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

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Alcatel-Lucent doing worse than before merger

Alcatel-Lucent Tuesday swung to a second-quarter net loss, as the company continued to integrate its businesses and an unfavorable product and geographic mix. The telecommunications equipment maker posted a net loss of €336 million ($460.3 million), compared with a profit of €302 million a year earlier. Revenue fell 3.6% to €4.33 billion from €4.49 billion.

The company, formed late last year by the combination of French Alcatel and American Lucent (successor to Western Electric -- the manufacturing arm of AT&T), reported an operating loss of €19 million, compared with a €252 million profit on a pro forma basis. Analysts had expected a €85 million operating profit, according to a forecast from seven analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

Gross profit decreased to €1.45 billion from €1.71 billion a year earlier. "The gross margin was lower than we would have liked," Chief Executive Patricia Russo said, adding that the margin was negatively impacted by "significant investments in key markets, an unfavorable product and geographic mix as well as some impact from product related transition costs."

Russo confirmed the company's full-year guidance of revenue growth in the "mid-single-digits" at constant currency rates, which implies a "strong ramp-up" in second-half sales. She also reaffirmed Alcatel-Lucent's forecast of €600 million in pretax cost savings in 2007, in line with its target of €1.7 billion within three years. She said the company shed 1,900 jobs in the quarter and, to date, has cut 30% of the targeted 12,500 jobs over three years.

Alcatel bought Lucent last year in an €8.4 billion deal aimed at taking market share from competitors such as Ericsson. Ericsson, which last week reported a 6.4% increase in second-quarter revenue, has said it is taking market share in emerging markets. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Pay $399 and make free phone calls

A Silicon Valley startup wants to shake up the telecommunications industry with a $399 gizmo that provides free, unlimited domestic phone calls for homes with broadband Internet service.

Ooma Inc. will also offer a free second line, conference calling, voice mail service and an online "lounge" where users may change their preferences or get voice mail in an e-mail format. The company recently started selling the devices with an invitation-only offer to select US residents. "It's nothing like anything a carrier can do currently," CEO Andrew Frame said. "Once you own the box, you don't have to pay ooma anything in the future." Frame and other executives assume, of course, that their company won't meet the same fate as other startups going up against telecom veterans.

Users connect the ooma "Hub" to a broadband connection and primary phone. Ooma "Scouts," which cost an additional $39 each, connect to phones in other rooms. When you pick up the phone, you hear a melodic, digital dial tone. You place calls as you would normally and get voice mail by pushing a button on the Hub. You pay for international calls with a credit card.

The technology hinges on a patent-pending call-routing algorithm called "distributed termination," similar to peer-to-peer and distributed computing ideas. Traditional phone switches connect a local-toll or long-distance call through the public switched telephone network — but ooma, which works with both cable and DSL, uses the Internet and P2P technology to connect the calls for free. Ooma's architecture allows it to bypass fees that most telephone providers pay to connect calls to landlines and cell phones.

Ooma customers who maintain their landlines help enlarge the network by contributing their connections to a local calling area, allowing another ooma customer to use it to complete a call. Thanks to call-routing software, phone calls should not be affected if someone's line is being used by someone else. CLICK for more. (info from The Associated Press)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lonely/horny/broke man makes hundreds of calls to 911

Cheveon Alonzo Ford, 21, was arrested Tuesday night and charged with making obscene and harassing telephone calls. He dialed 911 to chat with dispatchers nearly 300 times in the last month. He told authorities he began calling 911 because "I have no minutes on my phone and 911 is a free call."

Ford was being held on a $50,000 bond Wednesday afternoon.

Officers used GPS coordinates from Ford's cellphone to track his location to the west Pensacola home where he was arrested. "His phone service had been cut off and 911 was the only number he could dial from the phone," said Bob Boschen, communication chief for Escambia County. Boschen said many of Ford's 292 calls were sexual in nature.

"When he would call and a male dispatcher would answer, he would hang up," he said. "Our policy says that if a caller is belligerent in nature we have to get enough information to process the call and then we can disconnect," he said.

Ford never asked dispatchers for help or indicated he was in trouble. (info from The Assocaited Press)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

38,000 text messages not enough to win

A Polish bus driver has been fired for sending 38,000 text messages on his company cell phone in a losing effort to win contest jackpot.

