activity.

Promotes balance

"We love the idea of taking an everyday occurrence, like a child playing on a smartphone, and turning it into a learning opportunity," Liza McFadden, president of the Barbara Bush Foundation, said in a statement.

"Innovation in the EdTech arena -- like the work that Finny is doing -- has the potential to make a positive impact on families,” McFadden adds.

And Finny seems to have already had a positive impact on many families. In a study, over 90% of users reported improvement in their child’s device habits.

For kids, the platform may offer another benefit: a more peaceful household.

“I don’t have to argue with my parents over screen time anymore,” says the child of a Finny user, adding the app helps him balance his device time.

Parents of kids who are constantly glued to devices may desire a way to surreptitiously incorporate a few learning experiences into their screen time. ...
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Businesses warned about Pokemon Go security risk

Security expert calls it a 'nightmare' for corporate networks

Sometimes it can be risky mixing business and pleasure. The International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers (IAITAM) is warning businesses such a risk could occur if employees download the insanely popular Pokemon Go app on company-owned devices.

The association has recommended corporations prohibit the installation and use of Pokemon Go on any devices used for business purposes. The group says that includes "bring your own device" (BYOD) phones/tablets with direct access to sensitive corporate information and accounts.

AITAM CEO Dr. Barbara Rembiesa goes so far as to call the new augmented reality game a “nightmare” for firms trying to keep their email and cloud-based information secure.

“Even with the enormous popularity of this gaming app, there are just too many questions and too many risks involved for responsible corporations to allow the game to be used on corporate-owned or BYOD devices,” Rembiesa said. “We already have real security concerns and expect them to become much more severe in the coming weeks.”

She said to be safe, organizations must keep the app off any device the connects to the organization's network. Here are her concerns:

Data breaches

Rembiesa says the original user agreements for the game allowed Niantic to access each user's entire Google profile, including his or her history, past searches, and anything else associated with a Google Login ID.

That is no longer the case in current versions, but Rembiesa says this meets the definition of a data breach for corporate-owned devices. It's also not clear to what extent data breaches took place before the change and what happened to the accessed information.

Risky knockoffs

Rembiesa says she has seen reports that some versions of the app that are on non-official download sites may include malware. The illicit software may allow cyber-criminals to take control of an infected phone or tablet.

Rembiesa worries that unsophisticated users might not be aware of the risks inherent in downloading from any third party provider, especially if the device is used on a corporate network. She says Proofpoint, an online security provider, has already reported knockoff Android copies of Pokémon Go in the wild containing a remote controlled tool (RAT) called DroidJack.

Encouraging bad behavior

Making an exception and allowing the use of a game app on a corporate-owned device sets a bad precedent, Rembiesa argues. She says employees need to understand the importance of sticking with approved software.

Despite its popularity, she says Pokemon Go must be considered a "rogue download," which is “any software program downloaded onto a device that circumvents the typical purchasing and installation channels of the organization.”

Sometimes it can be risky mixing business and pleasure. The International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers (IAITAM) is warning business...
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Five fun apps for runners seeking motivation

Why not run from zombies, explore new trails, or donate to charity on your next run?

From exercise and endorphins to the ever-coveted runner’s high, there is a lot to be gained from running.

But while running has been called the most accessible sport, the road to becoming a runner isn’t always easy. Novice runners and seasoned pros alike may face progress-hampering challenges along the way. Fortunately, technology is here to lend a hand.

Fun and helpful running apps

Whether it's fitness, fun, or the ability to conquer longer distances you're after, these apps may provide the motivation you need to achieve your running goals.

  • RunGo (Android / iOS). Running a new trail is exercise and an adventure rolled into one. Getting lost, however, might just sap the fun out of the experience. With RunGo, you can hear turn-by-turn directions as you go. Choose from featured routes (around a scenic or historic location, for instance) or create your own. Runners can even choose a path that will create a fun shape on the map, such as a Darth Vader head.
  • Couch-to-5K (iOS / Android). As its name suggests, this popular app helps gradually prepare you to run a longer distance than you might be used to. Couch-to-5K has aspiring distance runners jog three times a week for 30 minutes each session. Just 9 weeks later (and with the help of a virtual coach), you’ll be ready to run your first 3.1 mile race.
  • Runtastic Story Running (Android / iOS / Windows phone). For those who prefer to listen to podcast or books while running, Story Running (which is downloaded within your Runtastic app) may be the perfect digital companion. Story Running is designed to give you a jolt of adrenaline through stories that create a sense of urgency. If exercise alone isn’t motivation enough, perhaps being tasked with rescuing hostages from aliens or escaping from Alcatraz will help you reach the finish line.
  • Charity Miles (Android / iOS). Let the spirit of giving motivate you to go a few extra miles on your next run. Charity Miles allows users to pre-select a participating charity. For every mile run, the app automatically donates 25 cents.
  • Zombies, Run! (iOS / Android). Similar to Story Running, this app aims to light an adrenaline-fueled fire under you as you complete your workout. You’ll be dropped into a zombie apocalypse, which will have you so busy running for your life and protecting your base that you’ll be done with your run before you know it.
From exercise and endorphins to the ever-coveted runner’s high, there is a lot to be gained from running. But while running has been called the most ac...
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White House funds 5G effort despite health advocates' objections

The ultra-high-speed broadband technology poses unknown risks, critics say

The White House is throwing $400 million into an effort that's supposed to speed development of the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G wireless technology, a move some health advocates say is premature and unwise.

The federal dollars will be flowing into something called the Advanced Wireless Research Initiative, which is supposed to test and ultimately implement new 5G wireless networking and IoT technologies in the U.S.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week voted to adopt new rules that open up the 24 GHz spectrum for so-called 5G (5th generation) high-speed broadband. When fully deployed, 5G will make the internet about 100 times faster and supposedly enable widespread development of "connected" cars and appliances.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calls U.S. leadership in 5G "a national priority."

"High-speed, high-capacity, low-latency wireless networks will define our future," Wheeler said at Friday's announcement of the funding for the initiative. 

More towers

Because of the extremely high 24 GHz frequencies, the waves emitted by transponders are extremely short and don't travel very far, meaning that there will need to be many more -- though smaller -- cell towers than today.  

Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. Richard H. Conrad, a biochemist and consultant, says the White House and FCC are putting the cart before the horse -- deploying new technology without first ensuring that it is safe.

"I am a biochemist with a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins and know without a doubt, from the findings of thousands of research papers published by scientists with independent research funding, that there are many harmful biological effects of non-thermal levels of EMF that are relevant to humans," Conrad said in an open letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Conrad contends that boosters of wireless technology have argued, in effect, that critics must prove the technology is unsafe by showing exactly how it causes harm.

"This is a myth; no one yet knows how smoking causes cancer, or the actual mechanism behind gravity," Conrad said. "Honest and independent research into health effects of 5G is absolutely necessary before actual deployment, and is therefore desirable before 5G system designs and standards have progressed very far."

"Increased productivity"

In a statement, The White House compares the IoT effort to historic breakthroughs achieved by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, and Samuel Morse.

"This effort will help spur innovation in many ways, from pushing the frontiers of tele-medicine through robot-assisted remote surgeries, to testing of autonomous vehicles that talk to each other to keep us safe, to the roll-out of smart manufacturing equipment in factories, to providing more connectivity for more people," administration officials Jason Furman and R. David Edelman said in a blog posting.

"Each one of these innovations has the potential to support increased productivity growth that can put more money in the pocket of American families," said Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, and Edelman, Special Assistant to the President for Economic and Technology Policy.

Like the FCC's Wheeler, Furman and Edelman have no training in biological sciences, a sticking point for Conrad.

"Wheeler is a businessman, lobbyist and politician with no training in biological or medical sciences, no understanding of biochemistry or biophysics, no biological research experience, and he listens to advice on biological safety only from scientists who have been bought by industry and tell him what he wants to hear," Conrad said in an email to ConsumerAffairs.

"Wheeler is relying on myths and 'tobacco science' to sweep real science under the carpet, the enormous body of science that shows harmful effects of even low levels of pulsed microwave, yes, non-ionizing, radiation," Conrad said.

The White House is throwing $400 million into an effort that's supposed to speed development of the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G wireless technology, a ...
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New asthma app offers a handheld way to manage symptoms

AsthmaCare tracks symptoms and triggers, helping to keep kids out of the emergency room

Hot and humid summer weather can trigger asthma symptoms, which can quickly turn an afternoon on the playground into an evening in the emergency room.

About every 20 seconds, someone is rushed to an emergency room in the U.S. to be treated for asthma. And half the time, it’s a child.

Managing asthma effectively is possible, but it requires some level of organization. In addition to remembering to take medications, asthma sufferers must follow a schedule and plan for emergencies.

Now, a new doctor-developed app called AsthmaCare is helping pediatric patients track and manage their asthma symptoms.

Sends reminders

“It's hard for anybody to remember to take medications every day, especially when they're feeling well which is often the case with asthma, so we wanted to create something to help people better self-manage their condition,” said David Stukus, MD in a statement

Stukus, who developed the app with colleagues at Nationwide Children's Hospital, adds that the app is designed to help children stay on a schedule with their medicines and follow a plan if symptoms occur.

AsthmaCare can send reminders to take medication, track symptoms in a symptom diary, and even help users stay one step ahead of allergens. 

Tracks environmental triggers

The app is also connected to pollen stations via Wi-Fi, which enables it to give users data on allergen levels. It can even notify users of nearby triggers such as dander, dust, and cigarette smoke.

And while an app isn’t the only way to manage asthma, it seems to have an edge over traditional, written care plans -- especially in the eyes of teens.

In a study, teens used the easy-to-use app every day. Eighty-one percent of the time, they used it more than once a day.

The app can also help make life easier for parents. Joyce Kelso, mother of a 3-year-old with asthma, says the app has helped her and her child manage the condition.

