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

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Banker thinks fax is bomb threat

A Bank of America employee in Ashland, MA misinterpreted a cropped fax about a bank promotion as a bomb threat Wednesday, leading authorities to evacuate more than a dozen neighboring businesses.

The fax from a marketing group sending information about a bank small business promotion contained images of a lighted match and a bomb with a fuse, but words explaining the promotion did not transmit.

"The fax machine malfunctioned, so a partial image came through that looked somewhat suspicious," bank spokesman Ernesto Anguilla said. "It was an internal communication designed only for our employees."

The fax was sent to the bank's branches in parts of New England, New York and New Jersey.

The bank's Ashland branch manager called police about 10 a.m. after receiving the fax. Fears also arose because the branch received a suspicious package delivered by a customer around the same time. About 15 businesses in a shopping plaza were evacuated, including a day care center. A State Police bomb squad searched the bank branch and checked out the package.

Authorities eventually learned from Bank of America security officials that it was a false alarm prompted by the fax. There were no bomb scares at any other Bank of America branches that received the fax. (info from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Musicians play cellphones

Bora Yoon plays a mean electric violin and has a light touch on the glockenspiel. Midway through a recent concert, she flipped open a Samsung phone, held it up against a microphone and began tapping intensely on the keys. She wasn't making a call, but, rather, stringing together a precise series of notes that make up her cellphone composition "Plinko."

Cellphones are a notorious audience distraction at musical performances -- ringing, buzzing and beeping and giving conductors fits. But for some avant-garde electronic artists, cellphones themselves are musical instruments that can be incorporated into rock, hip-hop and even modern classical music.

Household items like washboards, saws and buckets have found their place in music, and electronic instruments that once seemed gimmicky, like turntables and laptops, are going mainstream. So why not cellphones?

Some musicians have already taken cellphone music to an extreme. An Austrian rock band called the Handydandy has done away with ordinary instruments altogether. Each member of the quintet straps a Sony Ericsson handset around his neck like a guitar and taps away on the buttons. Pressing keys triggers the nearby computers to play a cacophony of distorted sounds and digital beats. The group refers to its cellphone-powered blur of electronic noise as "Bluetooth Rock," a reference to the popular wireless technology.

DJs and hip-hop artists are beginning to experiment with cellphones, too. In the town of Slough, west of London, a youth center recently began a workshop on "mobile mashups." Using cellphones equipped with special mixing software, students with stage names like MC PanicPhaze learn to splice pieces of existing tunes, add all sorts of electronic effects, and record rap vocals on top.

The Chicago Sinfonietta kicked off its 20th season last fall with a "Concertino for Cellphones and Orchestra," a piece built around ringtones. Amplified phones onstage were programmed to play short classical motifs by Brahms and other composers. The orchestra would pick up on the themes and play along. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Avaya may sell itself

After the AT&T breakup on the first day of 1984, AT&T wanted to sell phone gear to companies like MCI and Sprint, who competed with AT&T. These companies were reluctant to spend money that would enrich their enemy.

So, in 1995, AT&T announced that it was restructuring into three separate companies: a services company (retaining the AT&T name), a computer company (using the NCR name), and a phone equipment company (Lucent Technologies.)

In 2000, Lucent sold off the piece that made business phone systems, as Avaya. Lucent continued as a maker of central office equipment, which merged with French telecom manufacturer Alcatel in 2006.

Now Avaya may be selling a piece of itself. Or all of itself.

Having recovered from a near-death period in 2002, Avaya now has a market capitalization of $6.18 billion and is trying to take advantage of a fertile period for high-tech deal making. Among parties that could be interested in all or parts of Avaya are private-equity firms, which are attracted to Avaya's cash flow and low debt, as well as equipment makers like near-broke Nortel. An Avaya executive said in February that Microsoft offered Avaya a partnership before it formed one with Nortel. But Avaya turned it down because the deal would have required licensing what constituted Avaya's "crown jewels" to Microsoft.

