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

Monday, April 30, 2007

Whitacre will become extremely rich by not working for AT&T, and few are complaining

Edward Whitacre Jr. turned AT&T (formerly known as SBC, formerly known as Southwestern Bell) into the largest telecommunications company in the world by market capitalization. When the 65-year-old executive steps down in June, his retirement payout will be among the top pension packages in the country: $158.5 million.

In addition to the $158.5 million, Whitacre will get $24,000 annually for automobile expenses, $6,500 for "home security" each year and access to an AT&T corporate jet for 10 hours a month. Whiteacre and family will also receive free health insurance for life. The company will pick up the tab for taxes on most of these benefits.

Whiteacre will be paid just over $1 million a year for three years for work as a consultant to the company during retirement, and will also receive $25,000 for country club fees during that time.

Whitacre's retirement package ranks second in the US among those on file with the SEC as of mid-April, according to the Corporate Library. While lavish retirement packages often come under attack by shareholders and lower-level employees, there has been little criticism of Mr. Whitacre, mainly because AT&T's share price has performed well. Unions have been quiet about the payout, focusing instead on CEOs whose companies didn't perform the way AT&T did, such as Verizon.

Whitacre has been at AT&T through all its incarnations for 43 years, starting as an engineer before he got his college diploma. In his 17 years as CEO, he has orchestrated numerous takeovers, most recently the $67 billion acquisition of BellSouth, which gave the company full control of Cingular. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Unemployed man has "job"
answering 5,000 calls for help

Ryan Fitzgerald lives with his father, is unemployed, and has time on his hands. So, he decided to offer his ear to anyone who wants to call. After posting a video with his cellphone number on YouTube last Friday, the 20-year-old said he has received more than 5,000 calls and text messages.

Fitzgerald said he wanted to "be there," for anyone who needed to talk. "I never met you, but I do care," Fitzgerald said into the camera on his YouTube posting. He planned to take and return as many calls he could, but on Monday at 5 a.m., his T-Mobile cellphone plan was to begin charging him for his generosity when he was no longer eligible for free weekend minutes.

"I haven't quite figured out what I'm going to do about it," he said. "Come Monday, no way I'm going to just hang up on people and say, 'I don't have the minutes.'"

"Some people's own mothers won't take the time to sit down and talk with them and have a conversation," Fitzgerald said. "But some stranger on YouTube will. After six seconds, you're not a stranger anymore, you're a new kid I just met." (info from The Associated Press)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Man calls cops to report being chased by cops

Jeremy Cornick called police in St. Cloud, Minnesota on Tuesday to say he had been chased up a tree by narcotics officers from another part of the state.

St. Cloud police officers then found Cornick up a tree with his cellphone, and determined he was hallucinating and under the influence of controlled substances.

As officers were trying to talk Cornick down from the tree, he lost his grip and fell. He wasn't hurt, but was taken to a hospital for evaluation.

When his probation officer got word of what happened, he issued an arrest warrant, and Cornick was taken from the hospital to jail. (info from The Assocated Press)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Surprise! (HAH):
Alcatel-Lucent is in the toilet two quarters in a row; doing worse than before merger

Telecommunications equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) warned yesterday of its second profit slump in two consecutive quarters. In an unexpected announcement, the company said it would record an adjusted first-quarter operating loss of about $352 million, half of which is linked to "unusual significant" items. Alcatel-Lucent warned that it would report first-quarter revenue down 12 percent at current exchange rates to $5.28 billion.

The results (the second since French Alcatel acquired American Lucent in November) compare with an adjusted pro-forma operating income of $333 million in the first quarter of 2006.

"While parts of our businesses performed well, our first quarter results were impacted by lower volumes in traditional wireless and core networks at a time when considerable investments were made in the next generation of these technologies," CEO Patricia Russo said. She also said job cuts so far reached 1,900 during the quarter, representing 15 percent of the three-year target of 12,500.

Analysts expressed concern, and Alcatel-Lucent shares fell 2.4 percent to $12.32 Tuesday.

Dresdner Kleinwort analyst Per Lindberg called the first-quarter results an "atrocious development" for the newly combined company, further questioning the feasibility of the business. "It will be very difficult for them to grow by 5 percent for the year as they had hoped," said Lindberg. Jan Ihrfelt, an analyst at Swedbank in Stockholm, added that the problems affecting Alcatel-Lucent appeared to be more related to its integration than the health of the overall industry. (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Vonage admits it has no "Plan B"

Vonage has finally confirmed what many had feared: The embattled Internet phone company has no "workaround" in hand to sidestep Verizon's patented Internet phone technology. Moreover, Vonage isn't sure that such a plan is even "feasible," given the expansiveness of Verizon's patents, which set out methods for passing calls between the Web and conventional phone networks. Vonage's chilly assessment, contained in a filing submitted to a federal court, marks the first time it has admitted that it doesn't have a plan for getting around Verizon's technology.

