Short Nerd Chief

Posts Tagged ‘Verizon’

FiOS TV Still Sucks

Posted by Fred on June 5, 2008

I’ve written before of my customer service nightmare with Verizon’s FiOS TV service.  To recap, we were forced to cancel the service when we moved to a house a couple of miles away that was not in the haphazard FiOS rollout area. I returned the equipment to the contractor Verizon sent, and then we started receiving collection notices claiming we owed $600 for unreturned equipment. I thought it had been resolved when all was quiet, but then I received this in the mail (click for a bigger version):

How nice of them to offer to “settle” for 80% of the cost penalty Verizon charges for failure to return the equipment I already returned.  Just in case there is any doubt that I am right and they are wrong, I have a receipt:

Stay away from FiOS at all costs.  The service is fine in my experience (although we did lose it once when their contractor cut the fiber optic cable while working down the street), but it’s like the Hotel California – cancel any time you like, but you’ll never be free.

Posted in Customer Service, TV | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

AT&T’s real view of open networks

Posted by Fred on April 4, 2008

Back in December, AT&T responded to Verizon’s proposal to open its network to additional devices and applications by arguing that the AT&T network was already the most open in the world:

“You can use any handset on our network you want,” says Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T’s wireless business. “We don’t prohibit it, or even police it.”

Everything that Google has promised to bring to the wireless market a year from now AT&T is doing today, de la Vega says. “We are the most open wireless company in the industry.”

Today, however, saw two articles that together show how AT&T really feels about openness.  The AP says that AT&T focused its efforts in the recent 700 MHz auctions on the non-open portions of the auction because it better fit their business plan:

AT&T spent $6.64 billion for licenses in the 700-megahertz band auction but avoided licenses in the consumer-friendly “C block” because of the additional regulatory requirements, said Ralph de la Vega, chief executive of the wireless unit.

“The auction worked well … but it highlighted that people put a premium on spectrum that is not encumbered by heavy regulation,” said de la Vega in a conference call with analysts and reporters.

And it’s not like AT&T didn’t value the C Block of the spectrum – they just didn’t want to open their network, so they spent $2.5 billion to buy Aloha Partners, which owned unencumbered C Block spectrum. 

Today also saw an article suggesting that AT&T may introduce an Android handset of its own, now that they are confident they can modify it to fit their own business plan:

When we spoke to AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph De La Vega a few months ago, he said AT&T was open to the possibility of Google’s Android phones being on their network. Today, at CTIA, he followed up on this and said that he’s already met with Google executives and is “encouraged by the idea that an Android phone could host AT&T branded apps.”

A possibility was to take an Android phone and shove AT&T’s own money-generating apps onto it, such as MediaFLO mobile TV. “One of the things we were looking for was that it was truly open and that you could put other features and applications on it.”

AT&T must have a different dictionary than I do. Open spectrum that allows the customer to use any device or run any application is encumbered by excessive governmental regulation.  A mobile OS expressly designed to breach the mobile carriers’ walled gardens, however, is only open if AT&T can litter it with revenue-generating crapware like AT&T Navigator or MediaFLO TV or $5 ringtones.  You can be sure that they’ll also make sure it has a crippled java implementation, crippled GPS, crippled (or missing) Wi-Fi, non-existent OS upgrades and other revenue-generating “features”.  All in the name of openness, of course.

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Comcast makes crappy HD signal even crappier

Posted by Fred on April 1, 2008

comcastdegrade.jpg

You may have wondered how Comcast planned to get the bandwidth to add all that new HD content they keep promising. Throttling BitTorrent use? Apparently not, given their agreement to work with BT.  Adding capacity? You’ve got to be kidding.  No, they are apparently just going to compress their already compressed signals even more.  The image above show the difference between Verizon’s fiber-to-the-premises system, which doesn’t compress video signals, and Comcast’s coax network, which does.  That sucks. Big time.

Unfortunately, if you are like me, your only HD options are Comcast or an over-the-air HD antenna.  There’s no FiOS in my neighborhood, even though I had the service more than a year ago but a couple of miles away.  Verizon’s March construction schedule doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, either. The neighbor’s trees block the view of the sky, so no satellite.