Avaya postponed its analyst-day meeting scheduled for May 31 and has yet to reschedule it, a sign being read by some analysts that the company may be in buyout talks. Avaya's stock price was hovering around $2 in 2002 and 2003. On Friday the company's shares rose 22 cents, or 1.6%, to $13.67. Avaya is an ideal target for private-equity firms. The company has $829 million in cash and no debt, and it generates steady cash flow. About 50% of Avaya's revenue comes from long-term service contracts.

Analysts have long forecast that there should be more consolidation in the telecom-equipment industry. The immense consolidation among the telecom carriers in the past few years left too many vendors chasing after too few deals. That led to a few big mergers and acquisitions among some of the biggest players in the past year. Smaller equipment makers such as Avaya and Nortel have to do their own deals in order to compete with their bigger rivals. (some info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Verizon ends music promo because of fake rapper rape

Verizon Wireless ended its partnership with rap music star Akon after he simulated the rape of a 15-year-old girl on stage at a show in Trinidad. The girl thought she had won a dance contest, but instead got a simulated rape, which was caught on video.

"This week the partnership ended," Verizon said in a statement. "We have music services on our cellphone service and we were promoting him as one of the artists. The other part of the sponsorship was the Gwen Stefani tour, of which he was an opening act. We are no longer sponsoring the tour."

Patrick Manning, the prime minister of Trinidad, called for a formal investigation of the explicit April 12 performance at Trinidad's Club Zen, which has since been closed by authorities.

Akon's original name is Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam. His two CDs are titled Trouble and Konvicted. Akon reportedly has three wives, a diamond mine, over 4,000 pairs of sneakers; and used to be a drug dealer but says he has never used drugs. (info from Fox News and Wikipedia)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Court limits telephone testimony

Witnesses in criminal cases in New Mexico can testify by telephone, but only if there is a compelling reason -- not just for convenience.

A state Court of Appeals ruling last week outlined for the first time the legal standard in New Mexico for when witnesses can appear by telephone rather than in person at a trial. At issue is whether a defendant’s constitutional right to confront and cross-examine witnesses requires a face-to-face confrontation in open court.

The court says there must be both an important public policy and a required necessity for a witness to testify by phone.

The court found that mere inconvenience to the witness is not sufficient to dispense with face-to-face confrontation. (info from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Stop bitching.
Start your own cellphone company

Pissed-off at Sprint? Furious with Cingular? Fuming at T-mobile? Maybe it's time to stop whining and start your own cellphone company.

That's what Rod Farthing did, at 2:30 AM. It took just a few minutes to get Farthing Mobile up and running, with a selection of national calling plans and cellphone models. Since the April launch, Farthing has two subscribers, himself and his son. But he may sign up in his wife and another son.

Actually Farthing didn't build a cellular network or develop a billing system and everything else that one needs to run a mobile phone business. Instead, he created Farthing Mobile through Sonopia, a new "do-it-yourself" service that enables groups and individuals to design their own cell brands. Sonopia buys air time from Verizon.

"I don't expect to get rich off of it," said Farthing, a self-described "cellphone junkie" in Ohio, who is tailoring his cell service to people interested in technology. He's also using it for a class project in an e-business course he teaches. "If I get up to 100 members I'll be happy. If I get up to 50 I'll be happy."

Since Sonopia's public launch in early April, about 1,000 of these customized cell companies have been created. A handful have been launched by sizable nonprofit groups such as the National Wildlife Federation. But the vast majority of Sonopia's growing roster of wireless communities were started by individuals, families and tiny groups with very specialized interests. There's "Aviation History Mobile" with 13 members, the six-member "Bitta Irish Phone Club," and the five-member "Scrabble Mobile." There are Sonopias devoted to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. A small percentage of the monthly phone bill goes to the organization.

There's no telling whether the early rush of people and groups behind Sonopia's more eclectic wireless brands will actively maintain them beyond the initial jolt of creativity. But, it appears likely that AT&T and T-Mobile will survive the onslaught of "Living History Mobile,""Superior Moose Wireless," and "Furious Lunchmeat." (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Teen runs up huge bill 4 txt msgs

Sofia Rubenstein, 17, got in trouble the way a lot of teens do these days. Her incessant text-messaging racked up a huge bill for her family's cellphone service.

