Posts about consumerism

Verizon responds, and so do I

I just received a letter from Verizon’s VP and associate general counsel, William H. Johnson, to the acting head of the FCC Enforcement Bureau, Robert Ratcliffe, responding to my Nexus 7 complaint. I will respond below. First, Verizon’s stand:

In a letter to the Enforcement Bureau, Jeff Jarvis alleges that Verizon Wireless is violating its C Block obligations by declining to activate Mr. Jarvis’s Google Nexus 7 LTE tablet on its network. Verizon Wireless takes seriously its C Block obligations, and, as explained below, it is fully complying with them, including with respect to the device in question.

The Google Nexus 7 is a new tablet developed by Google. Google announced in July that this tablet will run on the Verizon Wireless network. The manufacturer of the Nexus 7 subsequently submitted the device for our certification process in August, and that process has proceeded apace. In fact, we expect final certification of the device will come shortly. Once the device is certified, we will work with Google to enable the device to be activated on our 4G LTE network within a matter of days.

Verizon Wireless’s certification process is fully consistent with the Commission’s C Block rules. Those rules require Verizon Wireless to allow customers to use their choice of devices, but they also recognize that this obligation only applies in the case of devices that comply with the provider’s published technical standards. See 47 C.F.R. § 27.16(b). The Commission recognized that providers may “use their own certification standards and processes to approve use of devices and applications on their networks so long as those standards are confined to reasonable network management,” and the Commission allowed providers flexibility in implementing these standards and processes.1 Verizon’s certification process for third-party devices like the Google Nexus 7 is a straightforward way to ensure that devices attached to the Verizon Wireless network do not harm the network or other users. Although Verizon Wireless uses one of the most rigorous testing protocols of any carrier, the process generally takes only between four and six weeks. Certification is done by third party labs approved by Verizon Wireless, and selected by the device manufacturer. Over the years, Verizon Wireless has certified hundreds of devices; information on the certification process is available to anyone at www.opennetwork.verizonwireless.com.

Verizon is committed to ensuring our customers have the best overall experience when any device becomes available on the nation’s most reliable network. Please let us know if you have any further questions on this matter.

In a letter I will shortly send to the FCC, I will ask: What is the definition of “open”? What is the definition of the Block C requirement that allows “customers to use the devices and applications of their choice”?

The industry definitions of openness and consumer choice across GSM carriers all around the world is quite clear: I take a device to Germany, say, buy a SIM, put it in the device, and if the frequencies of the antennae match, then it will work. Full stop. This works because there is an open standard that governs the process, not a closed “certification” process.

The Nexus 7 clearly has met these open standards. It has been approved by the FCC. It works on the networks of AT&T, T-Mobile, and GSM carriers around the world — any one of whom has much, much more experience with GSM than Verizon. As I and others have demonstrated, the Nexus 7 *does* work on Verizon’s network.

That is not the issue. The issue is that Verizon refuses to give me the immediate opportunity — using a device of my choice on an open network — to receive a SIM and add it to my shared data plan. As I noted in my complaint, Verizon agents used this as an opportunity to try to sell me Verizon tablets. That is a consumer issue.

That is in direct contravention of the spirit and letter both of the Block C requirements and the FCC consent decree of July 2012 against Verizon demanding openness and consumer choice on the network.

I continue to ask the FCC to bring clarity to this matter and to assure that Verizon will operate an open network on which the customers — not Verizon — have the power of choice.

Note well that the Nexus 7 is just the first of many devices sure to come to market from all over the world. That development is what was to be encouraged by the clause of the Block C requirements we are discussing. That cannot bear Verizon’s continued interference.

: LATER: I received a letter from Verizon responding to my FCC complaint and I responded in turn in the post above.

TelHell thus far

Notes on the Verizon fight, ongoing. The original post is below.

Here is my rant on This Week in Google:

The discussion continues. Here is the full show.

It took six days but a Verizon executive handling Verizon policy and external affairs, Libby Jacobson, finally responded to me there. But I won’t buy her company line.

The discussion around my posts on Google+ has been fascinating — vitriol against Verizon and a surprising level of customer support for T-Mobile and its service and data plans.

Here is where the saga began. Note how calm I am: I’m assuming this is just a bureaucratic screwup, not a willful act to violate the terms of the Block C spectrum auction and a consent decree against Verizon. I don’t hear anything over the weekend — understandable — so I wait until Monday to ask again.

I got confirmation that the device does work on Verizon’s network — it just *won’t* connect it. So I wrote the post below and crossposted it on Google+ with much conversation there.

Here is reaction to my FCC complaint against Verizon, which I filed with the Enforcement Bureau. Here was Verizon refusing to connect my unlocked device and trying to sell me one of their locked devices instead. I think that’s a violation of consumer law and I think I’ll go to the Federal Trade Commission on that.

I also posted a version of the tale on Huffington Post, where there is more conversation.