“It’s changed our lives in the fact that my child’s not going to the ER constantly, she’s not having as severe of asthma attacks, and it’s kind of keeping me on top of medicine.”

The free app is available on iPhone and most Android devices.

Hot and humid summer weather can trigger asthma symptoms, which can quickly turn an afternoon on the playground into an evening in the emergency room. ...
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Ad-blockers are now used by 22% of the world's smartphone users, report says

Marketers continue to scramble for ways to advertise on the 'blocked web'

According to a new report, 419 million people (22% of the world’s smartphone users) are now using mobile ad-blocking technology.

PageFair's numbers also indicate that 408 million people are using mobile browsers that block ads by default.

Smartphone users in China account for 159 million instances of mobile ad-blocking, while India is home to 122 million people using browsers that block ads.

Mobile ad-blocking isn’t as quite as prevalent in Europe and here in North America, where there were 14 million monthly active users of mobile ad-blocking browsers as of March 2016.

Finding new approaches

Nancy Hill, CEO of 4A’s, says these numbers validate a long-standing concern in the digital media industry. The report also highlights a need for advertisers to rethink their marketing strategies.

“Consumers are pushing back on mobile and online ads,” said Hill in a statement. “Now is the time for advertising professionals and marketers to take a hard look at ourselves to understand why consumers are not responding to these types of ads, and figure out how we can correct the issue to better engage with the consumers we’re trying to reach.”

An earlier discussion, which sought the opinions of global stakeholders, delved into topic of sustainable advertising on the 'blocked web'. A report on the outcome of the discussion can be viewed here

According to a new report, 419 million people (22% of the world’s smartphone users) are now using mobile ad-blocking technology.PageFair's numbers also...
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'Smarter' JoikuSpot WiFi now available for Android

Enables users to share networks privately

JoikuSpot, an app that could once magically turn a humble Nokia phone into a free WiFi hotspot, is back with some new features.

Finnish mobile software company Joiku announced today that Android users can once again download JoikuSpot -- but the app has evolved since we last saw it.

Now, users will be able to safely share WiFi networks, hunt down places with good WiFi (and connect to networks automatically, without a password), and even sync to WiFi networks of different countries.

Smart sharing

Joiku hopes the new and improved version of JoikuSpot -- which features an increased attention to user privacy -- will help bring the concept of sharing WiFi networks into a “new era.”

Android users will now have the ability to share their WiFi networks safely, without having to reveal or store passwords in other phones. Users’ passwords can be encrypted via Smart QR codes and Access links.

Thanks to its Smart Sharing functionality, JoikuSpot users can privately share with friends not only their phone’s hotspot, but WiFi networks of their home or office as well.

Connecting to other networks

With WiFi Spotting, users can track down strong WiFi signals in the area. A map can guide users to the spot, then automatically (no password required) connect users to the signal.

Speaking of maps, frequent travelers might enjoy WiFi Globe: a feature that allows users to download and sync to the country WiFi networks of their choice. Those networks can later be easily dumped once they’re no longer needed, should a user need to free up space in their phone.

Finally, with Joiku’s Mobile HotSpot, users can turn their Android phone or tablet into a WiFi HotSpot simply by adding the hotspot icon to their device’s screen.

JoikuSpot is available as a free download for Android phones and tablets via Google Play. A version for iOS will be coming soon, according to the company.

JoikuSpot, an app that could once magically turn a humble Nokia phone into a free WiFi hotspot, is back with some new features.Finnish mobile software ...
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Report finds Android devices have higher failure rate than Apple

Researchers cite a "glaring disparity in failure rates"

No doubt many smartphone owners will take issue, but a new report by a technology company maintains that Android devices are no match for Apple's iOS when it comes to technical performance.

In its Q1 “2016 State of Mobile Device Performance and Health,” Blancco Technology Group, an international data security firm, cites a series of diagnostics tests performed on a wide variety of iOS and Android devices using the SmartChk platform.

The results, the company says, show a “glaring disparity in failure rates” for Android devices when compared to Apple. It says Android devices failed 44% of the time in the tests, compared to just 25% for Apple's operating system.

The report said some of the most popular Android devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S6, Samsung Galaxy S5 and Lenovo K3 Note, logged the highest failure rates.

Older iPhones performed better

Older iPhones performed better than newer ones. The company said the iPhone 6 and 5s had the highest failure rates among iOS devices – 25% and 17%, respectively.

The tests found crashing apps on 74% of Android devices. Open/cached apps were detected on 44% of the devices. There were many more failures on both platforms in Asia than in North America.

Android still leads in sales

The report's authors note that sales figures confirm that consumers buy more Android phones than iPhones. In fact, the latest numbers show Android increased its marketshare in the latest monitoring period, which ended in February. Android enjoyed strong growth in the U.S., Europe, China, Japan, and Australia.

"Android devices seem to be a contradiction in terms," said Pat Clawson, CEO, Blancco Technology Group. "On the one hand, Android is the number one operating system in terms of global market share. But despite this advantage, Android device performance still lags behind iOS and tends to be plagued by high rates of crashing apps and app cache.”

Of course, late 2016 could witness a shift, when there may be new products on the market for both platforms. Industry reports suggest Samsung could launch the S7 and LG G5 on the Android platform, while Apple is said to be preparing the launch of the iPhone 7.

For more information on the best available phones, providers, and consumer reviews, check out ConsumerAffairs cell phone guide.

No doubt many smartphone owners will take issue, but a new report by a technology company maintains that Android devices are no match for Apple's iOS when...
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Cell phones not linked to any negative mental health issues, study finds

But what motivates a person to go online can have an influence on anxiety and depression levels

The effects of excessive smartphone use -- on our brains, specifically -- has come under question in recent years. Many say too much cell phone use can venture into addiction territory, while others say the word addiction is too strong to describe one’s relationship with technology.

But as it turns out, the reason you go online or pull out your device may play an important role in determining the health of your relationship with technology. A new study from the University of Illinois has found a link between mobile devices, depression, and anxiety in college-aged students -- but not in the way that you might think.

The study found that cell phones themselves were not the cause of any negative mental health outcomes. Rather, it was the way students treated mobile technology which affected their mental health.

"People who self-described as having really addictive style behaviors toward the Internet and cellphones scored much higher on depression and anxiety scales," said Alejandro Lleras, U of I psychology professor and the study’s conductor.

Motivation for use

Lleras said the goal of the study -- published recently in the journal, Computers in Human Behavior -- was to see if addictive and self-destructive behaviors with phones and the Internet related to mental health.

But the researchers did not find any evidence that phones and the Internet were related to negative mental health outcomes, at least when it came to their use as boredom busters. In other words, what really matters is the “why” behind a person’s Internet or electronic device use.

Students who participated in the survey were asked questions such as, “Do you think your academic work performance has been negatively affected by your cell phone use?” and “Do you think life without the internet is boring, empty, and sad?” Presumably, those who answered “yes” to such questions were more at risk of suffering adverse mental health consequences as a result of device use.

Comfort item

A follow-up study sought to examine the effects of simply having (but not using) a cell phone during a stressful situation. While in the stressful situation, some of the study’s participants were able to keep their phones and some were not. Those who retained their cell phones were less likely to be negatively affected by stress.

“Having access to a phone seemed to allow that group to resist or to be less sensitive to the stress manipulation,” said Lleras in a statement.

The anxiety-tempering effects of having a cell phone seem to suggest that our devices might be something of a modern day security blanket.

But while Lleras says the role of phones as comfort items is “tenuous,” he says the relationship between mental health and one’s motivation to use their device should be further explored. Breaking addictive technology habits may play a key role in supplementing treatment for mental health issues like general anxiety disorder or depression, he said.

“We shouldn’t be scared of people connecting online or talking on their phones,” concluded Lleras. “The interaction with the device is not going to make you depressed if you are just using it when you are bored.” He says this knowledge should help ease public anxiety over new technology.

The effects of excessive smartphone use -- on our brains, specifically -- has come under question in recent years. Many say too much cell phone use can ven...
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Always' latest #LikeAGirl spot confronts gender sterotypes in emojis

Emojis may seem harmless, but experts say they're sending subtle messages to young, impressionable girls

An estimated 6 billion emojis are sent each day, according to Swyft Media, and over a billion are sent by girls. But how many of those girls are represented -- in terms of both appearance and the activities they love -- by the emojis they’re sending?

Always, the company behind the “Like a Girl” ad campaign, says not enough. Those tiny, text-accompanying digital illustrations may seem inconsequential, but Always says emoji images are important given their frequent use by young, impressionable people.  

For their newest “Like a Girl” spot, Leo Burnett interviewed girls to ask them how they feel about today’s selection of emojis. In the spot, the girls appear vexed by the bevy of pink-clad ladies whose likes and interests appear to fall exclusively under the hair and makeup category.

“There’s no girl in the ‘professions’ category, unless you count being a bride a profession,” notes one of the girls. “Girls love emojis, but there aren’t enough emojis to … say what girls do,” concludes another.

Societal limitations

Lucy Walker, documentary filmmaker and director of the spot, says society should be aware that they’re sending subtle messages that can limit girls to stereotypes.

"It was so interesting to hear these girls talk about emojis and realize how the options available to them are subtly reinforcing the societal stereotypes and limitations they face every day,” said Walker, adding that she’s excited to help empower girls and push them to “rally for change in societal limitations.”

The spot seems to target puberty-aged girls, as its accompanying infographic explains that girls’ confidence plummets during this time. The infographic also explains that during puberty, a whopping 72% of girls feel held back by society.

Hidden messages

While societal limitations are obviously much broader than emojis, Associate Brand Director and leader of the #LikeAGirl campaign at Procter & Gamble, Michele Baeten, says emojis are projecting subtle, limiting messages that have important implications.

