Dial Zero
A look at what's surprising, silly, scary or stupid in telecommunications and data

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Paying for nothing.

This item is not really about telecommunications. It involves cable TV service from Cablevision; but since the company also provides phone service, and it's a good story, here you go:

Cablevision had a customer with 14 TV sets. Eight of them were connected to cable boxes which had monthly fees, and six of them were connected directly to the cable, and were not charged for.

Cablevision insisted that all TVs that were connected to its service -- even those producing no revenue -- had to be included in its records. They also had to appear on the monthly bills, even if nothing had to be paid.

The format for the monthly bill allowed just ten items, so Cablevision had to separate this customer's TVs into two accounts. Each month the company sent one bill that included the eight cable boxes, plus another bill -- with a different account number, different envelope and additional postage -- listing the six TVs that had no cable boxes and no monthly charges.

The second bill showed monthly charges of six times nothing, with a total due of zero dollars and zero cents.

After several months, Cablevision's computer noticed that no payments were received to pay the zero balance, and turned the account over to a collection agency.

The collection agency's computer then started to threaten the customer, detailing the dire consequences if the payment of zero dollars and zero cents was not made promptly. Phone calls to the agency and Cablevision were fruitless. The customer service people at both companies blamed the computers, and had no way to intervene.

Ultimately the disgusted customer presented a check to Cablevision for $0.00, and the account was credited for the "payment," and everything was fine... for a few months.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

AT&T to offer broadband in airplanes

Yesterday AT&T announced plans to launch a high-speed 4G LTE-based in-flight connectivity service for airlines and passengers in commercial, business and general aviation. The service, planned to be available as soon as late 2015, will be capable of providing in-flight broadband for customers including fast, reliable Wi-Fi and onboard entertainment. Following launch, aviation customers can also expect improved connectivity solutions such as cockpit communications, maintenance operations and crew services.

To deliver this new service, AT&T plans to build an air-to-ground network in the continental United States, based on global 4G LTE standards, to provide fast speeds and efficient utilization of spectrum already owned by AT&T. The company says it is the architect and operator of the nation’s most reliable 4G LTE network and has the expertise, spectrum and financial strength to transform airborne connectivity.

“Everyone wants access to high-speed, reliable mobile Internet wherever they are, including at 35,000 feet,” said John Stankey, Chief Strategy Officer at AT&T. “We are building on AT&T’s significant strengths to develop in-flight connectivity technology unlike any other that exists today, based on 4G LTE standards. We believe this will enable airlines and passengers to benefit from reliable high speeds and a better experience. We expect this service to transform connectivity in the aviation industry – we are truly mobilizing the sky.”

Honeywell recently issued its Wireless Connectivity Survey indicating that in-flight Wi-Fi currently causes frustrations for nearly nine in ten users worldwide, most often due to inconsistent or slow connections. AT&T plans to work with Honeywell to provide hardware and service capabilities to deliver the in-flight connectivity solution. Along with Honeywell’s expertise, AT&T’s technical strength and scale in building networks and managing their evolutions provide a unique opportunity to change the way passengers and airlines connect to the mobile Internet. With AT&T’s planned new network, passengers should be able to gain the reliability they have long hoped for in the sky. AT&T’s in-flight connectivity also offers the potential for improved communications between the plane and the ground through transmission of real-time aircraft data for optimizing, monitoring and evolving airlines’ operations.

In-flight connectivity is said to be a natural fit for AT&T, which over the past six years (2008 to 2013) has invested more than $140 billion into its wireless and wireline networks, when you combine capital investment and acquisitions of spectrum and wireless operations, and already operates what is claimed to be the nation’s most reliable 4G LTE network. AT&T has more than 116 million wireless subscribers, more than 16.5 million total broadband subscribers and serves many of the world’s largest corporations, including all of the Fortune 1000.  AT&T is continuing to innovate with its recent launches of its Connected Car platform and Drive Studio, and introduction of AT&T U-verse® with GigaPowerSM in select U.S. cities.

AT&T sees an opportunity to deliver an innovative and high-performing in-flight connectivity and entertainment service, and says it will build on existing relationships within the aviation industry to deliver a better customer experience than what is available from others today. AT&T plans for its in-flight connectivity service to support both business aviation and commercial airline customers from day-one of the service launch. AT&T will provide information on pricing and availability prior to launch.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pioneering Brazil adopts Internet 'Bill Of Rights'

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Wednesday ratified a bill guaranteeing Internet privacy and enshrining access to the Web during a major conference in Sao Paulo on the future of Internet governance, according to the Associated Press. 

