Tag Archives: cellphones

Cellphone Plans; Which One is the Right One?


cinchIts the holiday season and someone is going to get a new cellphone. Most people already have a cellphone. Make that 96 percent of the U.S. population has a cellphone. African-Americans are more likely to have a smartphone than a computer. Among all Americans we do more business and shopping using mobile devices than all other groups.  You have no doubt seen all the commercials from all the cellphone companies with all the incredible promises of great services, plentiful data and great prices. The ads can be confusing. The question black people want answered is; which cellphone plan is right for you?

Cinch is a new online tool that allows you to answer a set of questions that guides you to the right phone plan. The phone plan search is the latest product from Cinch Financial, a company that helps consumers you find the right banks, credit cards and other financial products that best meets their needs.

The cellphone market is a vicious place that has cellphone companies at each other throats for customers. Why? Because everyone has a cell phone and few new customer can be found. So companies have to steal customers from each other. Not only are the big companies fighting for customers but they have to compete with smaller cell service providers that are nibbling away at specialized market segments. For example, Defense Mobile is specializing in serving current and former military members.  Consumer Cellular has targeted the market of older people with cell phones and has the backing of the AARP.

Cinch’s new tool assesses your needs and then suggests a cellphone plan from the many major and smaller carrier services competing for your business. According to Cinch the tool is designed to consider all the cell phone plans on the market including the fine print. Then, after you answer the questions, it customizes recommendations based on your specific situation. For people who do not wish to answer the questions they can send their bill to Cinch using the ‘BillSnap‘ feature of the website and they will do the comparison for you. Cinch clams to be totally unbiased and companies cannot pay to have their plan featured.

Cinch claims the tool uses the data collected from the various plans. The company said people tend to buy plans with too much data.  Cinch believes the easiest way to save money on phone plans is to reduce the monthly data customers pay for.

Now you know.

See also:

Big Four Wireless Carriers Get Poor Scores in Consumer Reports Rankings

T-Mobile is now America’s best wireless carrier (of the big four, at least)

What to Expect When You Switch Cell Carriers

Two Year Cellphone Are Contracts are Dead, Maybe

canstockphoto26388971It is with great glee and little regret that we report that the two year cellphone contract has died; sort of. Are we finally rid of this painful financial burden? Maybe. In the past cellphone providers have charged you for long distance calls long after technology eliminated it, forced you to buy a new phone if you switched carriers and locked you into two year contracts to keep you hooked like an addict to a drug dealer. 

All this has changed. President Obama signed into law an end to being forced to buy a new phone if you switch carriers.  And now the two year contract is dying. Thats the good news. The bad news is you gonna have to pay full price for smartphones.

The AACR has repeatedly reported that the state of the cellphone industry is an all out bloodbath for customers. Except for school children getting their first phone there are few new customers. 

So why is this important for African-Ameicans? Black people use their cellphones more than any other group.  A report last year by the Federal Reserve Board revealed that blacks and Latinos make up a “disproportionately high rate” of mobile-banking users. A study by Pew Internet research showed that 41 percent of non-whites say they use their smartphones to check their balances, pay bills and perform other transactions, including 39 percent of blacks. Now throw in text messages, email, online shopping and of course phone calls. So the question really is, do you have a cellphone contract? Are you paying for text, talk and data? All that is changing.

T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon and AT&T have all announced the move to no contract phone plans.

T-Mobile started the trend of killing off the two year contract with its un-carrier movement. T-Mobile is offering customers the ability upgrade three times a year with its Jump! On Demand offering. In addition to approved credit Jump! On Demand still has a monthly fee associated with the phone. It’s stretched out over 18 months and that’s close enough to a two year contract. If you don’t switch phones with Jump! On Demand, you’ll owe a final lump sum at the end of that 18 month period. T-Mobile has also eliminated  roaming charges in Canada and Mexico. Aggressive moves like this have pushed T-Mobile pass Sprint in total connections.

AT&T is the only company still offering a two year contract.  But the company is slowly closing out this option for third-party retailers.  AT&T plans to offer its contract-free Next program.

