September 7, 2007
Washington, D.C. – Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) today unveiled legislation aimed at empowering the 200 million cell phone customers nationwide to make informed choices about a wireless service that best fits their needs and their budget.
The Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act of 2007 will require wireless service providers to share simple, clear information on their services and charges with customers before they enter into long-term contracts; a thirty-day window in which to exit a contract without early termination fees; and greater flexibility to exit contracts with services that don’t meet their needs.
“The rules governing our wireless industry are a relic of the 1980’s, when cell phones were a luxury item that fit in a briefcase instead of a pocket,” said Klobuchar. “Early termination fees are a family budget-buster; families should be able to terminate service without outrageous fees; know if their cell phone will work on their drives and in their home and office; and understand what to expect in their monthly bills once you pile on charges and fees. It’s a simple matter of fairness.”
“Anyone who’s looked at a cell phone bill knows it’s a hodge-podge of fees and surcharges that supposedly cover regulatory or administrative costs,” said Rockefeller. “The reality is, often these are nothing more than operating costs that the companies are passing on to the consumer disguised as fees and taxes. It’s high time to protect cell phone users from these deceptive billing practices.”
Among the bills provisions are: detailed data on coverage areas and dropped calls provided to consumers before committing to a long-term contract; pro-rated early termination fees for those who exit their contract after thirty days; the ability to exit a contract within thirty days without a termination fee when wireless service is found to be unsatisfactory; and transparency in contracts and billing, including explanations of taxes and fees.
The legislation also calls upon the FCC to study the practice of “locking” phones – making them exclusive to one service provider and requiring consumers to purchase a new phone when changing carriers.
The Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act will be introduced in the Senate on Friday. Earlier this week, Senators Klobuchar and Rockefeller sent a letter to Chairman Inouye requesting a hearing before the Commerce Committee.
THE CELL PHONE CONSUMER EMPOWERMENT ACT OF 2007
•EARLY TERMINATION FEES (ETF)
-The FCC shall set forth regulations to pro-rate ETFs. At a minimum, the ETF for a 2-year contract shall be reduced by ½ after 1 year.
•MAPPING AND SERVICE QUALITY
-Maps are to be detailed enough to identify whether or not a consumer shall be able to receive wireless service at the consumer’s home.
-Wireless providers shall provide the FCC with information on dropped calls and coverage gaps; and the FCC shall make this information publicly available.
•DISCLOSURE REQUIREMENTS FOR PLANS AND CONTRACTS
-Publication of the terms of a wireless plan shall include information on: contract terms; charges; minutes; information on taxes and surcharges; wireless E-911 service; and other information that the FCC considers appropriate.
-This information shall be given to a consumer prior to entering into any contract.
-Taxes and fees shall be set forth in a separate section of the bill; and roaming charges shall be separately itemized and sent to a subscriber not later than 60 days after such calls were placed.
-Carriers will not be able to list charges or fees other than fees for the wireless service and any charge expressly authorized by federal, state, or local regulation.
•CONTRACT EXTENSION, MODIFICATION, OR RESCISSION
-Extension: An extension of a contract shall not be valid unless the wireless provider provides point-of-sale notice of the extension to the customer and allows the customer to cancel the extension within 30 days after such notice.
-Modification: Wireless carriers must provide subscribers with written notices of changes in rates and terms at least 30 days before such changes are to take effect.
-Rescission: A contract for wireless service may be canceled upon the request of a subscriber for any reason up to 30 days after entering into the contract.
•REPORT ON HANDSET PORTABILITY AND HANDSET QUALITY
-The FCC shall submit a report to Congress that studies the practice of handset locking in the United States and the effect of handset locking on consumer behavior and competition.
•TERMINATION OF CONTRACTS FOR ARMED SERVICE PERSONNEL
-U.S. military personnel may terminate their cell phone contracts if, during the term of the contract, the member receives orders for deployment outside of the U.S. for a period of not less than 90 days.
