One hundred years ago Thursday, one man sent a letter that would transform the telephone industry. The letter gave rise to the country’s last and most powerful monopoly. And like the Internet of this century, it gave millions of ordinary people the chance to stay in touch more easily than they ever had before.
The letter’s author was Nathan C. Kingsbury — a vice president of AT&T many have since forgotten. But his 1913 correspondence rapidly made its way from Kingsbury’s desk to the attorney general’s, and soon after, to President Woodrow Wilson’s.
Wilson’s administration was threatening a legal assault on AT&T. The telephone company had been aggressively buying up its competitors around the country — maybe too many. Perhaps AT&T should be broken up, Wilson mused. Perhaps the government should take control.
Then came Kingsbury’s letter. In under 900 words, Kingsbury smoothed everything over. It produced a miraculous result in Wilson and his deputy in the Justice Department.
“I gain the impression more and more from week to week that the businessmen of the country are sincerely desirous of conforming with the law,” Wilson gushed, “and it is very gratifying to have the occasion, as in this instance, to deal with them in complete frankness and to be able to show them that all that we desire is an opportunity to cooperate with them.”
The White House’s antitrust concerns were resolved practically overnight.
Comcast is to begin hijacking browsers of its internet subscribers who are detected of repeatedly infringing on public file-sharing networks while Cablevision Systems said it would suspend subscribers for 24 hours after their fifth offense.
The punishment comes as the nation’s biggest internet service providers this week began rolling out the so-called “Copyright Alert System,” which is backed by the President Barack Obama administration and was heavily pushed by the recording and movie studios.
The plan, more than four years in the making, includes participation by AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon. Others could soon join.
Generally, after four offenses, the historic plan calls for these residential internet providers to initiate so-called “mitigation measures” (.pdf) that might include reducing internet speeds and redirecting a subscriber’s service to an “educational” landing page about infringement. Those measures began to take shape this week.
Comcast announced a plan that virtually deadens a subscriber’s ability to surf the web after four infringement violations — which the ISPs are calling “Copyright Alerts.”
AT&T has a sneaky plan.
It wants to exploit a loophole in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s rules to kill what remains of the public telecommunications network — and all of the consumer protections that go with it. It’s the final step in AT&T’s decade-long effort to end all telecommunications regulation, and the simplicity of the plan highlights a dysfunction unique to the American regulatory system.
AT&T and other big telecom carriers want to replace the portions of their networks that still use circuit-switching technology with equipment that uses Internet Protocol (IP) to route voice and data traffic. But because the FCC previously decided that it has no direct authority over communications networks that use IP, this otherwise routine technological upgrade could lead to a state of total deregulation.
The immediate consumer impact of AT&T’s proposal would be swift and severe:
Higher prices. Remember what happened after California partially deregulated AT&T in 2006? The price of some basic voice services tripled. AT&T wants to make this happen everywhere. Also, the ability of many smaller wireless carriers to offer competitively priced services is based on specific regulations that prevent special access providers like AT&T and Verizon from charging exorbitant rates. These protections against monopoly prices will disappear if AT&T gets its way.
Inequality and discrimination. Seniors, low-income families, and rural residents — all of whom are more likely to rely on fixed-line voice services or dial-up internet access — would especially feel the pinch. Carriers that are now required to offer universal service will be free to redline poor neighborhoods and disconnect consumers at will. Elderly grandmothers living on fixed incomes rely on rate-regulated landlines to stay connected, but they need not worry: AT&T has an expensive wireless plan they can purchase instead.
Born profoundly deaf, Brendan lives in Seattle with his wife, son, and 2 dogs, In his spare time, he enjoys fatherhood, the outdoors, and homebrewing beers with his homebrew club.
When I learned that Apple would finally be enabling the iPhone’s FaceTime app to work over mobile connections, I was ecstatic. As someone who is deaf, I could now use this one-touch, always-on video chat app to communicate with friends and family in my natural language: American Sign Language (ASL).
But then I found out that AT&T will block mobile FaceTime unless customers sign up for an expensive unlimited voice plan. I wasn’t thrilled with the thought of having to pay this AT&T “deaf tax” just to use the mobile data I’m already paying for.