Emily Edmonds, spokesperson for AT&T said, “Our customers increasingly choose AT&T Next, so we’re responding by featuring Next as the most prominent way to get a new smartphone at our national retailers and local dealers. Customers who would rather have a two-year contract still have that option.” Two-year contracts will still be available but only at AT&T stores online or brick and mortar. 

Verizon announced its dumping its two year contract plan earlier this month. By the end of 2015 Verizon expects 50 percent of new smartphone sales to be sold without contracts as part of its “Edge” program. Verizon is dropping the subsidy for new smartphones and encouraging customers to buy their own devices. This is the trend in the industry.

But if you wish to get a new phone Verizon is still willing to accommodate you. They simply tack the price of the phone on your bill in montly installments. Yeah, that’s a contract. Verizon’s Edge program allows custmers to upgrade to a new phone anytime they wish as long as the old phone is paid off.

Verizon’s new plans took effect Aug. 13. Prices for voice, text and data services will be reduced by an estimated $20 per month compared with plans where the company subsidized the price of a new phone. Verizon is dropping its phone subsidies along with its two year contract. 

Verizon’s introduced its new plans based around shared data packages. There’s no more single line or family plan. Instead Verizon customers will pay for a specific amount of data and a pay a per-device enrollment fee for the plan. The plans was launched on August 13th. Current Verizon subscribers can keep their existing plans, and the perks that go with it, or switch over to the new plans but some restrictions will apply.

Sprint announced the termination of its two year plan and will offer plans where customers lease their smartphones. For customers it means buying a new phone out right at full retail price or choosing the lease option. According to Sprint, in the last quarter, 51 percent of customers used the lease option to purchase a new phone.

Sprint knows that customers are not looking forward to buying a new phone that sometimes retail for as much as $700. So they have sweetened the pot a little. The company has introduced the iPhone Forever plan. For $22 a month more on their monthly bill customers can upgrade to the newest iPhone annually as soon as it becomes available. This option will be very popular among techno-geeks and gadget hounds who can’t be seen without the latest smartphone. But yeah, that’s a contract.

Breaking It Down

Cellphone carriers are fighting for their lives. The market is saturated and finding new customers is like trying to find diamonds on the street. Right now if you are a cellphone customer, and who isn’t, the game is all yours. This switch to no contracts means the market will open up and go crazy for a short while. Many people who are in a contract can jump ship anytime they want because a competitor will pay their early termination fee. That is about to end because there will be no more contracts. With the cellphone carriers in an all out war there will be winners. First, cellphone makers will see an increase in sales as all the carriers offer anytime upgrades. So cellphone makers will crank up the factory and marketing to get more, newer and better phones on the market. Cellphone re-sellers are going to make a few bucks and so keep an eye out for the explosion of used cellphones about to hit the market. Some will be nearly brand new. And customers, with their new phones can pick any carrier, anytime they want.

So now what? Now the game gets really bloody. Cellphone carriers, the big ones, will soon die off or merge. You’ll see more and more small and regional cell carriers. Remember the break up of Ma Bell? These smaller companies will offer more options, more deals and more services. Thats the sweet spot for black people. The competitive market is just too tough a game and its not going to change. Now the game is to buy the best cellphone you can afford and hold on to it. Switch to the carrier with the best deal and dump them when you find a better deal.  The next blood letting will come from the data plans. Unlimited text, talk and data is the next next and final battle for survival. One or more of the big carriers will finally die off.

 

 

 

 

 

Cellphone Distraction While Driving on the Rise

texting_ban_signDriving is a complex task that requires your undivided attention. You might be focused on the task but what about other drivers? Accidents related to distracted driving are on the rise and the almighty cell phone is a major cause.

According to the National Safety Council cellphone-related auto accidents in the U.S. rose for the third straight year. Cellphone distractions account for more than one in four  of those accidents. Its frightening to think that according to statistics those numbers may be under-reported.

The Center for Disease Control reported the following impact of distracted driving;

  • In 2012, 3,328 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver compared to 3,360 in 2011. An additional, 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012, a 9 percent increase from the 387,000 people injured in 2011.
  • In 2011, nearly one in five crashes (17 percent) in which someone was injured involved distracted driving.

The NSC estimates texting-related crashes rose from 5 percent to 6 percent while those involving talking on phones stayed at 21 percent for a total of 27 percent of the 5.7 million crashes in 2013.

