Tag Archive: at&t


mobile_towers_spectrum

iStockphoto | maumapho

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission have taken on an important mission. These lawmakers are trying to make more public airwaves available for mobile broadband while simultaneously preserving some free, over-the-air broadcast television signals.

It’s a big task, made all the more complicated by the number of public interest considerations the FCC has to balance, and by the fact that the agency can’t compel broadcasters to give up their licenses. All it can do, under the statute that Congress passed, is create incentives for TV stations to surrender those licenses voluntarily.

Volunteering is more lucrative than it used to be, at least in this case. In return for pitching in, TV stations that participate will receive a portion of the money that companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile pay in an auction for the right to use that spectrum.

Or will all of those companies seek those rights? There’s the first issue the FCC faces, if this “reverse” auction works and incentivizes TV stations to give up some inventory: Will multiple mobile carriers be able to bid for this spectrum, which is the lifeblood of any wireless service? Or will it be gobbled up by the two dominant players, AT&T and Verizon? Those two enjoy a powerful duopoly, controlling nearly 80 percent of the frequencies most valuable for mobile broadband, and more than 80 percent of the profits for the entire U. S. wireless industry.

Some have suggested that this type of imbalance is no cause for concern, and argued that improving the chances for meaningful competition among wireless providers won’t matter much for wireless users. While it’s a favorite trick of powerful incumbents to attack smaller companies’ arguments about competition as “self-serving,” there’s no mistaking the benefits to the public and the broader economy of having lower prices and better service available from someone other than the two biggest carriers.

The ultimate aim of the FCC’s efforts to design this auction is to increase the chance for a wide assortment of wireless carriers to bid. That would give individuals and businesses that rely on wireless connectivity more providers that would work hard to get and keep our business, not just rest on their laurels and their market power.

That hasn’t stopped AT&T and Verizon from spreading all sorts of disinformation about the process, however, in an attempt to make it look as though the government is out to get them. (Life’s tough for $100 billion companies, isn’t it?)

To start with, there’s this notion that the FCC is dragging its feet or asking too many questions about this auction process – all at the urging of those competitive carriers. While it’s not a good thing that FCC proceedings stretch on so long, it’s hardly due to unprecedented demands by any potential bidders. The last time the FCC cleared TV channels and auctioned those frequencies for mobile use, the whole process took about eleven years, running from 1997 till 2008. As cooler heads have noted this time around, it’s still more important to get this done right than to get it done right now.

The Department of Justice has added valuable insights to the process, in an important filing outlining the motives that dominant players like AT&T and Verizon have to bid on spectrum just to keep these valuable resources out of rivals’ hands. That’s the same concern the DOJ expressed in 2010 when it explained how auction design “can go wrong in the presence of strong wireline or wireless incumbents, since the private value for incumbents in a given locale includes … ‘foreclosure value'” derived from keeping competition at a minimum. AT&T and Verizon, the dominant incumbents on both the wireless and wireline side, can and do leverage their positions to keep competitors out.

So the FCC can and should take special care to avoid such results in the upcoming auction of the reclaimed TV band, because these frequencies are especially well suited for mobile broadband service. Low-band spectrum is more valuable because it lets wireless carriers cover more territory with fewer cell sites, and it provides better coverage indoors because it travels through walls and other obstacles better than signals at higher frequencies do.

All carriers acknowledge its special characteristics and tremendous advantages. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in an interview just last year that low-band spectrum “propagates like a bandit.” And Verizon CTO Tony Melone reported that using such frequencies gives Verizon “tremendous propagation advantages” for 4G services because “there will be fewer sites required and we’ll have better building penetration.”

Yet somehow in the current debate, these two carriers have tried to reverse course and sell the flatly incorrect argument that the airwaves in the upcoming auction are the same as all others. Their hypocritical claim that low-band spectrum is of no special significance any more is a lot easier to understand once you realize that they already have plenty of it, and that they just want to pull up the drawbridge.

Trade groups with innocuous-sounding names like “Mobile Future” purport to bolster the incumbents’ case about the evils of “tampering” with auction design. But take a look at Mobile Future’s membership – and what do you know, it’s AT&T and Verizon again, in a different guise. (No offense to the Arkansas Grocer and Retail Merchants Association, but I doubt that it or the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce is calling the shots there.)

Nobody is talking about tampering with the auction, or keeping AT&T and Verizon out of it. The statute simply says the FCC can’t altogether prevent anyone from taking part, and it specifically preserves the agency’s authority for general rules that “promote competition” and prevent excessive concentration of spectrum licenses in any one company’s hands.

The FCC is on course to consider the right questions in this proceeding. It’s far from completing that course, and has any number of decisions to make along the way. The suggestion that competitive considerations are off track is a self-serving statement made by the big carriers in the best position today. Of course they see no need for more competition or faster innovation. But the FCC, the Department of Justice and the rest of us know better.

Matt Wood is the Policy Director for Free Press, a nationwide, non-partisan, non-profit public interest group that fights for people’s right to connect and communicate on the air and online.

T-Mobile Jump

Tech culture is a funny thing. If you track tech news, releases and new ideas closely enough, you’ll notice there’s a very apparent trend that pops up all the time:

  1. Some company has a truly original idea.
  2. Every competing company copies that idea.

It’s funny and sad at the same time, and it’s the same thing that happens every time there’s a truly unique idea in the tech world.

