There's been some positive news in the last year (and the last few) for American cellphone customers: certainly there's more visible competition for their business among the largest players in the market. Nonetheless, the Wall Street Journal reports that while more competition may translate into some more attractive service bundles, flexibility in phone options, or smoother customer service, it doesn't actually mean that the customers are on average reaping one of the benefits that competition might be expected to provide: lower price. Instead, the bills for customers on the major wireless providers have actually gone up, if not dramatically, in recent months — which means U.S. cell service remains much more expensive than it is in many other countries. The article could stand a sidebar on MVNOs and other low-cost options, though -- I switched to one of these from AT&T, and now pay just under $40 for one version of the new normal of unlimited talk and text, plus quite limited (1GB) data, but still using AT&T towers. Has your own cost to talk gone up or down?
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Trailrunner7 writes: "AT&T, in its first transparency report, said it received at least 2,000 National Security Letters and nearly 38,000 requests for location data on its subscribers in 2013. The new report from AT&T is the latest in a growing list of publications from telecom companies, Web providers and cell phone carriers who have been under pressure from privacy advocates and security experts in the wake of the Edward Snowden NSA surveillance revelations. AT&T's report shows a higher number of NSLs and subpoenas in 2013 than its most relevant competitor, Verizon. In January, Verizon's first transparency report showed that the company received between 1,000 and 1,999 NSLs in 2013 and 164,000 subpoenas. AT&T said it got 2,000-2,999 NSLs and 248,343 subpoenas last year. AT&T also received nearly 37,000 court orders and more than 16,000 search warrants."
An anonymous reader sends word that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has given the go-ahead for telecommunications companies to start experimenting with an IP-based telephone protocol. From the article: "The experiments approved by the FCC would not test the new technology - it is already being used - and would not determine law and policy regulating it, FCC staff said. The trials would seek to establish, among other things, how consumers welcome the change and how new technology performs in emergency situations, including in remote locations. 'What we're doing here is a big deal. This is an important moment,' FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. 'We today invite service providers to propose voluntary experiments for all-IP networks.' The move in part grants the application by AT&T to conduct IP transition tests as companies that offer landline phone services seek to ultimately replace their old copper wires with newer technology like fiber or wireless."
As the NSA metadata collection scandal has developed, a number of technology and communications companies have fought to increase the transparency of the data collection process by publishing reports on how much data government agencies are asking them for. These transparency reports have been limited, however, because most government requests are entwined with a gag order. In a speech two weeks back, President Obama said this would change, and now the Dept. of Justice has announced new, slightly relaxed rules about what information companies can share. According to an email from the U.S. Deputy Attorney General (PDF) to the General Counsel of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Yahoo, the companies can publish: how many Criminal Process requests they received, how many National Security Letters they received, how many accounts were affected by NSLs, how many Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act orders were received (both for communications content and 'non-content'), and how many customers were targeted by FISA requests. The companies still aren't allowed to give specific numbers, but they can report them in bands of 1,000 — for example, 0-999, 1,000-1,999, etc. Information requests for old services cannot be disclosed for at least six months. The first information requests for a new service cannot be disclosed for two years. The companies also have the option of lumping all the NSL and FISA requests together — if they do that, they can report in bands of 250 instead of 1,000.
sirhan writes with news that AT&T has announced a program that allows companies to pay for their services to bypass mobile data caps. "With the new Sponsored Data service, data charges resulting from eligible uses will be billed directly to the sponsoring company ... Customers will see the service offered as AT&T Sponsored Data, and the usage will appear on their monthly invoice as Sponsored Data. Sponsored Data will be delivered at the same speed and performance as any non-Sponsored Data content." The Verge comments: "If YouTube doesn't hit your data cap but Vimeo does, most people are going to watch YouTube. If Facebook feels threatened by Snapchat and launches Poke with free data, maybe it doesn't get completely ignored and fail. If Apple Maps launched with free data for navigation, maybe we'd all be driving off bridges instead of downloading Google Maps for iOS." Or, think of distributed services: Mediagoblin vs Flickr, pump.io vs twitter, ownCloud vs Google Apps. This is probably a sign that data caps are here to stay, at least for AT&T subscribers (and if it's successful...).
wiredmikey writes "Telecommunications giants Verizon and AT&T both announced (separately) this week that they would join a growing list of tech and telecom sector companies in publishing a 'transparency report' about demands for information from law enforcement agencies. Verizon said the first report would come in early 2014, with updates being published semi-annually. AT&T said it would also release a semiannual report starting in early 2014 with information 'to the extent permitted by laws and regulations.' The transparency reports will include things such as the total number of law enforcement agency requests in criminal cases, subpoenas, court orders and warrants. However, telecom and tech firms are still barred from releasing data on national security requests from the FBI and U.S. intelligence services."