Related: Here is a Guardian story reporting that phone companies did not put up a fight when handing our data over to the NSA. Whose side are they on? And here’s a Verizon executive slamming Google and other technology companies for “grandstanding” when they defend our rights against the NSA and its spying. Again, whose side are they on?

I still have not heard from Google on this matter. I’m disappointed but I will keep trying.

I’ll keep the reports coming.

: AND: Here is the post Verizon erased (along with a few years’ worth) in which it promised to follow the open network requirements of the Block C auction (thanks to a Buzzmachine commenter for finding it).

: UPDATES: Continuing to update this post to keep a record of coverage.

* Josh Stearns at Free Press writes a wonderful post looking at Verizon’s larger venalities.

Verizon is working hard to undermine openness not just on wireless devices but across the Internet. In court last week, Verizon argued that it should be allowed to edit the Internet — blocking sites if it wants, or making them pay more to reach Verizon customers.

It’s all part of Verizon’s campaign to undermine the FCC’s authority to protect consumers online. This is like Exxon saying the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the authority to stop polluters from destroying the environment.

Jeff Jarvis has filed his complaint about Verizon’s blocking. It’s now up to the FCC to stop Verizon’s latest assault on open networks.

* Ars Technica also gives the matter good coverage. I disagree with their conclusion that Verizon will beat the regulators by approving the device soon. That does not wipe away their crime, which was delay and bogus certification.

* Consumerist points out that Verizon doesn’t know the difference between “can’t” and “won’t.

BK Hell

OK, it’s only 58 cents. But it’s the principle of the thing. Isn’t it always? We go to Burger King because the kids eat their chicken nuggets. The dollar menu sells them four pieces for $1. At most stores, an eight-piece order used to cost more than double that, so my wife got me in the habit of ordering two four-pieces instead of one eight-piece. Finally, most of the stores saw how silly this was repriced their eight-piece nuggets to $1.99, a one-cent saving over the dollar menu. Fine. Thanks. So today, we went to another Burger King and I just ordered two eight-pieces without looking. Turns out, they don’t post the price of the eight-piece and they charge $2.29 for them. So I got two eight-pieces and got 16 pieces of fried chickenesque things for $4.58. If I had ordered four four-pieces, I would have gotten the same 16 fried chickenesque things for $4. I went to the managers lolling behind the counter with no business. One just shrugged at me, which is lazy-manager speak for ‘f you, customer.’ The other said he couldn’t refund the 58 cents because then he wouldn’t come out even at the end of the day, as if that never happens. I told him that was the most expensive 58-cent profit he’d ever make. I went to the Burger King site to try to complain. They don’t take email. So I’ll complain about Burger King story #1503 right here. Beware the Burger King chicken ripoff.

Death to the 6 percent

The Times has a delightfully devastating story about upheaval in the real estate broker business asking whether we are seeing the last stand of the 6 percenters. We can only hope.

The Times story focuses on Redfin, a new brokerage in California and Washington only, unfortunately, that will list sellers’ homes for $2,000 flat and will rebate two thirds of its commission (thus usually 2 percent of the selling price) to buyers. Redfin does all this — how else? — by taking advantage of the internet and of the monopolistic pricing of multiple listing service members.

The Times reports that some sellers’ agents refuse to show homes to people coming from Redfin. I’d call that anticompetitive and perhaps even antitrust behavior. Watch and I’ll bet that MLSes will get opened up and then, once any of us can list and find homes on our own, the whole game is over. Bye-bye overpriced agents.

I will guarantee you that as soon as this post goes up, whining real estate brokers will come in — as they do every week here, here, and here — and mewl about how they provide such loving service and get you better deals. Bull. The Times cites Freakonomics:

“It’s a case where nobody wins,” Chang-Tai Hsieh, an associate professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, said of the current system. Mr. Hsieh, who has studied real estate commissions, said that they did not vary much from 6 percent and did not generally change in good times or bad. He said it was a form of price fixing, but an odd one. “Consumers pay a lot of money, and even the people who do the price fixing don’t win,” he said. “So it is a colossal waste.”

Traditional agents spend very little time brokering a deal, Mr. Hsieh added. Most of their time is consumed looking for new clients, which is of no benefit to consumers. An agent working for a salary, he said, would be freed of the need to prospect and would thus be more inclined to focus on negotiating.

Others agree. Steven D. Levitt, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, found that commissions did not align the interests of agents with those of their customers, a conclusion he recounted in his book “Freakonomics.” The agent has little incentive to get a few thousand dollars more for a homeowner, he wrote, because it will not much improve the commission. It is far more important for an agent working on commission to get the deal done and move on, he added.

The story points out that apart from a few star sellers, the agents themselves don’t get rich, either. Wake up, agents, your days are numbered. You might want to consider a management career at — dare I say it? — Burger King.

Book it

The co-founder of Pret a Manger got fed up with hotel rip-offs and so he started his own and I can’t wait to stay there: nice rooms, free wifi, free room-service breakfast, cheap phones. This is what the hotel business needs: competition. The Guardian tells the story.