Leszek Wojcik, a bus driver in the northwestern Polish city of Slupsk, ran up a tab of some 94,000 zlotys ($34,000) with his text messages while trying to win a 100,000-zloty ($36,000) contest that ended June 30. A city bus drivers' monthly company phone bill is supposed to be limited to 15 zlotys ($5).

Wojcik sent an average of 1,200 text messages a day, each costing 2.40 zlotys ($0.86), on his work cell phone.

Wojcik told TVN24 television he wanted to buy a second car with his possible winnings. "Now I'm without work," he said. (info from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

iPhone sales don't meet hype, stocks down

The first sales figures for the iPhone, released yesterday following weeks of hype, disappointed Wall Street, driving down Apple's stock. Some investors are re-examining their lofty iPhone expectations and speculating about the product's next version.

AT&T (formerly known as SBC) said yesterday when reporting its second-quarter earnings that 146,000 iPhone buyers signed up for service in the first two days of its launch. That would be wildly successful for any other consumer-electronic product but a disappointment when compared with sky-high expectations for the iPhone.

Apple shares, which hit a high Monday, fell $8.81, or 6.1%, to $134.89 in 4 p.m. composite trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. AT&T shares fell 35 cents to $39.68 in 4 p.m. New York Stock Exchange composite trading on second-quarter results roughly in line with expectations. Apple is scheduled to report its earnings for its fiscal third quarter today.

The iPhone seemed poised to disappoint, given the increasing sales expectations for the much-ballyhooed device. After the first weekend, Goldman Sachs projected sales of 700,000 phones over the first three days. “I think it was a matter of expectations getting wildly out of control," said Andy Hargreaves, an analyst for Pacific Crest Securities, who owns shares of Apple. He had forecast 400,000 iPhones would be sold in the first weekend.

Many of the Wall Street analysts were taking their cues from the Apple stores in New York, which likely painted an overly optimistic picture of demand for the device, he said.

When Apple reports earnings today, it will likely post different iPhone sales figures than AT&T did. That's because Apple recognizes revenue when the product is shipped, while AT&T counts it once a customer activates the phone. Some customers reported difficulty activating the phones, but Mr. Lindner said those numbers were not substantial. AT&T hasn't released sales projections for this year, but analysts have predicted three million iPhones would be sold. Some analysts speculated yesterday that weaker demand could drive AT&T and Apple to launch a second-generation iPhone to the market sooner. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cellphone carriers collecting extra billions

A decade-old telephone tax intended to help bring affordable service to rural areas has turned into a bottomless and politically protected well of cash for cellphone companies that do big business in rural America. Over the past four years, there's been nearly a tenfold increase in government subsidies paid to a handful of so-called "competitive" providers — cellular phone companies paid by the fund to offer service in rural areas where an existing carrier already receives a subsidy.

The Universal Service Fund has collected $44 billion over its 10-year lifetime from a surcharge on the phone bills of nearly every American. Regulators and lawmakers have long viewed the fund as inherently flawed. Even a member of the federal-state board that runs the program calls it "bizarre." But efforts to change it have been derailed repeatedly by companies that benefit from the largesse, and by supporters in Congress who represent sparsely populated states.

Now there are new calls for change, driven by the dramatic increase in money flowing to the cellular companies competing for rural business. Payments have gone from $131 million in 2003 to an expected $1.1 billion this year.

Increased demands by these carriers recently pushed the fee paid by telephone customers to the highest level in program history. The Federal Communications Commission will decide soon whether to cap payments while it considers options for long-term changes — again.

The Universal Service Fund was created by Congress in 1996 as part of an overhaul of the nation's communications laws designed to create competition. Specifically, Congress ordered that consumers — including those in "rural, insular and high-cost areas" — have access to telecommunications and information services at rates comparable to those charged in urban areas. That was to be financed by a fee added to long-distance bills. The charge may only be a few dollars per month, but it adds up fast.

In 2006, the fund collected $6.6 billion, money that flows to four programs. About $1.7 billion paid for schools and libraries to connect to the Internet; two smaller funds subsidized telephone service for the poor and rural health care facilities.