"The girls in emojis only wear pink, are princesses or dancing bunnies, do their nails and their hair, and that's about it,” says Baeten. “No other activities, no sports, no jobs ... the realization is shocking.”

For girls at such a vulnerable age, especially, the selection of emojis currently available reinforces traditional gender stereotypes in a big -- and potentially harmful -- way. Leaders of the #LikeAGirl campaign say hidden messages like these can, in the most subtle of ways, limit the scope of what girls feel they can do.

At the end of the spot, Always seeks to open the floor for debate by imploring girls to share with the brand what emoji they’d like to see, using the hashtag, “#LikeAGirl.”

Co-founder and president of the Unicode Consortium, Mark Davis, has said that while emojis were originally designed to be as neutral as possible, efforts have been made to incorporate a full representation of gender in emoji. A draft specification was released on Monday, which would (if approved) allow for gender variation in currently available emojis. 

An estimated 6 billion emojis are sent each day, according to Swyft Media, and over a billion are sent by girls. But how many of those girls are represente...
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How fast food chains are using apps to win customers

Rewards, incentives, and the ability to skip the line are driving customers to use apps to place their orders

Looking for a way to make fast food even faster? There’s an app for that. To an increasing extent, restaurants and fast food chains are using apps as a way to further streamline the fast food experience -- and even help customers save a little money.

Customers who are interested in ordering ahead, skipping the lines, and getting nutritional data can do just that, straight from their phones. They’ll even be offered somewhat of a more personalized experience in the process.

Domino’s

Domino’s offers a prime example of this personalized ordering experience. In 2014, the company sought to take voice controlled technology to the next level by partnering with their agency, CP+B, and Nuance, the creators of Siri for Apple. Together, the team created “Dom” -- the likeable, voice controlled pizza ordering sidekick.

The move was a seemingly smart one. JP Morgan subsequently called Domino’s, “A technology company disguised as a marketing company disguised as a pizza company.”

Dom can take your order, offer a 'cheesy' joke, or even (during Dom’s BETA phase) send a talking apology card if you weren’t pleased with your pizza ordering experience. The app now even features the ability to pay for your order via Google Wallet.

Rewards

Customer rewards and incentives are a big part of what makes a fast food app successful. White Castle apparently caught on to this, judging from their newly redesigned mobile app which “offers Cravers a way to save money.” To encourage customers to use the app (or order online), the chain is offering those who do so a sack of 10 original sliders for $5.

Dunkin Donuts and McDonald’s also offer users some pretty appetizing rewards. Dunkin Donuts features “DD Perks,” which can be easily tracked by users of their app. Free beverages, member bonuses, and other rewards await those who accrue enough points.

And while they don’t currently offer the ability to order ahead and skip the lines, McDonald’s hoped to persuade customers to download their app by offering free food. The deals -- which vary week-to-week and based on location -- are accessible by downloading the app and registering a username, according to Business Insider.

Users of the McDonald’s app can also participate in a coffee loyalty program, where customers can earn a free McCafe beverage for every five they purchase.

Skip the lines

While not every fast food app features the ability to skip the lines by ordering ahead, those who do are winning customers.

Users of the Chick-Fil-A mobile app (which isn’t available for every location just yet) can order and pay online. You can even have the food delivered right to your car at some locations.

Similarly, Chipotle, Subway, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s all accept mobile payments, and offer customers the ability to place their order through the app and pick it up in-store.

Looking for a way to make fast food even faster? There’s an app for that. To an increasing extent, restaurants and fast food chains are using apps as a way...
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Dog sharing app allows owners to loan out their dogs

If you love dogs but can't commit to one, Bark'n'Borrow may be just the solution

Dog lovers without a pooch of their own may be able to get their next dog fix with Bark’n’Borrow — an app through which you can find a dog to borrow.

The way the app works is simple. Create a profile, pass the screening to become a verified “dog lover,” and you’ll be able to connect with a community of dog lovers in your local area.

The three-sided marketplace aspect of Bark’n’Borrow allows you to become either a Sitter (someone who gets paid for their time), a Borrower (rewarded simply with canine companionship), or a dog owner looking for some extra love for your dog.

Borrowing a pup

If you’re a borrower looking to spend time with a dog — whether it’s for an afternoon walk, a day of play, or the entire time a pooch’s human is on vacation — just peruse some doggy profiles and you’ll be on your way.

Similar to a dating app for humans, each dog has a profile which includes a photo and some basic info, such as breed, obedience level, and how it well it gets along with other dogs and children. Profiles also include typical dog characteristics, such as “curious,” “affectionate,” and “energetic.”

Once you’ve found a winner, borrowers can reach out to the owner. If everyone gets along after meeting, they can arrange for dog walking or sitting later.

Despite the meet-and-greets, however, there is a definite trust aspect to the service. Handing off your dog to a relative stranger might feel a little strange to a dog owner, but the company assures owners that each potential borrower has undergone a careful vetting process.

Sharing economy

Bark’n’Borrow’s founder Liam Berkeley believes the service might be a natural step in the sharing economy. In the age of AirBnB and Uber, dog sharing doesn’t seem too outlandish a concept.

He says the idea for the app came to him when he was unable to commit to a dog due to work demands.  "I was contemplating rescuing a dog — I grew up with dogs — but I was working 12 or 13 hour days," Liam Berkeley tells Fast Company. "My girlfriend at the time was still in school and had a job on the side. So as much as we were thinking of getting one, we knew it wasn't the best idea."

So Berkeley would occasionally borrow neighbors' dogs and take them for hikes. He soon discovered there was no shortage of people like himself who missed having a dog of their own, so he decided to create the simple dog-matching service.

Dog owners and borrowers currently pay nothing for the service, but eventually Berkeley plans to charge a small fee for borrowers as well. The fee, he tells Fast Company, will help cover insurance and customer support, and a portion of the profits will go to animal rescue.

Dog lovers without a pooch of their own may be able to get their next dog fix with Bark’n’Borrow — an app through which you can find a dog to borrow.Th...
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Are you addicted to your smartphone?

How to tell if your device is controlling you, and how to break free of digital dependency

We’ve all been there: that moment when an instant of boredom becomes twenty minutes of mindlessly toggling back and forth between apps. “This is way better than sitting here doing nothing,” your brain tells you, as you take in yet another photo of your high school friend’s dog.

While these phone-staring sessions are usually nothing more than a time waster, they can easily turn into something more harmful if left unchecked. As technology sinks its roots deeper into our daily lives, digital dependency is becoming more common. For many, device use can spiral into compulsion territory.

So how can you tell if you’re in an unhealthy relationship with your smartphone? You can start by turning it off, says Mariya Shiyko, PhD., an Assistant Professor in Northeastern University’s Department of Applied Psychology.

Take a break

According to Shiyko, an expert on digital detoxes, the best way to tell if you could stand to distance yourself from your device is by turning it off for a few hours.

“See if you can continue engaging with life without constantly thinking about the end of this miserable break, compulsively reaching for your phone or checking the time,” says Shiyko in an interview with ConsumerAffairs. During this break, are you able to function well and enjoy life? If not, then you may be too dependent on your device.

“You know it’s not healthy if you NEED your device,” says Shiyko, adding that if your happiness and well-being become tied up in anything else — whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or your phone — it has become an addiction. Digital addiction is no different from any other forms of addiction, she says.

There’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine just as there’s nothing inherently wrong with technology, explains Shiyko — but with each, there is the potential for misuse. 

Detoxing

If you’ve decided to give technology a rest, the next question might be “How?” — especially if you frequently use your device for work purposes. Shiyko says that as with anything else, you can go big or small.

Digital detoxing, she says, is similar to a bodily cleanse in that there are many different routes to take. “A spring cleanse for your body might look like a week on juices and light vegetarian meals or it may be one fasting day per week continuously,” says Shiyko. “Everyone needs to find what works for them.”

She suggests choosing one weekend a month to keep your phone and email locked up. Or you could go smaller by detaching yourself from computers and devices for half a day on a weekend, or simply by turning them off after 8 PM daily.

Instead of being glued to a computer screen or a TV, go outside or make plans to visit your friends or family in person, says Shikyo. In conquering your reliance on technology, you’ll experience benefits similar to those of a person who is mentally healthy — less stress, anxiety, depression, and higher levels of life satisfaction.

“The more mental freedom one has, independently of gadgets or political news,” says Shiyko, "the more one can enjoy meaningful interpersonal interactions, creativity, and multitudes of opportunities that technology enables.”

We’ve all been there: that moment when an instant of boredom becomes twenty minutes of mindlessly toggling back and forth between apps. “This is way better...
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Digital detox tips to help you regain perspective

If checking your phone has become a compulsion, it may be time to step away from the glowing screen

When you’re immersed in a virtual world behind a glowing screen, it becomes nearly impossible to connect to the real world around you. Smartphones are useful tools, but more people are absentmindedly scrolling through feeds and emails out of habit rather than necessity these days.

If taking stock of 2015 included the realization that you might’ve spent too much time staring at your smartphone, a digital detox may be in order.

As with most other problems, understanding the root of the behavior is key to correcting it. So why exactly have smartphones become the drug of choice for so many?

Primitive instinct?

According to Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, instinct may be driving the compulsion to constantly check smartphones.

"One thing my research made clear is that human beings have a deep, primitive desire to know everything that's going on around them," said Carr. This instinct, he adds, was probably a useful survival tool for cavemen and cavewomenbut in this digital age, we’re faced with an endless stream of information. For many, that’s where the obsession begins.

“I'm sure one of the main reasons people tend to be so compulsive in their use of smartphones is that they can't stand the idea that there may be a new bit of information out there that they haven't seen,” says Carr.

To prevent smartphones from stealing your ability to engage in contemplation, reflection or even just be alone with our thoughts, experts suggest ocassionally taking some time off from them.

Disconnecting

The most important aspect of detoxing, according to Holland Haiis, author of Consciously Connecting, is to stop putting it off.

