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

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Here we go again: Alacatel-Lucent loss increases

Telecommunications-equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent said Wednesday it expects revenue to fall 2% to 5% in 2008 due to the weak dollar and potential lower spending by operators, as the company reported a wider net loss in the first quarter. For the quarter ended March 31, the company reported a net loss of $282 million, compared with an $12.45 million loss a year earlier when there was a capital gain from a sale.

Revenue dropped slightly to about $6 billion, hurt by the dollar's weakness against the euro. More than half of Alcatel-Lucent's revenue is generated in dollars or dollar-denominated currencies, but the company reports in euros, so the dollar's weakness against the euro translates into lower revenue figures.

The company said it expects revenue to fall in 2008 "due primarily to the significant deterioration in the [euro-dollar] exchange rate and, to a much lesser extent, the potential for lower capital spending by a few customers."

Alcatel-Lucent wrestled with internal and external problems last year, its first full year as a merged company. Sluggish spending on network gear from operators and fierce price competition from rivals dragged down revenue as management struggled to mesh staff and product lines.

The company maintained its 2008 forecast of an adjusted operating margin in the mid single-digit range and said it expects an adjusted gross operating margin "in the mid thirties." Revenue is expected to increase sequentially in the second quarter by 4% to 6%, below the former Alcatel's historical growth rate of 5% to 10%, Pesquidoux said.

The company was more cautious about growth for the overall telecom-equipment and services market in 2008, saying it should be flat, compared with a previous forecast of "flat to slightly up."

Excluding the capital gain, operating profit was barely better than expectations, said WestLB analyst Thomas Langer, who has a "reduce" rating on Alcatel-Lucent stock. Langer said the only positive number in the report was the gross margin, which rose to 36.2% from 34.4% a year earlier.

The news wiped out the majority of recent gains made by Alcatel-Lucent shares on better-than-expected results Friday from Swedish rival Telefon AB LM Ericsson. Shares of Alcatel-Lucent shares fell 7.4% in Wednesday morning trading on a slightly lower Paris market. Having tumbled 55% during 2007 on a string of profit warnings, Alcatel-Lucent's share price had slipped about 9% between the start of the year and Wednesday's results. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

FCC may limit phone subsidies

Within days, the FCC could announce an agreement to temporarily cap the federal Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes phone services in rural areas and for low-income Americans -- a move that would help consumers who are frustrated over bigger phone bills.

The fund grew to almost $7.2 billion in 2007 from $5.2 billion in 2002. Most of the growth came from an increase in the number of cellphone companies that have been able to tap into it to provide service in rural areas.

The plan would cap the fund at its March 2008 level for the foreseeable future. Three of five FCC commissioners have agreed to the plan, which is enough for it to pass. One of the Democratic commissioners, Michael Copps, voted against it. The other Democratic commissioner, Jonathan Adelstein, hasn't voted yet.

The program is funded by a fee on consumer phone bills of about a dollar or two each month for each line. The move means that consumers won't likely see the charge increase much, if at all.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin proposed capping the largest part of the fund six months ago because of concerns about its growth. The plan stalled with some commissioners hoping to use the issue as leverage to push broader overhaul. "This thing is spiking out of control and we need to move on," said Robert McDowell, a Republican FCC commissioner who voted to approve the plan. "We need to be fiscally responsible here."

While a boon for consumers, the move suggests that broader overhaul of the subsidy program could be less likely this year. Several efforts to rein it in have been floated at the agency, including Martin's proposal to use a reverse-auction system to pick which phone companies receive multimillion-dollar payments to provide service in rural areas.

But the Universal Service Fund has powerful supporters on Capitol Hill who have resisted broad changes to the program, particularly lawmakers representing rural areas that benefit from it the most. (Info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Moto cellphone sales drop to new low

Cellphone sales at Motorola slid a stunning 39% in the first quarter, pushing the company's global market share to a historic low of 9.5% and widening its net loss.

Motorola, which plans next year to spin off its cellphone division, has lost half of its market share since the end of 2006 when its popular Razr phone led the company to a 22.4% global market share. Much of that loss occurred in the US, where Moto is the leading player but the company has lost business because it failed to roll out new models with advanced features at competitive prices. As a result, when people with Moto phones wanted to upgrade their phones, they often switched to different brands.