"It's whatever pops into my head. There's no stopping it," she said. "Sometimes I'll be on the phone with someone and I get texted, and then I'm having two conversations at once."

Last month the Washington DC high school junior used 6,807 text messages, which, at a rate of 15 cents apiece for most of them, pushed the family's Verizon Wireless bill to more than $1,100 for the month. Sofia knew she'd been texting a lot but couldn't believe the "incredible" number she hit. "I just thought, oh my God, my life is over," she said. Sofia will be working this summer to pay off her debt.

Families who carefully researched their wireless plans to cover calls with no extra fees are discovering, to their horror, that their thumb-tapping teens have found a new way to blow the budget. In Sofia's case, her parents' plan included only 100 free text messages a month -- fewer than half of what she was using every day "at all points of the day" -- and she racked up massive per-message fees.

Parents seem to accept this new reality and are switching to wireless plans that allow unlimited text messages, which pile $10 to $30 a month on top of an already hefty expense that didn't even exist a decade ago.

Wireless companies, meanwhile, are rolling out new packages to meet demand. "For a teenager to send thousands of text messages a month is not unusual," said John Johnson, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless. Last month the company introduced an unlimited texting plan because even its highest bundle of free text messages -- 5,000 a month -- wasn't enough. (info from Washington Post)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Plumbers fight 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." Now, a Rhode Island company and a national company are battling over the right to use the number, which doesn't reach "Jenny." but could connect callers to a plumber.

Two years ago, 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 works 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, uses a toll-free version of 867-5309 in New England. They argue a company can only trademark a vanity number, like 1-800-FLOWERS.

Gem won round one in its legal fight over the number when a federal judge in Boston recently barred Clockwork from using the number in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, effective this week. But Clockwork's lawyers said they would fight on.

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)

CLICK for more about the song and its impact

Friday, May 18, 2007

Presidential candidates endorse thumb-typing

Text messaging went mainstream as a political tool Wednesday when Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton launched a service asking supporters to sign up for regular text-messaged campaign updates.

Clinton isn't the first 2008 presidential candidate to embrace text messaging; rival John Edwards began in December and Barack Obama plans to start soon. But her use of it signals how widespread the technology is becoming for political campaigns.

Many presidential campaigns are now experimenting with how to use the service. Political campaigns generally lag behind in adopting new types of advertising or technology, but with so many candidates vying for the presidency, all of the top-tier aspirants are elbowing each other to get ahead — or at least not get left behind.

The Edwards camp began experimenting with text messaging last year, shortly after he announced his intention to run. The campaign began building a database of cellphone numbers by asking supporters to sign up via Edwards' website and at campaign events. They're now exploring other ways to get people involved, like multiple-choice text-message polls.

A handful of politicians have experimented with text-messaging in previous elections. Howard Dean tried it when he sought the 2004 Democratic nomination, and Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum used text messaging to reach out to female voters last year. Special-interest groups have also actively experimented with text messaging. Last year, the nonprofit group People for the American Way used text messaging in its effort to block the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. So far, text-messaging doesn't appear to be particularly persuasive. Dean and Santorum both lost their races, and Mr. Alito won Senate confirmation. (info & photo from Seacoast Online)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Supreme Court favors states' rights in phone rates

The Supreme Court on Monday turned down an appeal from Iowa Network Services that claimed Qwest Communications owed it money for wireless phone calls that Qwest connected to its network. At issue in the case is whether federal or state regulators have the final say on telecom rates.

Lower federal courts ruled in Qwest's favor and gave Iowa's state utilities board a role in resolving the dispute. By declining to take the case, the Court let stand the lower court rulings in Qwest's favor, which will save Qwest tens of millions of dollars in charges and interest that INS had sought.

Iowa Networks said the rulings undermined FCC's ability to enforce uniform national rates, and could also affect electric and gas utilities and railroads.

The quarrel began in the 1990s, when INS sought to collect for wireless calls that Qwest transmitted to INS's networks, which INS then sent to local phone companies. The calls were originated by third-party wireless carriers, not Qwest. INS argued that Qwest did not provide enough information to determine which wireless companies originated the call, making it impossible to bill firms for the use of their network. At that point, INS sought payment from Qwest, based on rates approved by the FCC.