“Leave your phone at home so you can connect to the activity you’re doing, even if it’s errands,” said Haiis. When it’s time for bed, Haiis suggests removing your phone from your bedside table. Checking it immediately in the morning, “catapults you onto the merry-go-round.”

The allure of a vacation, Haiis reminds readers, is that it's a time to truly disconnect and start doing instead of being. "After all," she says, “the world looks completely different when you’re not looking down all the time.”

Managing smartphone use

If you’re looking to cut back on your smartphone time but not willing to go as far as a digital detox retreat, experts suggest these steps to control usage:

  • Be conscious of the situations and emotions that make you want to check your phone. Is it boredom? Loneliness? Anxiety? Maybe something else would soothe you.

  • Be strong when your phone beeps or rings. You don't always have to answer it. In fact, you can avoid temptation by turning off the alert signals.

  • Be disciplined about not using your device in certain situations (such as when you're with children, driving, or in a meeting) or at certain hours (for instance, between 9 PM and 7 AM). "You'll be surprised and pleased to rediscover the pleasures of being in control of your attention," Carr says.

When you’re immersed in a virtual world behind a glowing screen, it becomes nearly impossible to connect to the real world around you. Smartphones are usef...
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Report finds U.S. consumers look at smartphones 8 billion times daily

Is there anything that might persuade consumers to give up their phones? There might be

There may come a day when every child born in the U.S. is issued a smartphone as he or she leaves the hospital. Otherwise, how are they going to be able to cope?

Deloitte garnered some attention for its newly released 2015 Global Mobile Consumer Survey with this factoid: if you added up all the times all U.S. consumers look at their smartphones in a single day, you'd get a number around 8 billion.

Increasingly, we're looking at these devices when we are also engaged in other activity – like driving, working, talking to a friend, shopping, or watching television.

In its analysis of the data, Deloitte researchers conclude that consumers are more distracted than ever before. In fact, this year's survey results show unprecedented levels of multitasking while interacting with mobile devices.

Texting

The most common use of a smartphone is still sending and receiving text messages. Upon waking, 17% of smartphone owners say they check their phones before doing anything else.

Before turning in for the night, 13% of smartphone users say they look at their phone one last time.

According to Deloitte, consumers have no intention of ever switching off their smartphones.

Then again, they might if something else came along.

Replacing smartphones with AI

In its Hot Consumer Trends of 2016, Ericsson Consumerlab holds out the prospect that artificial intelligence (AI) might completely replace smartphones within the next five years.

The report notes that the screen age began in the 1950s, with television. Then computer screens were added to the mix. Now smartphones are a constant fixture.

But screens are an old technology. Consumers constantly complain about the small screens on their devices and the speed at which the batteries run down.

“The contradictory demands for power-draining larger screens and a longer battery life however, highlight a need for better solutions, such as the use of intelligent assistants to reduce the need to always touch a screen,” the authors write. “In fact, 85% of smartphone users think wearable electronic assistants will be commonplace within 5 years.”

Bring it on

In fact, smartphone users appear to be all in for a switch to AI capabilities. Half of those surveyed would like to be able to talk to their household appliances as though they were people.

They would also like to see AI take over many common activities, such as searching the net, getting travel directions, and as personal assistants.

What isn't exactly clear is what such a device or interface would look like. But you can be sure that somewhere, engineers are working on it.

There may come a day when every child born in the U.S. is issued a smartphone as he or she leaves the hospital. Otherwise, how are they going to be able to...
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When it comes to smartphones, consumers still prefer iPhones

But Android remains the most popular operating system

Consumers buy more iPhones than any other mobile device, but Google's Android operating system maintains a slim lead over Apple's iOS.

Those are the findings of the third quarter analysis of smartphone sales, conducted by comScore, a media analytics firm.

According to the data, Apple was the top smartphone manufacturer with 43.6% OEM market share, while Google Android led as the #1 smartphone platform with 52.3% percent platform market share.

Facebook was the top individual smartphone app.

77.4% have a smartphone

If it seems everyone in America has a smartphone, it might be because they do. The comScore data shows 192.4 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones – making up 77.4% mobile market penetration – during the three months ending in September.

Behind Apple's 43.6% share of the market was Samsung, with 27.6%. LG was a distant third with 9.4%, Motorola was fourth with 4.8% and HTC was fifth with 3.3%.

But Apple does not permit other manufacturers to use its operating system, so it trails Google's Android, which is used by much of the rest of the field.

Among smartphone owners, 52.3% are Android, 43.6% Apple, 2.9% Microsoft, 1.2% Blackberry, and 0.1% Symbian. Blackberry recently signaled a move to Android with the introduction of the Blackberry Priv, which will run on the Google platform.

Consumers increasingly are using their phones as PCs, accessing the Internet with a wide variety of apps. The overwhelming favorite in the third quarter was Facebook, deployed by 76% of users.

YouTube was second, at 61%, followed closely by Facebook Messenger at 60.9%. Google Play was the fourth most-used app at 52% and Google Search was fifth, at 51%.

Consumers buy more iPhones than any other mobile device, but Google's Android operating system maintains a slim lead over Apple's iOS.Those are the fin...
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Android adware getting more dangerous

Security firm warns new generation of malware almost impossible to remove

When you download a popular app to your Android smartphone, make sure you know the source.

Lookout, a mobile security firm, has found widespread examples of extremely dangerous adware getting onto consumers' phones when they download what they believe is a legitimate app.

Lookout says there are a number of things that make this development worrisome. First, this new generation of malware roots the device when the user installs it, making it, for all intents, a system application.

“Adware, which has traditionally been used to aggressively push ads, is now becoming trojanized and sophisticated,” Lookout's Michael Bentley writes in the company blog. “This is a new trend for adware and an alarming one at that.”

And it gets worse. Consumers are downloading this dangerous new form of adware because it has been integrated into many legitimate and popular apps, including Candy Crush, Facebook, GoogleNow, NYTimes, Okta, Snapchat, Twitter, and WhatsApp.

Third-party source

Bentley says hackers simply repackage and inject malicious code into these popular applications, and then later publish them to third-party app stores. He says many of these apps are actually fully-functional, providing their usual services, in addition to the malicious code that roots the device. That means the user has no way of knowing his or her device has been compromised.

Lookout says it has found thousands of these trojanized apps in third party app stores. When a consumer downloads one of these hijacked apps, it usually means having to buy a new phone, since the malware often can't be removed.

The company says the developers of apps that have been hijacked are also victims, since their brands may suffer with the spread of the malicious adware.

Meanwhile the danger is likely to increase.

“We expect this class of trojanized adware to continue gaining sophistication over time, leveraging its root privilege to further exploit user devices, allow additional malware to gain read or write privileges in the system directory, and better hide evidence of its presence and activities,” Bentley concludes.

When you download a popular app to your Android smartphone, make sure you know the source.Lookout, a mobile security firm, has found widespread example...
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Sprint fined $2.95 million for mistreating customers with lower credit scores

Customers learned too late they would be charged an extra fee

If your credit score is not so hot, it makes companies nervous about signing you up for a monthly subscription. Sprint solves this by putting you in a special Account Spending Limit (ASL) program and charging you an extra $7.99 per month.

That might have been OK if it had given customers proper notification, which the Federal Trade Commission says it failed to do, an oversight that will cost Sprint $2.95 million in penalties.

“Sprint failed to give many consumers required information about why they were placed in a more costly program, and when they did, the notice often came too late for consumers to choose another mobile carrier,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies must follow the law when it comes to the way they use consumer credit reports and scores.”

Because Sprint allows customers to be billed for services after they are used, they are subject to the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and its Risk-Based Pricing Rule. The rule requires that companies inform consumers whenever they are offered service on less favorable terms – such as the ASL program – as a result of information from their credit reports or scores.

“Sprint puts its customers first and is always working to provide clear and necessary information to customers," said  Jeffrey S. Silva, corporate communications manager for Sprint. "The FTC’s relatively new Risk Based Pricing Rule requires certain specific disclosures in specific formats be provided by letter to ASL (Account Spending Limit) customers and applicants. 

"The FTC agreed that we were including almost all of the relevant information in our ASL letters, but requested that we modify the format of the letter.  We appreciated the dialogue with the FTC and we have already implemented the changes requested by the FTC.”

Too little, too late

The complaint alleges that Sprint in many cases failed to provide consumers placed in the ASL program with all of the disclosures in the required notice and often provided the notices to consumers after the window in which they could cancel their service and change to another provider without paying an early termination fee, leaving consumers unable to shop for another carrier that might have offered them better terms.

The proposed settlement requires Sprint to pay a $2.95 million penalty for violations of the Risk-Based Pricing Rule. It also requires the company to abide by the Rule’s requirements in the future. In addition, Sprint is required to provide the required notices to consumers within five days of signing up for Sprint service or by a date that gives them the ability to avoid recurring charges like those in the ASL program.  Finally, the proposed settlement requires Sprint to send corrected risk-based pricing notices to consumers who received incomplete notices from the company.

If your credit score is not so hot, it makes companies nervous about signing you up for a monthly subscription. Sprint solves this by putting you in a spec...
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Ultimeyes agrees to stop claiming its app improves vision

The Federal Trade Commission said the claims lacked scientific evidence

If your vision's not so good, you can wear glasses or contacts or maybe have a laser procedure to sharpen things up. But don't count on Ultimeyes, a smartphone app that claimed it could improve users' vision.

The app's promoters, Carrot Neurotechnology, Inc., has agreed to pay $150,000 and stop making claims not supported by scientific evidence.

“This case came down to the simple fact that ‘Ultimeyes’ promoters did not have the scientific evidence to support their claims that the app could improve users' vision,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Health-related apps can offer benefits to consumers, but the FTC will not hesitate to act when health-related claims are not based on sound science.”