"Motorola's been a puddle drying up in the sun," said analyst Neil Mawston of the research firm Strategy Analytics. Still, Motorola Chief Executive Greg Brown hinted on a conference call with analysts that the division had hit bottom, saying its performance in the second quarter would be "flat to slightly up" in a growing market.

Brown also said the company is proceeding with spinoff plans for the division, a decision pushed by activist shareholder Carl Icahn. Brown admitted it will be costly to separate cellphones from the rest of the company. Icahn has argued that carving out the mobile-devices division will make it easier for the business to find new management to help with a turnaround. The division has been reeling from management turnover, thousands of layoffs and product missteps. It posted a $418 million operating loss for the quarter, compared with an operating loss of $233 million a year ago.

Motorola shares were down 30 cents, or 3.1%, to $9.25 in 4 p.m. New York Stock Exchange composite trading Thursday.

Brown said the company would speed the development of its "embryonic portfolio" of phones with enhanced messaging and touch features by winnowing its multiple software platforms and by enlisting the help of outside manufacturers. He said the company would jettison one platform for low-tier phones from TTPCom Ltd. in the United Kingdom, which it acquired for $192 million in 2006. The company will use three platforms for its mid- and high-tier phones.

As Motorola's base shrinks, Samsung, LG, and market leader Nokia are pouring out models with advanced features such as Internet browsing, navigation, music and better cameras. Samsung passed Motorola for the No. 2 spot last spring, and Strategy Analytics predicts that LG will overtake Motorola for the No. 3 spot in the next quarter. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Three cable companies bail out of Sprint deal

Three of the nation's largest cable companies are quietly leaving joint cellphone venture with Sprint Nextel called Pivot.

Spokespeople for Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications said Wednesday they have stopped marketing the Pivot service and plan in the coming weeks to give their Pivot customers the option of switching to traditional Sprint plans.

A spokeswoman for the fourth cable partner, Advance/Newhouse Communications Inc., declined to comment. Pivot customers will be able to keep their phones and their numbers and receive a month's free Sprint service for their trouble.

Announced with great fanfare in November 2005, the four cable partners and Sprint each invested $100 million in the venture. The Pivot brand was unveiled a year ago.
The partnership's goal was to give the cable operators a "quadruple play" of voice, video, Internet and wireless products in their battle against telephone companies that have added TV to their arsenals.

But the cable companies said the complexity of the offering itself, as well as meshing what was essentially a retail operation with their cable service, made marketing Pivot a chore and controlling the direction of the joint venture difficult. "We remain committed to bringing a wireless component to our portfolio of services, but we don't believe Pivot was the best option," said Cox spokeswoman Jill Ullman. The cable companies refused to say how many customers they had signed up through Pivot, but each said it had launched the service in a limited number of markets.

Time Warner Cable spokesman Alex Dudley added that it's still unclear how important wireless services are in keeping customers from jumping to other providers. "Wireless in some format may be part of our portfolio, but we haven't seen a tremendous demand for the traditional quad play," he said.

Sprint Nextel announced in November that it was halting planned expansions of the service as it sought to make the offering simpler and easier for customers to understand. Sprint spokeswoman Melinda Tiemeyer said the company has since pulled marketing materials for Pivot from its retail stores in all but three markets. "The driver was there were operational challenges that made it difficult to sell and bring products to market," Tiemeyer said. "It just wasn't a long-term solution."

She said the company will continue working with the cable providers to find a way to sell wireless to their customers. Sprint is still a partner in SpectrumCo, a consortium that purchased a number of wireless spectrum licenses in a federal auction in 2006. (info from the Associated Press)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Verizon applies to provide TV service in NYC

Verizon has filed an application with the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) to offer its fiber-optic-based FiOS TV service throughout the city.

Verizon submitted the plan in response to a solicitation DoITT issued on April 11. The solicitation seeks "proposals for franchises for the provision of cable television services to be made available throughout the city." Currently, two legacy cable TV companies (Time-Warner and Comcast) operate in separate parts of the city.