A federal court recently ruled that Vonage had infringed on Verizon's patented technology. As punishment, Vonage was barred from using the disputed technology to support new customers. Existing customers are not affected.

The company immediately requested - and received - an emergency stay. Meanwhile, Vonage told investors and customers not to worry because a "workaround" was in development.

In its recent filing, Vonage, which is now trying to get a permanent stay, painted a far different picture. "Vonage currently has no workarounds that moot the need for a stay," the company said. "While Vonage has studied methods for designing around the patents, removal of the allegedly infringing technology, if even feasible, could take many months to fully study and implement." Even if Vonage "was somehow able to implement a design around, and was able to ultimately prevail on appeal, it would have no hope of regaining its lost customers, or its lost goodwill, and its loss of revenue would be permanent ..."

It's unknown how the statement ends. Vonage redacted the rest of the sentence, citing "confidential material." But the tone of the passage suggests that these losses, in the aggregate, could help drive the company out of business.

"Current Vonage customers will not wait that long for restored service," the company writes. "Likewise, potential new customers will not even consider Vonage." Vonage, which has around 2.2 million customers, says that it loses about 2.5 percent of its customers a month, or about 650,000 a year. That's why it is imperative to add new customers constantly, the company has argued. (info from USA Today)

Monday, April 23, 2007

OMG! 13-year-old wins $25G 4 txt msg

Thirteen-year-old Morgan Pozgar, of Claysburg, Pa., was crowned National Texting champion on Saturday after she typed "supercalifrag-
ilisticexpialidocious" from Mary Poppins in 15 seconds.

"I'm going to go shopping and buy lots of clothes," the teen said after winning the $25,000 prize from cellphone maker LG, who sponsored the contest.

Morgan defeated nearly 200 other competitors at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan to become East Coast champion and then beat West Coast champion Eli Tirosh, 21, of Los Angeles. She estimated that she sends more than 8,000 text messages a month to her friends and family. (info from The Associated Press)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Ticking "bomb" is really a phone

A man who went to the post office in Wright City, MO, to pick up a novelty phone he ordered over the Internet was alarmed that the package was ticking. Police and the bomb squad were called, and the Post Office was evacuated.

The phone is shaped like Winnie the Pooh, and an incoming call causes Winnie's head to spin, and the feature apparently had been activated during shipping. The ticking sound was Winnie's head repeatedly hitting the side of the package, according to Julie Scerine, spokeswoman for the Missouri Highway Patrol.

"It was pretty distinctly ticking," Police Chief Don Wickenhauser said. When authorities contacted the sender, he verified that it was nothing sinister.

"I guess the moral of the story is before you send electronics, take the batteries out," Scerine said. (info from The Associated Press)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Two more idiots call cops to buy drugs

Back on March 14, we told you about a woman in Oklahoma who was looking for a cocaine dealer, and called a number in her son's cellphone, that belonged to a police officer.

Now the misdialing disease has spread westward. Two men in Pomona, California were busted Tuesday after they mistakenly called 911 while trying to page a drug dealer. Paul White and Ryan Ogle tapped 911 as an urgent code to the dealer when they made the call from a pay phone.

"No one said criminals are smart," Police Sgt. Michael Olivieri said.

Cops traced the call and directed a patrol officer to the pay phone. He saw two men standing near the phone and a parked vehicle, which turned out to be stolen. The officer searched the men and the car and found possible burglary tools, a shaved ignition key, and a methamphetamine pipe.

The men were booked for investigation of auto theft, possession of burglary tools, destruction of evidence, and parole violation. Ogle was cited on a misdemeanor charge and released. White, who was on parole for a previous burglary violation, was being held on a parole violation. "They admitted they were in a hurry for dope and made an error in dialing," Olivieri said. (info from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Robber lets victim call 911

A gunman robbing a convenience store in Altamonte Springs, Florida, allowed a clerk to call 911 and apologized after the woman said she might be having a heart attack -- but he still took $30 and cigarettes.

The masked man entered the Kangaroo Express store and pointed a pistol at clerk Mary Parker. He told her to empty the cash register into a bag. He then pulled up a stool for her to sit on, and told her he was stealing because no one would hire him and he had bills to pay.

She started hyperventilating and pleaded with the gunman for help. "I have heart trouble. I'm probably going to have a heart attack," Parker said.

"Oh my, ma'am, please do not have a heart attack," he said.

The gunman let Parker call 911, and she told the operator she was having a heart attack, but didn't mention the robber. A customer came in and, without seeing the gunman, tried to calm Parker. She handed him the phone, and he spoke to the 911 operator.

The gunman then reappeared and told the man to get into the beverage cooler. He then grabbed his loot and apologized again. "You have a good day. I'm sorry this had to happen." he moaned, and went out the door. Police said Parker is OK. (info from The Associated Press)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Friday, April 13, 2007

Unborn dolphin taught to speak via phone line

A marine mammal rehabilitation facility in Key Largo, Florida set up a dolphin "chat line" hoping to teach a deaf dolphin's unborn calf to communicate.