A Truly Original Idea

The most recent example of this has been the ability for tech-happy smartphone owners to upgrade their phones far more often than once every two years. T-Mobile made a big splash in the mobile market last week when it announced ‘Jump,’ which would give customers two mobile upgrades every year for an extra $10 per month. (As a refresher to the new way T-Mobile sells smartphones since they no longer have mobile contracts, you can catch up here.)

Jump is a great idea! A truly original idea. People love upgrading their phones and hate having to wait 20 months two years for a new gadget. (Let’s put aside the fact that you don’t save a much money by constantly upgrading your phones and you no longer have back-up phones to give someone or use in case of emergency. It’s still a very original idea.)

… and the Rest Shall Follow

You know what’s NOT original? The fact that AT&T just announced an almost identical program: Next. (All Things D notes that AT&T issued a memo teasing Next before T-Mobile announced Jump, so it’s unclear whose idea came first. The bottom line is still the same: derivative ideas.) Next would be slightly different from T-Mobile’s plans in a few ways: You’re eligible for an upgrade every 12 months, not six; you don’t need to put a down payment on your device; and there’s no additional monthly fee. It would be more forgivable of a copycat if it was better, but the numbers don’t add up. T-Mobile’s not scared, either, as an executive said it’s a “poor imitation” of Jump.

Want to hear a funny story? Verizon’s reportedly planning the same type of program, called VZ Edge, which would launch in August. The plan is almost identical to Next, which means it, too, is a slight derivation on Jump.

It’s just that type of copycat culture. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sprint announce something similar, except Sprint seems to be doing its own thing over there, with Unlimited, My Way essentially giving you unlimited everything forever and ever.

Not an Isolated Incident

Think back to the biggest tech breakthroughs of the last few years: iPhone, iPad, etc. Every major breakthrough has been imitated and copied and modded and tweaked by just about every company under the sun. I’ve just never seen it happen as quickly as we’ve seen phone carriers do their thing this week.

And this isn’t the last time we’ll see this type of behavior this year. The Pebble Smartwatch was last year’s Kickstarter darling, and recently hit store shelves. You know who else is interested in the smartwatch business? Oh, just about everyone: Google. Apple. Mozilla. Microsoft. TomTom. Sony. Dell. It’s amazing. For a while, I seemed to be posting a story about a new company wanting to enter the smartwatch business… and I know we’ll see the same thing once Google Glass becomes more prevalent.

Innovation breeds competition, which helps create better products for all of us to buy and use. I’d just like to see more unique ideas, rather than everyone piling on whichever bandwagon is hot this hour.

Shelly Palmer chats with Dari Alexander and Steve Lacy on Fox 5 s News at 5 about Verizon Edge, AT&T Next and T-Mobile Jump.

Mobile Upgrade Plans

Within the space of little more than a week, three of the largest carriers in the US have introduced completely new plans to go alongside traditional contract agreements and prepaid services. T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon Wireless, with their new plans called Jump, Next, and Edge, respectively, are all going after the same thing: subscribers who want to get the newest smartphone as quickly as possible. That’s not the only thing that brings these new plans together, however. They’re all extremely complicated. And make no mistake, carriers like it that way – it’s easier to overcharge if customers don’t know it’s happening. So let’s untangle the secrets behind these plans to see which (if any) are a good deal. The best way to analyze these plans is to take a real-world example. For the charts below, we’re looking at what you’d expect to pay for a Galaxy S4 on each of these carriers using one of their new plans.

Read the full story at The Verge.

Once T-Mobile unveiled Jump, its program that gives you access to a phone upgrade every six months, AT&T and Verizon answered by announcing their own early upgrade plans. Verizon Edge lets you get a shiny new smartphone every six months, while AT&T Next gives you a new phone once a year. Like T-Mobile Jump, both programs require a trade-in of your old device when you upgrade, but unlike Jump, neither program requires a separate monthly fee. And you’re not eligible to upgrade to a new device until you’ve paid off half the cost of your phone. But that’s not the whole story. T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon build the cost of phone subsidies into their monthly service fees, so with all these plans you’re actually paying for the phone twice. Once, built into your monthly phone bill and again in the installment plan. Next and Edge won’t save you money, so go pick the phone with the features you want, and get another new one for free in two years.

AT&T

Rather than “rethinking possible,” AT&T is rethinking its plans, as it becomes the latest wireless carrier to offer customers the option to upgrade their phones more frequently. Starting July 26, AT&T will offer new “Next” plans for smartphones and tablets, on a post-paid basis. The plan allows customers to trade in their devices (feature phones excluded) every 12 months, provided the customer pays a monthly installment fee based on a 20-month cycle. So, you would take the full retail price of a smartphone or tablet, divide it by 20 and add that cost to your monthly traditional or family-share AT&T plan. Twelve months later, you trade in that device for a new one, and a new cycle begins. If you decide you want a new phone before the 12 months is up, Next owners still owe the cost of the remaining months’ fees.

Read the full story at All Things D.

Verizon

Back in April, after extending upgrade periods to a full 24 months, Verizon introduced a new device payment that would allow customers to upgrade phones by purchasing them at full prices with the payments spread out over a 12-month period. According to sources of ours, Verizon will introduce a new upgrade initiative on August 25 called “VZ Edge” that will allow customers to upgrade their phones much more frequently to “stay on the leading edge of technology.” In an training slide detailing the new plan, we can see that Verizon is offering up VZ Edge as a way for customers to avoid signing contracts and upgrade fees, while remaining on the “best network” and with the latest devices. All of the specifics are not yet available, but this slide does mention that if customers are on the previously mentioned monthly payment plan, that they can upgrade to a new device at any time once they have paid off 50% of their current phone.

Read the full story at Droid-Life.

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