My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: AT&T and Capped Data Plans - Skype is no longer free

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Friday, June 4, 2010

AT&T and Capped Data Plans - Skype is no longer free

In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.

Benjamin Franklin author, political theorist, scientist, inventor and civic activist

Writer’s Block is a curse of any writer of articles, and I recently had about three (3) days worth of it, with my brain vacillating between gadget articles and general technology commentary and analysis, unable to discern which was more important and relevant to the immediate future. Eventually my prognostication capabilities came back to me when I began seeing a flood of news on a topic I had previously written about, namely the uncapped nature of Data Plans on Telecom Providers Networks and the issue of overcharging, articles which I had also forwarded to the OUR (Office of Utilities Regulation). Recent announcements in the Telecoms Sector, both in the United States of America as well as in Jamaica seem to herald a coming change in the way Telecom Providers do business.

One of them is pretty straightforward and is related to my email to the OUR (its consumer@our.org.jm by the way!!) complaining about the lack of transparency of Telecom Providers and how the overcharge consumers, particularly the fact that they do not advise customers via SMS (Short Messaging Service) before the customer exceeds their minutes (Local, Cross-Network, International), SMS (Local, Cross-Network, International), and Data Plan Megabytes and the onerous ETF (Early Termination Fees) of Telecom Providers in the United States of America. The OUR has responded as stated in the article “Digicel loses appeal, cal rates could fall”, published Wednesday, June 02, 2010, The Jamaica Observer - Business (https://www.JamaicaObserver.com) in which the OUR has declared all Telecom Provider as dominant relative to each other, as they do behave in a manner in which only members of their respective networks are privileged to certain services.

This declaration by the Telecommunications Appeals Tribunal which stands by the ruling made by OUR  on the matter back in 2004, plain and simple, means that Section 30 of the Telecommunications Act of 2000 is now re-activated and now since all Telecom Providers are declared dominant, discrimination against the other dominant Telecom Provider with which they are competing is unlawful, as this section of the Telecommunications Act of 2000 states that they must provide cross connection between themselves [Telecom Providers]  in a manner that is fair, transparent and based on the cost of provisioning the service only, not on negotiated interconnection rates. Section 33 of the Telecommunications Act of 2000 further goes on to give the power that the OUR has in setting cross network rates under the guidance of Section 30 of the Telecommunications Act of 2000, thus brushing aside Digicel’s appeal, which was challenging the powers of the OUR.

Great news for consumers, as this means that lower calling costs are on the horizon, if not the Flat Rate Calling that would be the result under and implementation of MNP (Mobile Number Portability) to be ruled on by the OUR in June 2010 as stated by the article stated in the article "Paulwell calls for number portability", published, Wednesday April 21, 2010, Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter, The Jamaica Gleaner. Thus albeit I do concede that it was not really my three (3) letters to the OUR that did the trick, I will declare however that the timing as it relates to the letter that I had sent and the issues that I discussed is uncanny, as a similar development is ongoing as we speak in the United States of America between the FCC and the Telecoms Providers. Let me elaborate………

As mentioned in my blog articles entitled “CLARO and ETF: Pro-Rated Dutch Auction is Preferred” and “CLARO and Telecoms Providers: FCC taking actionm on Overcharging” this whole thing started with a man, a Mr. Bob St. Germain, being overcharged to the tune of eighteen Thousand dollars (US$18,000) for his mobile phone and modem usage over a six (6) week period in 2006, which Verizon eventually forgave in 2010 after he appeared on Youtube several times which is how I know of him as stated in the article “Verizon forgives balance of US$18,000 cellphone bill”, published May 17, 2010 01:15 PM, by The Boston Globe.

Thus the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is running like the errant Knight in shining armour to save the Americans suffering under the wilting heat of what I would like to call the “seven years of famine” in the United States of America, much as was the dream by Pharaoh that Joseph interpreted as slyly alluded in the article FCC says consumers are 'bill shocked'”, published May 26, 2010 9:41 AM PDT by Marguerite Reardon CNET News - Signal Strength. Thus, in short order, there will be the coming of SMS (Short Messaging Service) to alert people just as they are about to exceed their Minutes (on-net, cross network, International), SMS (on-net, cross network, International)  on their Voice Plans and Modem Megabytes Data Caps on their Data Plans. The FCC also plans to force Telecom Providers to simplify its Voice and Data Plans by revealing to Customers hidden cost and more transparent billing to aid Customer navigate the confused myriad of choices that now exist among Customers.

Since then, the Telecom Providers have come to realize that it really is good customer service to at least advise customers ahead of time when they are about to exceed their allotted minutes (Local, Cross-Network, International), SMS (Local, Cross-Network, International), and Data Plan Megabytes, thus allowing their customers to control their Plan more effectively, especially with the Global Recession showing no end in sight. Then the Big News came.