Verizon's proposal is being evaluated by the city, and then forwarded to the city's Franchise and Concession Review Committee for a public hearing and consideration. If the committee and the city approve Verizon's proposal, it will be submitted to the New York Public Service Commission for confirmation, as are all cable franchises. If all approvals are achieved in a timely fashion, Verizon would begin offering service to the city’s residents later this year.

This 12-year proposed agreement is unprecedented in scope and is designed to serve the needs of about 3.1 million households that will have access to FiOS TV, including households in apartments.

Aspects of the plan include:

Verizon building its fiber-optic network throughout the entire city by midyear 2014; Making available FiOS TV service to requesting customers in all five boroughs within a six-year time frame; An all digital channel line-up of more than 400 channels and 150 HD channels by year-end, and a growing library of more than 10,000 video-on-demand selections; Verizon providing a fiber-optic institutional network (known as an INET), primarily to support the city's public safety needs; Verizon agreeing to pay franchise fees equivalent to five percent of gross revenues on cable TV service, as do other cable TV operators in the city.

Verizon has previously begun offering FiOS internet and phone service without TV in Manhattan.

(info from Broadcast Engineering and personal knowledge)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

AT&T firing 1,000s of execs and hiring techies

AT&T (formerly known as Wisconsin Bell, McCaw Cellular and a bunch of other stuff) plans to lay off 4,600 mostly white-collar employees, or about 1.5% of its work force, as part of a reorganization due to its shrinking landline phone business.

But AT&T intends to hire back about the same number of people in jobs related to its expanding wireless, television and broadband services. As a result, it expects its total employment to remain constant at about 310,000 in the coming year.

"There are parts of the business that are growing and others that are not," said AT&T spokesman Walt Sharp, referring to the company's landline business, which continues to lose customers. "The jobs in the growth areas are different, and for a variety of reasons we were not able to find additional jobs within the organization for the people impacted."

AT&T is expected to shed 8% of its total access lines in 2008, estimates UBS analyst John Hodulik. That follows drops of 9% and 8% for the two prior years. AT&T had 61.6 million voice line customers at the end of 2007. "The company is continuing to lose voice lines and they have to adapt their cost structure," said Hodulik. "At the same time they have to invest in growth areas."

While the number of people AT&T plans to employ will remain the same in the year ahead, the job cuts could result in substantial cost savings in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars, estimates Hodulik. "There will be quite a bit of cost savings in this plan since it will impact a lot of senior executives and white-collar workers, who are generally more highly paid, and replace them with guys in trucks getting U-Verse into peoples' homes," he added, referring to AT&T's TV and Internet service. (info from the Wall Street Journal)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Skype sells unlimited international calls
for $9.95 per month

Skype, the Internet calling subsidiary of eBay, is offering its first plan for unlimited international calls starting today. For $9.95 per month, the plan allows unlimited calls to landline phones in 34 countries, including include most of Europe, plus Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Malaysia.

Calls to US landline and cellphones are included as well, as are calls to cellphones in Canada, China, Hong Kong and Singapore, but not cellphones in other countries.

Skype has already been selling unlimited calls to the US and Canada for $3 a month. It is expanding that offering with another plan, for $5.95 per month, that gives free calls to Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey, and a discount on calls to other places in Mexico.

Skype is generally used as a software application running on a computer equipped with a microphone and speakers, or a headset. But subscribers will also have the option to call a local number from their phones and be connected to international numbers with their plan, paying a local access charge or using their cellphone airtime.

Unlimited international calling plans have appeared in recent years from hardware-based phone services like Vonage and cable companies, but the prices are generally higher, and the plans are add-ons to basic calling plans that cost even more.

Skype said its subscribers used phones for 1.7 billion minutes in the first three months of the year, compared with 14.2 billion minutes used in computer-to-computer sessions, which are free. (info from the Associated Press)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Cubans in long lines for cellphones

Lines stretched for blocks outside phone stores Monday as ordinary Cubans were allowed to sign up for cellular phone service for the first time. The contracts cost about $120 to activate - half a year's wages on the average salary. And that doesn't include a phone or the cost to make and receive calls. Still, lines formed before the centers opened, and waits grew to more than an hour.