None of this is likely to change, so I’m resigned to making rude gestures in the general direction of Philadelphia:

comcasthq

[via BB Gadgets]

Posted in TV | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

AFA condemns P&G, Verizon for sponsoring TV shows that people like to watch

Posted by Fred on February 21, 2008

The Stoning of Saint Stephen by Rembrandt (1635)

The American “Family” Association is continuing its Sisyphean struggle to drag society to a place where gay people aren’t allowed to buy stuff and corporations aren’t allowed to sell them stuff (assuming, of course, that they don’t convince us to kill, deport or convert the homosexuals first).  Today, it’s a list of the top “pro-homosexual” advertisers, led by Proctor & Gamble, Verizon and Target.  What, precisely, makes these companies so suspect?  They advertised on one or more of the following programs:

What’s a red-blooded, America-loving, gay-hating troglodyte to do?  Apparently, watch game shows and reality TV.

Every time I see one of these AFA releases, I simply say “Wow”. How dare gay people have clean teeth, talk on cell phones or buy semi-fashionable yet affordable products?  Then again, there’s little risk to your average AFA member in boycotting toothpaste, 21st century technology or Michael Graves home furnishings.

Posted in religion, TV | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

My Verizon FiOS customer service nightmare, growing ever longer

Posted by Fred on January 25, 2008

Andru Edwards discovers a major privacy problem with Verizon FiOS:

Well, apparently, the guy who came out to do our FiOS installation back in May of 2007 was, at best, having an off day – or at worst, is completely and utterly undertrained and had no idea how to set up a freaking account. He mixed up our two accounts, and Verizon has no idea how to fix it, so instead, they just ignore it, hoping I will go away without them actually helping me.

So it’s been 8 months since we have had FiOS installed, and for that entire 8 months, my personal information has been freely available to another FiOS customer who I do not know. He lives in my town, not too far away. That doesn’t leave me with a comfortable feeling. Verizon, the company that should be protecting this data, seems to opt to ignore it instead. Every time I call, save for once, there has been no action on the trouble ticket. That is how “high priority” the issue is to them.

Wow, that sucks. Although it does provide a good opportunity for me to share my FiOS story.  We got FiOS TV, phone and internet service at our old house in Henrico County’s West End. Installation was a bit of a pain, but the service was good.  It did go out one time when one of their contractors sliced through a line, but they fixed it. The TV service in particular was nice, good quality picture and cheaper than cable.  Then we moved a couple of miles west and the trouble started.

Verizon’s rollout schedule for FTTP is beyond human comprehension. We had it in our old neighborhood, but when we moved out of that house into a nicer house in a much bigger neighborhood full of nicer houses, there is no FiOS. Seven months later, there’s still no word on when or if it will come.  Disappointing, but that’s how it goes. We ended up back on Comcast due to the large, DirecTV-blocking trees.  I called Verizon, and they switched me to DSL and analog telephone service. They said they would be sending labels for me to use when returning the set-top box and router. Time passes, no labels.  Call them again, more time passes, still no labels.

I’m now coming up on the “deadline” for returning the equipment, so I call again, and they promise to send out a technician to pick the stuff up, which they do, leaving me a receipt.  A month later, I get a bill for $600 for the equipment they claim I never returned.  I call Verizon, and they say they’ll look into it.  Time passes again. Then I get a notice from a collection agency saying I owe Verizon $600.  Then the agency starts calling. Several times a day.  Finally, I get Verizon on the phone and they promise to reverse the charge and send a new bill with a zero balance.

So I call the collection agency and explain the facts.  They say there’s nothing they can do without a confirmation number from Verizon, which Verizon says they can’t provide because it’s done via an email from the customer service people to the billing people.  I have to contest the charge, which they’ll then investigate.  I do that, and that’s the last I hear from anybody, and I figure that the long nightmare is finally over.

Until last week, when I got another notice from the collection agency saying I owe Verizon $600.  Again, for equipment I returned, Verizon seems to believe I returned and for which I have a receipt.  Their TV service may be good, but their customer service most certainly is not.

