Wednesday, October 19, 2011

No More Surprises: Cell Phone Companies Agree to Overage Warnings
 Article first published as No More Surprises: Cell Phone Companies Agree to Overage Warnings on Technorati.

In an effort to avoid regulation, wireless providers have agreed to notify customers who are reaching their limits on voice, data, text and international roaming charges.

In a joint statement with the FCC, Consumers Union and CITA, a large wireless industry association, the major cell companies announced they will provide free warnings that users are about to incur overage charges on these commonly used services.

CITA members include wireless industry heavyweights such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and TracFone.
Half these notifications must be working by Oct. 17, 2012, with the remainder up and running by April 17, 2013. This is good news for consumers.  According to this report, by the Wireless Consumer Association International, about 13.5 percent of customers will go over their plan's voice limit, and almost one in five (18%) will exceed their data limit.

Cell phone customers have long complained about 'bill shock', when unknowingly exceeding their plan limits. Companies have made billions off these charges, and agreeing to these notifications was only done to avoid mandates from Washington. The joint statement quotes President Obama,

“Far too many Americans know what it’s like to open up their cell-phone bill and be shocked by hundreds or even thousands of dollars in unexpected fees and charges... Our phones shouldn’t cost us more than the monthly rent or mortgage. So I appreciate the mobile phone companies’ willingness to work with my Administration and join us in our overall and ongoing efforts to protect American consumers by making sure financial transactions are fair, honest and transparent.”

The FCC and Policy Council for Consumers Union praised the agreement, saying more than 97% of wireless customers will benefit from the new rules and urged the companies to implement the notifications quickly.
CITA President and CEO said,

..."Today’s initiative is a perfect example of how government agencies and industries they regulate can work together under President Obama’s recent executive order directing federal agencies to consider whether new rules are necessary or would unnecessarily burden businesses and the economy.”

Because compliance is 'voluntary', the Consumers Union said, they are going to work closely with the FCC to make sure companies comply, "and we're pleased the Commission is keeping this proceeding open to help ensure compliance."

So, today cell phone customers enjoy a rare victory against surprise overages and Americans get a rare example of government, industry and consumer groups working together to protect users.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why Do We Occupy?

A tired protester tries to sleep at a local occupation
Article first published as Why Do We Occupy? on Technorati.

Beginning on September 17, protesters began to gather near Wall Street in New York City. Inspired by the peaceful occupations of the Arab Spring, they sought economic justice for the vast majority of Americans. They felt shut out of the political system which seemed responsive solely to corporate concerns.

The mantra 'We are the 99%' refers to a UN Report which showed that 40% of the worlds' wealth is owned by 1% of the worlds richest adults.

The movement spread to cities and towns across the US and then spread globally. It has given voice to a growing frustration with the widening disparity between rich and poor and the continuing concentration of wealth among a lucky few. Political leaders appear blind to the increasingly desperate situation of the working class.

I got involved a week ago in a Wall Street inspired Occupation of a city park in a nearby town. It started very modestly. Brought together by Facebook, the first night we were only five occupiers.

It rained all the next day and night, The small but determined group set up canopies and tarps in an often futile attempt to stay dry.

The local newspaper showed up and a radio station interviewed one of the organizers. Word started to spread. Positioned on a busy street, many drivers honked, waved or gave a thumbs up. Strangers showed up with food, water and juice. Pizzas appeared out of nowhere.

The crowds have continued to grow. There is often a festive atmosphere during the day. Musicians entertain and small knots of people gather to share philosophical and mundane conversation. Sleeping bags and blankets are carefully folded and stowed away.

Nights are long and quiet. Tables are lined with donated food and coffee. Some occupiers try to sleep wrapped in blankets or buried in sleeping bags. Some play cards or hacky sack. Someone softly strums a guitar.

The homeless are drawn to us. There is food and water here and someone to talk to. Most help themselves to the food and leave. A few get involved and stay.
A large number of the homeless are obviously mentally ill and I am disturbed to see them huddled against the cold, seemingly hopeless and resigned to their fate. I am nagged by the thought that I am out here by choice. These homeless men and women have no choice and nowhere to go.

Maintaining good relationships with the police and park officials is a top priority. Trash is picked up promptly. Non-violence is a fundamental rule, so anti-social behavior of any kind is not tolerated. There is no on-site drug or alcohol use among the occupiers.

The group is surprisingly non-partisan. I almost never hear the words 'Republican', 'Democrat' or 'Obama'. Although many seem to lean toward progressive concerns such as health care, the wars and the environment, there are many conservatives and Libertarians in the crowd. The movement is leaderless, but decisions are made through a twice-daily General Assembly meeting and committee assignments.

The movement continues to gain steam. The simple message of economic fairness baffles journalists and political pundits. It does not fit easily into any partisan mold and defies talking points. It is driven by frustration but also by hope. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

This is why we occupy.