Toy company breaks little girls’ hearts

Companies don’t realize that starting a community is a commitment. You can’t get people to move in and hand over their time and attention and then just one day decide to close.

Mattel is shutting down its American Girl Club and our daughter is rightfully upset. She joined the community and made friends there and now Mattel is pulling up and leaving town. Because of the anonymity features of the community, this means that thousands of friendships are suddenly cut off; they communicate only through the club. It’s like putting up a Berlin Wall around third grades the world around. That’s the worst of it. Mattel also took parents’ money to set up this club. They are offering prorated refunds or issues of their magazines. But in the land of communities, that’s like taking away homes and mortgages, for it’s not the company’s community but the members’ community. This is a case of online eminent domain. Of course, business happens; obviously, it wasn’t paying to keep the club open. But I’ll bet that Mattel — like other companies — didn’t know the obligation it took on when it started this community and the damage it does to its brand shutting it down.

Toy companies should not be in the business of making children sad.

: LATER: Rex Hammock goes meta on Mattel.

Arianna’s going to be soooo jealous

Bono just posted on Comment is Free promoting his buy-red initiative as a way to squeeze virtue out of commerce:

I’m not sorry for poor Africans but I am sorry for the British and Irish public who have had to suffer the most recent outbreak of Bonoitis of which there seems to be no known cure though I hear Guardian readers are working on a vaccine …

In defence: There are some really exciting things happening on the ground in Africa and back home that are worth making a song and dance about.

To help us with the HIV/Aids emergency we have come up with the concept of Red products. Why Red? Because Red is the colour for an emergency. And 6,500 people dying in Africa every day of a preventable and treatable disease is an emergency.

Red is where desire meets virtue, where consumerism meets philanthropy, where shopping attempts to meet the need of a continent in crisis, where once HIV/Aids meant a death sentence but where two pills a day can now have you back at work in 40 days.

Really the deal is this. These brands are prepared to share their profits with the Global Fund to Fight Aids in the hope that the association with Red will bring them to new and more loyal customers. [snip]

Big business is not bad. Big bad business is bad. It is strange that it took the continent of Africa to turn an activist onto commerce, but that’s what Africans want now – to do business with us, to trade, to have dignity of labour. Of that, more later … until you find the vaccine.

Eos report card

I promised some curious folks a report card on my trip on Eos, the new, all-first-class airline that flies between New York and London at much less than British Air or Virgin Upper Class. At $2950 for the lowest roundtrip (30-day advance, Saturday stay), it’s not a bargain, but it looks like one next to the $13,000 it costs to fly first class on BA. I was lucky enough to go over on an expense account and given that same privilege, I’d take Eos again in a flash.

Here’s the best analysis: My biggest — my only real — complaint on the way over was the pillow. It was some Nazipedic nightmare — you vill sleep zhis vay — and I felt quite churlish whining about it, but I did say in the comment card that I wanted a softer pillow. On the flight back, I gave the pillow a squeeze and it was like a cloud. The stewardess heard my reaction and said that oh, yes, they’d listened to customers’ suggestions and were replacing the pillows. Now that’s the ticket.

The most important thing about the airline is its seat, which reclines to a fully flat bed with plenty of room to stretch out, work, eat, talk. Just as important, it comes with a 120-volt laptop plug. Heaven. They give you a wireless entertainment unit that shows movies and TV shows. It could have a better screen and better choices but, again, I don’t want to be churlish. On the way over, I slept anyway. And on the way back, I watched Sleeper Cell on my Mac, via iTunes. Having been lucky enough to take the sleeper seats on BA’s and Lufthansa’s first classes over the years, I’d say that Eos’ is every bit as good.

Flying out of JFK (an inconvenience for a Jersey guy), you go to the Emirates first-class lounge and my advice is that you eat dinner there. The food is good and interesting and this way, you can sleep on board as soon as you take off at 7p (otherwise, you’ll be dining at 9). I got a good five or six hours of sleep on the way over and woke up civilized. The plane comes into Stansted and it was easy to get into London on an express train.

On the way back, the Stansted lounge is a bit more spartan, but still pleasant, and all you need is peanuts and booze, for there are big meals on the plane. I was on the flight with some colleagues and we happened to end up talking with the company’s marketing veep. I begged him for wifi, but he said it takes millions to refit a plane for that. Damn. We asked who their target customer is and he said it’s investment bankers but that they are getting celebs, too, including a famous basketball player who, indeed, could lay out and sleep.

We left Stansted at 6p, landed 34 minutes early at JFK at 8:40p and I was home at 10:30. Today, I feel normal. And the schedule meant that I got two full days working in London on either end of the trip. It’s good business.

A friend who took the airline said more than once that it’s better than taking a corporate jet. I agree, for the few times I ever took corporate jets I had to work the whole time and be nice to bosses. Here, you’re the boss.

And, no, I have nothing to disclose; I paid the regular fare.