Castaway is a pregnant Atlantic bottlenose dolphin that has been recovering at the Marine Mammal Conservancy after being injured, and tests revealed that she is deaf. Dolphins need to hear echoes of sounds they produce to find food, socialize and defend themselves against predators.

"We asked ourselves 'How do we get the calf to speak when we have a deaf mother?'" said Robert Lingenfelser, the conservancy's president. They decided to electronically connect Castaway's habitat with a lagoon at Dolphins Plus, a research and interactive educational facility a few miles away. Underwater speakers and microphones were installed at both locations and connected via phone lines.

Castaway should deliver her calf in about a month. "Even before it is born, we want the calf to have an idea of what normal dolphin vocalization is," Lingenfelser said. (info from the Associated Press)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Woman calls in bomb threat to get a day off

Brandy Killin faces a felony charge in Nebraska for threatening the use of explosives after allegedly phoning in a bomb threat to her employer, the First National Omaha credit card service center, so she could get a day off from work.

Killin was arrested last month and posted a $2,500 personal recognizance bond. The charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine.

A police spokesman said the call was made from a pay phone and investigators identified a suspect. Killin was contacted, interviewed and arrested. (info from the Kearney Hub)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Google tests free directory assistance

Web search leader Google is providing a speech-recognition-based service through telephones where people can ask for local information, in a challenge to directory assistance services. US callers dial 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) from any phone to test the service called Google Voice Local Search, free-of-charge.

"Using this service, you get fast access to the same local information you'd find on Google Maps," according to Google. "You don't need a computer, you don't need an Internet connection, and you don't even need to use your cellphone keypad." Details are available at http://labs.google.com/goog411/.

Google's experiment comes weeks after Microsoft agreed to acquire voice search firm Tellme Networks, in a deal said to be valued at more than $800 million. Improving quality and falling costs of voice search technology are enticing Internet players Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to expand beyond pay-per-click Web search advertising business into pay-per-call marketing.

By hooking the automated service into advertising-supported local business information, Google could be able to slash the costs of providing directory assistance to around 2 cents per call, while generating around 10 cents for each business referral.

Google Voice Local Search can be used from either cellphones or wired phones. Cellphone callers can request details to be sent as a text message to their phones. Voice Local Search is available in English, in the United States, and offers only US local business listings for now. (info from Reuters)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Pilot pulled from plane after screaming into cellphone

A Northwest Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Detroit was canceled because the pilot was yelling obscenities during a cellphone conversation while passengers were boarding. He also swore at a passenger who confronted him.

The pilot was apparently in a heated cellphone conversation in the cockpit, then went into a lavatory, locked the door and continued the conversation.

Las Vegas police were sent to McCarran International Airport to investigate. Northwest removed the pilot from the aircraft and returned him to his home base in Detroit for an investigation.

Northwest issued an apology to passengers, arranged for different flights, and gave them meals and hotel rooms during additional time in Las Vegas. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, April 09, 2007

AT&T and Qwest sue over too-big phone bills

Services offering free international phone calls - via rural Iowa - have generated millions of dollars for a handful of tiny Iowa telephone companies and created a legal brawl with two of the world's telecommunications giants. AT&T and Qwest have filed lawsuits charging that at least seven Iowa-based telcos have fraudulently billed them for handling calls from across the nation that have been funneled to 712 area code numbers.

The two telecom giants' complaints largely revolve around a practice by local telephone companies of billing long-distance carriers for calls they connect to end users. An AT&T spokesman said that while the national average for this service is about one-half cent per minute, some of the defendants have charged it as much as 13 cents per minute.

An attorney representing the Iowa companies said that rural telcos typically charge more like 4 cents to 5 cents per minute. Iowa has some of the nation's highest fees, called access charges, in part due to its low population density and the high cost of switches used by the state's 150-plus independent telephone companies.

Those access charges created little stir with the long-distance carriers until late summer of 2006. Then AT&T's bill from the Superior Telephone Cooperative, which serves about 175 customers in Dickinson County, went from $2,000 per month to more than $2 million. AT&T said that happened because Superior was receiving tens of thousands of phone calls. Qwest said its bill from customer-owned Superior shot up to $500,000. Between June and November, Qwest saw its long-distance usage to Superior lines increase 42,000 percent.

AT&T said that the access charge is supposed to be paid to local providers who terminate calls, or connect them to the end user. However, in this case Superior allegedly was immediately rerouting the calls to overseas destinations such as China or Russia. "They're collecting charges in Iowa as if it's ending there, and it isn't," the AT&T spokesman said. (info from the Des Moines Register)

Monday, April 02, 2007

On Vacation

We'll be away for a bit of relaxation and recharging. New posts will resume on 4/9 (unless I discover something really important before then).

If you miss me, you can read all of the posts on all of my blogs.