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

Monday, July 31, 2006

WorldCom con man won't pay $13.6 million fine.

Scott Sullivan, the former chief financial officer who helped perpetrate an $11 billion accounting fraud at WorldCom, won't have to pay a $13.6 million fine because he's broke, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission

Sullivan, who is serving a five-year prison term, had agreed in a settlement that he owed nearly $13.6 million in penalties for his role in the WorldCom scandal.

He previously surrendered his $11 million Florida mansion to settle a lawsuit filed by investors, and gave up his depleted WorldCom retirement account, leaving him with nothing to pay government fines. (From the Wall Street Journal)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Getting married in the toilet.

French phone equipment giant Alcatel and ATT spin-off Lucent are preparing to merge.

  • For the second quarter of the year, Alcatel reported an 8% drop in net profits compared to the previous year, even though sales rose 7.6%.

  • For the same period, Lucent profit dropped 79% and sales were off 12% from last year's figure.

  • "Alcatel and Lucent are fortunate in the depth and breadth of the talent each company is bringing to our proposed merger," said Lucent boss Patricia Russo, who will become CEO of the combined company. "Our experienced international management team will give our combined company an enormous advantage..."

    Don't believe a word of it.

    Thursday, July 27, 2006

    Woman can't remember why she swallowed cellphone.

    Missouri prosecutors say Marlon Brando Gill shoved a cellphone down girlfriend Melinda Abell's throat because he was angry and jealous.

    Defense attorneys insisted that she swallowed the phone intentionally to keep Gill from seeing whom she'd been calling.

    Abell testified that she couldn't remember how the phone got in her throat, because she had too much to drink that night. (From the Associated Press)

    Wednesday, July 26, 2006

    College survey: cellphones less vital than PCs

    While it may seem that cellphones are a ubiquitous and necessary part of campus life, they are ranked less important than computers, according to a recent student survey conducted for Circuit City.

    The survey of 2,300 college students showed that 72 percent of them characterized computers as something they “cannot live without" as compared to 53 percent who said that about cellphones and 21 percent who must have televisions.

    Tuesday, July 25, 2006

    Cingular sued for abusing
    AT&T Wireless customers

    Cingular Wireless misled and overcharged millions of AT&T cellphone users when Cingular bought AT&T Wireless, according to a lawsuit filed on July 6.

    Cingular bought AT&T's cell phone system in October 2004, after promising that the merger would be "seamless."

    But, the lawsuit contends, instead of the new and better services Cingular promised AT&T customers, Cingular began dismantling and degrading the AT&T network, forcing AT&T customers to move to Cingular's network. That meant buying new phones, moving to higher cost plans, and, in some cases, paying an $18 "transfer" or "upgrade fee." Some customers who tried to go to another company were hit with "early termination fees" of $175. Others who wouldn't or couldn't pay, have kept AT&T contracts while suffering with bad service or no service.

    The lawsuit was filed on behalf of all AT&T customers who were deceived or overcharged by Cingular's actions related to the merger, by a group of lawyers and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

    According to Reuters, Cingular refuted the lawsuit claims, said it is considering countersuing, and that it spent nearly $10 billion to integrate and improve its networks since the merger.

    The suit comes one week after a court upheld a decision by the California Public Utilities Commission imposing a $12.1 million fine against Cingular for promising service it could not provide, and charging early termination fees of up to $500. Click for more

    Monday, July 24, 2006

    Mafia murderers provide directory assistance.

    When you call for directory assistance in Italy, you may speak to a convicted killer.

    Italy's biggest phone service provider, Telecom Italia, has opened a call center in Rome's largest prison, where inmates answer requests for information. "This helps detainees get work experience and prepare for when they'll get out of prison," said Telecom's Chairman Marco Provera.

    "Good afternoon, this is Gianluca speaking, how can I help you?" said Gianluca Descenzo, who is serving a 13-year sentence for a drug-related murder.

    "This may seem like a boring job, but for people who would otherwise spend the day sitting in cells doing nothing, it gives a sense to your life," said Salvatore Striano, who has been convicted for Mafia crimes and works in the call-center. "It allows us to have contact with the outside world, and it makes you feel like you're being useful. People often need the address of a hospital or a pharmacy. Sometimes they'll ask the weirdest questions, like what day is it today or my dog is sick, what should I do?" (From Reuters)

    Friday, July 21, 2006

    Pay to talk, drive for free.

    New Cingular Wireless customers in Ohio who sign up for two-year plans and send in their old cell phones will get $50 prepaid Visa cards to buy gas, according to Laine Seely, Cingular's Ohio marketing director.

    With a Hummer, $50 might pay for a round trip to the Cingular store.

    Thursday, July 20, 2006

    OOPS! Verizon overcharges 11,000 people

    Verizon overbilled about 11,000 customers in the territory of the former Chesapeke and Potomac Telephone Company (DC, MD, VA, WV), from several hundred to several thousand dollars each.

    Verizon, the nation's second-largest phone company, said the overbilling was caused by a computer error that was noticed in late June and took several days to correct.