The legislation, which was passed by the Senate late Tuesday, puts limits on the metadata that can be collected from Internet users in Brazil. It also makes Internet service providers not liable for content published by their users and requires them to comply with court orders to remove offensive material.

Brazil has cast itself as a defender of Internet freedom following revelations last year that Rousseff was the object of surveillance by the United States' National Security Agency. She cancelled a state visit to the U.S. last October over the revelations, which came out of leaks by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden and showed Brazil's state-run Petrobras was also the object of American spying.

Rousseff had championed a measure requiring Internet companies to store the data of Brazilian users inside the country, as a way of protecting citizens from further U.S. spying, but clause was cut from the final bill amid fears it would prove too challenging to implement.

CLICK for more

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cops called because someone STUNK

People call 911 for all kinds of real or perceived problems. There are fires, car crashes, car thefts, burglaries, heists, heart attacks, poisonings, floods, mudslides, missing pets, drownings, shootings, stabbings, domestic disputes, cats in trees, rowdy kids, loud music and even shortages of ketchup in fast food restaurants.

A few days ago police in Hannibal, MO twice responded to peace disturbance calls because someone in Hannibal's city hall smelled really bad.

“A Hannibal officer was called to 320 Broadway Tuesday morning in reference to peace disturbance. The officer was contacted by several employees who complained of a subject emitting an odor that was deemed to be significantly noxious and offensive,” said Lt. John Zerbonia of the Police Department, according to the Hannibal Courier-Post.

According to Hannibal Municipal ordinance 16-162, subjects can be cited for peace disturbance because of a “noxious and offensive” odor.

The stinker, whose identity was not revealed by authorities, was no stranger to city hall. “He’s been here on numerous occasions,” said the city staffer. “He did not appear to be conducting any business at city hall. He was just sitting.” According to Zerbonia, the “subject was asked (by the officer) to leave the premises and attend to the issue.”

While the individual left city hall, the story doesn’t end there. At 10:26 a.m., police received another peace disturbance call, this time from 113 N. Third St. “After leaving 320 Broadway the subject entered a neighboring business and was asked to leave there as well, due to the offensive odor,” said Zerbonia.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Turkish leader plans to eradicate Twitter. YouTube was previously banned. Facebook was threatened.

Turkey has blocked access to Twitter. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan boasted, “We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic,” Erdoğan said at a campaign rally on March 20, 10 days before the upcoming local elections, according to the Hurriyet Daily News.

The Press Advisory of the Prime Ministry later clarified Erdoğan's statement, arguing that Twitter officials currently "ignore" some court rulings in Turkey, which order the social media platform to "remove some links" as per the complaints filed by Turkish citizens.

"[In Erdoğan's speech] it is stated that as long as Twitter fails to change its attitude of ignoring court rulings and not doing what is necessary according to the law, technically, there might not be a remedy but to block access in order to relieve our citizens," the statement said.

On Feb. 25, Erdoğan had accused a “robot lobby” of targeting the government through Twitter messages, while strongly denying the authenticity of new phone recordings leaked onto the Internet and implicating his government in corruption allegations.

During protests last June, Erdoğan described the microblogging website as a “trouble,” claiming that “unmitigated lies are there [on Twitter].”

On March 6, Turkey’s premier had also threatened to shut down Facebook and YouTube “if necessary,” via the controversial law. YouTube has been repeatedly banned in Turkey in the past decade.

Meanwhile, Twitter has recently started to remove fake accounts created in Turkey with allegedly “manipulative” political motives. Twitter has become an increasingly bitter battleground between pro and anti-government forces in Turkey in recent months.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Plumbers fought over Tommy Tutone's famous phone number

One-hit wonder Tommy Tutone made the phone number 867-5309 famous in the band's 1982 hit single, which uses the digits over and over in its catchy refrain: "Jenny don't change your number, 8675309." A Rhode Island company and a national company battled over the right to use the number, which doesn't reach "Jenny," but could connect callers to a plumber.