Getting through the day without a cellphone is unthinkable now in most developed countries, but Cuba's government limited access to cellphones as well as kitchen appliances, hotels and other luxuries in an attempt to preserve the relative economic equality that is a hallmark of social life in communist Cuba.

President Raul Castro has pledged to do away these small but infuriating restrictions on daily life, and his popularity has surged as a result, defusing questions about whether his relative lack of charisma would make governing Cuba more difficult after his older ailing older brother Fidel formally stepped down in February.

The phones allow Cubans to make and receive overseas calls, important because most have relatives and friends in the US.

Teenagers and college students with expensive sunglasses and fashionable clothes dominated in the lines, but elderly housewives and an occasional construction worker also waited to buy.

Lines outside stores are common in Cuba since security personnel limit how many people are allowed in at a time, and phone centers are often especially crowded with Cubans waiting to pay their home phone bills. But Monday's waits were longer than normal - and everyone who turned up was waiting for a cellphone contract.

Only foreigners and Cubans holding key government posts were allowed to have cellphones since they first appeared on the island in 1991. Thousands of ordinary Cubans had already obtained cellphones through the black market, but could activate them only by finding foreigners willing to put their names on the contracts. A March 28 announcement by Cuba's state-controlled telecom monopoly, a joint venture with Telecom Italia, made it legal for all Cubans to have phones in their own names. (info from The Associated Press)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Telephone competion hurts 911 response

A delayed police response to a fatal stabbing in Dorchester, Mass. last month has revealed an unintended consequence of competition in the telephone industry: If you live on a street with a common name, police and fire crews could be confused about where you live. While more companies are offering telephone service, they do not uniformly give the 911 system neighborhood names along with the individual address of their customers.

Some Boston leaders are calling this a gap in a key emergency system that needs to be plugged as the number of providers grows. They are calling on the state to require that all companies providing phone service submit to the state's 911 database a neighborhood name along with each customer's address.

The gaps came to light following an incident on Washington Street in Dorchester last month, when police went to an identical address in downtown Boston. As a result, police did not arrive at the correct location until 14 minutes after the call.

"A system that does not discern the section of the city that a call is coming from is a system that endangers the public," said Councilor Charles Yancey, who represents the Dorchester neighborhood where the 911 call was made. Yancey has called for a City Council hearing to discuss the issue in public. "That system has to change," he said.

Officials said Verizon -- which once was the only provider of phone service -- does give neighborhood names but other companies have not had the same uniformity of reporting.

Yancey said the woman who called 911 in the Dorchester stabbing has Comcast telephone service. Spokesmen for Comcast, RCN, and Vonage -- three of the largest alternatives to Verizon in the city -- all said their companies do provide neighborhood-specific addresses to the 911 database, despite the assertion of city officials. Comcast called the Dorchester case an "isolated incident."

The dispatcher who took the call in the March 9 incident, relying on the location that appeared in a computer mapping system, sent cars to a Washington Street address in Downtown Crossing, not Dorchester, where the stabbing happened. Authorities said they believe the victim had been dead for hours before emergency responders arrived, but officials acknowledged the situation pointed to a potentially serious gap in the 911 database for a city in which nearly 200 Boston street names appear more than once.

The state will consider ways to fix the problem, said Terrell Harris, spokesman for the state executive office of public safety, which runs the 911 system. "We realize that this is an issue that has to be addressed, and we have to come up with some way to solve this problem," Harris said. "We are looking at any and everything we can and we're going to find a solution."

Boston police Commissioner Edward F. Davis announced a new protocol for handling 911 calls in the aftermath of last month's mix-up. He said when 911 receives a report of a serious incident at an address with multiple locations in the city, police will immediately respond to each possible location. Davis said the policy would remain in place until the 911 system could be fixed to ensure dispatchers see the right addresses on their computer screens.