    Jack Mitton, an accountant who lives in Washington DC, said he recently signed up for a Verizon plan promising unlimited local and long-distance calling for $39.95 a month, but his next bill was for $2,255.26. (From the Washington Post)

    Wednesday, July 19, 2006

    New Bill Gates charity project: rescue Nortel

    After financing medical research, education reform and Apple Computer, about a billion of Microsoft's dollars are heading for Nortel, the perpetually-in-the-sewer Canada-based telecom giant.

    Microsoft and Nortel announced an alliance to accelerate the availability of unified communications - an illusive industry concept that combines various communications elements (such as email, instant messaging, telephony and multimedia conferencing) and makes it easier for workers to reach colleagues and customers. The companies will also attempt to migrate traditional business phone systems into software, to provide advanced functions, reduce costs, and hasten the creation of innovative applications.

    Microsoft's last effort in telecommunications -- a computer-connected cordless phone -- was a notable failure; and Nortel has been bleeding billions in recent years.

    If you dump two buckets of dead fish into one large bucket, and swirl them around, what are the chances of producing a living fish?

    Tuesday, July 18, 2006

    Not telecom, but read it anyway

    Japanese students succeeded on Sunday in making a manned flight in a plane powered only by ordinary Panasonic AA batteries.

    The group from the Tokyo Institute of Technology flew the plane a distance of 1,283 feet at an airfield north of the capital, in what was the first such battery-powered flight, said a spokesman for Matsushita Electric Industrial Co, the project's sponsors.

    The plane, with a 102-foot wing span but weighing just 97 pounds, was piloted by a 139-pound student for the trip, which lasted about one minute.

    The power was provided by 160 AA batteries.

    "I didn't think it would fly so beautifully," said one of the students involved.

    The team is hoping to have the flight recognized as a record by the Japan Aeronautic Association, the spokesman said. (From Reuters)

    Monday, July 17, 2006

    You know about phishing.
    Now worry about about something else.

    You’ve probably been warned about “phishing” – an email scam that gets people to reveal personal financial info at counterfeit websites that appear to be run by such companies as Citibank and Ebay.

    Now you can start worrying about "vishing," which is voice phishing.

    People in California received emails telling them that their online banking privileges had been suspended. They were instructed to call a local phone number, where an automated system asked them to enter their account numbers, PINs and other information. The phone number they dialed did NOT belong to their bank, and could have connected callers to crooks anywhere in the world, thanks to the number choices available through internet phone service providers.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, the FBI traced the scheme to computers inside and outside the U.S., but hasn't arrested anyone yet. The phone number has been deactivated. It is unclear whether any money was stolen.

    "Everyone's accustomed to the standard phishing attack," said Adam O'Donnell, a senior research scientist at San Francisco-based online security firm Cloudmark Inc. "Their banks have told them not to click on the URLs," but customers aren't as careful with phone calls, because they are accustomed to entering their account information before speaking to a representative.

    Wednesday, July 12, 2006

    Worthless warranty?

    It's very important to install surge protectors for your phone, computer, audio and video equipment, to protect them from high voltage that can come in on power lines, phone lines and even TV cables.

    For many years, the major surge protector manufacturers provided "connected equipment" warranties, to give credibility to their products while promising to reimburse customers who incurred damage when protectors failed to protect.

    These connected equipment warranties have been fading away, and some present warranties don't warrant much.

    ITW Linx makes excellent protectors, but offers connected equipment warranties on only some product lines. For other products, the company says "ITW Linx warrants to the original purchaser that ITW Linx surge protection products will be free from defects in materials and workmanship for the lifetime of the product. Lifetime means the period between purchase and the date product sacrifices itself..."

    In other words, it's guaranteed to work until it stops working.

    Tuesday, July 11, 2006

    Someone should have guarded the guards.

    There was rampant looting of telecom equipment by security guards during construction of AT&T's headquarters on Madison Avenue at 56th Street in Manhattan in the mid 1980s. One guard solicited business from a flea market vendor, saying "Just let me know what you want. Whatever they bring in during the day, we take out at night."

    New York City relaxed its normal zoning requirements in exchange for AT&T's promise to use the building long into the future. Despite the promise, AT&T sold the building to Sony after just six years of use, and moved its staff into the AT&T "Long Distance Building" in lower Manhattan, that had been built 60 years earlier. (Photo by Mary Ann Sullivan)

    Friday, July 07, 2006

    Denmark and Holland
    will probably beat Korea.

    No, we're not talking about soccer.

    South Korea is is expected to lose its position as the world leader in broadband usage. After several years when South Korea was far ahead of other countries in number of broadband lines per 100 population, Denmark and Holland are now very close.

    According to market research firm Point Topic’s World Broadband Statistics report, South Korea showed negligible broadband growth in 2005 but still has over 25% penetration of broadband by population. But Denmark and The Netherlands are only a fraction of a percent behind. Hong Kong and Finland are also close, both having reached a 23% penetration level.

    More widely, the report also shows how the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) Region is increasingly leading the roll-out of broadband around the world. The Middle East and Africa, together with Eastern Europe, are the fastest growing of the seven regions considered, although their overall penetration levels are still low.

