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AT&T

New FCC Report Says AT&T and Verizon Zero-Rating Violates Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 74

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Just a week and a half before he is set to leave office, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has issued a new report stating that the zero-rated video services offered by ATT and Verizon may violate the FCC's Open Internet Order. Assembled by the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, the report focuses on sponsored data programs, which allow companies to pay carriers to exempt exempt their data from customers' data caps. According to the report, many of those packages simply aren't playing fair. "While observing that ATT provided incomplete responses to staff inquires," Wheeler wrote to Senators, "the report states that the limited information available supports a conclusion that ATT offers Sponsored Data to third-party content providers at terms and conditions that are effectively less favorable than those it offers to its affiliate, DirecTV." In theory, sponsored data should be an even playing field, with providers bearing the costs and making the same charges regardless of who's footing the bill. But according to the report, ATT treats the DirectTV partnership very differently from an unaffiliated sponsored data system, giving the service a strong advantage over competitors. "ATT appears to view the network cost of Sponsored Data for DIRECTV Now as effectively de minimis," the report concludes. While ATT still bears some cost for all that free traffic, it's small enough that the carrier doesn't seem to care. The report raises similar concerns regarding Verizon's Go90 program, although it concludes Verizon's program may be less damaging. Notably, the letter does not raise the same concerns about T-Mobile's BingeOn video deal, since it "charges all edge providers the same zero rate for participating."
AT&T

AT&T Imposes Another $5 Rate Hike On Grandfathered Unlimited Data Plans (arstechnica.com) 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: ATT is raising the price of its grandfathered unlimited data plans by $5 a month, the second such increase in the past year. The price increase affects longtime mobile customers who have held onto unlimited data plans for years after ATT stopped selling them to new subscribers. The latest price increase was reported by DSLReports yesterday, and ATT confirmed the move to Ars. "If you have a legacy unlimited data plan, you can keep it; however, beginning in March 2017, it will increase by $5 per month," ATT said. The unlimited data price had been $30 a month for seven years, until ATT raised it to $35 in February 2016. The price increase this year will bring it up to $40. That amount is just for data: Including voice and texting, the smartphone plans cost around $90 a month. ATT encouraged customers to move to one of its new plans, most of which have data limits, saying the newer packages "provide several benefits that our legacy unlimited plan doesn't." For example, the newer plans support mobile hotspot connections allowing a phone's Internet service to be shared with another device. ATT had stopped selling unlimited smartphone data to new customers and to customers who are switching plans, but last year introduced a new unlimited plan that's available only to people who also subscribe to DirecTV or U-verse TV.
AT&T

AT&T and Time Warner Still Trying To Sidestep FCC Scrutiny of Merger (arstechnica.com) 19

AT&T and Time Warner say they have a plan to avoid a Federal Communications Commission review of their pending merger. From a report on Ars Technica: An FCC review would be necessary if Time Warner transfers any FCC licenses to AT&T, but Time Warner might get rid of any such licenses before the deal is finished. "Time Warner has conducted a review of all licenses that it holds that are granted by the FCC," AT&T said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday. "While subject to change, it is currently anticipated that Time Warner will not need to transfer any of its FCC licenses to AT&T in order to continue to conduct its business operations after the closing of the transaction." "Time Warner has been looking to transfer or sell its licenses to another broadcaster for some time, according to a person familiar with the matter. "Time Warner can contract with third parties instead of owning the licenses, the person said."
AT&T

AT&T Plans 5G Network Trial for DirecTV Customers (fortune.com) 58

AT&T said it plans to test its high-speed wireless 5G network, which reached speeds of 14 gigabits per second in lab trials, for customers of its online streaming television service, DirecTV Now, in Austin, Texas. From a report on Fortune: The U.S. wireless carrier, which plans to conduct the trial in the first half of 2017, has also teamed up with Qualcomm and Ericsson for mobile and broadband trials of the 5G network in the second half of the year. New 5G networks are expected to provide speeds at least 10 times and maybe 100 times faster than today's 4G networks, giving the potential to connect at least 100 billion devices with download speeds that can reach 10 gigabits per second.
AT&T