Qwest, though, had sought a ruling in 2000 from the Iowa Utilities Board, which said that since the calls in question are local, rather than long-distance, they would not be subject to the FCC-approved rates. Iowa Network Services said in its petition to the Supreme Court that the board's ruling overrides federally approved rates that require telecom carriers to charge the same rates to all customers.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said that rather than nullifying the rates, the utilities board's ruling meant they didn't apply to local traffic. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Call coming soon from top of Everest

British mountain climber Rod Baber is in the closing stages of an attempt to set a world record for the highest cellphone call, from the north ridge of Mount Everest.

Following weeks of acclimatization, Baber's expedition was expected to begin its final push yesterday, and aims to reach the summit about eight days later.

Baber reached base camp at the foot of Everest in mid-April and since then has been trekking up the mountain to get used to living at high altitude. "It took us three days before we could walk more than 50 steps without running out of breath," he said.

In the last few weeks the members of the expedition have reached altitudes of about 25,000 feet -- the height at which most people start to need oxygen to continue. Four members of the expedition have been forced to quit due to altitude sickness.

Making a cellphone call from the top of Everest became possible recently, as a new cell site in nearby China is in line-of-sight to the north ridge of the mountain. Motorola is sponsoring the climb, and Baber is testing the Motorola Z8, due to launch in Europe this month. It is not being ruggedized in any manner to withstand the extreme cold or low pressure at the 29,035-foot summit.

"The team at Motorola has provided me with a pointing device so I can operate the phone whilst wearing my equipment, and I will preprogram the number in as speed dial so I can just press one button to make calls/send texts, etc.," he said. "The key challenge is to keep the batteries well insulated and warm on the mountain."

The pointer is crucial. "Gloves will stay on at all times," he said. "Less than 60 seconds exposure can cause frostbite." He will write text messages at Camp 4 below the summit, and store them in a draft section of the phone to send from the summit, where he will stay only briefly. (info from BBC and ComputerWorld)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Young, poor, and male most likely to have cellphones, but not landline phones

More than a quarter of young adults have only cellphones, making them the leading edge of a strengthening move away from traditional landline telephones, a federal survey showed Monday.

Overall, the portion of adults with only cellphones grew by more than 2 percentage points in the latter half of last year to nearly 12 percent, an expansion rate that began in the first part of 2006 and was double earlier rates of growth.

One in four people aged 18 to 24 had only cellphones, as did 29 percent of those aged 25 to 29, the study showed. The percentages declined with age after that, with 2 percent of those 65 or over having only cellphones.

The trend away from landline phones affects the telephone industry, 911 emergency service providers, and government and private polling organizations, which rely heavily on random calls to households with wired telephones.

"All those wireless adults are missed" in those marketing and opinion surveys, said Stephen Blumberg, senior scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an author of the report. That's a potential problem because people with only cellphones tend to be disproportionately young and have lower incomes. Studies have so far concluded that cellphone-only users are not a large or diverse enough group to affect the accuracy of broad polls that omit them.

The data, from the CDC's National Health Interview Survey, also found:

* 15 percent of Hispanic adults, 13 percent of black adults, 12 percent of Asians and 11 percent of whites had only cellphones;

* 22 percent of the poorest adults had only cellphones, double the rate for those who are not poor;

* 13 percent of males and 11 percent of females had cellphones only;

* Nearly 2 percent of adults had no phone at all.

The figures were based on interviews with people in 13,056 households from June through December last year. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, May 14, 2007

DO NOT assume rescuers will know where you are if you call 911 from a cellphone.

Tests by a public safety group throws into question the ability of police and firefighters to locate people through their cellphones when they dial 911 in an emergency. The report was commissioned by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International (APCO), a group that has long been concerned about the limitations of the technology and the public's unrealistic expectations of what it can deliver.

Tests were conducted in seven different communities across the country, based on topography, demographics, existing technology and other factors.