-The FCC shall enforce the legislation’s provisions and the attorney general of a State, or the public utility commission of a State may bring a civil action in federal district court or establish or use existing administrative procedures to enforce the Act’s provisions.
-The Act preempts state law, except that the Act does not preempt state laws that provide additional protections to wireless subscribers.
Alas, this is in the U.S. and just a proposal. Meanwhile, here in New Zealand we have two mobile operators on a comfortable position with 50% of the market each, running their own set of rules, with contracts locking customers in (and out), early termination fees that are not reduced half way through contracts and billing systems so badly designed and implemented that there is no month without people complaining of wrong charges in their accounts.
Currently all Vodafone New Zealand handsets are unlocked and I can imagine in twelve months time (or less) this will change, since Telecom New Zealand has announced its plans to introduce a EDGE/UMTS/HSDPA network in the country, moving away from its current CDMA service.
TravelBug is not linked from TradeMe bar yet, but you can start using it now.
The website is powered by Vianet, a New Zealand company that specialises in travel content, booking, etc.
What "bugs" me is the need to create yet another user account...
Wait a minute, wasn't this supposed to be a Windows Mobile Professional?
It would be if it had Windows Mobile 6 running and using the new naming convention. But for some strange reason this brand new device is coming out with the old Windows Mobile 5... Very interesting because the equivalent Sprint Mogul is running Windows Mobile 6 from the start.
We can't complain about specs though. 256 MB memory is not bad, although the website doesn't say if it's 256 flash ROM for storage (would be great), or 256 MB total (storage and program execution). It comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (including support for A2DP). And they throw in a 512 mini SD card.
And sorry for the small, low quality picture. I had to grab this from the Telecom site, since no official release announcement was made and no quality pictures distributed.
Telecom decided to give one week free Internet to all of its Xtra users, regardless of them being affected or not.
But most importantly, Telecom is also donating $1 million to four New Zealand charity organisations as voted by its users.
One of these organisations, the Granulosa Cell Tumour Foundation NZ, reached out for the on-line communities and asked that Geekzone users vote for them. I did so, as well as others, because I was impressed on them reaching out for our community, instead of placing money in advertising and other stuff.
So check the discussion on Geekzone, and vote now. You must be an Xtra customer to be able to vote - even if you only have an e-mail address with them, like myself.
As suggested by Darryl I will demo something with Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Beta 2.
Did you know you can download virtual machines with Visual Studio 2008 already installed and ready to use? I am downloading it now, and also downloading the Windows Mobile 6 SDK.
There's only one thing though: there are no frigging Windows Mobile 6 devices in New Zealand yet!
Believe it or not, Telecom New Zealand has just released the HTC Titan, and it's running Windows Mobile 5! And Vodafone New Zealand has not moved to release the promised Treo 750v update yet, although I have been told it's close, as well as an update for the v1210 Windows Mobile Smartphone. Vodafone also have plans to release a brand new Windows Mobile 6 device as soon as October.
I will be doing a demo, but using a device with a "test" ROM.
Just to check the specs, the Apple touch is like an Apple iPhone, but without the cellular voice and data part. It comes with Wi-Fi for Internet access, including the Safari browser and iTunes Music Store. And it comes with 8 GB and 16 GB storage. We can't find this on Pocket PCs.
With its wireless you can sample and purchase music on-line, and next time you plug it to your PC the songs are downloaded. Easy as...
And there's the user interface, based on the multi-touch technology, the same used on the iPhone.
The Nokia N770 would be the closest competitor to the iPod touch, if it wasn't for its non-consumer appeal. It's a geek device, but with very nifty features - I really liked the one I had for a week for review. But users in general don't want to go messing around with a complicated Linux user interface.
Meanwhile, what were Microsoft's attempts to get to the mainstream consumer market?
Windows Mobile, the operating system behind Microsoft's Pocket PCs and Smartphones evolved into a hybrid system used on Portable Media Centers. Those are dead now. They were large, heavy with short battery life. Oh, there was the iRiver Clix, which was really small, but I didn't even see one in real life.