NSC CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement that, “While the public understands the risks associated with distracted driving, the data shows the behavior continues. We need better education, laws and enforcement to make our roads safer for everyone.” 

 Texting seems to have become a part of daily life. New research by psychologists from Penn State Harrisburg found that college students agree that it’s socially unacceptable to text while showering, on the toilet, eating, attending a funeral or while having sex, but do it anyway. 

The results of the 70 question survey was published as “2 TXT or not 2 TXT: College students’ reports of when text messaging is social breach,” in the Social Science Journal. 

Distracted driving, and operating other vehicles, has been listed as one of the top ten challenges by the National Transportation Safety Board. According to the NTSB, since 2003 distractions from portable electronic devices (PEDs) has been a cause or contributing factor in 11 accident investigations. Those crashes resulted in 259 people injured and 50 people killed. And the NTSB noted it does not investigate the majority of highway crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports hundreds of such deaths on our highways in 2012 alone. According to NHTSA, drivers engaging in visual-manual tasks, such as dialing or texting, triple their risk of a crash.

In a 2010 study conducted by Melvin Davis, Ph.D of the Mississippi Urban Research Center black and minority students are more likely to engage in cellphone activities while behind the whee of a car. The study revealed that;

  • Black upperclassmen were more likely to talk on a cell phone.
  • Freshmen were more likely to text while driving.
  • Incoming calls were a significant predictor of crashes.
  • Black students were twice as likely to have a crash when receiving incoming calls on their cell phone

Another study conducted by NHTSA revealed that while the rate of distracted driving is roughly equal among all ethnicities African-Americans were the highest with 43 percent of drivers prone to distraction.

Many states are reacting to the rise in cell phone distraction behind the wheel. These include bans on cellphone use behind the wheel. These include;

  • Hand-held Cell Phone Use Ban: 14 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving.
  • All Cell Phone ban: No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, but 37 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice or teen drivers, and 20 states and D.C. prohibit any cell phone use for school bus drivers.
  • Text Messaging ban: 46 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers.
    • 3 states prohibit text messaging by novice or teen drivers.
    • 3 states restrict school bus drivers from texting.

While the cellphone is not only distraction while driving it is number one according to a combined study conducted by the  NHTSA and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. The study ranks driver distractions in the following order’

Top 10 Driver Distractions (source: NHTSA-VTTI Study):
1. Using a wireless device, such as a cell phone
2. Talking to and interacting with passengers
3. Reaching for CDs, food, falling objects or other internal distractions
4. Programming radio stations or tinkering with dashboard controls
5. Using an electric razor, applying makeup or other personal hygiene-related actions
6. Unwrapping a burger, opening a canned drink or other movements when eating at the wheel
7. External distractions such as pointing out a funny billboard or pedestrian
8. Talking or singing to oneself
9. Smoking
10. Daydreaming

Being able to multi-task is great skill at work and home but driving a car carries the responsibility being in a constant life or death situation. PUT DOWN THE PHONE! DRIVE THE CAR!

Now you know. 

Cops & Data Collection: Stingrays Under Scrutiny

extremetech.com

extremetech.com

For years, phone-tracking devices known as Stingrays have been a closely guarded secret of law enforcement. But  according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal that may be about to change.

According to the WSJ report, the U.S. Justice Department has launched a full scale investigation of how police agencies use these snooping devices. As a result they may be about to reveal significant details about how and where the devices are typically deployed. For ten years or more Stingrays have been cloaked in intense secrecy. In some cases criminal prosecutions were halted rather risk admitting in court that the devices were used.

How does a Stingray work? By locating a specific phone in a crowd, sometimes even from a plane flying overhead. They also have the capability to extract more comprehensive data from the phone. Stingrays impersonate  2G cell towers. These towers don’t require any authentication to connect to a phone as long as the Stingray is the strongest signal in the area. Cell phones automatically connect to the device revealing their location and basic identification data. The use of Stingrays inhibits other networks from working properly resulting in significant service disruptions in the areas where they are used.