The largest chunk — about $4.1 billion last year — flows to the aptly named "high cost" program, the source of the current controversy. That money is paid directly to telephone companies that do business in mostly rural areas where the cost of delivering service is high.

In the early years of the fund, subsidies went almost exclusively to old-fashioned wired phone companies — large and small — that had served rural areas for decades. To spur competition, Congress wanted to make subsidies available to other carriers.

Initially, the lure of a handout wasn't enough to attract new entrants. But the dramatic growth of the cellular telephone industry changed all that.

Wireless providers discovered that the subsidy — based on what the wired companies were getting per customer — would cover their costs and then some. Critics say the cellular carriers are enjoying a windfall because their networks are much cheaper to build and maintain than miles of wires and telephone poles. They say logic dictates the subsidy should be based on actual cost.

Making the system more expensive, carriers are compensated on a per-subscriber basis. Each time a cell phone company signs up a new customer, it collects a subsidy.

If the customer keeps his land line, the fund pays a subsidy to both carriers. If the customer opts to drop his land line and keep his cellular phone (the goal of competition), the per-subscriber subsidy for the land line carrier actually goes up, keeping the overall subsidy unchanged. In some high-cost areas, the subsidy can amount to several hundred dollars per customer per month.

Since the cellular competitor's rates are based on the incumbent's per-customer subsidy, the cell carrier gets more money, too. And so does every other cellular competitor that does business in the area. In some places there are two, three or more.

Mississippi's competitive cellular carriers received more than $314 million from 2003 through the first four months of 2007. Second was Puerto Rico, at $236 million, Kansas third at $139 million. At the bottom of the list, receiving no funding for competitive carriers, were South Carolina, Rhode Island, Ohio, Massachusetts, Idaho and Delaware.

Of the $2.45 billion that has been paid to competitive carriers from 2003 through April 2007, 75 percent of the cash went to 10 companies. Alltel, which recently announced the sale of the company, reported a $230 million profit in the first three months of 2007, a total boosted by the $65 million to $70 million in universal service funds the company says it receives each quarter.

Next on the list of recipients is AT&T with $239 million, followed by US Cellular at $212 million and Mississippi's Cellular South Inc. with $156 million.The system's potential flaws have been well documented since it was created.

The federal-state board recommended in 1996 that the subsidy be limited to a single connection per household, but the FCC at first disagreed.

By November of 2002, however, the agency took notice of the growing problem and asked the joint board how to fix it. The board again recommended, in February 2004, a one-line-per-household solution. But before the FCC could act, a handful of senators from rural states used their budget power to block implementation.

A trade group that represents rural carriers singled out Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.; Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska (representing the 48th, 44th and 47th most-populous states, according to the Census Bureau) for playing instrumental roles in blocking the provision.

The maneuver occurred during a House-Senate conference committee hearing on Nov. 22, 2004. The same scenario played out a year later, with rural telephone company trade groups again singling out Dorgan and Stevens for their "extraordinary efforts" to block the FCC from enacting the changes.

Dorgan has received $15,000 from Western Wireless Corp.'s political action committee (now part of Alltel) making him the former rural cellular company's favorite senator at the time. The senator's leadership PAC picked up an additional $8,000.

Dorgan and Stevens say they oppose the primary line restriction because it would put rural businesses at a competitive disadvantage to their urban counterparts.

In Mississippi, the top recipient of cash among cellular providers is Cellular South Inc., a 900-employee private company, whose executives have been prolific in their giving. Officers of the company and its corporate parent have dealt at least $142,550 in contributions to federal campaign committees, according to records.

Favorites include Mississippi Republican Rep. Charles E. "Chip" Pickering and Sen. Trent Lott. Pickering is a former member of Lott's staff and helped shape the 1996 telecommunications law, according to his congressional biography.

The company's executives also gave heavily to the successful gubernatorial campaign of Republican Haley Barbour in 2003. Barbour is a former lobbyist who worked on behalf of BellSouth Corp. (now part of AT&T) and the U.S. Telecom Association.

Sherry P. Stegall, Senior Vice President at Cellular South, noted that the company's political activity "pales in comparison to larger carriers." She said Cellular South has received no windfall.