Then came the Zune, with an user inteface kind of similar to the Portable Media Center. Usable, but limited. And the fact that with the Zune you can only use the Wi-Fi for limited music sharing - no Internet browsing, no on-line purchases, nothing else.
Then we have the multiple Microsoft approaches to on-line music. We had the MSN Music, now closed. We had the Plays for sure initiative, now dead. We had the Urge, no longer supported by MTV which has just moved to Real Networks Rhapsody services.
Microsoft tried three or four different "platforms" and they all were limited - either user interface, regional availability of hardware, or very restricted and limited availability of content.
When are they going to learn?
Do you know when you go to a conference and there are all those "Place your business card in this jar to be in to win [insert your product here]"? Yes, we've seen these around a lot.
I want to be in the draw, but I don't want to be contacted later for anything else but to be told I won something!
So I thought we could add this line to the bottom of our business cards:
[x] Please do not contact me with additional information about your products or services
And with this simple line we clearly opt out of such communications. I wonder how many companies would be happy with this?
It was an interesting chat, where we discussed about how effective this act can be, knowing that the majority of spam comes out of the U.S. and some Asian countries. Those people are not interested in our laws and they completely disregard order anyway.
But Richard made a point that this is a good start, the start of something larger, including the collaboration of other countries, by making it clear that we do not tolerate this intrusion.
And here comes the thing: Symantec is working to release yet another layer in its anti-spam product line, this time providing a software as a service implementation "in the cloud". This means a non-software and non-appliance solution, aimed at companies from five to 2000 employees.
Basically Symantec will reroute a company's e-mail to their own servers, scan and clean any e-mails before forwarding those to their final destinations. It's not much different from a solution such as Spamdunk, I think.
The interesting thing is that Richard's team is currently looking for local partners to bring this service to the market, and also working to establish a New Zealand-based datacenter to provide the service in-country.
It looks like the new service will be available sometime in the next month or two.
You can get some insight into the Unsolicited Electronics Message Act 2007 by reading this post on Bell Gully.
I am one of the guest speakers and I will talking about user generated content, user interaction and more. I am also participating in a panel discussion entitled "Blogging your Customers".
TUANZ (Telecommunications User Association of New Zealand) is a not-for-profit organisation that for 20 years has been promoting the needs of end-users of telecommunications in New Zealand. Their vision statement is "Targeting the Top Ten in the OECD for Communications Technology."
The association aims to increase the uptake, educate New Zealanders as to the potential of the technology, and push the Government and vendors to deliver top quality, affordable service.
The Simpletech 250GB external drive I have here is very noisy, so I got a Seagate 500GB to replace it. I plugged the new drive in and I can now click "Remove" to take the 250GB drive out of the pool. The 1TB disc you see in the screenshot is a Maxtor OneTouch 1TB external drive.
As it is now, my Windows Home Server is currently managing 1.7 TB (terabytes) of disc space, soon to be reduced to 1.5 TB.
Any file on the 250GB drive will be relocated to the other storage, and when the drive is empty I get a message telling me it's ok to remove it. Since it is a USB drive I can do this with the server running - I added the 500GB with the server up and didn't have to stop to add it to the pool.
Windows Home Server works by creating a 20 GB system partition on your primary drive, and the rest of the disc is used to store files. If you have more than one drive, the other drives can be used for storage and you can enable "duplication" for shared folders.
Duplication ensures files are copied to different drives so that you have a copy in the case of a disc drive fault affecting one of the units. It's almost like mirroring, but it's at folder level.
When a file is copied to the server it will land into the data partition on your primary drive, and over time it will be moved out to make space for new files. After being moved out a special pointer ("tombstone") is created in the data partition, pointing to the actual file in the storage pool.
The "balancing" operation moves the files out of the data partition into the pool and makes sure duplication is happening.
Of course you don't have to know this at all. You just have to use it, set duplication for some folders and the rest is automatic.