The company identified as "carrier No. 001" in the testing was unable to come within 300 meters of the 911 caller 73 percent of the time in Onondaga County; 64 percent of the time in Marion County; and 61 percent of the time in Jasper County. Carrier No. 002 was able to hit inside the target area 90 percent of the time in Bexar County; 89 percent of the time In Laramie; 87 percent of the time in Onondaga County and 80 percent of the time in Palo Alto.

Most of the time, people who call 911 from cellphone provide their location, but sometimes they can't. William A. Cade Jr., project coordinator with APCO, recalls a car accident in Missouri where the caller was unable to provide a location and a person "died by the side of the road" before help could arrive. Location information can determine "which side of the mountain in West Virginia do I go up to get to the accident" or which fire company and ambulance company gets dispatched, he said.

Results varied based on carriers and geography. A few communities, however, stood out for poor performance, among them Marion County, FL., which includes the city of Ocala; Onondaga County, NY, and Jasper County, MO. If accuracy were measured at the community level, 71 percent of the tests would get a failing grade.

A new generation of telephone customers live without land-based telephone lines, but they still expect rescuers to find them. The issue has become more critical as the number of 911 calls from cellphones exceeds those coming from land lines. CTIA reports that 230,000 calls to 911 are made from cellphones each day. The group also estimates that 8.4 percent of households are "wireless only." (Info from The Associated Press)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Top management indicted
in Siemens-BenQ scandal

Five BenQ executives, including its chairman and president, have been indicted for insider trading and money laundering, and face prison terms of several years if convicted. It is the latest blow to a company struggling to right itself after a disastrous attempt to takeover Siemens's losing cellphone division in 2005.

BenQ said it was "deeply shocked, baffled and finds (the indictments) unacceptable." It vowed to fight the accusations in court. There have been inklings of something like this coming for BenQ, Taiwan's largest consumer electronics manufacturer. The CFO was arrested in March and has been in jail since then; while the president and chairman have been free on bail.

Prosecutors are trying to prove the executives sold stock in the spring of 2006, shortly before they announced larger than expected quarterly losses of about $176 million from the acquisition of the Siemens cellphone business. Eventually, the company spent nearly $1 billion trying to save the operation, but failed and went bankrupt.

The prosecutor accused BenQ executives of using their insider's knowledge to benefit from the share sale. One report put the profit at about $7 million. They allegedly moved the cash to an offshore bank account in Malaysia, eventually funneling it back to Taipei. After news of huge losses in the mobile unit sent BenQ's stock south, the money was allegedly used to buy back the shares.

BenQ denied the claim. It says the transactions were part of a deal to exercise stock options for overseas employees who could not legally trade shares in Taiwan. It also said the huge losses announced in the spring of 2006 were anticipated by the market. "It was no secret. The management team of the Company certainly did not use such information to engage in insider trading to gain profits." (info from Electronics Supply & Manufacturing)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Welsh telephone operators ordered not to speak Welsh

Wales is part of the United Kingdom, just west of England.

It's known for Charles, the Prince of Wales (who is really from England), and tongue-
twisting words and names like ysgrifenyddes and Llanfair-
pwllgwyngychgogerychwyrndro-
bwllllantysiliogogogoch.

Telephone operators in Wales are being told not to greet callers in the country's native tongue because the language may damage vocal chords. Union officials say operators who speak primarily English could cause harm to their vocal chords if forced by bosses to offer a traditional "bore da" -- which translates as "good morning" -- or "prynhawn da" -- good afternoon -- to callers.

The unions were successful in getting the greetings banned in the Vale of Glamorgan council, where officials justified the move by saying it goes along with the Health and Safety Executive's recommendation that call center workers limit their phone time to preserve their vocal chords.

The Welsh Language Act requires government bodies to offer services in both English and Welsh, but the Vale of Glamorgan council says greetings from now on will be English only. However, some have objected to the ruling as a violation of the rights of the operators and callers. "I can't see how saying 'bore da' will do people in a call center any harm," said Plaid Cymru Councilor Steffan Williams. (some info from United Press International)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sprint Nextel sues small telcos

Sprint Nextel has sued 14 Iowa phone companies and dial-in service providers, alleging the rural carriers are striking illegal deals with conference and chat line services to boost long-distance call volume and inflate the fees they bill to the nation's big phone companies. Sprint's lawsuit names many of the same defendants that have been sued over the same issue by AT&T and Qwest.