According to the FTC’s complaint, since 2012, Carrot Neurotechnology, Inc. advertised and sold Ultimeyes on the company’s website and through third-party app stores including the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, claiming it is “scientifically shown to improve vision.”

"Turn back the clock"

Ads for Ultimeyes stated that the app, which sells for between $5.99 and $9.99, would “Turn Back The Clock On Your Vision.” The ads further claimed that users would benefit from “comprehensive vision improvement” for activities such as sports, reading and driving, and that using the app would reduce the need for glasses and contact lenses. 

The app is based on a series of visual exercises related to reading speed, contrast sensitivity, and low light conditions among other elements.

The ads further claimed that studies, including those conducted by Aaron Seitz, prove Ultimeyes works. The FTC alleges that Seitz’s studies and other “scientific research” do not prove Ultimeyes improves vision. The FTC also alleges the marketers failed to disclose Seitz’s affiliation with the company when touting his studies in advertising.

If your vision's not so good, you can wear glasses or contacts or maybe have a laser procedure to sharpen things up. But don't count on Ultimeyes, a smartp...
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New app creates customized radio news content

It's a news version of Pandora

Pandora was one of the first music apps to allow you to create your own radio station, simply by selecting an artist, song or genre of music. It has had many imitators since, most recently Apple Music.

Meep is an app following in Pandora's footsteps, but with one huge difference. Instead of music, the iPhone app creates a radio station delivering news about a user's particular interests.

Meep launched this week for iOS with an Android version soon to follow.

Personal stations

According to the creators, the app instantly creates personal stations that play the latest audio stories about topics that users choose. There might also be short clips of ancillary content like music and local weather thrown in for good measure.

The app's developers make it sound simple. Users just pick a subject and start listening, without having to dig through podcasts or blog posts. Once a user skips a story, Meep makes a note of that – just like Pandora – and doesn't offer content along that subject line again.

Meep also has a feature to allow users to record their own content, in the form of short comments about a particular story. These short audio bites are then shared among friends.

Content you don't have to look at

"Meep selects and plays content you're passionate about while you're running, driving, or simply can't look down at your phone," said Mark DiPaola, founder and CEO of Meep. "Now you can use your commute to keep up with your favorite technologies, celebrities, sports teams, companies, cities, and over a million other topics. Want a station dedicated to Asteroids and Alpacas? Presto! We won't even ask why."

Meep is currently lining up a stable of news-readers, who will turn web-based text articles into audio content. If you're interested in trying out, click here. We have no idea what they pay.

Meep is also trying to line up publishers, who would like their content turned into audio. However, print copy is seldom written to be spoken. Radio copy is written for the ear – at least, once upon a time it was.

The Internet is the perfect laboratory for bold and creative ideas. That said, this new app will face some pretty stiff competition.

There are plenty of actual radio stations and thousands of podcasts available from apps like TuneIn and IheartRadio. The most listened-to podcast in the country is This American Life, a compelling NPR show with a talented staff that excels at the art of storytelling.

Pandora was one of the first music apps to allow you to create your own radio station, simply by selecting an artist, song or genre of music. It has had ma...
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Truecaller releases app to ID all incoming texts

Free app puts a name and face to phone numbers

If you get a text from a friend or someone in your list of contacts, their name pops up, making it easy to know who is sending a message.

But if it is just a number that flashes on your screen, it could be from anyone – and most likely it's an anonymous spammer.

Truecaller, a mobile call management company, has just released Truemessenger, an app which the company claims will make texing smarter and more social. It's a free download on Google Play.

The purpose of Truemessenger is to put a name, and even a face, to every incoming number.

Filter and block spam

“It helps you filter and block spam by tapping into vibrant community of more than 150 million members who help protect one another from annoying intrusions,” the company said in a release.

When you receive a text, the app, which is integrated with Truecaller's network of 1.7 billion numbers worldwide, scans social networks and automatically assigns photos, nicknames, and other contact information to the incoming message.

The app also allows you to set up your own spam rules, just like you can with email. SMS spam is either filtered out of your inbox or blocked altogether. You have less clutter in your inbox and aren't left guessing who might be trying to reach you.

Truecaller Takes Aim at Mobile Spam

Right now Truecaller says spam accounts for 15% of all SMS messages sent, which represents 1.2 trillion spam messages each year. In the U.S. market, while there are plenty of other communication options, texting is still the most-used app, making it a prime target for telemarketers and fraudsters.

You know, the free gift card offers, marketing promotions, and outright phishing scams? The scammers trying to pull them off lose their anonymity.

And if you happen to be the target of an anonymous cyber-bully who texts hateful messages, the app can gather and present quite a bit of information about your tormentor.

Truecaller says its Truemessenger app gives users the ability to detect, block, and report spam alongside other Truecaller members. Users also have the option to avoid messages from unwanted numbers and contacts.

Orderly inbox

The result is a clean and neat inbox where spam messages disappear into a separate folder. Users may also add advanced filtering options by creating customized filters with known spam keywords or number series, such as area codes or country codes.

“We are in the middle of the Wild West in terms of spam messages we receive on our mobile phone, and despite the evolution of services in other areas, little has been done to curb the number of spam messages we receive on a daily basis,” said Alan Mamedi, CEO & co-founder of Truecaller.

The brief video clip below shows how Truemessenger works.

If you get a text from a friend or someone in your list of contacts, their name pops up, making it easy to know who is sending a message.But if it is j...
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FTC silences "Mole Detective" app claims

The widely-advertised app can't detect moles

We may have finally heard the last of the "Mole Detective." The Federal Trade Commission has wound up its action against promoters of an app that claimed it could detect skin cancer, or melanoma after the last defendant agreed to a settlement. 

Avrom Lasarow settled FTC charges that he and other promoters made false and unsubstantiated claims for the app, which sold in the Apple and Google app stores for up to $4.99.

 Melanoma kills an estimated 10,000 people in the U.S. each year.

“We haven’t found any scientific evidence that Mole Detective can accurately assess melanoma risk,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If you’re concerned that a mole may be cancerous, please see a health professional.”

In a statement to ConsumerAffairs, Lasarow called the FTC's approach "a real disappointment" and said his decision to settle was based on the cost of litigation. 

Lasarow and his company took over marketing the Mole Detective app in August 2012, after it was originally developed and marketed by Kristi Kimball and her company, New Consumer Solutions LLC, and added derivative apps like “Mole Detect Pro.”

Deceptive claims

The Mole Detective apps instructed users to photograph a mole with a smartphone and input other information about the mole. The apps then supposedly determined the mole’s melanoma risk to be low, medium, or high.

The FTC alleged that the marketers deceptively claimed that the apps accurately analyzed melanoma risk and could assess such risk in early stages. The marketers lacked adequate evidence to support such claims, the FTC charged.

We may have finally heard the last of the "Mole Detective." The Federal Trade Commission has wound up its action against promoters of an app that claimed i...
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Samsung jumps into the mobile payments business

Samsung Pay launches in the U.S. next month

Not to be outdone by its rival Apple, Samsung has announced that Samsung Pay will be available to U.S. consumers starting next month.

The service began in South Korea earlier this month. The company used a press event in New York on Thursday to announce the September launch in the U.S.

The concept is very similar to Apple Pay. It turns your mobile device into a digital wallet, letting users seamlessly pay for things at retailers.

The company says Samsung Pay will use Near Field Communication (NFC), fingerprint verification, and digital tokenization to shield users' credit card information. It says if a retailer can accept Apple Pay or Android Pay, it should be able to work with Samsung Pay as well.

Step forward

Dan Wagner, ecommerce veteran and CEO of Powa Technologies, says the launch of Samsung Pay, along with its latest devices, represents a step forward for the international mobile payment scene.

“Samsung launching into competition with Apple Pay demonstrates how two of the largest tech leaders in the world are putting mobile payment as a major priority,” he said.

The big news may be that Samsung Pay will work with the old fashioned magnetic strip card readers, at a time when many independent retailers lack the resources to convert to the new chip-based EVM technology.

“Samsung’s inclusion of magnetic strip recognition alongside NFC puts it ahead of Apple Pay, bringing more versatility for users and merchants alike – especially in markets where magnetic strip readers are still the main payment method,” Wagner said.

Still more to do

However, Wagner says both Apple Pay and Samsung Pay both still lack the cutting edge needed to fully meet user demand.

“With consumers’ shopping habits constantly evolving, now is the time to rethink the entire shopping experience and break free from the reliance on point-of-sale terminals and queues,” Wagner said. “What shoppers and merchants alike really want is a cross-channel payment method that allows transactions to take place anywhere, at anytime, from a range of mediums. Until this level of freedom is achieved, mobile payments will remain more of an added bonus than the must-have feature the industry needs.”

Apple Pay got off on a wrong foot with some major retailers soon after its October 2014 launch. Less than a week after it was first made available, Apple Pay encountered its first roadblock when the pharmacy chains CVS and Rite-Aid stopped accepting it.

Although neither chain officially explained why, most observers agree it was because they decided instead to work with a retailer-owned group.  

Not to be outdone by its rival Apple, Samsung has announced that Samsung Pay will be available to U.S. consumers starting next month.The service began...
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Verizon Wireless phasing out phone subsidies

New subscribers will have to pay full retail price

Cellphones – even before they were smartphones – have always been a pricey consumer purchase. That's why carriers have always “subsidized” the cost of a phone, giving it to you at a cheaper price, if you sign a 2-year service agreement.

If you cancelled before the 2 years was up, the carrier charged an early termination fee (ETF) to make up for the part of the phone subsidy it wouldn't get back by billing you each month.

Verizon Wireless has been discouraging that business model for months now and starting August 13, is ditching it entirely for new subscribers. That means new Verizon subscribers will either pay the full retail price of a phone – usually more than $600 for the latest model – or will make monthly payments on the phone at the full retail price.