It’s disappointing that AT&T is standing in the way of innovation that addresses the needs of its deaf and hard-of-hearing customers. Sometimes it takes a while (and some prodding) for technology and technology companies to catch up to and embrace accessibility. In this case the technology is there, but it’s AT&T that’s throwing up the barrier.
Ryan Knutson, PBS Frontline, and Liz Day, ProPublica May 24, 2012, 12:13 p.m.
This story was co-published with PBS Frontline.
Update: After a Tower Climber Falls, Stand Down Called for on AT&T Projects
When federal lawmakers passed landmark legislation creating the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, they intended to protect workers by imposing clear, uniform rules on their employers.
The 1970 law assumed that the relationship between companies and the people they hired for dangerous jobs would be straightforward, employer to employee.
No one planned for industries like tower climbing…
AT&T (T) is heating up its retaliatory campaign against the Federal Communications Commission for denying its $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile. Speaking at a conference, AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson claimed once again that the merger’s death directly resulted in AT&T’s raising mobile data prices 30 percent earlier this year, The Hill reported.
Stephenson chose an apt pulpit. He delivered his speech before the Milken Institute, founded by and named after junk-bond trader Michael Milken, who was convicted of felony securities violations in 1990 and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Neither Milken nor Stephenson has any great love for regulators.
We have heard Stephenson’s refrain before. He tried to make the same case to analysts and investors in the fourth-quarter earnings call, claiming the FCC was picking winners and losers in the mobile industry. Without T-Mobile’s 4G airwaves, AT&T doesn’t have enough capacity to meet the enormous mobile data deluge generated by millions of new smartphones, which in turn is forcing AT&T to raise data prices—or so Stephenson’s argument goes.
The truth is no one forced AT&T to raise prices. AT&T just raised prices because it wanted to. It’s just scapegoating the FCC, whether to make some petty point or to deflect attention away from a good old-fashioned money grab. AT&T had, and still has, plenty of headroom to grow its network capacity. Let’s break down why.
• While it’s true AT&T raised prices on its low- and mid-tier data plans, it also raised its data caps significantly. A $30 per-month customer now gets 3 GB per month rather than 2 GB for $25. If AT&T is so hard up for capacity, why is it inviting its customers to consume more gigabytes for less cash? AT&T is actually gaming the system here a bit, because it knows few customers can conceivably consume 3 GB per month on a smartphone. Still, AT&T effectively lowered its per-megabyte rates for mobile data, which is not something a carrier strapped for capacity would do.
• AT&T still has plenty of networks it can build. AT&T’s initial 700 MHz LTE rollout is only a third complete. It’s also sitting on a bunch of Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum that it hasn’t even touched yet. Ma Bell could also follow T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s examples and refarm the spectrum used by its inefficient GSM networks for HSPA and LTE. Eventually AT&T will need to go out and get more spectrum—there’s no denying that—but today it’s nowhere near exhausting its airwaves. There’s nothing stopping it from building its networks more quickly. It has the money: $39 billion to be exact.
• AT&T’s problem isn’t that mobile data traffic is growing too quickly; it’s that mobile data revenues aren’t keeping pace. AT&T’s mobile data traffic is doubling every year, but it’s only adding an incremental number of new smartphone customers every year. What gives? AT&T’s existing customers are consuming more megabytes, but since they’re nowhere near their caps, they’re not paying anything more. This is AT&T’s own fault, though, because of the way it structured its original smartphone plans. AT&T sold customers big buckets that very few people could consume each month. Now that customers are actually eating the gigabytes they have paid for, AT&T is complaining it’s running out of capacity. It’s hard to be sympathetic.
This isn’t the last we’ve heard from Stephenson on the issue. Much of AT&T’s public communications since the merger’s failure have been direct or indirect assaults on regulators. Ma Bell even used the Super Bowl as an excuse to decry its so-called capacity problems. And as long as AT&T keeps making these claims, we’ll continue to dispute them.
In Response to Rising Number of Complaints, AT&T Is Unlocking iPhones Starting Sunday (AT&T Statement)
It appears AT&T has been hit hard by complaints from Apple iPhone users who used up their two-year subsidy and want to go elsewhere, such as T-Mobile in the United States or just roaming internationally without paying AT&T’s high international costs.
