Tag Archives: America

T-Mobile Expands Offerings as Customer Totals Increase

T-Mobile coverage map showing all of North America

Over the first six months of 2015, T-Mobile has seen an increase in overall customer totals that was higher than industry analysts expected. During the recent release of subscriber figures, during the second quarter of the year the company added over 2 million new customers across pre- and post-paid accounts. This growth brings the company’s customer total to just under 60 million which, despite the increase, maintains T-Mobile as the fourth largest carrier behind Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint. Commentators in the wireless industry believe that this growth will continue throughout the remainder of the year, although long-term forecasts suggest the promotions T-Mobile has used to elevate its presence in the market will not be sustainable.

In an effort to preempt the predictions that it will not be able to sustain its growth beyond this year, T-Mobile has announced the extension of existing promotions and new ones that it hopes will allow the company to enjoy a larger footprint, both domestically and internationally. One of its most ambitious plans was the offer for any Verizon customer to try T-Mobile for two weeks, absolutely free. The latest reports indicate that this plan was successful during the first quarter but has tapered off during the second quarter, although similar programs for AT&T and Sprint transfer customers have not seen any signs of slowing down.

Similarly, T-Mobile has expanded its two most popular data plan packages. These packages both cost $100 per month, but one includes two phone numbers with unlimited LTE data, while the other offers four phone numbers with 2.5 GB of data per line. Having satisfied its customers by providing an unlimited data plan, T-Mobile is now turning its attention to the part of its consumer base that wants to upgrade phones on a frequent basis. With a new program titled Jump on Demand, for a monthly fee of $10, T-Mobile customers will have the option to upgrade their phone three times per twelve months.

As innovative as the program is to allow multiple phone upgrades annually, T-Mobile’s plan to offer coverage throughout North America, including Mexico and Canada, without roaming fees is being heralded as a game changer. In particular, this plan is attracting attention because it will be available to customers sooner than the plan proposed by AT&T months ago, which will offer similar perks. Under T-Mobile’s plan, subscribers will be able to text, call, and use web services, like email and GPS applications, while in Mexico or Canada without incurring any additional fees. The plan will go live by the start of August 2015.

Time Warner Cable Mergers and Net Neutrality Expectations for Charter

Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable logos combined.

A little over two months ago a proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable (TWC) was called off. Almost no time passed before Charter Communications entered into an agreement to purchase TWC for roughly $57 billion. As the calendar turns to July, there remains a certain level of uncertainty surrounding the details of this proposed purchase, as well as how the FCC will respond to the bid.

 

Early after its announcement in 2014, the bid by Comcast to purchase TWC was considered a long shot. Claims from within the broadband community, consumer advocate groups, and the public all made it clear that they were concerned with the creation of what would have been the largest TV operator in the United States. Even the Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, expressed his opposition to the merger. Wheeler’s main point of contention, however, was that if the purchase were allowed to proceed, it would create an unfair competitive advantage for Comcast in the broadband market. In particular, the company would have enjoyed a controlling share of almost 60% among broadband providers. Ultimately it was this near monopoly, coupled with the lack of any penalty fee for ending the agreement, which caused Comcast to back out of the deal.

 

Drawing lessons from the failed deal between Comcast and TWC, Charter has begun to promote how its proposed purchase of TWC will not alter the television or broadband playing field on the national stage. The CEO of Charter, Tom Rutledge, has stressed that even if his company is successful in acquiring TWC and Bright House, the newly expanded company will still be only the second largest provider of cable and high speed internet services behind Comcast. At most, Charter would supply about 20% of all TV customers and 29% of all broadband customers. Another issue that Charter does not need to address is that unlike Comcast, which has a financial interest in Hulu, there is no concern that Charter may regulate speeds for video streaming services, such as Netflix or Amazon Prime.

 

Charter is also drawing on the FCC ruling which made broadband a Title II utility as a reason for why its proposed merger should be approved. Rutledge made clear that the footprint of the expanded company would not overlap geographically and that there would remain competition for broadband services offering 25 Mbps in all of its coverage areas. Additionally, he stated that since the majority of the company’s investment is in broadband, not television, it would encourage the expansion of Over the Top (OTT) streaming video services and not impose any sort of data cap on customers. Indeed, subscribers with the new Charter, if the merger is approved, could see significant savings on their broadband subscriptions as their speeds are tripled while their monthly bill is lowered.

 

While the merger works its way through regulatory checks, industry analysts appear confident that the deal will occur. The latest suggestions are that there is a 75% chance that the deal is approved. The FCC has announced that they hope to have this process decided, in favor or opposition of the merger, by the end of 2015.

 

FCC Reclassification, Broadband Access, and OTT: Does it Mean Anything?