Verizon and AT&T Prepare to Bring 5G To (Select) Markets In 2017 (ieee.org) 53

An anonymous reader quotes IEEE Spectrum: This year, Verizon and AT&T plan to deliver broadband internet to select homes or businesses using fixed wireless networks built with early 5G technologies. These 5G pilot programs will give the public its first glimpse into a wireless future that isn't due to fully arrive until the early 2020s. With 5G, carriers hope to deliver data to smartphone users at speeds 10 times as fast as on today's 4G networks, and with only 1 millisecond of delay... Over the past year, companies have completed a flurry of lab tests and trials to figure out what types of radios, antennas, and signal processing techniques will work best to deliver 5G in hopes of bringing those technologies and their capabilities to market as soon as possible.
The article notes that standards groups are halfway through their eight-year process of finalizing technical specifications (set to finish in 2020), but "With so much cash on the line, and facing pressure from data-hungry customers, carriers are moving fast." In Japan, NTT Docomo has even tested dozens of programmable antennas simultaneously transmitting signals, resulting in transmissions at 20 gigabits per second. "At that speed, a complete 2-hour, 1080p, high-definition movie can be transmitted in a second and a half."
Microsoft

Microsoft Is No Longer Selling Any Lumia Windows Phones On Its US Store (neowin.net) 85

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Neowin: It seems that Lumia has reached the end of the line, as the Microsoft Store is no longer selling any of the company's Windows Phone 8.1 or Windows 10 Mobile handsets in the U.S. The first signs that the end was approaching for Lumia came back in February, when Microsoft launched the Lumia 650, which was said to be the last in the company's Lumia line. In August, Microsoft removed all mention of Windows handsets from its U.S. store homepage, relegating 'Windows phone' to a dropdown menu instead. This week, just one Lumia handset remained on sale: the ATT-locked Lumia 950, available only in white. Now, that model has sold out too, leaving none of the company's Lumia handsets available to buy on its store. The Windows phones page on the Microsoft Store lists thirteen products, but eight of these are out of stock. When more stock is expected on a temporarily sold-out product, Microsoft typically replaces the 'Add to cart' button with one that says 'Email me when available'. Instead, each of these products now has a grayed-out button, stating "Out of stock."
AT&T

US Court Demands Documents On AT&T/Police Collaboration (eff.org) 48

"The federal government has not justified its excessive secrecy about the massive telephone surveillance program known as Hemisphere, a court ruled in an EFF Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on Thursday." schwit1 quotes the EFF announcement: As a result, the federal government must submit roughly 260 pages of previously withheld or heavily redacted records to the court so that it can review them and decide whether to make more information about Hemisphere public. Hemisphere is a partnership between AT&T and federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies that allows police almost real-time access to telephone call detail records. The program is both extremely controversial -- AT&T requires police to hide its use from the public -- and appears to violate our First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Government lawyers had argued the disputed documents were restricted to use at the federal level, but the court remained unconvinced, especially "after EFF demonstrated that many of them appeared to have been given to state and local law enforcement."
AT&T

AT&T Is Adding a Spam Filter For Phone Calls (theverge.com) 66

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Today, ATT introduced a new service for automated blocking of fraud or spam calls. Dubbed ATT Call Protect, the system identifies specific numbers believed to be sources of fraud, and will either deliver those calls with a warning or block them outright. Users can whitelist specific numbers, although temporary blocks require downloading a separate Call Protect app. The feature is only available on postpaid iOS and Android devices, and can be activated through the MyATT system. Phone companies have allowed for manual number blocking for years, and third-party apps like Whitepages and Privacystar use larger databases of untrustworthy numbers to preemptively block calls from the outside. But ATT's new system would build in those warnings at the network level, and give operators more comprehensive data when assembling suspected numbers. More broadly, marketing calls are subject to the national Do Not Call registry. Specific instances of fraud can still be reported through carriers or directly to police.
AT&T

AT&T, Verizon Tell FCC To Back Off On Net Neutrality Complaints (theverge.com) 102

ATT and Verizon have responded to the FCC's letters that argued the way the two companies handle the practice of exempting their own video apps from data caps on customers' smartphones can hurt competition and consumers. The Verge reports: The companies defended the programs, which allow select data sources to not count toward customers' data plans through a process known as zero-rating. Although it did not explicitly ban them in new net neutrality rules laid out last year, the FCC has been critical of such programs, arguing that they can be used to hurt competition by unfairly favoring some data, creating an uneven playing field for businesses. In a noticeably pointed response, ATT takes a similar line to the position it's held all along: programs like Data Free TV, which allows customers to use data from ATT-owned DirecTV without it counting toward a plan, are not anticompetitive, but are simply a perk consumers enjoy. Verizon, in its response, makes similar arguments defending its FreeBee data program, which allows data from Verizon-owned Go90 to not count toward a data plan. "FreeBee data provides tangible benefits to consumers by increasing the amount of what they can do and watch online, at no cost to them," the company's response says.
AT&T