The company is required to "reinvest all support" from the fund and file quarterly reports with regulators. For every dollar the company receives from the fund, it has invested $1.20 in developing its networks, she said.

With the contribution percentage from consumers having recently reached an all-time high and costs continuing to spiral, the sustainability of the fund is in doubt, and pressure is on the FCC and Congress.

The FCC is considering a recommendation by the federal-state board to cap funds paid to competitive carriers. There is considerable opposition among members of Congress, including Stevens and Pickering, and rural wireless carriers.

The joint board is considering long-term change. But with so many vested interests involved, progress has been difficult. "They tend to checkmate each other," board member Gregg said. He likens the fund to "a machine that somebody's created but nobody can find the 'off' switch to." (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, July 23, 2007

iPhone pardoned.
Now Duke blames Cisco for network crashes

A problem with Duke University's wireless network caused outages at the school, officials said Friday, exonerating the initial suspect, Apple's new iPhone.

"A particular set of conditions made the Duke wireless network experience some minor and temporary disruptions in service," Duke spokeswoman Tracy Futhey said in a statement posted on the university's Website. "Those conditions involve our deployment of a very large Cisco-based wireless network that supports multiple network protocols."

Cisco worked with Duke and Apple to identify the network issue that was causing the problem. "Cisco has provided a fix that has been applied to Duke's network and the problem has not occurred since," the company said.

The school's Wi-Fi wireless network had jammed nine times for spans of about 10 minutes, and a review of network traffic led Duke's technology team to iPhone users. (info from The Associated Press)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Use VoIP? Lose PC, go to jail, pay $50K

The tiny Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, saying that the government is being cheated out of substantial revenues, has ruled that the use of VoIP to make long distance calls is illegal and is threatening to throw violators into the slammer. There's some suspicion that the threat is actually a move in the battle between Antigua and the United States over Internet gambling.

The use of VoIP by residents of Antigua and Barbuda, which has a population of 70,000, has been increasing exponentially within the last two years. At the same time, Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) revenues have been stagnant to declining.

"Services offered by Vonage, Net 2 Phone, Orbital Cam Corporation, Skype, Net Speak and others are still illegal here in Antigua & Barbuda," accoring to spokesman Clement Samuel. "These illegal services deprive the country of revenue and put it in the hands of foreign operators..."

Antigua and Barbuda law apparently allows the country to fine violators up to $50,000 in the local currency, as well as impose jail sentences of up to two years. The country can also sue for lost taxes, cut off a violator's broadband and (gulp!) confiscate the hardware he used to make a VoIP call.

While use of the VoIP services is currently illegal, Samuel noted that the country does plan to eventually allow VoIP, under an emerging liberalization plan that would end the current monopoly held by Cable and Wireless. However VoIP providers would have to be licensed, and taxed, and it appears that they would have to adhere to the same long distance phone rate schedule as other long distance carriers.

The VoIP threats come during a battle between Antigua and the US over Internet gambling. Before the US outlawed it, the industry had grown to about 100 companies headquartered in Antigua, generating 3,000 jobs and driving economic growth. Now, with the partially effective US ban, there are only 40 such companies and taxes paid by gambling companies have plummeted from $90 to $20 million, leaving a gaping hole in the national budget.

In response, Antigua is battling the US before the World Trade Organization, where it is demanding $3.4 billion in sanctions because of the US blocking access to the Antiguan gambling sites, allegedly in violation of WTO rules. (info from TelecomWeb)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

iPhones may be crashing Duke Univ. net

Apple's new iPhones may be jamming parts of the wireless network at Duke University, where techies are trying to fix problems before classes begin next month.

Duke spokesman Bill Cannon said an analysis found that iPhones flooded parts of the campus' wireless network with access requests, freezing parts of the system for 10 minutes at a time. A single iPhone was powerful enough to cause the problem, and there are 100 to 150 of them registered on the network. Network administrators noticed the problem nine times in the past week.

"The scale of the problem is very small right now," said Cannon, adding that the school is working with Apple and Cisco, Duke's network equipment provider, to pinpoint the problem. "But the more iPhones that are around, the more they could be knocking on the door for access."