Stingrays are significant for how deeply they have become entrenched in the law enforcement world. A number of Justice Department agencies are known to have access to the devices including the U.S .Marshals. But local law enforcement is also beginning to use the technology. The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) has compiled legal evidence of Stingray use by local departments in Baltimore, Sarasota, and Tacoma. The EFF believes that many more local departments are using the technology but do not refer to the devices in court. A recent test run in Washington, DC revealed as many as 18 different Stingray-like service interruptions in just two days.

Breaking It Down

America’s system of rights and justice seem to be slowly crumbling. I used to think that those folks we call right-wing gun toting nut cases railing about the government destroying our rights were just that, nuts. I am not so sure anymore. No, not at all.

First of all the collection of data and information on ordinary citizens is simply un-Constitutional anyway you look at it. In the story about license plate data collection I have to ask who is responsible for not deleting  the data the Attorney General ordered destroyed? I want that guy’s name. I want to know why license plate data was being collected at political rallies? Keep in mind these are the very same tactics used in totalitarian states. Constant watching for dissent. Have we come to that?

Now we have law enforcement and prosecutors working together to hide information collected using Stingrays. How much of that evidence has resulted in wrongful convictions of black men, or anybody for that matter? Let’s talk about the fruit of the poison tree. It works like this; any evidence obtained illegally is not admissible in court. Any OTHER evidence collected as a result of the original illegal evidence is also not admissible. But if the cops and prosecutors are hiding the use of Stingray and collect evidence based on information discovered by this technology then that evidence is not legal. Cops, lawyers and all prosecutors know this.  So how many black men are sitting in prison as a result of this practice? So now you see how technology can be abused in the cause of justice

Prosecutors are deciding to drop cases that may reveal Stingray use. What?  Is this evidence of illegal obtained evidence being concealed? Again technology being used to pervert justice. 

Questions abound. Since when did America allow the hidden collection of information by law enforcement? And when did we allow cops and prosecutors to work together? I thought there was supposed to be a separation of powers in the Constitution? One branch enforces the law another prosecutes violation. When did that change?

 

How Not to Buy Stolen Stuff

Everyone wants a good deal. Nothing feels better than getting a nice phone, tablet or laptop at a nicely reduced price. But on the other hand there are millions of these devices lost or stolen each year. Last year alone over 3 million smartphones were reported stolen. Would thieves continue to steal these devices if they were not easy to re-sell? I don’t think so.

So how can you avoid buying a stolen phone or other device? First let me tell you why you don’t want to buy a phone, tablet or computer from a dubious source. First of all you could be buying junk. If a smartphone is reported stolen you may be unable to activate it. Your service provider may have information that the phone is stolen and could report you as having it. Other times the service provider will simply refuse to activate the phone. You got a good deal on a useless product. Second, the device could be tracked and when the owner and the police catch up to it you get caught holding stolen property and could be charged. How do they know you aren’t the thief? Now you’re out the money and you need a lawyer.

A good deal is nice but let’s make sure you’re getting what you paid for and not a lot of regrets.

1) Be careful who you buy from. Make sure you are buying from an authorized re-seller. Cellphone service providers offer used and refurbished phones on their websites. These are nicely conditioned trade ins. You can also find good deals on Amazon, eBay, and Craigslist. But I would suggest being a little more careful on Craigslist since this is often the first stop for thieves to advertise their loot. Amazon and eBay offer profiles and seller reviews that make them more trustworthy than Craigslist. But even that is no guarantee so you have to do your homework. Check Swappa and Glyde for buying used phones as they have policies and safeguards in place for buyers.

2)Investigate. Regardless of the site investigate the device thoroughly. The ad should have basic information about the phone and its condition such as color, correct model number, and storage capacity. Also check the overall quality of the device. eBay will have conditions listed and you can see them here.   They are an excellent standard to go by. If possible make sure the picture is of the actual smartphone rather than an official photo taken from the Internet of that phone model. If you can contact the owner directly and they are not too far away ask to come by and see the phone. If they are too far away then ask for additional photos of the phone to make sure it matches the description. Ask for things like the original box it came in, manuals, the re-charger etc. If the seller does not have these things there is a problem; move on. Also ask for the original carrier if the phone is advertised as unlocked and  IMEI (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity) or the serial number of the device. Sometimes these numbers are altered. You can run a check on that number at the IMEI.info website. If the seller is unwilling to share this info then again; move on.