Disappearing subsidy

Gone will be the option to pay $200 for a $600 phone and sign a 2-year contract. On the other hand, there will be no need for a 2-year contract, although consumers will have to pay off the balance on financed phones if they cancel their service.

Verizon Wireless buried this news in a press release outlining its new data plan line-up that also goes into effect August 13.

Verizon is hardly the first carrier to end the subsidy business model. T-Mobile did it back in 2012, allowing customers to finance the cost of the phone in monthly payments on their bill. Verizon used that approach with its Verizon Edge – a monthly financing option that becomes the norm this week.

Starting Thursday, Verizon Wireless says its new pricing plan will simplify things for customers. It compares its 4 service plans to the sizes you choose from for your morning cup of coffee.

4 sizes

  • Small: $30/month for 1GB of shareable data
  • Medium: $45/month for 3GB of shareable data
  • Large: $60/month for 6GB of shareable data
  • X-Large: $80/month for 12GB of shareable data

Verizon says each size comes with unlimited talk and text and if you need extra data one month, you can get it for $15 per GB. Why change?

“Customers said they don’t want to have to do a lot of math to figure out their best options, and we heard them,” said Rob Miller, vice-president of consumer pricing for Verizon Wireless. “A plan with small, medium, large and x-large choices makes sense for the way people actually use their wireless service.”

Verizon is also changing its monthly line access charges. Every smartphone line is $20 per month, tablet and Jetpack lines are $10 per month, and connected device lines for devices like smart watches are $5 per month, all the time. All 4 data options can be shared with up to 10 devices.

If you have an account with a subsidized account, Verizon says you can keep it. But if you want to switch to one of the new data plans, you have to put your subsidized phone in a drawer and buy a new one, at the full retail price.

Cellphones – even before they were smartphones – have always been a pricey consumer purchase. That's why carriers have always “subsidized” the cost of a ph...
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“Prized” app developer settles charges that it hijacked phones for cryptocurrency mining

App users were promised prizes, but only got drained batteries and burned-out data plans

The developer of an app called “Prized” has reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and New Jersey's Attorney General over charges that the app hijacked users' mobile devices and used them to mine virtual currencies, or cryptocurrencies, on behalf of the app developer.

As part of the settlement, Ohio-based company Equiliv Investments and app developer Ryan Ramminger agreed to pay $50,000. The agreement says that $5,200 of that money will go to New Jersey to cover the state's legal costs, with the remaining $44,800 to be suspended and vacated after three years if Ramminger keeps to the rest of the agreement. In other words: if he doesn't create any more malware in the next three years, he'll get that $44,800 back. Ramminger and Equiliv are also supposed to destroy any customer information they collected while distributing the app.

Harvesting cyptocurrency without consent

The FTC's complaint, available in .pdf form here, says that Prized, which was available “since at least February 2014” in the Google Play and Amazon App Stores in addition to various third-party sites, claimed to “give consumers points redeemable for prizes in exchange for completing tasks, such as downloading affiliated apps, playing video games embedded with advertisements, or taking online surveys.”

Instead, the app used malware to turn people's devices into zombie miners harvesting cryptocurrency without the owners' knowledge. As the FTC explains: “Virtual currencies are created by solving complex mathematical equations, and the complaint alleges that the app attempted to harness the power of many users’ devices to solve the equations more quickly, thus generating virtual currency for the defendants.”

This, in turn, caused the devices' batteries to lose power more quickly and recharge more slowly, and also burned through users' data plans. Depending on how much data and computing power it used compared to how much the device actually had, the app was intrusive enough to potentially render the devices all but unusable.

And, of course, nobody received any of the redeemable “prize points” the app initially promised.

A "Trojan horse"

To top it all off, the Prized app's terms of use explicitly stated that “any computer software code and/or advertising tags loaded on an end users' device by Prized are and will be free of malware, spyware, time bombs, and viruses.”

Acting New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman said, “Consumers downloaded this app thinking that at the very worst it would not be as useful or entertaining as advertised. Instead, the app allegedly turned out to be a Trojan horse for intrusive, invasive malware that was potentially damaging to expensive smartphones and other mobile devices.”

The developer of an app called “Prized” has reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and New Jersey's Attorney General over charges that the...
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Security flaw in Android apps from Google Play store leaves user passwords vulnerable

Affected apps include those for Safeway, Pizza Hut, NBA Game Time and Match.com

Android owners take note: security researchers from AppBugs, a free Android app designed to spot dangers in other apps on the same device, have discovered “dozens” of Android apps in the Google Play store that leave user passwords and other sensitive data exposed because the apps either fail to properly apply encryption, or don't bother applying it at all.

The faulty apps include the official apps from the National Basketball Association, Safeway supermarkets, Pizza Hut, and Match.com.

AppBugs' CEO Rui Wang told Ars Technica that the Match.com app uses an unencrypted hypertext transfer protocol to send user passwords, which in turn means pretty much anybody in a position to monitor the traffic (such as somebody using the same wi-fi network as the Match app user) to read those passwords.

Meanwhile, other apps including NBA Game Time and the Safeway and Pizza Hut apps do attempt encryption but don't apply it correctly, leaving those apps' users vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks (which allow hackers to alter, spy on or control data while it's traveling between the sender and receiver).

"S" for secure

“Hypertext transfer protocol” is the “http:” you see at the beginning of many web addresses. Essentially, it's the protocol that lets visitors view a website and send information back to the server. If, instead, you see an address starting with “https,” that's not the plural form of http; in this context, the “S” stands for “secure.”

So if you're engaged in sensitive, password-protected online activities – such as email, online banking or credit card activity – the web address for that page should start with “https,” not “http,” to indicate that your data is being encrypted before it's sent.

But AppBugs discovered that some Google Play apps, including Match.com, didn't bother using a secure “https” address in the first place, whereas other apps including Safeway and Pizza Hut at least made the attempt, but didn't implement it properly.

This is not the first time such flaws were discovered in official Google Play apps; last September, student researchers from City College of San Francisco discovered a fatal HTTPS flaw in several Android apps including those of OKCupid Dating and CityShop – for Craigslist. Those apps, like Safeway, NBA Game Time and others recently discovered by AppBugs, attempted and failed to apply secure encryption, leaving users vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks.

The faulty apps exposed by AppBugs have a total of more than 200 million downloads between them.

Android owners take note: security researchers from AppBugs, a free Android app designed to spot dangers in other apps on the same device, have discovered...
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600 million Samsung Galaxy devices vulnerable to hackers

Security flaw discovered seven months ago, sitll not patched

Samsung Galaxy owners beware: Researchers at a cybersecurity firm discovered that every Galaxy device from the S3 through the S6 contains a massive security vulnerability in its keyboard software that hackers could easily exploit in order to spy on you.

Researchers at the security firm NowSecure say they discovered the flaw and first told Samsung about it in November, and went going public with the information this week, seven months later, only because Samsung has continued to not-address the issue.

As NowSecure posted on its security blog:

A remote attacker capable of controlling a user’s network traffic can manipulate the keyboard update mechanism on Samsung phones and execute code as a privileged (system) user on the target’s phone. This can be exploited in a a manner that requires no user interaction — a user does not have to explicitly choose to download a languagePack update to be exploited.

The Swift keyboard comes pre-installed on Samsung devices and cannot be disabled or uninstalled. Even when it is not used as the default keyboard, it can still be exploited. It's estimated that 600 million Samsung Galaxy devices are at risk.

So this security vulnerability is in a program that comes pre-installed on every Samsung Galaxy device, cannot be un-installed, and leaves you vulnerable even if you never use it.

Exploit in action

NowSecure also posted a YouTube video showing the exploit in action, and pointed out: “It can be seen that no user interaction is required other than connecting to a network, opening the keyboard, and rebooting the device.”

NowSecure's CEO, Andrew Hoog, said that on a 10-point rating scale, with 10 being the worst possibly cybersecurity vulnerability, this one rates about 8.3.

Hackers would definitely be able to take advantage of this exploit to hijack a mobile device connected to an insecure or public wi-fi network, but researchers say users also might be vulnerable even when they're on cell phone networks.

Ordinary Samsung Galaxy owners aren't the only ones at risk here, of course; last autumn the National Security Agency officially approved Samsung Knox devices for official government use.

Samsung, for its part, released a statement to reporters saying that it “takes emerging security threats very seriously... and [is] committed to providing the latest in mobile security,” and of course intends to patch the hole in its mobile device security very soon now.

Samsung Galaxy owners beware: Researchers at a cybersecurity firm discovered that every Galaxy device from the S3 through the S6 contains a massive securit...
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FCC beefs up consumer protections against robocalls, auto-dialers and spam texts

Telephone companies freed to use robocall-blocking technology

That constantly ringing telephone may finally fall silent for at least a few minutes. The Federal Communications Commission has adopted new rules intended to protect consumers against unwanted robocalls and spam texts, affirming that consumers have a right to control the calls they receive.

The Commission also made clear that telephone companies face no legal barriers to allowing consumers to choose to use robocall-blocking technology, something consumer groups have been seeking for a long time.

 “We are especially pleased that the FCC has provided a “Green Light for ‘Do Not Disturb’ Technology,” which will enable wireless and landline carriers to offer robocall-blocking technologies to consumers, noted Delara Derakhshani, counsel with Consumers Union.

The rulings are the result of thousands of consumer complaints about robocalls that have been pouring into the FCC every month. Complaints related to unwanted calls are the largest category of complaints received by the Commission, numbering more than 215,000 in 2014.

“We applaud the FCC for holding the line to keep the plague of unwanted robocalls from becoming even worse,” added Susan Grant, director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at Consumer Federation of America. “Since the FCC has now clarified that telephone companies can block these types of calls, we expect the companies to act quickly to implement blocking options for their customers.” 

Today’s action addresses almost two dozen petitions and other requests that sought clarity on how the Commission interprets the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), closing loopholes and strengthening consumer protections already on the books.