The iPhone can access the Internet through AT&T's EDGE network or through Wi-Fi. When a Wi-Fi hotspot is unavailable, it automatically switches to EDGE, but continues to check for Wi-Fi.

Ashok Agrawala, a computer science professor at the University of Maryland, speculated that both the phone and Duke's network are to blame for the glitches. He said the phones could be struggling to regain a connection with a wireless access point, possibly when a wireless hotspot hands off to another.

"When you set up a network on the campus, you set up the network to accommodate the devices you have in use," Agrawala said, noting laptops as the primary users on college campuses. "Now with the popularity of the iPhones, the network parameters may not be set right." But he added that the iPhone should be able to properly handle that problem without flooding the network. Agrawala said he also questions whether an iPhone is capable of accessing Duke's network 10,000 times a second, as found by the school's analysis. (info from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Man called 911 to be rescued from police

A man in Largo, Florida, was arrested after he called 911 and told a dispatcher he was surrounded by police officers and needed help.

Police first encountered Dana Shelton after being called to investigate a disturbance at a bar on Sunday but had found no problems and told him to move along.

Shelton then called 911 to report he was "surrounded by Largo police."

Shelton, who officers said appeared intoxicated, was charged with misdemeanor misuse of 911. The charge carries maximum penalties of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. (info from The Assocuiated Press)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

VoIP-er SunRocket is lost in space

VoIP service provider SunRocket told employees on Monday that it's shutting down. The company's Web site is still up and looks normal, but its customer service phone line announces: "We are no longer taking customer service or sales calls. Goodbye."

An internal memo from Sonya Jefferson, director of routing and carrier services for SunRocket was posted on a blog Monday. "Unfortunately this email contains very bad news. We have just been informed that any and all last ditch efforts to keep operations running as well as a potential sale of the company have not gone through and that SunRocket will cease operations at COB today. As such, today is my last day and everyone else you may have worked with at SunRocket. Regarding outstanding and future invoices: Sherwood Partners out of Palo Alto will be handling the close down of all invoices, current and outstanding."

SunRocket, which claimed it had 200,000 customers as of April, was one of several companies to offer an inexpensive telephony service that competed against the traditional phone companies. SunRocket's demise is not surprising. Thanks to IP, voice has become just another software application with companies like AOL, Google, Yahoo, and EarthLink incorporating it into other Web services.

Analysts have been predicting that it would be difficult for companies, like SunRocket and the more popular Vonage, to base an entire business around a VoIP service. While VoIP makes it relatively cheap to serve customers, it's still expensive to acquire them. And that is just the problem that Vonage faces.

Vonage, the most well known VoIP company, last reported it had about 2.2 million subscribers. But the company has also been struggling. Earlier this year a jury in Virginia found the company had infringed on three Verizon patents. Vonage is currently appealing the decision, but the legal battle is taking a toll on the company. In court in April, it said that it has been losing about 50,000 customers a month.

The trouble that SunRocket and Vonage is having is a clear indication how hard it is for a start-up to compete head-to-head with the traditional phone companies. Some of the newer VoIP companies, like JaJah, have learned this lesson. And they're designing services that work alongside traditional phone services, instead of simply replacing them. (info from CNET)

Monday, July 16, 2007

OOPS, OOPS: AT&T has two wireless data network failures in two weeks

Some customers of AT&T (formerly known as SBC) experienced problems with email and Internet access on their wireless devices Friday.

An AT&T spokesman confirmed that the company's GPRS data network, that services Blackberry and some other hand-held devices, had an outage from 7 to 10 a.m. in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The issue has been resolved, according to the spokesman.

On July 2, AT&T also had an outage on its EDGE network in the Midwest and West. That glitch came three days after AT&T started selling the iPhone, which operates on the EDGE network, and sparked speculation that the outage was caused by the heavy iPhone usage. The AT&T spokesman said the outages were not part of any overall consistent network issue, and were not related to the iPhone.

AT&T said it spent $50 million in improving its EDGE network prior to the iPhone launch, including raising the data transmission speed. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Slow AT&T wireless service boosts W-Fi use

Apple's iPhone, which has been a medium phenomenon itself, is also generating a lot of attention for wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi networks.