AT&T has decided that the days of “all-you-can-eat” Data Plans are over and that they would be introducing Data Caps, essentially what Telecoms Providers in Jamaica have being doing since the inception of 3G Wireless Broadband as stated in the article “For New AT&T users, no more "all you can eat" data”, published June 2 2010 By PETER SVENSSON, AP Technology Writer, Yahoo News (https://news.yahoo.com), in the article “AT&T phases out unlimited data plans”, published Wed Jun 2, 12:07 pm ET, by Ben Patterson, Yahoo News (https://news.yahoo.com), in the article “AT&T to end unlimited use of mobile data plan”, published Thursday June 2 2010, by Ryan Kim, Chronicle Staff Writer (https://www.sfgate.com)

More news from my favorite news aggregator, CNET, come the following article on the subject entitled “AT&T's new pricing takes smart phones to the masses”, published June 3, 2010 4:00 AM PDT by Marguerite Reardon, CNET News - Signal Strength, (http://www.cnet.com) and in the article “New AT&T data plans for iPhones, iPad, more”,  June 2, 2010 2:39 AM PDT by Matt Hickey, CNET News - Crave, (http://www.cnet.com) more than ample proof that this announcement is huge in its implications and scope. With the overload of details from these various news sources, it confirms earlier worries with regards to the strain that the Apple iPad and Apple iPhone was having on AT&T’s network as stated by the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) in the article “FCC: iPad use could further strain AT&T 3G”, published February 6, 2010 4:56 PM PST by Jim Dalrymple CNET News – Apple, (http://www.cnet.com).

AT&T CEO  Randall Stephenson also predicted lackluster subscriptions for the Apple iPad possibly as a means of comforting investors in AT&T as stated in the article “AT&T CEO sandbags iPad 3G subscriptions”, published March 3, 2010 12:30 PM PST by Erica Ogg  CNET News - Circuit Breaker, (http://www.cnet.com), even going to the point of instructing Apple on how to make the Apple iPhone efficient in its usage of broadband, which is mostly out of their control, as stated in the article “Report: AT&T schooled Apple on iPhone issues”, published March 30, 2010 10:44 PM PDT by Steven Musil, CNET News – Wireless, (http://www.cnet.com).

The Lower pricing points aside, their Data Caps differ, however, in the fact that upon coming close to exceeding the overage set for the Data Plan, the customer is advised via SMS, a move that AT&T has wisely decided to adopt that which is yet to be accepted as gospel among certain Jamaican Telecom Providers such as LIME and FLOW as it relates to Data Services: Unlimited data going forward to 4G and higher speeds is unrealistic.

Even LIME ADSL or FLOW Cable Internet will soon have to start “capping” their internet access services, as people may have the thought in mind to use their LIME ADSL and FLOW Cable Internet to provide Municipal Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11n) services using a Residential LIME ADSL or FLOW Cable Internet, such as what seems to be occurring in May Pen, instead of purchasing a Business ADSL LIME ADSL or FLOW Cable Internet Package. Some amount of user backlash was expected as reported in the article “AT&T Sparks User Backlash With End to Unlimited Plan (Update1)”, published June 4 2010, by By Hugo Miller and Olga Kharif, Bloom Berg Markets (https://www.bloomberg.com). The “all-you-can-eat” experiment is now officially over.

Thus it should not come as a surprise that Skype 2.0, which is finally being allowed to use AT&T’s 3G service is no longer free for VoIP over AT&T’s network as stated in the article “Skype for iPhone now support 3G, but free ride's ending”, published June 2 2010, by Ben Patterson, Yahoo! News (https://www.yahoo.com), as previously all Skype calls were over the Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11n) on smart phones and netbooks using Telecom Provider AT&T wireless 3G network.

This is good, as not only will this result in AT&T being able to make revenue from Legitimate VoIP, but also control Data usage giving them a bit of rest while Telecom Provider upgrade their network. A leaf out of the book of the Telecom Provider AT&T that local Telecom Providers can emulate, as currently VoIP, albeit not free, as it does use megabytes, needs to have its users registered via the current plan for MRSI (Mandatory Registration of Subscriber Information) as suggested by Senator Dwight Nelson, Minister of National Security and Justice as stated in the article “CLARO Backs Cell Phone Tracking Plan; Digicel, LIME in Wait-And-See Mode”, published Sunday May 16, 2010 by Mark Titus, Business Reporter, the Sunday Gleaner, making it difficult for criminals to organize crime internationally.

Possibly later, MNP (Mobile Number Portability) the proposal for which being slated to come to the attention of John Public’s in June 2010 as stated in the article "Paulwell calls for number portability", published, Wednesday April 21, 2010, Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter, The Jamaica Gleaner and charged on a Plan basis for its usage, or have it blocked from their smart phones and modems, a revenue increase for foreign calling that should make the Telecom Provider more easily taxable by the Government of Jamaica. A move John Public welcomes, as nothing is certain but death taxes.
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