T-Mobile Exempts AT&T's DirecTV Now Service From Data Caps (arstechnica.com) 22

An anonymous reader writes: One of the biggest selling points of ATT's DirecTV Now service is that it streams video without counting against data caps on the ATT mobile network. But T-Mobile USA customers will also be able to watch DirecTV Now without using up data, the carrier announced yesterday. DirecTV Now is one of the latest services added to Binge On, which exempts dozens of video services from data caps as long as customers are willing to limit mobile viewing quality to about 480p. T-Mobile also promised to reimburse customers for DirecTV Now for 12 months if they port a phone number from the ATT network to T-Mobile and purchase at least two lines. This offer consists of a $35 monthly bill credit, enough to cover the DirecTV Now promotional price. This is a limited-time offer and cannot be combined with other offers like "Carrier Freedom," which reimburses customers for early termination fees when they switch to T-Mobile. "ATT wants you to think DirecTV is theirs exclusively, but that's a load of crap," Legere said in T-Mobile's press release yesterday. "Both DirecTV Now and the DirecTV apps stream free on T-Mobile with a faster, more advanced network that covers nearly every American. ATT is so distracted by their new businesses and DirecTV that they continue to ignore their 110 million wireless customers. Luckily, the Un-carrier's here to show them how to actually take care of customers!"
AT&T

AT&T's DirecTV Now Plagued With Outages and Sports Blackouts (arstechnica.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Barely two weeks after ATT launched DirecTV Now, the online streaming service's customers have already been hit by multiple outages, unexpected blackouts of live local sports games, and missing channels. There was an outage of about three hours last night and a two-hour outage Friday night, TVPredictions reported today. "DirecTV Now's customers said they couldn't log onto the streaming service, or they were suddenly met with a blank screen if already watching," the report said. The "Error Message 30" article tells customers that they may be suffering from "an intermittent or weak Internet connection," but in this case the problem was on DirecTV's end. "Tuesday evening we experienced an issue that prevented some customers from streaming on DirecTV Now," ATT told Ars today. "The issue has since been resolved and we're seeing normal streaming levels at this time. We thank our customers for their patience." Even when DirecTV Now works, availability of live sports games hasn't lived up to what the company promised. There appear to be technical problems affecting local games, but licensing restrictions may be limiting availability as well. This past Sunday, some DirecTV Now subscribers in cities such as San Francisco, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta could not watch NFL games on local Fox channels due to a technical problem, TVPredictions reported in another article.
Cellphones

Samsung May Permanently Disable Galaxy Note 7 Phones In The US As Soon As Next Week (theverge.com) 193

Those who are still clinging on to their Galaxy Note 7, even after Samsung recalled the devices due to faulty batteries in mid-September, may want to seriously reconsider returning them to the Korean company. The Verge has obtained an image of an alert that went out to at least one Note 7 owner on U.S. Cellular today stating that, "As of December 15th, Samsung will modify the software to prevent the Galaxy Note 7 from charging. The phone will no longer work." The Verge reports: It's not clear whether Note 7s will be disabled across the major U.S. carriers as well, but it seems likely that'll be the case. In the past, updates disabling Note 7 features have rolled out across Verizon, ATT, and other carriers within a matter of days. That's probably what'll happen here, as well. By preventing the phone from charging, Samsung takes the final step to making the phone entirely unusable. It's still offering Note 7 owners the ability to fully return the phone or exchange it for another Samsung device. As of November 4th, when Samsung last provided an update, 85 percent of Note 7s sold in the U.S. had been recovered. That still left around 285,000 phones unaccounted for. Completely disabling the phone seems to be Samsung's last-ditch effort to either recover the remaining devices or remove what risk they still pose to consumers.
AT&T

AT&T To Cough Up $88 Million For 'Cramming' Mobile Customer Bills (networkworld.com) 37

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Network World: Some 2.7 million ATT customers will share $88 million in compensation for having had unauthorized third-party charges added to their mobile bills, the Federal Trade Commission announced this morning. The latest shot in the federal government's years-long battle against such abuses, these refunds will represent the most money ever recouped by victims of what is known as "mobile cramming," according to the FTC. From an FTC press release: "Through the FTC's refund program, nearly 2.5 million current ATT customers will receive a credit on their bill within the next 75 days, and more than 300,000 former customers will receive a check. The average refund amount is $31. [...] According to the FTC's complaint, ATT placed unauthorized third-party charges on its customers' phone bills, usually in amounts of $9.99 per month, for ringtones and text message subscriptions containing love tips, horoscopes, and 'fun facts.' The FTC alleged that ATT kept at least 35 percent of the charges it imposed on its customers." The matter with ATT was originally made public in 2014 and also involved two companies that actually applied the unauthorized charges, Tatto and Acquinity.
Businesses