Since the iPhone's launch late last month, network services are reporting more device connections on Wi-Fi networks as consumers seek a faster connection to the Web than is provided by AT&T's own EDGE service. While Wi-Fi provides a short-term benefit by reducing loads on AT&Ts cellular network, it could potentially wrest away their control over Internet service.

"The iPhone is giving the industry a big shot in the arm in terms of imagination over different business plans," said Ron Sege, chief executive of network-equipment maker Tropos Networks Inc., which estimates that 10,000 iPhones have accessed its Wi-Fi networks.

More than laptops -- the current primary device used to connect to the Wi-Fi network -- cellphones are expected to be the big driver for the adoption of citywide Wi-Fi networks. Some devices, like the iPhone, use the Wi-Fi hotspots as a means to access the Internet, but other true dual-band handsets are designed to make voice calls that can be seamlessly switched between the Wi-Fi and cellular networks. T-Mobile USA, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG, supports 8,500 Wi-Fi hotspots across the US. and last month unveiled a service to bring those access points into the home.

As more municipalities push for blanket Wi-Fi coverage -- going beyond the hotspots offered by local business -- the debate over their deployments gets increasingly tangled by a mixture of government, corporate and consumer interests. Local governments see Wi-Fi as a way to generate revenue while ensuring poor areas receive access to a high-speed Internet connection. Internet providers like the telecommunications and cable companies view it as a potential threat.

Small towns across the country have installed municipal Wi-Fi networks that can be accessed anywhere. "They say that a mayor can't get elected without a Wi-Fi strategy," said Karen Hanley, senior director of marketing for trade group Wi-Fi Alliance.

On a larger scale, Philadelphia is working with EarthLink Inc. to build a citywide network. But both it and San Francisco, where Google Inc. and EarthLink are teaming up to provide the Wi-Fi network, have faced delays in their rollouts. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

AOL to pay $3 million for making it tough to cancel service

Averting a looming court battle over how it has handled the exodus from its Internet dial-up service, AOL has agreed to make it easier for its remaining customers to leave as part of a $3 million settlement with 48 states and the District of Columbia.

The resolution announced Wednesday was driven by a deluge of complaints from AOL customers who said they tried to close their accounts, only to be thwarted in their attempts or discover they were still being billed for services that they thought had been canceled.

The outcry triggered a multistate investigation that would have culminated in a lawsuit if AOL hadn't agreed to ante up and change its ways, said David Tiede, a deputy attorney general in California. California was among the states that played a leading role in the settlement. New York and Florida were the only states that didn't participate in the inquiry.

AOL, the Internet division of Time Warner Inc., didn't acknowledge any wrongdoing in the settlement. Company spokeswoman Amy Call downplayed the impact of the settlement, saying AOL had already voluntarily improved the way it handled cancellations during 2005 and 2006. "This just codifies those safeguards," she said.

As part of the settlement, AOL agreed to maintain an online channel for processing cancellations. Although it has long been one of the Internet's best-known companies, AOL didn't set up an online cancellation system until last August. Previously, all cancellation requests had to be made by fax, mail or telephone.

Subscribers who phoned AOL to cancel their service sometimes were greeted by aggressive customer service representatives who were paid bonuses of up to $3,000 if they found a way to retain the business, according to the multistate settlement. Customers complained that AOL's incentive system created an obstructive culture that made service cancellations difficult. "Consumers who called were put on hold or transferred repeatedly until they hung up in disgust," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who described AOL's practices as "outlandish and underhanded." (info from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Court supports Bush phone bugging

A federal appeals court removed a serious legal challenge to the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program, overruling the only judge who held that a controversial surveillance effort by the National Security Agency was unconstitutional.

Two members of a three-judge panel of the Cincinnati-based US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ordered the dismissal of a major lawsuit that challenged the wiretapping, which President Bush authorized secretly to eavesdrop on communications involving potential terrorists shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The court did not rule on the spying program's legality. Instead, it declared that the American Civil Liberties Union and the others who brought the case -- including academics, lawyers and journalists -- did not have the standing to sue because they could not demonstrate that they had been direct targets of the clandestine surveillance.

The decision vacates a ruling in the case made last August by a U.S. District Court judge in Detroit, who ruled that the administration's program to monitor private communications violated the Bill of Rights and a 1970s federal law.