Posted in Customer Service, internet | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Verizon Embraces Google’s Android, Kinda

Posted by Fred on December 4, 2007

Reports suggest that not only will Verizon Wireless embrace Android, but that Google’s mobile OS initiative played a role in the carrier’s decision to (kinda) open its network:

While Sprint Nextel (S) and T-Mobile (DT) were among the 34 charter members of this Google-led “Open Handset Alliance,” the two biggest U.S. carriers, AT&T (T) and Verizon Wireless, were notably absent. “To get into that press release really didn’t do anything,” says McAdam. “We needed to understand the details of that operating system.”When Verizon executives and engineers examined Android’s software tool kit, however, they were impressed. “Clearly the Android system gives a lot of developers the opportunity to develop applications for a wide range of handsets,” says McAdam. Not only did the company decide to support Android, but McAdam says the new platform was a key influence in adopting open access. “Android really facilitated this move,”says McAdam.

As with all things Verizon, time will tell.  Does this mean Verizon will permit Android handsets on its network via the metered-use, semi-open plan to be introduced in 2008, or will Verizon offer Android to its walled-in masses?  If the former, it’s not even news.  If the latter, it may be good for customers, especially if the OS offers a compelling alternative to the iPhone.

Mashable likes the news and thinks it will encourage AT&T to join the party:

With Verizon’s move, AT&T becomes the only major US carrier that has not yet announced plans to support Android. With the variety of devices and applications the OS will eventually allow the other carriers to offer, it seems like AT&T will ultimately have its hand forced in joining the alliance. The longer they wait, the further behind they will be when devices and apps start making their way to the public next year.

As a GSM carrier, there’s little AT&T could do to stop Android, as using an Android phone on AT&T would be as simple as swapping a SIM.  It seems unlikely that AT&T would put much muscle behind Android, however.  The open source nature of the OS and ease of adding third-party applications goes against AT&T’s business model of removing features and crippling functionality to protect revenue streams like AT&T Music and TeleNav.  It would be too easy to use VOIP on Android, and the specs aren’t going to allow AT&T to remove GPS and Wi-Fi or cripple Java, like AT&T does in its other phones.  Eventually, market pressure will force AT&T to be more open, but not yet.

TechCrunch is far more skeptical:

Talk is cheap when you are trying to come across as all open on the eve of the biggest wireless spectrum auction in a decade. But if it means more support for Android and open networks in general, that is a good thing.

The BusinesWeek story is a big wet kiss that lovingly details Verizon’s seriousness about opening up its network. (The CEO keeps a list with him always of why openness is important to Verizon. Crumpled. In his pocket. The thing is practically near his heart!). Sorry, but the whole thing smells like a well-timed plant. We are still waiting for Verizon to officially join the Open Handset Alliance. And if it really were embracing openness, it wouldn’t treat open devices and open apps like second-class citizens, separate and at a safe distance from its 64 million subscribers.

That’s a lot closer to the truth.  Verizon isn’t really opening its network to new apps and devices.  The garden wall is still intact; they’ve just added a little plot of scraggly corn and pitiful tomatoes outside the wall., for which you can pay through the nose, but which allow the carrier to say “look, produce for the masses!”

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Here’s One Justification For Capping Cable Growth

Posted by Fred on December 4, 2007

Techdirt wants to know what’s wrong with cable industry consolidation:

Because cable is geographically constrained, from a consumer perspective, all that matters is the market power my provider can exercise locally. If I’ve got three regional cable providers to choose from, it makes no difference whether two of them each hold a 40 percent national share. If I’ve got only one serving my area, the fact that it only controls 3 percent of the national market is similarly irrelevant. And if I’m in the latter boat, declaring that the largest firms with the most resources are forbidden to expand their operations into my neighborhood scarcely seems calculated to increase my access to alternatives. The FCC cites regional consolidation as a motive for the cap, but if cable providers are gunning for such regional monopolies, then won’t they divest first in the regions where they do face competition, and hold on to the areas where they’re the lone option?

