Saturday, May 5, 2007

Monthly $2 Charge for Not Making Calls and How to Avoid It

My monthly Verizon landline bill arrived with a new $2.00 (plus 11% Universal Service Fund contribution) for not making any long distance calls. Like many consumers I have migrated most long distance calls to my cellphone and know the "casual calling" or "dial around" 10XXX option to make inexpensive toll calls.

I thought I had found a rate plan (at 40 cents a minute) that had no minimum and no charge to activate the presubscription when I departed from another company that had a monthly minimum. Verizon offered a rate plan I would never use, but one that could offer Verizon the chance to offer bundled services and other inducements.

Now Verizon has a $2.00 minimum and apparently no way of knowing that I am paying an affiliate of the company a cool $120 a month. So wireline Verizon treats me like a low tier non-revenue enhancer not worth the bother.

With an approach like that maybe I should join my college students in cutting the wireline cord and go wireless entirely. Something called the Missoula Plan (telcos like to name rate restructuring deals after the place the deal was first conceived) soon will cost wireline telephone subscribers $10 a month even before paying for a subscription.

The good news for me was a quite pleasant Verizon Customer Service Supervisor who waived the $2.19 and allowed me to eliminate Verizon as my presubscribed long distance carrier without having to pay about $6 for the privilege. I can still access long distance carriers, but not with the convenience of 1+ dialing.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Lies, Damn Lies and Broadband Statistics

For the better part of a decade, the United States lagged in broadband development largely because stakeholders invested in long haul capacity and failed local loop alternatives. Incumbent telephone company managers have emphasized regulatory uncertainty and “confiscatory” FCC sharing requirements, but the fact of the matter is that over $1 trillion was invested in the dotcom boom, a significant portion of which targeted burgeoning demand for local and long haul bandwidth.

Now that regulatory uncertainty provides no explanation for the United State’s comparatively poor performance in broadband market penetration the federal government has started to shoot the messenger reporting continuing poor penetration rates. Both the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the State Department are challenging the statistics compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that ranks the U.S. 15th globally in broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants (down from 12th last year). See
http://www.oecd.org/document/7/0,2340,en_2649_34223_38446855_1_1_1_1,00.html.

The State Department has made the issue something of a diplomatic affront to the U.S. See http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/press/2007/State_OECD_042407.pdf NTIA offers explanations why scope of broadband access in places such as government offices and coffee shops means that the OECD ranking underestimates market penetration. See http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/press/2007/ICTleader_042407.html.

So first stakeholders could blame the government for mandating common carriage facilities unbundling and interconnection. Now the government can blame outside data collectors as underestimating the kind of success the FCC found when it used zip codes as the relevant market penetration metric.

I am confident U.S. broadband penetration statistics will improve, but the initial “success” will occur in urban areas with greater likelihood for more than two facilities-based carriers offering true broadband at rates below $60 a month.

I fear the Digital Divide increasingly with cleve between cities and the hinterland.