The action means that the principal remaining legal challenge to the NSA surveillance program is a group of cases pending before a US District Court judge and the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in California. The primary issue before that appeals court, differing somewhat from that in the Michigan case, is whether the administration may claim that a privilege covering state secrets precludes the litigation.

The eavesdropping program -- first revealed by news accounts in late 2005 and the subject of intense political wrangling since then -- is one aspect of a broad assertion of presidential power by Bush in the past six years to justify policies meant to deter terrorism here and abroad. (info from The Washington Post)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Korea first to get new Moto Razr2

Motorola started selling the next generation model of its popular, ultra-slim Razr cell phone in South Korea in June, ahead of a global launch scheduled for July.

"We're releasing our new phone in the Korean market first in recognition of tech-savvy and fashion-aware Korean consumers," Motorola Korea Inc. said in a statement.

The new phone, called "Razr2," will be available via SK Telecom Co. (SKM), Korea's largest wireless carrier by revenue. It retails at about 580,000 Korean won ($630) before handset subsidies, Motorola said.

The world's second-largest handset maker by sales, unveiled the new cell phone last month in a bid to resurrect its ailing handset business. The new phone has a slimmer frame, larger screen and improved call quality compared with its predecessor.

Schaumburg, Illinois-based Motorola has sold nearly 100 million Razr phones, but has struggled to find a successor to it.

Motorola accounted for 11.5 percent of the Korean handset market as of the end of April. Samsung Electronics Co. held 55 percent and LG Electronics Inc. had 19 percent, according to Korea-based ATLAS Research Group. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Woman gets Paris Hilton's old phone number, and her calls

For months, UCLA student Shira Barlow's cellphone was bombarded with wrong-number calls and text messages, mostly between 2 and 4AM on weekends. Callers refused to believe they reached the wrong number. "Baby girl, how are you?" one man purred in a foreign accent. "Why are you doing this?" a woman asked. "This is so rude."

Barlow's story began when her phone fell from a back pocket and landed in a toilet. When she replaced it, her wireless company insisted on assigning the San Francisco native a new number with a 310 area code rather than 415, and she got a recycled phone number that used to belong to Paris Hilton. The number recycling practice conserves phone numbers to minimize area-code splitting.

Just after Barlow got her new phone close to Hilton's Feb. 17 birthday, a flurry of calls and texts arrived. "Oh my God," one caller said. "Where's the party?" Then came the day Hilton was sentenced to jail after violating probation in an alcohol-related reckless driving case. Messages about parties were replaced by dozens expressing condolences. Phone traffic trailed off when Hilton entered jail last month. When she was released, messages increased.

Barlow said she has resisted the temptation to pose as Hilton to get into exclusive parties. But she did message supporters "thanks so much," believing Hilton would appreciate it.

Barlow plans to keep the number because she says it has been a greater source of amusement than a hassle. "I didn't want to switch again," she said. (info from The Assocuated Press)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Sprint cancels customers who complain a lot

On June 29, Sprint Nextel sent letters notifying some customers that their service would be canceled by the end of July due to excessive calls to customer service.

"Our records indicate that over the past year, we have received frequent calls from you regarding your billing or other general account information," the letter reads. "While we have worked to resolve your issues and questions to the best of our ability, the number of inquiries you have made to us during this time has led us to determine that we are unable to meet your current wireless needs. Therefore after careful consideration, the decision has been made to terminate your wireless service agreement..."

Subscribers who have gotten letters from Sprint terminating their service won't have to pay the early termination fee. Their account balances will also be set to zero. But subscribers will have to sign up with a new wireless provider by July 30 if they want to keep their phone numbers. Otherwise, the numbers won't be available after the Sprint service ends, the letter states.

"We have to be able to quickly and efficiently serve customers," said Roni Singleton, a Sprint spokeswoman. "And when we are unable to consistently solve our customers' problems it results in a lot of frustration and longer waits for other customers. So after looking through our records, we were able to determine that there were customers who we could couldn't meet their current needs."