There’s a certain element of truth to this, of course.  In determining the price I pay for TV service, it matters little whether Comcast has 5% or 50% national market share.  Comcast just raised my rates for cable service, but left their rates for phone and internet service the same.  They face little competition in the Richmond market for TV service (FiOS is available in limited areas, but not at my house), but compete fiercely against Verizon for telephone and internet customers.  The problem with Julian Sanchez’ thesis, however, is that if freed from the 30% cap, Time Warner or Cox would come into the market to provide cable competition.  They wouldn’t, and in most places they can’t, due to local monopoly franchise contracts.  What the cable companies would do is expand nationally via acquisition of smaller rivals, with TW and Comcast heading inexorably toward a cable duopoly.  They have very little interest in competing against each other, mirroring the situation in telecom in 1996.  Bell Atlantic, while hamstrung in its region, could have offered competitive service in the BellSouth or Ameritech regions, but they had absolutely no interest in doing so, to the detriment of consumers.

So if cable consolidation wouldn’t drive prices down, what’s the harm, given that cable companies already have local monopolies in many areas where IPTV or satellite isn’t an option?  The harm isn’t horizontal market power expansion (going from 30% to 50% of the cable TV market), it’s vertical market power expansion.  Time Warner already produces content through its myriad entertainment properties.   Comcast owns E!, Versus (nee the Outdoor Life Network),  the Golf Channel and G4, along with Comcast SportsNet regional networks in DC and Philadelphia.  Comcast also has partial ownership interests in MGM, United Artists and the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers.  To the extent these cable giants get even bigger and squeeze out competitors, they have even more interest to play hardball, both keeping competing programming off their networks and refusing to provide their own programming to competitors.

This has already happened several times with regional sports programming.  After the Baltimore Orioles started a network (MASN) to compete with Comcast SportsNet, the cable giant sued, and said that “we think in most sports markets in the country, that it’s more efficient and better for the customer to have a single regional sports network.”  Similarly, Cablevision refused to carry the Yankees’ YES network after the team stopped selling cable rights to the MSG network (owned by Cablevision).  When the Twins tried to start Victory One Sports, TW and other providers refused to carry it, killing the fledgling network.

So long as multiple cable providers exist, there’s far less incentive for such shenanigans, but if there are only one or two large providers, the incentive to withhold content from competitors increases, and makes it harder for competitors to establish themselves.  Eventually, diversification and technology will win out, but in the short term, that’s one reason to fear consolidation.

Posted in Government, Technology, TV | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson: Choose Us, We Suck Less!

Posted by Fred on December 3, 2007

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson doesn’t think of Verizon’s promise to (sorta) open its network:

Stephenson also used the event to scoff at Verizon’s splashy Nov. 27 announcement that it plans to open its network to hardware and software not sold by the company. AT&T, he declared, is “probably one of the most open networks in the world.””We have thousands of people developing into our architecture today. All of the handsets we sell are Java-equipped. Who doesn’t know how to develop into Java, right?” Stephenson said. “If you want to buy a handset on our network without a contract, fine. Just pay retail price for the handset. Right? The only reason we make people sign a contract is if we’re subsidizing it heavily.”

He added, “[All carriers] are all going to be open over time.”

OK, let’s count the errors and misstatements in that excerpt. All AT&T handsets are Java-equipped? Nope.  The iPhone doesn’t have Java at all.  Plus, many of the handsets AT&T sells are crippled.  My Blackjack has Java, technically.  But I can’t run two of the most popular third-party Java applications on it (Opera Mini and Gmail) because the phone asks for permission every time either application needs to send data outbound (i.e. all the time).  May as well not have Java at all.  Applications that I buy from the AT&T store work just fine, of course.

The only reason they make you sign a contract is if they are subsidizing a phone heavily?  Also nope.  The iPhone isn’t subsidized by AT&T at all and you still have to sign a contract.  It’s probably true that AT&T is more open than Verizon (not open at all) or T-mobile (less open, and even more restrictive when it comes to Java).  It’s also probably true that all networks will eventually be open, either by market dynamics or governmental fiat.  Everything else Stephenson says is just blatantly untrue, and amounts to “choose us – we suck less.”

[via Engadget Mobile]

Posted in Technology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Build-a-NAS Project Update

Posted by Fred on November 19, 2007

Warning – extreme navel-gazing ahead. Feel free to turn back now. I just need to vent.