Gem Plumbing & Heating of Lincoln, RI, trademarked the easily-tapped phone number, which reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Gem acquired the number in Rhode Island when its original owner, Brown University, gave up 867-5309 after growing weary of the constant prank calls.

Gem's number worked in the 401 area code in Rhode Island and the 617 area code in Massachusetts.

But Florida-based Clockwork Home Services, also a plumbing company, used a toll-free version of 867-5309 in New England. 

In 2007, Gem brought suit against Clockwork Home Services, alleging a violation of its trademark. Clockwork contended that Gem's trademark was invalid. They argued that a company can only trademark a vanity number, like 1-800-FLOWERS. Effective in May 2007, Clockwork was ordered by a court to stop using the number in New England. As of today, it is used by Gem.

Tommy "Tutone" Heath said that he'd prefer that neither company use the number. "It's ridiculous," said Heath. "If I wanted to get into it, I could probably take the number away from both of them." (info from The Associated Press and Wikipedia)

CLICK for more about the song and its impact

Monday, March 03, 2014

Not a Chinese virus. Twitter was brought down by Ellen's Oscar selfie

Samsung was one sponsor of last night's Academy Awards broadcast, and host Ellen DeGeneres used a white Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone to take selfies with celebs in the audience. She said she wanted to set a record for re-tweeting.  CLICK for video of selfie session.
The group photo was quickly retweeted more than two million times, breaking the previous record set by President Obama with the picture of him hugging FLOTUS Michelle after his 2012 re-election.
Twitter tweeted an apology because the Oscar retweeting disrupted service for more than 20 minutes. Chinese hackers: take note.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Man died trying to get phone in burning house

A man in Plano, Texas died early Thursday when he rushed back into his burning home to get his cellphone.

Rex Benson was initially able to escape the powerful blaze but braved the sky-high flames with another man to retrieve a phone to call 911, fire officials said.

The unidentified companion escaped, but Benson was unable to cheat death twice. He was found dead inside the house by members of the Plano Fire Department.

Benson's adult daughter and an unidentified roommate were able to escape the fire and survive.

Fire Capt. Peggy Harrell said in her experience that roughly 90% of people who go back into a fire don’t make it out alive.

“I don't think people realize how quickly fire grows. Evidentially, they felt they had the time to go back in,” she said. Neighbors were perplexed as to why Benson didn’t come to them for a phone. “He could have come to any of the neighbors’ houses to call 911,” Nakita Weseman said. “I know he realized probably he didn't have his cellphone, but that's definitely replaceable, but he wasn't.”

Info from http://www.nydailynews.com 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Netflix and Comcast do a deal for better streaming

Without FCC-imposed "Net Neutrality," Netflix and Comcast have established a more direct connection that’s already delivering an "even better user experience to consumers," while also allowing for future growth in Netflix traffic. Netflix receives no preferential network treatment under the multi-year agreement.

Terms were not disclosed, but the Wall Street Journal said that Netflix will pay Comcast for the speedy service. Reuters said this deal will "
open the possibility that more content companies will have to shell out for better service."

According to NPR, "Netflix had 33 million U.S. streaming subscribers at the start of the year and accounts for about one third of all traffic at peak times on the Internet, according to research firm Sandvine. As the video steaming company has grown, Internet service providers like Comcast have pushed the company for more structured deals to enable its content to be transmitted smoothly and reduce the strain on their networks. Netflix is already experimenting with different rate plans that charge slightly more for households that want to stream its shows and movies on four different screens simultaneously. Comcast was ranked as the 14th fastest Internet service provider in January, according to a table on Netflix's website. By connecting directly to Comcast's network, Netflix should be able to boost the quality and speed of its video streaming as it adds more customers and prepares to start streaming its content in the ultra high definition format this spring. Other large Internet companies such as Google already pay broadband providers a fee to enable more direct connections. Comcast is the nation's number-one pay TV and Internet provider under its XFINITY brand. The company said earlier this month that it had agreed to acquire Time Warner Cable for $42.5 billion in stock."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Death caused by homo sapiens, not LG cellphone


A death originally thought to have been caused by an exploding cellphone was later blamed on a co-worker who confessed to making up the story after accidentally striking the victim with a drilling vehicle, South Korean police said in 2007.