On a Sprint users' message board, one customer who received one of these letters said the calls she made to Sprint were for billing errors. She also questioned how the company counted the number of calls. "I absolutely didn't call as much as they say I did, but I did always have the hang up/transfer scenario -- even today calling in I was hung up on twice and transferred at least five times," she said. "I mean I DREAD calling in and sitting on hold, why on earth would I do it unless I had to!"

For years, Sprint has had a reputation for poor customer service and poor network coverage, and as a result, the company is suffering. For the first quarter of 2007, it reported a loss of 220,000 customers. This was the third quarter in a row the company had a substantial loss of customers. The company has consistently had one of the worst "churn" rates in the wireless industry. At the end of the first quarter of 2007, Sprint reported a churn rate of 2.7 percent. CLICK to see the letter. (Info from cnet.com)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Now Google's in the phone business

Google said it acquired GrandCentral Communications, a start-up that allows users to manage their existing phones and voicemail services over the Web. Financial terms of the transaction, which was announced on Google's official blog, were not disclosed.

GrandCentral provides a free service that assigns users a new number that links to their existing phones and voice mailboxes. The Web-based service allows users to set different rules for different callers, record phone calls or switch phones in the middle of a call. (from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Free AT&T Wi-Fi at Mickey Dee's and at home

AT&T (formerly known as SBC) yesterday announced that millions of its customers with higher speed broadband plans can now receive free access to AT&T’s nationwide Wi-Fi network — nearly 10,000 hot spots at popular locations across the country including airports, McDonalds restaurants, Barnes & Noble bookstores, coffee shops and sports stadiums.

With the proliferation of Wi-Fi-enabled devices including the iPhone, laptops, wireless music systems and PDAs, people are increasingly looking for on-the-go Internet connections.

Qualifying new and existing residential and small business customers instantly benefit from the free unlimited Wi-Fi connectivity at company hot spots. Qualifying AT&T broadband packages include: AT&T Yahoo High Speed Internet Pro, AT&T Yahoo High Speed Internet Elite, FastAccess Xtreme and FastAccess Xtreme 6.0.

AT&T also announced two new offers that allow residential customers to use Wi-Fi at home, free of charge and free of wires when using an AT&T Wi-Fi Gateway.

The new residential gateway offers include:

A free wireless gateway, after mail-in rebate or instant credit, for AT&T wireless customers who order new AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet Pro or Elite, or new FastAccess Xtreme or Xtreme 6.0 broadband service. The offer is now available in select AT&T retail and dealer locations.

Beginning July 6, new orders placed online for AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet Pro or Elite, or new FastAccess Xtreme or Xtreme 6.0 will qualify for a free wireless gateway after mail-in rebate or instant credit. New broadband customers will immediately benefit from the free Wi-Fi offer upon signing up for the qualified broadband plans at an AT&T retail store, online at www.att.com or through a company call center. Existing AT&T broadband customers who already subscribe to qualifying speed packages can immediately log in to AT&T Wi-Fi hot spots, at no charge, by using the master account user name and password for their service.

Monday, July 02, 2007

iPhone too successful for activation system

Because of the failure of Apple's in-home activation strategy, many new iPhone owners had to wait for a long time to play with their new toys.

Existing AT&T customers transferring their cellphone numbers were affected, as were people porting their numbers from competitors such as Verizon and T-Mobile. In many cases, users found that their old number had been deactivated, leaving them without a cellphone as they waited for iPhone activation to kick in.

Unfortunately, prior to activation, new customers are unable to use any iPhone functions -- including the iPod -- until the process is complete, as the iPhone continues to display the "Activate iPhone... Connect to iTunes" message.

AT&T, Apple's exclusive iPhone carrier, said that the situation had been improved after they received complaints. "We are working on any issues on an individual basis with customers who were impacted," said spokesman Michael Coe.

AT&T attributed the problems to overloaded servers as large number of customers tried to activate their phones over the weekend. After being hit with the initial onslaught, AT&T made technical adjustments to its activation system so that new users wouldn't face the same delays.

Angry users, however, were not ready to quickly forget, or forgive, AT&T or Apple. "A completely avoidable, yet completely predictable, failure on the part of both the AT&T/Cingular and Apple IT staff, as well as the iPhone product team," lamented user Roland Dobbins on the Apple support forum in a long message listing several reasons for the mess. (info from xinhuanet)