Collection of rainbow-colored internet cables

One of the biggest hassles that people experience when they move is finding new cable and internet providers. While there are a bevy of cable packages to choose from, the options for broadband providers are not always as plentiful. With the recent FCC decision to reclassify broadband as a Title II utility, coupled with its change in what constitutes broadband, services with speeds of 25 Mbps or higher, the process of selecting a provider by a new homeowner has gotten even harder. The issue at hand is that for the vast majority of American households, there is only one, if any, Internet Service Provider (ISP) that can supply true broadband. The latest statistics are that 19.7% of American households do not have access to an ISP offering the 25 Mbps speed, while 54.3% have access to only one such ISP.

 

While the broadband provider issue appears to be changing with the development and expansion of fiber networks throughout the country, Roger Lynch, CEO of Sling TV, is stressing that consumers may see an increased strain on their finances as they purchase internet access. In particular, Lynch believes that those consumers who are broadband-only subscribers, the type who thrive in the expanding Over the Top (OTT) ecosystem of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus, will feel the pinch as cable companies attempt to offset their loss of TV subscribers by raising the price on single-use consumers. While OTT-only dwellings remain a small part overall, the percentage is growing and has now reached 10.5 million households, up over 15% from 2012. This expansion is occurring at the same time that pay TV subscriptions have declined over 0.5% since the start of 2015, the largest decline ever recorded.

 

Although Lynch’s claims must be taken with a grain of salt, considering that Sling TV is a subsidiary of Dish Network and a competitor to the cable companies, there is no denying that the new OTT offering is seeing early growth. Since its February 2015 launch, the $20 per month service has expanded to over 250,000 customers. While this is a fine showing, it is not a surprise to industry analysts who predicted a fast start but see Sling TV’s subscription numbers slowing down quickly. With its focus on offering smaller channel bundles and the option to add other thematic bundles for an additional cost per month, Sling is trying to develop its own niche, no doubt assisted by the existing relationships that Dish Network enjoys with broadcasters. However, Sling’s sustained growth, especially from those consumers interested in a variety of sports offerings, of which the OTT service has limited access, remains the question.

 

Ultimately, all of the talk about falling pay TV customer totals, increasing costs for broadband-only subscribers, and the increase of OTT offerings means that consumers need to be aware of what services are available in their area before they sign a lease or close on a home.

FCC removes local regulation rules

FCC logo

While the much-discussed March 2015 decision by the FCC upheld the idea of Net Neutrality, there is a change taking place at the local level that cable providers are hailing as a victory for streamlining the distribution of content to their customers. For the last twenty-two years, local, city, and state committees have possessed oversight of the basic programming packages provided by the cable companies. Now, after a unanimous 5-0 ruling by the FCC to remove this restriction, the providers will be able to determine all the details of their programming packages without having to receive the approval of local authorities.

 

Up until now, the oversight provided by the local committees as part of the 1992 Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act not only dictated which channels could not be excluded from the basic programming packages, but also how much those packages could cost. The new FCC ruling determined that the regulation was no longer necessary because of changes in the market that have created an elevated level of competition for the cable providers, in particular through the expanding footprint of services provided by companies like DirecTV and Dish. Another factor in the FCC’s decision was that since 2013, 220 of 224 requests for exemption from local rate-setting restrictions were approved. With such a high success rate for receiving exemptions, the FCC believes that it is simply removing an unnecessary level of red tape.

 

Cable providers state that with the removal of uniform package requirements, they will be able to present consumers with a variety of service and channel packages, ultimately providing more choices for service packages that don’t include the higher cost premium channels. At the same time the cable providers have cheered the latest FCC decision, broadcasters have been critical of the claims that satellite companies provide reliable enough competition to all parts of the United States to justify this victory for the cable providers. As a result of this rule change, and contrary to the cable companies’ claims, there is a fear among broadcasters that basic TV station signals will now be placed in costly service tiers, ultimately lowering the viewership of local programming.

 

The concern over the FCC ruling is not confined to just local regions, but also the halls of power in Washington D.C. A representative for the National Association of Broadcasters remains perplexed why the one defense available to safeguard consumers from skyrocketing prices has been removed so easily. Furthermore, members of Congress have questioned the FCC’s ruling, stating that this decision will result in increased prices and fewer channel choices for residents in rural and remote areas.

All Hail the Happiness Machine

According to this article America is not the happiest country in the world.  The title of the happiest country in the world goes to Denmark – not exactly the place I think most people would guess as being overly happy.  According to the data used to come about which country is happier than another in that article America doesn’t even crack the top 10; FYI the 10 spot went to Sweden.  Then there is another article which doesn’t even have America in the top twenty of happiest countries in the world, with the USA landing at the 23rd spot on the list.