    Western Europe on the other hand has almost caught up with North America as the most high-penetration region, but is still growing considerably faster - 47% in 2005 as against 27%.

    Thursday, July 06, 2006

    Fire Optics?

    Verizon workers in Virginia were preparing for the future by burying a fiber optic cable in Pat Wilcox's yard.

    Unfortunately, they cut into two underground electric cables, shorting them out, and causing a roaring fire that burned overhead utility lines, melted a metal fence, destroyed a canoe, and damaged a neighbor’s property.

    Verizon and its contractors have also damaged roads, water pipes, gas lines and even its own phone cables as part of its efforts to provide HDTV, cellular service and high speed Internet access.

    In Florida, according to the Associated Press, a Verizon crew damaged a sewer line, causing toilets to overflow.

    Be grateful if you have dialtone.

    Wednesday, July 05, 2006

    ET, Phone My PC.

    In Steven Spielberg's popular 1982 movie, "ET, the Extra-Terrestrial," a friendly alien is stranded on Earth, three million light years from home, and builds a communicator to arrange for his rescue.

    Now anyone with a PC can try to receive calls from ETs, or at least listen to what they may be saying.

    SETI@home is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence ("SETI"). People participate with a free program that analyzes data from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico to find signals that might indicate intelligent life.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, computer scientist David P. Anderson realized that with the Internet connecting millions of often-idle computers, the time was right for "distributed computing." This takes one big computing project, and breaks it into little pieces, to be farmed out to many machines.

    Anderson chose SETI as a problem for the machines to tackle, and participants earn points for computer time donated. Points are good only for bragging, but are an important motivator because finding an ET is unlikely.

    If you'd like to hunt for aliens, or just play for points, go to

    Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    Celebrate Telephone Independence

    Today is Independence Day, when we celebrate the freeing of the United States of America from Great Britain, by shopping, swimming and overeating, and watching parades, baseball and fireworks.

    In today's newspapers you can read about the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the Boston Tea Party, George Washington, Betsy Ross.

    It seems fitting for DialZero to honor people, companies and products important in the fight for freedom and independence in telecommunications.

    For most of telephone history, people rented phones, and were forbidden to connect "foreign attachments" to phone company property. ATT implied, with government support, that if you plugged an ITT phone into an ATT jack, or put a plastic cover on your phone book, satellites would fall from the sky, vital radar would fail, and linemen would get electrocuted.

    It took a lot of lawyers a lot of years, but eventually the FCC and courts declared that ATT was full of it; and today you can choose from a huge range of phone equipment and service providers.

    The Hush-A-Phone was a simple gadget that snapped onto a phone (with no electrical connection) and helped give the speaker some privacy from others nearby. It had been sold and used since 1921, but in the 1950s an ATT attorney saw one in a store window, and decided that it was his job to stop sales of the device. Mother Bell had previously won court cases against companies who made advertising premiums that were attached to ATT phones to show the phone numbers of local businesses. In 1956, Hush-A-Phone defeated ATT in court, and people were free to stick lots of stuff onto ATT's phones.

    The Carterfone was a a device invented by Thomas Carter that connected a mobile two-way radio to a phone line. It allowed someone on a ranch or oilfield to be "patched through" to a phone user, with the assistance of one of Carter's base station operators. A phone handset was placed on the Carterfone, making an acoustically-coupled connection. As with the Hush-A-Phone, there was no electrical connection; and as with the Hush-A-Phone, ATT sued to stop its use. Tom Carter was financially ruined, but eventually prevailed against ATT in a 1968 FCC ruling that permitted phone company customers to plug in almost anything.

    MCI was originally Microwave Communications Inc., founded in 1963 to construct microwave towers between Chicago and St. Louis, to increase the range of two-way radios used by truck drivers and barge crews. The business plan expanded to offer voice and data communications service in competition with ATT. Initially MCI had FCC approval, but ATT appealed, and it took until 1969 for MCI to get the final OK to compete. Because of MCI's fight, now you can get local and long distance phone service from many companies, at prices ranging from low to free.

    Have a happy and safe Fourth, and remember the Hush-A-Phone.

    Monday, July 03, 2006

    Paper retreats on fed phone records claim.

    From a published "Note to Readers" in national newspaper USA Today:

    "On May 11, USA Today reported that the National Security Agency, with the cooperation of several of America's leading telecommunications companies, had compiled a database of domestic phone call records in an effort to monitor terrorist activity.

    Several days later, BellSouth and Verizon specifically denied that they were among the companies that had contracted with the NSA to provide bulk calling records.

    USA Today also spoke again with the sources who had originally provided information about the scope and contents of the domestic calls database. All said the published report accurately reflected their knowledge and understanding of the NSA program, but none could document a contractual relationship between BellSouth or Verizon and the NSA, or that the companies turned over bulk calling records to the NSA.

    Based on its reporting after the May 11 article, USA Today has now concluded that while the NSA has built a massive domestic calls record database involving the domestic call records of telecommunications companies, the newspaper cannot confirm that BellSouth or Verizon contracted with the NSA to provide bulk calling records to that database."