T-Mobile's 'Digits' Solution Lets You Use One Phone Number Across All Your Devices (theverge.com) 46

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: T-Mobile just revealed its answer to ATT's NumberSync technology, which lets customers use one phone number across all their connected devices. T-Mobile's version is called Digits and it will launch in a limited, opt-in customer beta beginning today before rolling out to everyone early next year. "You can make and take calls and texts on whatever device is most convenient," the company said in its press release. "Just log in and, bam, your call history, messages and even voicemail are all there. And it's always your same number, so when you call or text from another device, it shows up as you." When it leaves beta, Digits will cost an extra monthly fee, but T-Mobile isn't revealing pricing today. "This is not going to be treated as adding another line to your account," said COO Mike Sievert. "Expect us to be disruptive here." And while its main feature is one number for everything, Digits does offer T-Mobile customers another big perk: multiple numbers on the same device. This will let you swap between personal and work numbers without having to maintain separate lines and accounts. You can also give out an "extra set" of Digits in situations where you might be hesitant to give someone your primary number; this temporary number forwards to your devices like any other call. You can have multiple numbers for whatever purposes you want, based on T-Mobile's promotional video.
AT&T

FCC Calls Out AT&T, Verizon For 'Zero Rating' Their Own Video Apps (zdnet.com) 56

U.S. regulators are calling out AT&T and Verizon for exempting their own video apps from data caps on customers' smartphones. The FCC has sent letters to the country's biggest wireless carriers saying the way they handle the practice, known as "zero rating," can hurt competition and consumers. From a report on ZDNet: AT&T launched DirecTV Now earlier this week. AT&T Mobility customers can stream video data over LTE without impacting their data allowance. Verizon offers something similar with its go90 service. AT&T and Verizon don't see any wrongdoing. In a statement Friday, AT&T said exempting services like DirecTV Now from data caps saves customers money. Verizon said its practices are good for consumers and comply with regulations. "We will provide the FCC with additional information on why the government should not take away a service that saves consumers money," AT&T wrote in a statement Friday. The FCC hasn't released any official ruling on "zero rating," just guidance. It said on Thursday a similar letter was sent to AT&T in November, but the FCC didn't like AT&T's original response.
AT&T

AT&T Unveils DirecTV Now Streaming TV Service With Over 100 Channels (theverge.com) 80

ATT has officially unveiled its DirecTV Now internet TV streaming service, which launches Wednesday, November 30th, in the U.S. on iPhone, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and PC/Mac, starting at $35 per month. The Verge reports: Like its over-the-top rivals, DirecTV Now will let customers stream live programming on smartphones, tablets, and PCs -- no cable box necessary -- and requires no long-term contracts or commitments. For a limited time, ATT will offer the "Go Big" channel tier with 100 channels for $35 per month. If you sign up in time, the offer will remain valid each month until you cancel. But that $35 rate is not the long-term pricing for 100+ channels. DirecTV Now offers step-up subscriptions that include other channels and content for a higher monthly cost. ATT has signed programming agreements with nearly all major networks with the exception of CBS and Showtime; negotiations with those companies remain ongoing. DirecTV Now allows customers to watch up to two streams simultaneously. HBO and Cinemax can be added to any of these packages for just $5 extra (each) per month. DirecTV Now is "zero rated" for the company's wireless customers, so regardless of how much time they spend streaming, that activity will have no impact on data usage for their monthly bill. Importantly, while these are the subscription rates as of today, the company is being straightforward about the possibility of increases in the future. ATT also plans to air original shows including a Taylor Swift series.
AT&T

Apple's Chip Choices May Leave Some iPhone Users in Slow Lane (bloomberg.com) 35

Not all iPhone 7s are created equal, it turns out. The latest flagship smartphones from Apple that run on Verizon's network are technically capable of downloading data faster than those from AT&T. Yet in testing, the two phones perform about the same, according to researchers at Twin Prime Inc. and Cellular Insights. From a Bloomberg report: Neither firm is clear on the reason, but Twin Prime says it may be because Apple isn't using all the potential of a crucial component in the Verizon version. "The data indicates that the iPhone 7 is not taking advantage of all of Verizon's network capabilities," said Gabriel Tavridis, head of product at Twin Prime. "I doubt that Apple is throttling each bit on the Verizon iPhone, but it could have chosen to not enable certain features of the network chip." "Every iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus meets or exceeds all of Apple's wireless performance standards, quality metrics, and reliability testing," Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said. "In all of our rigorous lab tests based on wireless industry standards, in thousands of hours of real-world field testing, and in extensive carrier partner testing, the data shows there is no discernible difference in the wireless performance of any of the models." It would be an unusual step for a major phone company to restrain its devices. Normally, companies battle to make the fastest, most reliable handsets. Apple may be doing this because it wants to ensure a uniform iPhone experience, according to analysts.
AT&T