Yancey said he is concerned the city's approach could still cost emergency responders precious time and said he's concerned about the strain it could place on police resources. "I realize it's a stop-gap measure, but with today's technology, you would think we could run a more efficient operation." (info from the Boton Globe)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Feds debate airwave auction auction failure

The fate of a valuable block of airwaves that went unsold in the government's recent $19.6 billion auction became murkier Tuesday, when lawmakers questioned FCC and public safety officials about what made such coveted spectrum so unattractive to bidders.

Options for reauctioning the swath are being debated, although no consensus has emerged at the FCC or in Congress about what to do.

At a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday, several Republican lawmakers championed the idea of stripping conditions that the winner build and share a broadband network with public-safety groups. Proceeds from the auction could be set aside to build an emergency broadband network instead, they said.

Democrats rejected that notion, citing concerns that the money raised wouldn't be enough to build and maintain an emergency network. "I am presently unmoved by suggestions that we should simply auction the [block] for purely commercial use and hand the proceeds to public safety," said Rep. John Dingell chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

There were many complaints about the auction, despite its $19.6 billion haul -- the most it has ever raised at an airwaves auction.

Lawmakers expressed frustration that the auction's design allowed the US's two dominant wireless competitors -- AT&T and Verizon Wireless -- to pick up most of the airwaves offered. Some Republican lawmakers complained about "open access" rules attached to some airwaves that may have depressed the auction's proceeds. Mostly, lawmakers expressed concerns about the operations and funding of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust, a nonprofit formed last year by police and firefighter groups. It was tapped by the FCC to work with the winning bidder to design a national-emergency broadband network.

The first responders asked Cyren Call, a start-up headed by Nextel founder Morgan O'Brien, to be the trust's adviser. O'Brien had unsuccessfully floated an earlier plan to build a national broadband network that could be shared with first responders. At the hearing, Cyren Call confirmed it had funded the trust via a $4 million loan raised from its venture-capital backers.

Harlin McEwen, a retired police official who heads the trust, defended its efforts and said that Cyren Call works for public-safety groups, not the other way around. "We're paying for their services with the loan we've obtained," he said.

On behalf of the trust, Cyren Call executives negotiated with potential bidders for the block and suggested that the winning bidder would pay $50 million a year for 10 years to the trust to lease the airwaves. That payment would pay the trust's operational expenses. It would be in addition to the billions of dollars the winning bidder would spend to build a national broadband network that would be shared with first responders.

The negotiations spooked some would-be bidders, who were already concerned about other conditions the FCC put on the airwaves, including build-out requirements and a multimillion-dollar, nonrefundable deposit. Ultimately, the one bid made for the airwaves was well below the FCC's $1.3 billion asking price.

FCC officials expressed concern Tuesday not only that the public-safety trust had been funded by a private company but that it had been seeking additional money from the winning bidder to fund its operations. "I think that's something we'd try to address moving forward," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said during the hearing.

A majority of the FCC's five-member board expressed support for staying with a public-private sharing model when reauctioning the airwaves, although the commissioners said they would tighten controls over the process. (info from the Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

American Idol wrong numbers cause trouble

Each week on “American Idol,” Ryan Seacrest cautions viewers to be careful when they call the numbers that allow them to vote for their favorite contestants. And each week thousands of “American Idol” fans misdial.

Recently the calls have been pouring in to the phone bank of Internet Sales & Customer Services Support Inc., a telemarketing business owned by Henry Westendarp.

Westendarp received a toll-free phone number late last year, and things were running smoothly until “American Idol” started up again in January. Then he began to notice an uptick in phone calls on Tuesday evenings after his office closed. Most of the calls, he said, resulted in messages in which the callers simply hung up. After the number of calls spiked to more than 10,000 this week, Westendarp did a little research. His discovery: “American Idol” callers who mistakenly transpose two digits when dialing to cast a vote for a certain contestant end up on his phone line.

Each week since the first season of “American Idol,” the program has used toll-free numbers with the last two digits replaced by numbers that correspond to individual contestants. Westendarp’s number has several of the same digits.

Other business owners have ended up in the same predicament. Therese Burgueno has a toll-free number with the same beginnings as that of Westendarp’s but with a different last number. She receives thousands of calls each Tuesday, beginning just after “American Idol” goes off the air on the East Coast.