For buyers of Apple devices Apple offers  a new service on iCloud.com called Check Activation Lock Status. This lets the potential buyer quickly see if a device was reported stolen or missing. Just enter the IMEI or serial number of the device you’re thinking of buying. You will immediately know if someone used the Find My iPhone app to implement the Activation Lock. Activation Lock was first introduced in iOS 7 and it completely locks down the device rendering it useless until the proper Apple ID and password have been entered. So if you make the mistake of buying an Apple device that was stolen, you won’t be able to use it. And don’t even dream of getting your money back. You can also check the remaining warranty on the device using the serial number.

3) Can you return it?  Ok, you’ve done the homework and believe that the device is legit. Don’t hand over the money just yet. If you’re buying the phone off Craigslist ask the seller to meet in a public location like, say, the carrier store so you can activate it following your purchase, with the seller there. This the best final step. If the phone does not activate keep your cash. Another thing; if they already gave you an IMEI or ESN, you’ll want to double check that it matches up before handing over any cash. And if they didn’t give you that information before, you can check the serial number with one of the sites we mentioned above once you have it in hand. With Amazon and eBay they have strict requirements for the seller on their sites and the seller must provide a return policy or state all sales are final. If you see that then just go with another seller. Always make sure you have a safety net. Remember;  Caveat Emptor, let the buyer beware.

Now you now.

Ok, so now what do you do with the old phone?

AT&T Settles Cramming Charges

AT&TAT&T  and the FTC have come to a  settlement agreement over accusations of cell phone cramming.  Federal and state regulators announced Wednesday that AT&T has agreed to pay $105 million for “cramming” unauthorized charges on the monthly bills of its wireless customers.  The African-American Cyber Report reported on this accusation in March of this year when we wrote; “Cell Phone Scams:Are Black People Paying Too Much?

For those of you who do not know what cramming is it is the unauthorized billing of customer accounts for services they are unaware of or did not authorize. AT&T is accused of profiting from unauthorized cramming.

AT&T is charged with keeping as much as 35% of the fraudulent third party fees on its customers phone bills. The charges averaged about  $10.00 per month and came from services for things like trivia, horoscopes and love tips. AT&T is also accused of concealing the charges on bills thus preventing customers from securing full refunds.

A similar lawsuit was filed by the FTC  in July against T-Mobile. In the lawsuit the FTC alleged the carrier earned massive sums from third-party merchants offering bogus services. There have been seven cases related to mobile cramming in the past year, and FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said more were coming.

The settlement is the largest cramming settlement in history.  The federal agencies involved in the settlements include the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, as well as all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

“This case underscores the important fact that basic consumer protections — including that consumers should not be billed for charges they did not authorize – are fully applicable in the mobile environment,” FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez said.

AT&T all but admitted to cramming customer bills in a statement saying that it and a number of wireless carriers had offered the third-party “Premium Short Messaging Services” in the past few years.

“While we had rigorous protections in place to guard consumers against unauthorized billing from these companies, last year we discontinued third-party billing for PSMS services. Today, we reached a broad settlement to resolve claims that some of our wireless customers were billed for charges from third-parties that the customers did not authorize.”

“For too long, consumers have been charged on their phone bills for things they did not buy,” Wheeler said. “It’s estimated that 20 million consumers this year are caught in this kind of trap, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Of the $100 million settlement approximately $80 million is set aside for customer refunds. So if you’re an AT&T cell customer you need to go here to check and see if you have money coming your way.

Breaking It Down

Ok, so AT&T got fined $100 million dollars. But lets ask this question, who inside AT&T knew about this and let it go on for so long?  How was it that all that money was flowing through AT&T and no one asked where it was coming from. They kept as much as 35% of the charges remember? This is a clear example of the criminal justice system not prosecuting corporations. AT&T knew what was happening and did nothing except collect the cash. I guarantee you that some executive got a bonus for bringing in that money. But was anyone charged with criminal fraud? No, and they probably won’t be. And why is that? AT&T had revenue in excess of $128 billion dollars in 2013. Do you think they really felt that $100 million settlement.? The only way to stop this type of crime, white collar crime, is to put people behind bars. How many black men are in prison for stealing $100? I think you get what I’m saying?