The TCPA requires prior express consent for non-emergency autodialed, prerecorded, or artificial voice calls to wireless phone numbers, as well as for prerecorded telemarketing calls to residential wireline numbers.

Landline and wireless protections

Highlights for consumers who use either landline or wireless phones include:

Green Light for ‘Do Not Disturb’ Technology – Service providers can offer robocall-blocking technologies to consumers and implement market-based solutions that consumers can use to stop unwanted robocalls.

Empowering Consumers to Say ‘Stop’ – Consumers have the right to revoke their consent to receive robocalls and robotexts in any reasonable way at any time.

Reassigned Numbers Aren’t Loopholes – If a phone number has been reassigned, companies must stop calling the number after one call.

Third-Party Consent – A consumer whose name is in the contacts list of an acquaintance’s phone does not consent to receive robocalls from third-party applications downloaded by the acquaintance.

Wireless protections

Additional highlights for wireless consumers include:

Affirming the Law’s Definition of Autodialer – “Autodialer” is defined as any technology with the capacity to dial random or sequential numbers. This definition ensures that robocallers cannot skirt consumer consent requirements through changes in calling technology design or by calling from a list of numbers.

Text Messages as Calls – The Commission reaffirmed that consumers are entitled to the same consent-based protections for texts as they are for voice calls to wireless numbers.

Internet-to-Phone Text Messages – Equipment used to send Internet-to-phone text messages is an autodialer, so the caller must have consumer consent before calling.

Very Limited and Specific Exemptions for Urgent Circumstances – Free calls or texts to alert consumers to possible fraud on their bank accounts or remind them of important medication refills, among other financial alerts or healthcare messages, are allowed without prior consent, but other types of financial or healthcare calls, such as marketing or debt collection calls, are not allowed under these limited and very specific exemptions. Also, consumers have the right to opt out from these permitted calls and texts at any time.

Today’s actions make no changes to the Do-Not-Call Registry, which restricts unwanted telemarketing calls, but are intended to build on the registry’s effectiveness by closing loopholes and ensuring that consumers are fully protected from unwanted calls, including those not covered by the registry.

That constantly ringing telephone may finally fall silent for at least a few minutes. The Federal Communications Commission has adopted new rules intended ...
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AT&T fined $100 million for throttling “unlimited data” connections

Company plans to fight FCC fine, claims throttling is actually network management

A record-breaking $100 million fine has been levied against AT&T; for throttling the connections of its “unlimited data” customers (although AT&T; has said it intends to fight the fine in court).

AT&T; started throttling its “unlimited” customers' connections in 2011, ultimately affecting millions of its customers, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

What exactly is “data throttling,” and why would AT&T; inflict it on “unlimited data” customers? To make an analogy: imagine you paid for an “all you can eat” buffet promising “unlimited” amounts of food. But there's a catch. Turns out that, after you finish your first full plate of food, your buffet connection is henceforth “throttled” so you're required to eat far more slowly than people usually do: anytime you swallow a mouthful of food, you have to wait a full minute before you're allowed to take another bite, and after cleaning your plate you must wait ten minutes before going back for a refill. So in theory, you can eat all the food you want, but in practice you can't even enjoy an ordinary-sized meal under such restrictive conditions.

That's essentially what AT&T; has done to its mobile customers, only restricting data rather than food. Last October, the Federal Trade Commission sued AT&T; for its data-throttling practices, claiming that some smartphone customers with unlimited data plans had their data speeds reduced by as much as 90%. The FTC alleged that AT&T; began throttling data speeds in 2011 for its unlimited data plan customers after they used as little as 2 gigabytes of data in a billing period.

And in March, a federal judge rejected AT&T;'s attempt to hide behind common-carrier exemptions to avoid the FTC's lawsuit.

It is true that sometimes, when networks are congested from heavy use, a certain level of throttling (especially against the heaviest data users) genuinely is necessary to keep the network running smoothly for all.

On a related note, that's why when hurricanes, major earthquakes or other natural disasters damage infrastructure and knock out utilities over a wide region, cell phone and smartphone users are asked to use light-bandwidth text messages rather than heavy-bandwidth voice or video calls to keep in contact with friends and family.

Should you ever have the bad luck to find yourself in a literal disaster area someday, don't be surprised to discover that everybody's wireless connections have been throttled so that streaming video and other data-heavy online activity is impossible for the duration.

Revenue enhancement

But that's not what AT&T; has allegedly been doing. Long before the FTC filed its lawsuit, AT&T;'s critics have claimed that the company uses data throttling not for network management reasons but for revenue enhancement — and pointed to the company's own advertised pricing policies as evidence.

For example: in January 2014, AT&T; launched its then-new “Sponsored Data” program, which it said would shift “mobile data costs from the consumer to the content provider.” (In other words, websites would have to pay in order to ensure AT&T; mobile visitors could access them in a timely fashion, in complete opposition to proposed “net neutrality” rules.)

At the time, TechDirt called the program “an admission that data caps have nothing to do with congestion.”

Today, in its press release announcing the $100 million fine, the Federal Communications Commission explained that:

AT&T; began offering unlimited data plans in 2007, allowing customers to use unrestricted amounts of data. Although the company no longer offers unlimited plans to new customers, it allows current unlimited customers to renew their plans and has sold millions of existing unlimited customers new term contracts for data plans that continue to be labeled as “unlimited”.


In 2011, AT&T; implemented a “Maximum Bit Rate” policy and capped the maximum data speeds for unlimited customers after they used a set amount of data within a billing cycle. The capped speeds were much slower than the normal network speeds AT&T; advertised and significantly impaired the ability of AT&T; customers to access the Internet or use data applications for the remainder of the billing cycle.

Locked in

Consumers rate AT&T; Wireless

Adding insult to injury, the FCC also said that “Consumers also complained about being locked into a long-term AT&T; contract, subject to early termination fees, for an unlimited data plan that wasn’t actually unlimited.”

So AT&T; not only sold an unlimited data plan that actually had strict secret limits, it penalized customers who then tried to get out after learning that AT&T; wasn't upholding its end of the promised bargain.

To return to the all-you-can eat buffet analogy, this is like locking customers in the restaurant and forcing them to slowly eat all of their meals there.

AT&T;, for its part, says it will “vigorously dispute the FCC’s assertions.” The company is also implying that its data throttling practice is actually legitimate network management (akin to throttling video in a storm zone). As The Verge noted:

[AT&T;] argues that the commission has "identified this practice as a legitimate and reasonable way to manage network resources," although that's sort of ignoring what the FCC is actually saying. The commission isn't taking issue with AT&T;'s throttling for the purpose of "reasonable network management," it's taking issue with AT&T; throttling customers indiscriminately because they've used a lot of data.

Trick or treat

And it's alleged that AT&T;'s own behavior strongly supports the FCC's claim. Last September, for example, AT&T; offered a then-new promotion slated to run through Halloween: new customers who signed up for AT&T;'s “Mobile Share Value Plan” before Halloween would get double the data limits of ordinary mobile customers. At the time, the standard Mobile Share Value Plan offered customers 15 gigabytes (GB) of data per billing period, whereas new customers who signed up before Oct. 31 were offered 30 GB per billing period.

Meanwhile, customers with “unlimited” data plans had their connections throttled after only 5 GB per bill period. To recap: AT&T; users with unlimited data plans got throttled after only 5GB, whereas “ordinary” new customers got at least 15GB unless they signed on during that special Halloween promotion in which case they got 30GB – six times what “unlimited” data users enjoyed before throttling. And that was with the smallest data plan; AT&T; offered another with a whopping 100GB of shared data – for $375 per month.

Yet the same company that can provide up to 100 gigabytes of shared data to certain customers also claimed that “network management” obligates it to throttle any unlimited data user who shares a mere 5 gigabytes of data. That's how math works at AT&T; company HQ: 5GB from an “unlimited” plan causes more congestion than a 100GB limit, and putting strict limits on unlimited data.

Still, AT&T; said, in response to the FCC's latest fine, that “The FCC has specifically identified this practice [data throttling] as a legitimate and reasonable way to manage network resources for the benefit of all customers, and has known for years that all of the major carriers use it …. We have been fully transparent with our customers, providing notice in multiple ways and going well beyond the FCC’s disclosure requirements.”

Photo © v.poth - FotoliaA record-breaking $100 million fine has been levied against AT&T for throttling the connections of its “unlimited data” custo...
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Health apps -- healthful or a health threat?

Researcher says the apps may contribute to an unhealthy obsession with health

Health and wellness have never been easier to manage than in the current age of technology. Information is now easily accessible, and there are a wealth of services that consumers can take advantage of to reach their fitness goals.

In particular, "health apps” have become increasingly popular. The question is, just how beneficial are these apps?

Many argue that health apps inspire people to adapt healthier lifestyles and stay committed to their health goals. They are extremely simple to access through smartphones and other devices that people use every day.

Iltifat Husain, editor of iMedicalApps.com, and assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, argues that the apps have great potential “to reduce morbidity and mortality.” He admits that there is not much research to support health app use, but that “doctors should not wait for scientific studies to prove benefits because these have already been shown.”

For example, Sylvia Warman, an office worker from London, believes that her health app has improved her life dramatically. She points out how much easier these apps make it to track her progress and adjust her lifestyle. She claims that her app has made her more conscious of her everyday choices. She is more active as a result, and has even improved her diet.

Too many choices

Despite these positive testimonials, there are some drawbacks to using these health apps. Because of the number of apps that have been produced, it is difficult to separate useful ones from those that are ineffective.

Des Spence, a general practitioner, argues that most health apps are “mostly harmless and likely useless,” but he cautions that there is another more serious danger associated with them -- they can play on the fears of “an unhealthily health obsessed generation.”