Both Westendarp and Burgueno said they had been told by the company that produces “American Idol,” that the only thing that business owners could do is change their phone numbers, because the show can't control how people dial.

A spokesman for the production company said the show tried to promote careful dialing, and said the number of complaints had fallen since the show began. The phenomenon has occurred in each “Idol” season, usually in the form of repeated calls to residents whose own phone numbers begin with the 866 exchange, which “Idol” uses. If dialers do not press 1 before dialing the 866, some phone networks assume a local number is being called and connect them after only seven digits are entered.

Other common misdials result from people using 800 rather than 866 as a toll-free area code — a practice that Seacrest, the “Idol” host, specifically warns against during most shows — and from callers mistaking letters on their phone pads.

More than 31 million votes were cast last week. Even with that many votes, a few thousand errant dialings could affect the results. In the 2003 finale 130,000 votes separated the winner, Ruben Studdard, from the runner-up, Clay Aiken. Days later a Midwest phone company said it had received 240,000 misdialed calls during voting. (info from The New York Times)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Verizon sues Time Warner over fiber-optic ad

Verizon and Time Warner Cable's fight for subscribers got uglier after Verizon sued Time Warner Wednesday over a TV commercial it claims misrepresents its fiber-optic service. The lawsuit alleged that the latest version of a long-running Time Warner Cable ad mocking a Verizon door-to-door salesman falsely compared Verizon's FiOS service with its own cable offering. Verizon is seeking a permanent injunction barring Time Warner Cable from running the ad, as well as damages and an ad correcting the errors.

"The ad is the one in which they have their snarly looking homeowner and Time Warner customer responding to the overly eager Verizon salesman," said Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe, adding that the company had requested that Time Warner Cable take the ad down but was denied. Time Warner denies any wrongdoing. "We feel the suit is without merit, and we look forward to defending against it in the appropriate venue," said spokesman Alex Dudley.

The suit is the latest in a series of shots fired by cable and telecom companies as they vie for customers. Cable companies kicked off the fight years ago by offering an Internet-based phone service, while phone companies have invested billions in upgrading their networks to offer TV.

Verizon is spending the most by connecting many homes directly to fiber-optic lines, which are much faster than the typical copper lines that run into houses. The service has seen a healthy adoption in areas where FiOS is offered, although it is still unclear whether the investment will pay off.

Both sides have used fiber-optics in their networks for many years, but only recently has fiber been a used as a marketing tool. Verizon said its direct lines to customers' homes allow it to offer a faster connection. Cable companies, however, have been working on improvements to boost their speed.

There are some areas where people can get FiOS Internet and phone service, but not TV, because Verizon lacks the franchised rights that are granted by local government. Verizon partners with DirecTV to sell satellite TV in areas where it doesn't offer video. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, April 11, 2008

FCC hits stores & TV makers with big fines for digital TV transition & V-Chip goof-ups

The FCC on Thursday issued 11 enforcement orders (fines) against electronics products retailers and manufacturers for not following its rules related to the transition to digital television (DTV) broadcasting. The violations occurred in 2007, when many retailers still had analog TV sets in stock. As of March 1, 2007, all new sets were required to come with digital tuners, but the FCC allowed retailers to sell analog-only sets if they carried a label that said they wouldn't show digital over-the-air broadcasts without a set-top converter box.

The orders included seven Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) against retail chains for alleged violations of its DTV labeling requirements, two NALs for alleged violations of the DTV tuner mandate and two NALs for alleged violations of the V-Chip mandate. The companies have 30 days to respond to the FCC.

For labeling violations, seven retail chains were hit with NALs totaling $3.9 million. This was for dealers that had not posted labels on analog televisions warning consumers that the sets did not include a digital tuner and would not receive over-the-air broadcasts after Feb. 17, 2009.

Those chains included:

Sears/K-Mart, $1,096,000;
Wal-Mart/Sam's Club, $992,000;
Circuit City, $712,000;
Fry's Electronics, $384,000;
Target, $296,000
Best Buy, $280,000
CompUSA, $168,000

Some retailers said they were furious, because they had taken aggressive steps working with the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Adminstration to educate the public on the DTV transition and the TV converter box coupon program.