AcidPenguin9873 writes "Earlier this year, Google announced that it would build its next fiber network in Austin, TX. Construction is slated to start in 2014, but there's a hitch: AT&T owns 20% of the utility poles in Austin. The City of Austin is considering a rules change that would allow Google to pay AT&T to use its utility poles, but AT&T isn't happy about it. The debate appears to hinge on a technicality that specifies what types of companies can attach to the utility poles that AT&T owns. From the news story: 'Google 'would be happy to pay for access (to utility poles) at reasonable rates, just as we did in our initial buildout in Kansas City,' she said, referring to Google Fiber's pilot project in Kansas City...Tracy King, AT&T's vice president for public affairs, said in a written statement that Google "appears to be demanding concessions never provided any other entity before. ... Google has the right to attach to our poles, under federal law, as long as it qualifies as a telecom or cable provider, as they themselves acknowledge. We will work with Google when they become qualified, as we do with all such qualified providers," she said.'"
First time accepted submitter binarstu writes "The New York Times reports that 'The C.I.A. is paying AT&T more than $10 million a year to assist with overseas counterterrorism investigations by exploiting the company's vast database of phone records, which includes Americans' international calls, according to government officials. The cooperation is conducted under a voluntary contract, not under subpoenas or court orders compelling the company to participate, according to the officials.'"
Nerval's Lobster writes "Google might have big plans to wire America with high-speed broadband, but at least one carrier isn't willing to let Google Fiber have a free run: AT&T has announced that it will deploy a '100 percent fiber' network in Austin, Texas, capable of delivering speeds of up to 1GB per second. That location is auspicious, given how Google's already decided to make Austin the next city to receive Google Fiber. Whereas Google plans on connecting Austin households to its network in mid-2014, however, AT&T promises to start deploying its own high-speed solution in December. But there's a few significant catches. First, AT&T's service will initially roll out to 'tens of thousands of customer locations throughout Austin' (according to a press release), which is a mere fraction of the city's 842,592 residents; second, AT&T has offered no roadmap for expanding beyond that initial base; and third, despite promises that the service will roll out in December, the carrier has yet to choose the initial neighborhoods for its expansion. Could this be a case of a carrier freaking out about a new company's potential to disrupt its longtime business?"
Jah-Wren Ryel writes "Forget the NSA — the DEA has been working hand-in-hand with AT&T on a database of records of every call that passes through AT&T's phone switches going back as far as 1987. The government pays AT&T for contractors who sit side-by-side with DEA agents and do phone records searches for them. From the article: 'For at least six years, law enforcement officials working on a counter narcotics program have had routine access, using subpoenas, to an enormous AT&T database that contains the records of decades of Americans’ phone calls — parallel to but covering a far longer time than the National Security Agency’s hotly disputed collection of phone call logs.'"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Sue Marek reports at Fierce Wireless that the mobile virtual network operator business is booming again, with new MVNOs launching nearly every week and operators like Sprint and T-Mobile hungry for MVNO partners because MVNOs offer a good economic return and can help them to grow their market share and reach into markets where they might not have visibility. 'It's a good strategic play for us,' says Matt Carter, president of Sprint wholesale and emerging solutions. 'It's another army to help us garner more subscribers on the network.' But unlike the MVNO craze of the 2005-2006 era--highlighted by high-profile failures like ESPN Mobile, Disney Mobile, Amp'd Mobile and Helio, today's high-profile MVNOs like FreedomPop, Republic Wireless, Solavei and Ting offer innovative service plans, marketing techniques and, in some cases, devices that they hope will draw consumers to their offerings. Today's MVNOs can be successful with a seemingly tiny number of customers. For example, Tucows' MVNO Ting, which sells mobile usage by minutes, text messages and megabytes, announced they currently have around 25,000 total customers, and that the business is on track to cross the break-even threshold in the fourth quarter of this year. Virtual carriers now also get the latest phones like the Moto X at launch and don't have to wait for new Android handsets to trickle down."
onehitwonder writes "The race to build out advanced cellphone networks in the U.S. has contributed to a spike in deaths among tower workers, making this one of the industry's deadliest years and drawing fresh scrutiny from federal regulators, according to The Wall Street Journal. At least 10 workers have died in falls from communication towers so far this year, and three more were seriously injured. The accidents, nine of which were related to cellphone network work, come during one of the biggest building booms in years, as Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. ramp up major network upgrades in an attempt to catch up with Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc."
Mark Gibbs writes "AT&T's implementation of the FCC's Emergency Alerts System provides minimally useful information in an untimely fashion with little geolocational relevance. ... Yesterday California got its first AMBER alert and my notification arrived at 10:54pm. It came up as panel over my lock screen and here's what it looked like on my notifications screen: 'Boulevard, CA AMBER Alert UPDATE: LIC/6WCU986 (CA) Blue Nissan Versa 4 door.' The problem with this it that's all there is! You can stab away at the message as much as you like but that's all you get, there's no link to any detail and considering the event it related to occurred over 240 miles away from me near to the Mexican border, the WEA service seems to be poorly implemented. Indeed, many Californians were annoyed and confused by the alert and according to the LA Times 'Some cellphones received only a text message, others buzzed and beeped. Some people got more than one alert.' I got a second copy of the alert at 2:22am and other subscribers reported not receiving any alert until late this morning." It seems to have gone down about as well as New York's.
coolnumbr12 writes "A new partnership between Starbucks and Google hopes to improve the lives of freelance writers around the country. Starting in August, Google plans to make Internet speeds at all 7,000 Starbucks locations in the U.S. 10 times faster than the current AT&T-powered service. For people in a city equipped with Google Fiber, Google says the speed in Starbucks could increase as much as 100 times."