AT&T Will Offer a Lower-Quality Video Option But Without a Discount (fortune.com) 48

After T-Mobile and Sprint introduced lower-cost wireless plans in return for customers accepting lower quality video streaming, AT&T is following suit. An anonymous reader shares a Fortune report:The second-largest wireless carrier said it would introduce a feature starting next year called "Stream Saver" to let customers voluntarily downgrade streaming video from any service -- including YouTube and Netflix -- to DVD quality. But AT&T will not lower prices or give a discount to customers activating the lower-quality stream, which would use much less data than watching a typical high-definition video stream. The data used will also still count against a customer's monthly data allowance. AT&T emphasized that the optional feature was intended to help customers use less data, essentially stretching their monthly allowance to go further. "Stream saver lets them enjoy more of what they love," David Christopher, chief marketing officer in AT&T's entertainment group, said in a statement. "And, they are in control -- it's their choice on how to use this innovative feature."
Government

How President Trump Could Destroy Net Neutrality (vice.com) 235

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Donald Trump's presidential election victory could have dire consequences for U.S. internet freedom and openness, according to several tech policy experts and public interest advocates surveyed by Motherboard on Wednesday. The Republican billionaire will likely seek to roll back hard-won consumer protections safeguarding net neutrality, the principle that all internet content should be equally accessible, as well as a host of other policies designed to protect consumers, ensure internet freedom, and promote broadband access, these experts and advocates said. In the wake of Trump's election victory, FCC Chairman Wheeler is likely to step down before the billionaire reality TV star is inaugurated in January. Incoming presidents traditionally have the prerogative to select the leader of FCC, which has broad regulatory power over the nation's cable, phone and satellite companies. It's unclear whom Trump might nominate to lead the FCC, but Ajit Pai, the Kansas-born Republican FCC commissioner and former Verizon lawyer, is likely to be a contender. Trump has tapped Jeffrey Eisenach, a conservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, to lead his telecom policy transition team, according to Politico. Eisenach is a well-known figure in right-wing telecommunications policy circles, with a reputation as a "crusader against regulation." One immediate consequence of Trump's election is a dimmer outlook for ATT's proposed $85 billion buyout of entertainment giant Time Warner. Last month, Trump vowed to block the deal, warning that it would result in "too much concentration of power in the hands of too few." Trump's ignorance about tech and telecom policy was on full display throughout the election season. For example, Trump blithely compared net neutrality to the FCC's old Fairness Doctrine, a bizarre and ignorant assertion for which he was roundly mocked. The Fairness Doctrine, which was eliminated decades ago, required media outlets to afford a "reasonable opportunity" for the airing of opposing views on major issues. Net neutrality has nothing to do with the Fairness Doctrine, but rather ensures that consumers have open, unfettered access to the internet. Net neutrality can't be torpedoed overnight. The FCC rules prohibiting online fast lanes and discriminatory broadband practices are now U.S. policy, and they can't be dismantled at the whim of an authoritarian president. But a Trump-backed, Republican-led FCC could simply stop enforcing the net neutrality policy, rendering it essentially toothless. That could unleash the nation's largest cable and phone companies, including Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, to expand controversial practices like "zero-rating" that are designed to circumvent net neutrality.
Businesses

Trump Victory Clouds Outlook for Time Warner-AT&T, Other Mergers (reuters.com) 117

U.S. corporate dealmakers were likely to put major merger plans on hold as they assess whether U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will follow through on his populist promises and a threat to block AT&T's purchase of Time Warner, or act more like traditional business-friendly Republican administrations. From the report:Trump's rhetoric and the personal nature of the campaign, which included little discussion of policy, left many uncertain about the new U.S. leader's plans, including how his administration will handle mega-mergers. Wall Street braced for a drop in deals, with Goldman Sachs on Wednesday projecting a 20 to 30 percent downside for earnings of banks that focus on merger and acquisition advice, and Jefferies saying that uncertainty about Trump's policy on trade, healthcare, taxes and energy could hamper underwriting activity and M&A globally. "I think a lot of deals will hit the pause button for a bit until we get some clarity on whether President Trump will moderate or be as disruptive as some expect," said a senior Wall Street banker who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak with the media. "It's going to be a tough environment for everything until we see how [Trump] behaves as a leader," the banker added.

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