Syntax Brillian was slapped with an NAL totaling $1.266 million for failing to include digital tuners in DTV sets and Precor was assessed $357,000 for the same infraction.

NALs were issued against Polaroid and Proview for violations of the FCC’s V-Chip rules. “These rules ensure that consumers' television receivers are capable of adapting to changes in the content advisory rating system,” the FCC said.

Also, the FCC announced consent decrees with seven manufacturers resolving possible violations of V-Chip rule requiring that televisions be capable of adapting to changes in the content advisory rating system.

Those issued V-Chip consent decrees included:

LG Electronics, $1,700,000
Philips Consumer Electronics, $450,000
Sanyo, $375,000
Vizio, 370,000
Panasonic, $320,000
Westinghouse Digital Electronics, $210,000
Audiovox, $20,000
(Info from TWICE & Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

FBI blames Lieberman campaign for his website crash. Lieberman had blamed opponent

A federal investigation has concluded that US Sen. Joseph Lieberman's 2006 re-election campaign was to blame for the crash of its Website the day before Connecticut's Democratic primary. The FBI office in New Haven found no evidence supporting the Lieberman campaign's allegations that supporters of primary challenger Ned Lamont were to blame for the crash.

Lieberman, who was fighting for his political life against the anti-Iraq-war candidate Lamont, implied that joe2006.com was hacked by Lamont supporters. "The server that hosted the joe2006.com Web site failed because it was overutilized and misconfigured. There was no evidence of (an) attack. A program that could have detected a legitimate attack was improperly configured, according to the FBI, in an e-mail dated Oct. 25, 2006.

The email was recently sent to The Stamford Advocate in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act filed in late 2006. The Advocate filed the requests after government investigators closed the case but would not divulge details.

Visitors who tried to access Lieberman's site at the time received a message calling on Lamont to "make an unqualified statement denouncing this kind of dirty campaign trick and to demand whoever is responsible to cease and desist immediately." The Lieberman campaign alleged it was the target of a "denial of service attack," which can involve bombarding a Web site with external communications to slow it or render it useless.

"Our Web site consultant assured us in the strongest terms possible that we had been attacked," former Lieberman campaign spokesman Dan Gerstein said in December 2006. According to the FBI memo, the site crashed because Lieberman officials continually exceeded a configured limit of 100 e-mails per hour the night before the primary.

"The system administrator misinterpreted the root cause," the memo stated. "The system administrator finally declared the server was being attacked and the Lieberman campaign accused the Ned Lamont campaign. The news reported this on Aug. 8, 2006, causing additional Web traffic to visit the site.

"The additional Web traffic then overwhelmed the Web server. . . . Web traffic pattern analysis reports and Web logging that was available did not demonstrate traffic that was indicative of a denial of service attack." (info from the Stamford Advocate)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Smellaphone being tested in Japan
(probably not April Fooling, but I can't guarantee it)

After satisfying the senses of sight and sound through video streams and music downloads, Japan's NTT Communications aims to tap into the sense of smell with a new system that allows users to send fragrances from their cellphones.

In a trial later this month, users will be able to select and send fragrance requests to an in-home unit that concocts and releases the various fragrances. The dispenser holds 16 cartridges of base fragrances that are mixed to produce the various scents like a printer mixes inks to produce other colors.

A caller chooses a scent from choices available on a Website from a cellphone. Instructions for making the scent are then transmitted to the fragrance device through infrared from the phone, and then the scent is quickly mixed and emitted.

Another option is to send the instructions via e-mail. The message is intercepted by a home gateway unit that sends the instructions to the fragrance device. With this method users can set the time and date of fragrance emission, so one can come home to the relaxing scent of lavender, for example.

There's even room for creating customized scents, which can be shared with other users through the online fragrance "playlist."

The technology is not only limited to creating a pleasant-smelling workplace or home. NTT also sees it as a way to enhance multimedia content. For example, instead of just sending an image of a bouquet of roses to a friend, one can boost the experience by sending the fragrance as well.