Granted happiness is a hard thing to measure, so these lists can be taken with a grain of salt, and I suppose it could be said that your individual happiness is all that you can control, so worrying about where your particular country lands on some list of happiness is relatively moot.  That being said then, being happy and staying happy can be a little more difficult for some than it is for others.  I mean sure, there are those who seem to be perpetually happy, and while those kind of people can be rather annoying for those of us who succumb to any of the other emotions that we’re endowed with.  So, for us mere mortals who may occasionally feel a little less happy — otherwise known as sad — then perhaps you could contact Brendan Dawes.

Who is Brendan Dawes?

Well, he isn’t a psychiatrist, nor is he a psychologist; in fact he really doesn’t have any sort of mental health credentials what-so-ever.  Instead he is an inventor, and he has created The Happiness Machine, which is a printer that will print out a happy message to whoever the unhappy user is.  It is a printer that is directly connected to the internet and scours the internet monitoring service called We Feel Fine looking for anyone who mentions the word “happy” in a public post, or tweet.  Then when you feel a little gloomy, you just hit a button on the Happiness Machine and through the miracle of modern technology the machine prints out that happy message for you.

Maybe if we put one of these new devices in every American building then we all could be one of those perpetually happy people and America would then rise to the top of the world’s happiest country list?

Tweeters Advocate and Call for Assassinating Romney

Is there any place left in this world that has an ounce of sanity left to it?  Someplace where people think before they speak, or tweet?  Somewhere that has a majority of the populace whose minds are open to varying and disparate views, that don’t always coincide with theirs, and can accept the thoughts and opinions of others?  It doesn’t have to be a utopia, because I am not so naïve as to think that there is a land of sunshine, daisies, and unicorns feasting on clouds of cotton candy; but there has to be someplace in this world that isn’t so divided amongst itself based on political, racial, socio-economic, or any other issue that serves to divide people, to where spurts of vitriolic hatred are shot at anyone who doesn’t believe, or agree with whatever little faction they belong to.

I ask all of this because according to this article, which is from a definitely biased online newspaper, has included a list of tweets from various people advocating and avowing the assassination of Mitt Romney should he become President of the United States.  I find that completely reprehensible, and I say that as someone who is not a fan or supporter of Mr. Romney.  That’s right, I am not going to vote for him, I take some umbrage with his stance on a great many issues, but I DO NOT wish him dead.

Quite honestly those who are tweeting all of their intent to kill are not doing the guy that they support any favors; that guy being President Obama — who I also do not support.  How can someone who might be on the fence, with regards to whom they are going to cast their vote for, wish to associate themselves; however remotely; with people who are publicly announcing their wish to kill someone, simply because that someone has differing political views?  That is not the kind of country I wish to live in.  Just an FYI, there are several historical instances where people were killed for not agreeing politically with the current regimes.  They were/are Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Communist China, North Korea, Pinochet’s Chile, Franco’s Spain, Castro’s Cuba, as well as more.  None of those were joyous places to live.  So, if that is the kind of place America is going to become you can count me out; I will find a more friendly place to live.

 

SpaceX Set to Launch Supplies to ISS

America’s space program is in some sort of a transition period with the retiring of the Space Shuttle program.  While it was time to put the Space Shuttles to rest, a program and design that dates back to the 1970’s, what is a little surprising, sad, and perhaps even understandable is that there really didn’t/doesn’t seem to be any real kind of plan to transition to following the decommissioning of the Space Shuttles.

Typically organizations have a new product ready to go when they are looking to end the run of the current product.  Apparently NASA didn’t get that memo, because our astronauts are now reliant on the Russian Space Agency to ferry them to and from the International Space Station.  That’s right, NASA does not have a rocket capable of delivering men into orbit, it is the 1960’s all over again, when America found itself woefully behind the Soviet Union in its space program.

Given the persistent budget cuts that NASA faces year end and year out I guess this lack of a replacement for the Space Shuttle is perhaps understandable.  It is no secret that America’s finances are a little strained, and given that it is kind of hard to justify the continued spending of billions of dollars on space exploration when there are a lot more Earthly needs that should be addressed.

Thankfully though this is still America and the private sector is demonstrating that it is more than capable of filling needs where they exist in the market.  Enter Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, known simply as SpaceX, which was founded by PayPal founder Elon Musk, and the capsule that this company developed called Dragon.  Tonight at 8:35 pm EST will be this company’s first mission to the International Space Station carrying supplies.  There was an earlier mission to the Space Station, but it was simply a test mission, nothing was carried on board the capsule.

Right now many are saying that SpaceX’s privatization of space flight is kind of neat, but it isn’t exactly solving the lack of manned spacecraft here in America.  Well, just relax there people, because the company does have plans to convert their Dragon capsule for manned missions too.  Just as with a government funded space program, you don’t just start shooting people into space without an adequate trial program first.