Spence points out that certain medical technologies, such as MRI’s and blood tests, are already overused. He believes that all of this extra technology leads to over-diagnosis which can “ignite extreme anxiety” and cause serious medical harm.

Whatever your opinion may be on the growth of these technologies, they will inevitably continue to progress. Luckily, the level to which they are utilized is still entirely up to the consumer.

Health and wellness have never been easier to manage than in the current age of technology. Information is now easily accessible, and there are a wealth of...
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Consumer groups slam Google's YouTube Kids app

The app exploits vulnerable children and violates long-standing media practices, the groups charge

Consumer groups are calling for a federal investigation of Google, saying its new YouTube Kids app preys upon children's vulnerability and violates longstanding media practices intended to safeguard children.

“There is nothing 'child friendly' about an app that obliterates long-standing principles designed to protect kids from commercialism,” said Josh Golin, Associate Director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, one of the groups filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

“YouTube Kids exploits children’s developmental vulnerabilities by delivering a steady stream of advertising that masquerades as programming," Golin said. "Furthermore, YouTube Kids' advertising policy is incredibly deceptive. To cite just one example, Google claims it doesn't accept food and beverage ads but McDonald's actually has its own channel and the 'content' includes actual Happy Meal commercials.”

Among the specific practices identified in the complaint are:

  • Intermixing advertising and programming in ways that deceive young children, who, unlike adults, lack the cognitive ability to distinguish between the two;
  • Featuring numerous “branded channels” for McDonald’s, Barbie, Fisher-Price, and other companies, which are little more than program-length commercials;
  • Distributing so-called “user-generated” segments that feature toys, candy, and other products without disclosing the business relationships that many of the producers of these videos have with the manufacturers of the products, a likely violation of the FTC’s Endorsement Guidelines.

When it launched the YouTube Kids app in February, Google described it as “the first Google product built from the ground up with little ones in mind.”

Safeguards scrapped

But the complaint says Google appears to have ignored not only the scientific research on children’s developmental limitations, but also the well-established system of advertising safeguards that has been in place on both broadcast and cable television for decades.

Those safeguards include

  • a prohibition against the host of a children’s program from delivering commercial messages;
  • strict time limits on the amount of advertising any children’s program can include;
  • the prohibition of program-length commercials; and
  • the banning of “product placements” or “embedded advertisements.”

Such “blending of children’s programming content with advertising material on television,” the group’s complaint declares, “has long been prohibited because it is unfair and deceptive to children. The fact that children are viewing the videos on a tablet or smart phone screen instead of on a television screen does not make it any less unfair and deceptive.” 

"Hyper-commercialized"

“YouTube Kids is the most hyper-commercialized media environment for children I have ever seen,” commented Dale Kunkel, Professor of Communication, University of Arizona. “Many of these advertising tactics are considered illegal on television, and it's sad to see Google trying to get away with using them in digital media.”

Angela J. Campbell of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown Law, who serves as counsel to the coalition, called on the FTC to "investigate whether Disney and other marketers are providing secret financial incentives for the creation of videos showing off their products. The FTC’s Endorsement Guides require disclosure of any such relationships so that consumers will not be misled." 

Organizations signing the complaint include: the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children Now, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, and Public Citizen.

Consumer groups are calling for a federal investigation of Google, saying its new YouTube Kids app preys upon children's vulnerability and violates longsta...
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Federal judge won't dismiss FTC's “data throttling” lawsuit against AT&T

The common carrier loophole isn't wide enough for AT&T to wriggle through

A federal judge in San Francisco has rejected AT&T's attempt to dismiss a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit charging that the company misled consumers by selling “unlimited” data plans and then throttling data speeds. Specifically, the judge ruled that AT&T cannot hide behind common-carrier exemptions to avoid the lawsuit, as Courthouse News Service reports.

The FTC first filed its suit late last October, alleging that AT&T misled consumers by promising “unlimited” data plans while engaging in data throttling to reduce their data speeds, sometimes by up to 90%.

As its name suggests, “data throttling” is when someone's network connection is deliberately slowed down, or throttled, sometimes to the point where streaming videos and other common online activities become impossible until the throttling stops.

Granted, it's true that sometimes, when networks are congested from heavy use, some level of throttling the heaviest users genuinely is necessary to keep the network running.

Sometimes legit

On a related note, that's why when hurricanes or other natural disasters damage infrastructure and knock out utilities over a wide area, cell phone and smartphone users are asked to use text messages rather than voice or video calls to contact friends and family: because texts use far less bandwidth and are less likely to overwhelm the system.

Should you ever have the misfortune to find yourself in a literal disaster area someday, don't be surprised to discover that everybody's wireless connections have been throttled so that streaming video and other data-heavy online activity is impossible for the duration.

But that's not what AT&T is allegedly doing. Long before the FTC filed its lawsuit, AT&T's critics have claimed that the company uses data throttling not for network management reasons but for revenue enhancement — and pointed to the company's own advertised pricing policies as evidence.

For example: in January 2014, AT&T launched its then-new “Sponsored Data” program, which it said would shift “mobile data costs from the consumer to the content provider.” (In other words, websites would have to pay in order to ensure AT&T mobile visitors could access them in a timely fashion, in complete opposition to proposed “net neutrality” rules.)

At the time, TechDirt called the program “an admission that data caps have nothing to do with congestion.”

"Share Value"

Consumers rate AT&T Wireless

And last September, a month before the FTC filed its data-throttling suit against AT&T, the company ran another promotion called the “Mobile Share Value plan,” which offered to double the data limits of new subscribers who signed up for it. Data throttling isn't used on all AT&T mobile customers, only those who signed up for unlimited data plans before the company stopped offering them.

The FTC's suit alleges that in July 2011, AT&T first started throttling data for customers with unlimited data plans. In densely populated markets such as San Francisco and New York City, “unlimited” plans were actually given 2 gigabyte thresholds, with data speeds capped at only 128 kilobytes per second (kps). The FTC says that AT&T raised the threshold to 3 gigabytes in March 2012, but even with the increase, unlimited data-plan users are on slow networks with top speeds of 256 kps, whereas LTE customers have doubly fast connections at 512 kps.

AT&T's courtroom counter-argument disputed none of this. Instead, the company asked U.S. District Judge Edward Chen to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it fell beyond the FTC's jurisdiction, since AT&T is a “common carrier” according to the Communications Act, which exempts common carriers from FTC oversight (since that jurisdiction goes to the Federal Communications Commission).

Uncommon carrier

The FTC countered that, according to the Communications Act, AT&T does not qualify as a “common carrier” in this instance, because mobile data isn't considered common carrier (the way old-fashioned landline phone connections are). AT&T in turn argued that, since some of its services have common carrier status, all of its services should be considered that way for FTC purposes.

But Judge Chen disagreed with that argument. In the 23-page ruling he released, he noted that “Contrary to what AT&T argues, the common carrier exception applies only where the entity has the status of common carrier and is actually engaging in common carrier activity.”

Chen's ruling also states that:

The gravamen of the FTC's complaint is based on AT&T's failure to disclose its throttling practice to certain customers. More specifically, in Count I, the FTC asserts that AT&T's throttling program is unfair because AT&T 'entered into numerous mobile data contracts that were advertised as providing access to unlimited mobile data, and that do not provide that AT&T may modify, diminish, or impair the service of customers who use more than a specified amount of data for permissible activities.' Thus, the FTC is not arguing in the case at bar that the throttling program is unfair per se; instead it challenges AT&T's failure to disclose the practice to certain customers and afford them alternative options.

Since yesterday's ruling allows the FTC to continue its suit against AT&T, FTC Chairperson Edith Ramirez said that the agency intends to seek refunds on behalf of millions of AT&T's “unlimited” data customers.

A federal judge in San Francisco has rejected AT&T's attempt to dismiss a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit charging that the company misled consumers by se...
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Almost half of all Android OS devices vulnerable to “Android Installer Hijacking”

Major malware threat when downloading third-party apps

Bad news for Android phone users: security researchers at Palo Alto Networks have discovered a vulnerability they've dubbed “Android Installer Hijacking” in Google's Android operating systems, and even after the release of a security patch almost half of all Android handsets remain vulnerable to it.

The vulnerability seems to apply when you either download apps from third-party app stores, or click on ads from a mobile advertisement library. If you have an Android OS but have only ever downloaded apps from the official Google Play store, it appears you have nothing to worry about, at least where this particular threat is concerned.

According to Palo Alto researcher Zhi Xu, the vulnerability has been patched in Android versions 4.3_r0.9 and later, but devices with Android 4.3 remain vulnerable – which corresponds to roughly 49.9 percent of currently monitored handsets, according to Google estimates.

Xu wrote that Android Installer Hijacking is essentially a Time-Of-Check To Time-Of-Use vulnerability (TOCTTOU, pronounced “Tock Too”), which “allows an attacker to modify or replace a seemingly benign Android app with malware, without user knowledge.”

Switcharoo

TOCTTOU is basically the malware version of what pre-computer con artists might've called “the old switcharoo.” Basically, before an app can be installed, it must pass the permissions process: your phone's security program inspects the file to make sure it's valid. And it is, so the app gets permission to be installed on your device – except that in the nanosecond between “granting permission to the file” and “installing it,” TOCTTOU lets the hacker pull the old switcharoo, replacing the valid permission-granted file for a invalid and malware-riddled one.

So what happens if your phone falls for this particular TOCTTOU? Your standard malware-infection problems – in this instance, “full access to a compromised device, including usernames, passwords, and sensitive data,” according to Palo Alto.

If you have a device with an Android OS, and you've downloaded third-party apps (as opposed to apps acquired through the Google Play store), Palo Alto released a vulnerability scanner app in the Google Play store, and posted a tutorial video for it here.

Bad news for Android phone users: security researchers at Palo Alto Networks have discovered a vulnerability they've dubbed “Android Installer Hijacking” i...
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