The big telcos warn that the escalating costs of connecting the rural calls threatens to boost the cost of phone service for consumers everywhere. "Left unchecked, such schemes will grow and force carriers to abandon the unlimited long distance pricing plans that consumers have embraced and benefited from over the past decade," Sprint said.

The dispute centers on a complex system by which rural phone companies with relatively few customers are compensated for keeping their distant corners of the nation connected. To help them generate a profit without charging their local customers more, the government allows rural carriers to impose higher per-minute rates to long-distance companies for connecting their calls with the local network. The rural rates typically range from two to ten cents a minute. By contrast, AT&T, Verizon and Qwest get paid closer to half a cent per minute when they connect one of their own local customers to a long-distance call from another provider.

By advertising a rural call-in number, a service offering free chat lines, conference calls or international calling can drive additional phone traffic and revenue for the local carrier, which shares some of that money with the call-in service. Since a growing number of consumers have unlimited long distance service, it often costs them nothing to call rural area codes, even as their long-distance provider pays for every minute.

Sprint alleges that the partnerships between the rural telcos "abuses a system intended to keep the price of basic telephone service affordable for rural consumers." A lawyer for some of the small companies named in the suit reiterated their position that their business activities are perfectly legal, and that federal regulators have previously rejected similar charges by the long-distance industry. (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Kidnap victim calls cops from car trunk

A robber in Columbus, Ohio, demanded his victim's wallet and car keys, then put him in his car trunk and withdrew cash with his bank card last month.

Martino Williamson is wishing he had taken Ira Sully's cellphone, too.

Sully called police from inside the trunk and described the car and Williamson, who was quickly caught. Cops freed Sully from the trunk and charged Williamson with robbery and kidnapping. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Verizon shareholders may have say on pay

Shareholder voting is still being counted on a proposal for Verizon investors to express their opinions on executive pay. A preliminary tally showed a tie of 49% "for" and 49% "against" the say-on-pay proposal at Verizon's annual shareholder meeting. Further tabulation may take about a week.

The proposal, put forward by C. William Jones, president of a telecom retirees group, asked that investors be given a nonbinding vote on executive pay. Dozens of firms have been targeted with similar proposals this year, up from just a few when the idea was tested in 2006. The House passed a bill to formalize this tactic at public companies. In February, insurance firm Aflac became the first to announce adoption of this change, and it will give investors a nonbinding vote starting in 2009.

Compensation was attacked at the annual Verizon meeting, with several proposals asking for changes in pay practices, and there was a campaign to withhold votes for directors because of what some shareholders said was a disconnect between chief executive pay and performance. Last year, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg's total compensation was $21.3 million. As noted here last week, Verizon is facing pressure from unions over the pending $26.7 million retirement package for Seidenberg. Verizon's stock is down about 4% from five years ago. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Sprint Nextel swims deeper in the sewer

Sprint Nextel continued to lose high-value subscribers in the first quarter and lost money, too, with increased cost for network improvements, phone subsidies and marketing. The company reported a net loss of $211 million, or seven cents per share, after a profit of $419 million in the same period last year. Revenue stayed relatively flat year-over-year at $10.1 billion.

Sprint, the nation's third-largest wireless operator, added 568,000 subscribers overall in the quarter, but posted a net loss of 220,000 "post-pay" customers, who sign annual contracts and generate the most revenue for carriers. The gains came mostly through wholesale sales and pre-pay users who spend less monthly. Sprint finished the quarter with 53.6 million subscribers, trailing competitors AT&T and Verizon. Those carriers added 1.2 million and 1.7 million customers, respectively, in the quarter.

Sprint has tried to tighten its credit policy in recent months to weed out customers who aren't likely to stay loyal to the service. The carrier said it did see an improvement in its customer mix, attracting more people with "prime" credit, who are less likely to cancel service. Still, Sprint's average monthly turnover in the quarter was 2.3% of its subscriber base, well above industry rivals. Verizon, by contrast, posted monthly churn of just 1% in the first quarter.