A while back, I had a navel-gazing post about my plan to turn an old eMachines Celeron PC into a home file server. I figured I had four basic options:

  1. Install a full Linux distribution, including Samba for serving files to the XP and Vista machines.
  2. Install a specialized Linux distribution for web, mail and file serving (such as ClarkConnect or SME Server).
  3. Install a specialized distribution for file serving (FreeNAS or NASlite).
  4. Buy the OEM version of Windows Home Server.

I originally planned to go with Xubuntu, figuring WHS was too expensive and the other options too limiting. In the end, however, I decided against my better judgment to use NASlite. It seemed far easier to configure, supporting Samba, FTP, HTTP and RSYNC out of the box. Plus, it’s a tiny download that runs off a RAM disk, freeing most of the 40 GB master drive for storage along with the 320 GB slave. The download was easy, and the install relatively so. If you’re a first-timer, have the PDF of the install guide available, as the text-based installer is far from self-explanatory. After several reboots, I had a nice Linux-based file server hooked up to the wireless network.

Then the problems started. Three of the Windows machines saw the server automatically, and it was easy to right-click and map the network drive (I picked S: for Server). The newest machine, the infamous $348 Wal-Mart laptop, just wouldn’t find the server. It wouldn’t find the two XP machines, either. Turns out the blasted Norton Internet Security was screwing things up. Rather than figure out which setting to change, I just deleted it from the drive (which I planned to do anyway) and installed Windows Live OneCare, which I prefer anyway.

So far, so good. Then I decided to get too ambitious. I had a nice little appliance serving documents, photos, video and music. iTunes on all four PCs was using the network share for its library. OneCare was backing up to the network share. With a little effort, the My Documents folders were being automatically synced with the Documents folder on the NAS. That’s all great, but what if I could access my files from the Internet? Wouldn’t that be better? Of course it would. NASlite comes with a simple HTTP server, but all it does is serve the contents of the FTP directory. You can define a default gateway, but this would make the documents world-accessible. That won’t work for obvious reasons.

At this point, I decided that a VPN was the way to go. Just connect the remote PC via VPN, and bingo – access to the NAS. So I trekked down to BestBuy and picked up the Linksys WRV200 Wireless-G VPN Router.  Thus begins the trauma.  Verizon had supplied me with the Westell 327W DSL modem/router, which was running the wireless network.  To use the Westell with the Linksys, I had to put the Westell in bridge mode, which was easy enough.  Then I hooked up the Linksys using the CD.  Turn on all the PCs, and connect to the new WiFi network. Works pretty well, although the Acer wouldn’t connect the first time.  Trying to set up the VPN was a disaster.  Linksys doesn’t provide documentation, of course, just the Quick Install Guide.  There’s a manual on the CD, but it contains next to no information about the VPN.  And the information it does include is sometimes wrong.  As a simple example, the manual says that when you configure a VPN user, the router will automatically change the dynamic IPs on the network from 192.168.1.x to 10.x.x.x, to avoid conflicts with remote networks.  What it actually does is pup up a warning and ask you to provide a new IP for the router.  Presumably, it would then change the IPs assigned via DHCP, but none of this was clear.  But in the end, I think I ended up with a configured VPN endpoint and some users.  DynDNS would turn the dynamic Verizon IP into a usable URL.

I never got a chance to try it out, however.  Last night, we tried using Word for the first time since installing the Linksys.  And Word crashed upon startup.  Try again, crash again.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  It appeared that Word was hanging on “connecting to printer…”  Pushing Escape would allow Word to start, but certain commands would crash it 100% of the time, such as adding a header.  Google suggested that turning off “print in background” would help, but no dice.  Another page suggested the problem was that there was no local printer defined, and Word was having trouble connecting to the network printer driver.  That could be – the laptops print to a shared printer hooked up to the desktop because the stand-alone print servers didn’t play nice with the Epson all-in-one inkjet when I bought the printer (apparently, they work better now, but the ones that do cost as much as the printer did).  Defining a local printer allowed Word to start.  Changing the printer to the shared printer to actually print a document made Word crash.