The quarry worker, identified only by his family name Seo, was found dead with a melted phone battery in his shirt pocket. Police and a local doctor who examined his body said a malfunctioning battery may have killed the man.

However, after an autopsy suggested damage to Seo's internal organs was too great to be caused by a cellphone explosion, police questioned the colleague who first reported Seo's death.

The man, identified only by his surname Kwon, told police that he accidentally killed Seo while backing up a drilling vehicle, acknowledging that the exploding cellphone story was fiction.

Kwon told investigators after the accident that he moved his vehicle to throw off police, but did not say he set the phone on fire.

Police said the phone was made by LG Electronics, the world's fifth-largest handset maker. LG said it knew all along that its cellphone was not the killer. "LG rigorously tests all the products not only for functionality and design, but safety as well," the company said. (info from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Is hypersensitivity to Wi-Fi a legitimate disability? Will a foil hat protect your brain?

In 2008, the City Council of Santa Fe, New Mexico unanimously approved a plan to provide free wireless Internet service in libraries and other city buildings, over the objections of those who say they are electrically sensitive. 

"My first reaction is, it's a disaster. My second reaction is, they're inviting a lawsuit," said Arthur Firstenberg, a leading opponent of the proposal. Opponents complain they are sickened by electromagnetic pollution and say it will keep them from using the libraries or attending meetings in city hall.

City attorney Frank Katz, who had been asked to determine whether the opponents are covered by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, said there's no legal case in which hypersensitivity to wireless signals has been found to be a disability, nor has any case identified Wi-Fi as its cause. That "doesn't mean that someone couldn't bring a case," he said.

Julie Tambourine, an advocate for the disabled and homeless, said that the legal analysis was flawed, because it didn't take into account those with diabetes, seizure disorders, respiratory ailments and other conditions that can be adversely affected by microwave radiation. She also said the opponents could have been accommodated under federal law by having one of the three library branches be designated Wi-Fi-free.

City Councilor Patti Bushee proposed taking city hall out of the wireless plan -- "since this is the local seat of democracy" -- but that motion failed. Other councilors said wireless is a useful tool for them during meetings. The council chambers is the one spot in the city complex now with wireless.

Opponents of Bushee's motion also argued that wireless service bleeds into the council chambers from nearby businesses, so opponents wouldn't gain anything by having the city eliminate it there. (Photo from Drveec. Info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Wacky judge lost job for mass cellphone jailing

A Niagara Falls (NY) City Court judge who jailed 46 people who were in his courtroom when a cellphone rang, was removed from the bench by a state commission.

Judge Robert Restaino "snapped" and "engaged in what can only be described as two hours of inexplicable madness" during the March 2005 session, Raoul Felder, chairman of the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, wrote in the decision to remove Restaino from the $113,900-per-year post.

A phone rang during a case in the courthouse that has a sign warning that cellphones and pagers must be turned off.

"Everyone is going to jail," Restaino said. "Every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now. You are all going."

When no one came forward, Restaino ordered the group into custody, and they were taken to jail, where they were searched and packed into crowded cells. Fourteen people who could not post bail were shackled and taken to another jail. Restaino ordered them released later that afternoon.

Restaino told the state panel he had been under stress in his personal life and appealed his firing.

In a 6-0 decision in 2008, the Court of Appeals concluded that “by indiscriminately committing into custody 46 defendants, petitioner deprived them of their liberty without due process, exhibited insensitivity, indifference and a callousness so reproachable that his continued presence on the Bench cannot be tolerated.”

(info from The Associated Press and WSJ, photo from UCLA) 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Obama had nothing to do with free "Obamaphones"

Republicans and other conservatives have vociferously slammed the so-called "Obamaphone" program (really "Lifeline") that supplies free cellphones to poor people.

According to TheHill.com, "forty-four House Republicans called Lifeline a 'failed program' that symbolizes 'everything that is wrong with Washington.' "Sadly, Lifeline has become a prime example of how the culture of dependency is weakening America," the GOPers stated.
The lawmakers, led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said they would repeal the program if they could.
Right-wing loudmouths including Matt Drudge, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh similarly condemned the program.

Sorry folks, there is no Obamaphone.

Subsidized phone service for poor people in the United States goes back to the Communications Act of 1934 -- long before cellphones or Barack Obama existed. You can blame FDR if you want, but not POTUS # 44.