Our report from last week about Tim Cook’s office doing special requests to open iPhones may have set off a storm. We received upwards of a hundred reports that, through Cook’s office, 9to5Mac readers were able to unlock their iPhones, but perhaps Cook is now tired of his office handling these requests.
AT&T will now unlock your iPhone—if you are in good account standing and are done with your obligated term of commitment (including having paid an early termination fee.)
Here is AT&T’s statement:
“Beginning Sunday, April 8, we will offer qualifying customers the ability to unlock their AT&T iPhones. The only requirements are that a customer’s account must be in good standing, their device cannot be associated with a current and active term commitment on an AT&T customer account, and they need to have fulfilled their contract term, upgraded under one of our upgrade policies or paid an early termination fee.”
Here is another fun fact: If you have paid the no-commitment price, AT&T will unlock your phone too.
Chalk one up for the good guys.
AT&T used to boast that it had unlimited data plans - which are useful to those with smartphones and utilize data intensive applications. That includes streaming video, music, and other similar applications. They would tout it in advertising.
AT&T is effectively ending their unlimited data plans. In fact, they’ll slow the download speeds for unlimited 3G and 4G phone users who exceed 3GB and 4G LTE users to exceed 5GB of data in a given month. Previously, AT&T throttled back data plans of those who were in the top 5% of data users in their respective markets.
I think that AT&T has a huge problem, and they’ve had capacity issues for a long time, which is why Consumer Reports and others have slammed them for reliability and access times.
News regarding Carrier IQ, a third-party service loaded on certain smartphones that’s capable of tracking users and even recording keystrokes, has been spreading rapidly in the past few days, though the original discovery happened back in March. The world is still learning more about what the service specifically does, but the latest news is that references to Carrier IQ were found in Apple’s iOS, the operating system used by the iPhone and iPad. Here’s what you need to know.
WHAT IS CARRIER IQ?
Carrier IQ is a little bit of software installed on the kernel level (meaning, way deep down where users can’t really get to it) on many of the most popular smartphones in the country. It’s a data collecting tool, essentially, getting to-the-minute information on, as Carrier IQ says, dropped calls, signal strength, battery issues, that kind of thing. The software, it seems, is applied by the wireless carrier (like Sprint or AT&T) rather than the device manufacturers—recent comments from HTC and RIM (makers of BlackBerry) suggest that the manufacturers have nothing to do with this software and even, in the case of RIM, do not approve of it. The software is installed without the user’s permission before the phone is bought, and the user is not made aware of its existence.
Under its emerging devices unit, AT&T has begun selling everything from pill containers that emit wireless reminders to GPS-enabled dog collars. Next up: clothes that track the wearer’s heart rate, body temperature and other vital signs and upload the results to a web portal.
Glenn Lurie, President of AT&T’s Emerging Devices division, said bio-tracking clothes tie in to the burgeoning “e-wellness” trend. “People want this kind of feedback about their health,” he said in an interview. “Automatically pushing information to a vertically integrated site makes things easier.”
These non-phone wireless devices also help AT&T’s bottom line. They are one way carriers can make money off their networks in a country that already has 104% wireless penetration or more than one wireless subscription per person. During AT&T’s most recent financial quarter, the telco added 1.04 million connected devices, beating analyst estimates. The revenue helped AT&T meet analyst expectations despite the pressures of not having a new Apple iPhone to sell during most of the quarter.
AT&T now has more than 14 million connected devices on its network, the most of any carrier. Many of its newest gadgets offer some sort of tracking service. AT&T recently launched an ‘Amber Alert’ child tracking device, Garmin’s ‘GTU 10’ GPS locator and a personal monitoring device from BlueLibris designed for senior citizens. AT&T also sells Zephyr Technology’s BioHarness, a physiological monitor that straps around the chest to record heart rate and other data.
To broaden this tracking technology’s appeal, AT&T plans to sell it embedded in clothes. Instead of a chest strap or bar-shaped, handheld device, there would be a small module that attaches to clothing and can be removed for washing. The garment could resemble the E39 shirts Zephyr designed with Under Armour for athletes participating in the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this year, added Lurie. AT&T would provide the wireless connectivity needed to push the gathered data to the web and smartphones.