NTT hopes the fragrance emitter will cost about US$195 when eventually launched commercially. The company believes that fragrance is the next important medium for telecommunications, as more value is placed on high sensory information. A survey showed that 56 percent of people polled use aromatherapy or believe that it has positive benefits.

"Aromatherapy can reduce stress and help you relax, and to be able to control smell implies one has the power to manipulate feelings as well," said Akira Sakaino, from NTT Communications' Net Business Division. (info from The New York Times)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Cellphones OK'd for use on planes over Europe

The European Union on Monday opened the way for air travelers to use cellphones to talk, text or send emails on planes in European airspace later this year.

Viviane Reding, the EU's telecommunications commissioner, warned phone operators not to set rates for the service too high and urged airlines to protect passengers from excessive phone use. "In-flight mobile phone services can be a very interesting new service, especially for those business travelers who need to be ready to communicate wherever they are," Ms. Reding said. "However, if consumers receive shock phone bills, the service will not take off."

Several airlines, including Air France-KLM, have already launched a trial of in-flight mobile-phone services on some European routes. British Midland Airways, Portugal's TAP and low-cost airline Ryanair are also planning to offer services later this year. Germany's Lufthansa said it does not want to introduce the service because many people don't want to be disturbed. Lufthansa may offer Internet access on its planes, which it offered from 2004 through 2006.

The EU regulation sets a common standard by which passengers can safely use their mobile phones during flights and airlines will only need to get one national license to launch their services. Those licenses will apply to all 27 nations in the EU.

Most services that are being rolled out this year are being provided by OnAir, a unit of planemaker Airbus. Their services allow in-air telephone calls above altitudes of 9,800 feet. EU spokesman Martin Selmayr said the phone services will not be available during take off or landing or during turbulence. He said the captain and crew of the plane can control when they want to switch off the onboard network. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, April 07, 2008

iPhone price slashed in Germany

German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom is said to be lowering the price of the Apple iPhone to €99 ($122) in a two-month campaign.

The iPhone currently costs a minimum of €399 in Germany, where Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile service is the exclusive carrier. The multimedia phone costs at least $399 in the US.

The new offer runs from April 7 to June 30 for the iPhone with eight gigabytes of memory. The €99-deal is only valid with a premium contract for which the customer pays at least €89 a month. Deutsche Telekom also introduced a starter iPhone contract that costs €29 a month, where the iPhone then costs €249. (info from the Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Jerk calls cops to buy crack

Police officers in Lake Charles, Louisiana suspected that a car they had pulled over was stolen, so they called the registered owner and left a message. But when the owner called back, she apparently thought the message was from a drug dealer, and tried to buy crack cocaine, and was arrested.

"Officers put in a lot of energy to close a case, so we never mind getting one on sheer luck and stupidity," police Sgt. Mark Kraus said of last week's arrest.

He said officers stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation and the driver could not produce identification or a valid driver's license. Miller called the car's registered owner and left a message, but in the meantime they determined that the vehicle wasn't stolen and allowed the driver to leave, Kraus said.

About an hour later, Miller got a call on his cellphone from the apparent owner of the car "who stated that she would like to buy $150 in crack," Kraus said. Miller agreed to a meeting, which led to the arrest of Jill Foreman and fiance Larry Rieck. Foreman was freed on bail after being booked with conspiracy to distribute a controlled dangerous substance. Rieck remained in custody Tuesday on the same charge. (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Heavy-duty, hard-to-lose Moto cellphone

My wife dropped her silver Razr into a puddle. I lost my black Razr somewhere in North America. Forunately, the wizards at Motorola have come up with a great solution.

Moto's new DynaTAC is tough to lose and tough to break. Weighing in at a hefty 28 ounces, and measuring 10 inches long, it will be very obvious if it's not hanging from your belt.

There's no music, no camera, no Bluetooth, no live video, no distracting animated displays; but if you want something solid and dependable, this is a great choice. Convenient SND and END buttons make it easy to keep track of what you're doing. Built-in memory handles up to 30 speed dial numbers.

Talk time is more than half an hour, so there's plenty of time for important calls before the overnight recharge. You can't get red or silver, but the handsome tan and gray design is classic, and DynaTAC will be at home just about anywhere.

Price is $3,995.