USSJoin writes "Andrew Auernheimer (or Weev, as he's often better known) is serving a 41-month sentence under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The case is currently on appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals; his lawyer filed the appellate brief last week. Now, a group of 13 security researchers, led by Meredith Patterson, and including include Peiter "Mudge" Zatko, Space Rogue, Jericho, Shane MacDougall, and Dan Kaminsky, are making their own thoughts heard by the court. They are submitting a brief to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that argues that not only is Weev's conviction bad law, but if upheld, it will destroy independent security research, and perhaps the rest of consumer safety research as well."
An anonymous reader writes "AT&T is ready to follow in its rivals' footsteps and begin selling the private usage data it collects from its subscribers' phones to advertisers. The data in question is anonymized, according to AT&T, but it includes very sensitive information such as customers' locations, Web browsing history, mobile app usage and more. Privacy is something of a hot button issue right now, so it is likely that a number of AT&T subscribers would prefer to not have their private data sold to advertisers. Luckily, there is a fast and easy way to opt out of AT&T's 'External Marketing and Analytics Reporting' program."
anagama writes "Lots of new program names, flowcharts, and detail in four previously unreleased PRISM slides published by the Washington Post today. These slides provide some additional detail about PRISM and outline how the NSA gets information from those nine well known internet companies. Apparently, the collection is done by the FBI using its own equipment on the various companies' premises and then passed to the NSA where it is filtered and sorted."
An anonymous reader writes "Internet provider AT&T has patented a new technology that allows the company to accurately track content being shared via BitTorrent and other P2P networks. The company explains that the technology can be utilized to detect pirated downloads and combat congestion on its network. Whether the company is already using the system to track infringing content, or has plans to do so, is unknown."
Nerval's Lobster writes "When hurricane Sandy pummeled New York City last fall, it left a sizable percentage of the metropolis without electricity. Residents had trouble keeping their phones and tablets charged, and often walked across whole neighborhoods to reach zones with power. Come the next disaster, at least a few citizens could communicate a little easier thanks to 25 solar-powered charging stations going up around the city. The stations—known as 'Street Charge' — are the result of a partnership between AT&T, Brooklyn design studio Pensa, and portable solar-power maker Goal Zero (with approval by the city's Parks Department). The first unit will deploy in Brooklyn's Fort Green Park on June 18, followed in short order by others in Union Square, Central Park, the Rockaways, and other locations. Each station incorporates lithium-ion batteries in addition to solar panels; charging a phone to full capacity could take as long as two hours, but the time necessary for a partial charge is much shorter. But a couple of charging stations also won't help very much if half the city is without power: In order to help mitigate the effects of the next hurricane, New York City major Michael Bloomberg has put forward a $20 billion plan for seawalls, levees, and dozens of other improvements. 'Sandy exposed weaknesses in the city's telecommunications infrastructure — including the location of critical facilities in areas that are susceptible to flooding,' reads one section of the plan's accompanying report. The city will harden the system 'by increasing the accountability of telecommunications providers to invest in resiliency and by using new regulatory authority to enable rapid recovery after extreme weather events.'"
adeelarshad82 writes "For the fourth year running, PCMag sent drivers out on U.S. roads to test the nation's Fastest Mobile Networks. Using eight identical Samsung phones, the drivers tested out eight separate networks for four major carriers across 30 cities evenly spread across six regions. Using Sensorly's 2013 software, a broad suite of tests were conducted every three minutes: a 'ping' to test network latency, multi-threaded HTTP upload and download tests including separate 'time to first byte' measures, a 4MB single-threaded file download, a 2MB single-threaded file upload, the download of a 1MB Web page with 70 elements, and 100kbps and 500kbps UDP streams designed to simulate streaming media. Nearly 90,000 data cycles later, the data not only revealed the fastest networks (AT&T) and the most consistent (Verizon), but also other interesting points. The tests recorded the fastest download speed (66.11 Mbits/sec) in New Orleans and the best average in Austin (27.25 Mbits/sec), both for AT&T's LTE network. The tests also found T-Mobile's HSPA network to have the worst Average-Time-To-First-Byte, even when compared with AT&T HSPA network. Also according to the tests, Sprint's LTE network didn't even come close to competing with other LTE networks, to the point that in some cities its LTE network speed averaged less than T-Mobile's HSPA network speed."