Eventually, I decided the problem had to be the firewall on the VPN router.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is there is no way in the web interface to either (a) turn the firewall off in order to test this theory or (b) allow printer sharing over the network, something Linksys’ consumer routers allow via a single click, and something the Westell was pre-defined for.  So I yank the Linksys out, narrowly avoid throwing it at the wall, and reset the Westell to turn it back into a router.  Reboot, connect to the Westell web interface, which says PPPoE is connected.  But no internet.  The default FF home page just says “could not find the file specified”.  Trying to load a different page redirects to the Verizon DSL activation page.  Oh, so I have to reactivate because I reset the Westell, OK.  Using Firefox just sent the DSL software into an endless cycle of checking for updates.  After a while, I tried IE, which seemed to work.  Unfortunately, the software would accept what I assumed to be my Verizon password.  Get on the phone to Verizon, and pick reset password.  That’s fine, but it tells me to go to a web page to complete the process, which I can’t do because I need the password to connect to the internet.  Call Verizon (at this point it’s about 12:30 am), who assign a temporary password.  Finally, at about 1:15 am I have restarted the Westell-based network.  Word doesn’t crash.

So I’m giving up on that Linksys VPN router.  There’s probably an easy way to do this, but I’m just too tired to care.  That $150 for WHS is looking pretty good about now.

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Cable industry really mad, calls FCC Chairman names

Posted by Fred on November 15, 2007

Cable companies have been taking it on the chin a bit of late, with Comcast under heavy fire for “traffic shaping” (a/k/a screwing around with BitTorrent rather than building adequate infrastructure), the Chairman of the FCC pushing a la carte pricing, and the FCC killing exclusive contracts with apartment building owners. Now the cable lobby is striking back.

“We’re not going to fundamentally wreck business models and hurt customers to appease the chairman of the FCC,” McSlarrow told reporters during a conference call yesterday. “If one looks at the commission’s agenda . . . the issues that have been teed up have been designed to hurt the cable industry. If I were in that position,” meaning the chairman, “that’s not the way I would conduct myself.”

There a many nuggets hidden away in that single paragraph. Note the implicit argument that the FCC has a duty to protect the cable industry’s business model. Note that the FCC’s attempts to help consumers are characterized as being designed to hurt the cable industry. Note the argument that the FCC Chairman shouldn’t be running around hurting the cable industry (remember who your true masters are, boy!). Note the threat at the end. It reads like the pathetic whining of a bully that isn’t getting his way for the first time.

The mission of the FCC was laid out in the statute that created it in 1934: “to make available, so far as possible… a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.” Nothing in there about protecting cable business models, but explicit reference to protecting consumers from inadequate service and unreasonable charges. The FCC’s baby steps in this area make the industry mad, and if the cable industry is mad, consumers are probably happy.

That’s not to say that a la carte pricing would be a good thing for TV viewers. Like virtually every cable customer since, well, ever, I’d love to jettison two-thirds of the channels Comcast delivers to me, and subscribe only to the channels I watch. I’d love to adjust the channels I subscribe to seasonally (get rid of ESPN U when it’s not basketball or football season, for example). But the system was clearly built on a foundation of bundling lesser-watched channels with popular ones. True a la carte pricing would kill some channels because demand would be so low as to make them economically untenable. Maybe that’s a good thing – if they can’t survive, maybe they shouldn’t. But that’s the reality, and it’s therefore incredibly unlikely that a la carte pricing would be attractive. Like everything else, cable companies would look at the change and raise rates.

The real answer ultimately is not additional regulation, but additional competition. The 1996 Telecommunications Act was intended to kick-start competition, but the facilities sharing requirements, which supposedly would have permitted upstarts to compete without building redundant infrastructure, instead just gave the incumbent monopolists loopholes and mechanisms to litigate their competitors to death. Only now are we seeing any real competition, with Verizon laying fiber and the satellite companies launching satellites. Eventually, this should improve cable service quality and drive prices down (although duopolies are sometimes little better than monopolies). Ubiquitous broadband and internet programming will help, too.

ico_shoutbox.gifvia CrunchGear

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