Signing up and retaining customers on Nextel, the carrier Sprint acquired in 2005, continues to be difficult, because of service problems in recent months.

Sprint's operating expenses were $8.6 billion in the quarter, a 7% increase over the same period last year. Other costs impacting the results included advertising, spending on employee retention, and handset subsidies. Sprint said it expects to see the savings from canning 5,000 employees in the second quarter, and continues to seek a new chief operating officer, a position vacant since last summer. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Phone company rejects email from woman named Gay, and will block emails from Heterosexual, too

A woman's email to Telecom New Zealand's help desk was rejected because the company's email filter system considers her name to be "inappropriate."

Gay Hamilton, of Nelson, New Zealand, said she did happen to be gay, but was concerned that the country's biggest public company had spent time and resources deciding that the word was offensive.

"If they do have to put content filters on, then maybe they should ensure that it only gets genuinely abusive words," she said.

An automated reply to her email stated that the message "was identified by our content filtering processes as containing language that may be considered inappropriate for business-like communication." The offending word was gay.

Public relations spokesman Lenska Papich said the response was triggered by Telecom's internal email monitoring system, which exists to "prevent misuse of email technologies in the workplace and act as a deterrent to harassment. Our systems internally detect a number of words, including both the words gay and heterosexual, that could be deemed as inappropriate for use at work." (info from Deutsche Presse-Agentur)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Verizon profits drop, customers leave, unions complain

Verizon will try to hang on to fleeing landline phone customers in a response to an 8% drop in first-quarter profit due to costs related to the acquisition of MCI and the shedding of a phone directory business and operations in the Caribbean.

As cable competitors and Internet companies are entering the phone business, Verizon is fighting back with new high-tech services, and is trying to prevent phone customers from disconnecting landline service in favor of wireless or web-based phone service.

Verizon CFO Doreen Toben said she hopes to stem the losses with promotions for new packages of services that include landline service. The company also has a new program for customers with second homes, in hopes of ensuring they maintain landlines in their main homes when they go away. Verizon also plans to reach out to customers who have reported trouble with more than twice to try to stop them from dropping their service in frustration.

Verizon is focusing on the $18 billion upgrade of its network to fiber lines in the US, which it hopes will help offset the deterioration in its landline business. Verizon added 141,000 net new customers for its new fiber-based TV service, ending the quarter with a total of 348,000 customers.

Verizon is facing pressure from unions over the pending $26.7 million retirement package for CEO Ivan Seidenberg. Verizon's stock is down about 4% from five years ago. "Shareholders at AT&T have been better served than shareholders at Verizon," said a spokeswoman for the Communications Workers of America. The AFL-CIO is trying to persuade shareholders to withhold votes for six directors at Verizon's annual meeting on May 3. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Four-year-old calls 911 to save his mommy

A toddler in North Pole, Alaska knew to call 911 when his mother collapsed and lost consciousness during a gall bladder attack on April 10.

Tony Sharpe had learned about 911 in a book his grandmother had sent him, and made the call and reached the North Star Volunteer Fire Department. He told a dispatcher: "Mommy is sick. Mommy needs an ambulance. Mommy fell over. She is sleeping. Can you call the ambulance?" The boy then described the family's apartment building. Tony's mother Courtenay Sharpe was conscious but barely able to speak when firefighters arrived.

Her son had practiced dialing 911 countless times in one of his favorite books, It's Time to Call 911: What to do in an Emergency. The interactive book rewards its reader with a blast of emergency sirens and a cheery "good job" when 911 is punched into the key pad. The book is available from Amazon.com

"You know kids," Courtenay Sharpe said, "once they latch onto a book, they want the same story read to them over and over again. After awhile, he pretty much knew the book by heart."

The boy will be honored the fire department with a T-shirt, a plaque and a ride on a fire engine. His parents rewarded him with a much-wanted puppy, an 8-month-old mixed Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever from an animal shelter. (info from The Associated Press)