Neil Armstrong, the Quiet Hero

Yesterday we lost an American hero in Astronaut and first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong.  I happened to be born at the tail end of the Apollo Moon missions, and as such that program, the astronauts, and NASA played a not so small part in my childhood.  The afterglow of those moon missions was still fresh in America at that time, and with it came the feeling and spirit that we, as a country, and even the human race, are capable of such tremendous endeavors that when one really thinks about it are still remarkable to this very day.  I think the fact that following the Apollo moon missions manned spaceflight has never been further than orbiting around Earth is testament to the remarkability of those lunar landings; and Neil Armstrong was the first.

With his famous quote, “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  You would think that anyone who could utter such a cleverly subtle way to encapsulate such a momentous occasion might be one to seek and stay in the spotlight.  Neil Armstrong wasn’t one of those people.  Mr. Armstrong was a quiet man, who described himself as a nerdy engineer.  Upon splash down of the tiny capsule called Columbia, Neil Armstrong could have seized upon his immediate popularity for power, money, and though he already earned prestige by walking on the moon, he could have gotten more, but he didn’t.  Instead Neil Armstrong accepted a teaching position at the University of Cincinnati, after serving briefly (1 year) in ARPA.  He never once sought accolades, nor attention for, his unique position in the history of mankind, and that is a rare and noble trait to have, one that makes someone even more of a hero in my mind, because it was never about him, and he knew it.  So today, I would like to say, Good Luck and God Speed Neil Armstrong, you will be missed.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

I had something totally different in mind as a subject for today’s post, but then I read this article and it made me laugh.  It wasn’t one of those laughs you have when you hear a joke, rather it was one of those laughs you have when you see, hear, or read something that makes you say, “You HAVE to be joking.”  It was a laugh in disgust.

Meet Justin Peterson, a 12 year old boy living in Chewelah Washington.  I am sure he is like most 12 years old boys, who enjoys playing with his friends, playing whatever gaming console he has, and probably hates doing homework too; though that is solely speculation on my part and trying to relate how I was as a 12 years old waaaay back before I needed glasses, let alone the bifocals I was recently told I needed.  There is one shinning contrast between Justin and other young men and women not just of his age group, but society at large.  He, personally wants to make a difference for others, he wants to be an active member of not just his community, but for others living all over his and our country.

Mr. Peterson, and I believe he deserves all of the respect that the word “mister” commands, even though he is “only” 12 years old, wanted to raise money for the Honor Flight Network, which is a charitable organization that honors our military veterans by flying them to our nation’s capital so they can visit and reflect upon all of the memorials there (the Korean War Memorial is one of my favorites).  Sounds fantastic doesn’t it?  Not just the Honor Flight Network, but the fact that a young man of his age feels strongly enough about something other than himself that he is moved to action.

So, Mr. Peterson decided that he would hold a fundraiser for this charitable organization, he decided that he would sell the All American favorite, hamburgers, with the proceeds then going to the Honor Flight Network.  This is where the feel good story turns.  It wasn’t too long before the city health inspector showed up and “honored” Mr. Peterson with a $170 fine for not having a food permit.  Huzzah!  USA! USA! USA!  Yeah, that would be sarcasm, so in today’s America it appears that no good deed goes unpunished . . .

Pizza Vending Machines Coming to America

It is no secret that we live in a glutinous society.  I mean the simple fact that America is the fattest nation on Earth should be all the evidence anyone needs to see that we like to over indulge on pretty much all things edible.  We like all you can eat buffets, which can’t be good for our collective waistlines; and we judge sit-down restaurants on their portion size; we believe the bigger the better.  There isn’t a single fast food restaurant that doesn’t offer some sort of supersize option, and we can go to any Seven Eleven and buy a 55 gallon drum of soda, otherwise called the “Big Gulp.”  Yep, we love to put copious amounts of food stuffs into our gullets, and I am guilty of it too.

My weaknesses are chocolate chip cookies and pizza, and let me tell you, I can devour large amounts of either of those things in a single sitting — and I mean LARGE amounts.  Luckily I have developed a certain sense of will power with regards to my favorite glutinous treats; which basically entails me not going down the cookie aisle at the grocery store, and avoiding pizza places.  This tactic works about 90-95% of the time, but occasionally I have to literally feed those cravings and I buckle like an Amish shoe, buying either the cookies, or the pizza that I desire at the time.  However we do live in incredible times, and the Dutch might have just made it harder for me to resist one of my temptations.

Dutch based A1 Concepts has created a vending machine that can deliver pizza, hot and fresh in less than 3 minutes, and they are ready to bring this miracle of modern temptation to the United States.  While I am fairly positive that these vending machines will not produce the best pizzas in the world (most food vending machines give us things that can only be called food because it is edible), but when you are a pizza junkie like me you operate under the motto there are no bad pizzas, some are just better than others.  I guess I will just have to work on my pizza will power so that I can be prepared to resist the urge the first time I see one of these machines.