If you’re trying to get access to 4K video through DirecTV, now you don’t have to pick up its most expensive TV packages for access. TVPredictions confirmed with AT&T that almost all customers (anyone with the Select plan or higher) can watch the three 4K channels with NBA and other content. You’ll still need a Genie HR54 DVR and an Ultra HD television, of course, but previously, for 4K customers needed Ultimate or Premier service plans that could cost twice as much.
Of course, even if you don’t have a 4K TV at home (or waiting for you under the tree) keep an eye out for local bars and restaurants making the upgrade. AT&T says DirecTV is the first provider to offer 4K broadcasts to businesses. That’s happening just in time for UFC 207 next week, as Ronda Rousey returns to the ring in a match that will be available in Ultra HD. Finally, a rep tells HDGuru that HDR is “on the radar for next year.”
Source: TVPredictions, AT&T
AT&T today announced Call Protect, a complementary service aimed at protecting its users from automated phone calls, also referred to as robocalls. The service debuts five months after the U.S. Federal Communications asked wireless companies to offer free robocall blocking services.
The service offers two solutions to stop robocalls. It can automatically block numbers suspected of fraud at the network level, preventing them from reaching your phone entirely, or it can deliver the call from a suspected number with a fraud warning on the display. The latter feature requires the user to be in an area with HD Voice support.
AT&T customers can activate the feature via their MyAT&T account or by downloading the AT&T Call Protect app. The app allows users to look at call details, receive spam warnings, block specific numbers and turn on and off Automatic Fraud Blocking.
The service requires an iOS or Android smartphone eligible for HD Voice. AT&T also warns that automatic blocking may block wanted phone calls, which means users would potentially have to manually whitelist certain numbers to make sure they aren’t blocked.
In August, it was reported that Apple was one of over 30 companies that joined the “Robocall Strike Force,” a join effort aimed at stopping robocalls. At the time, the FCC said that most of the complaints it receives are regarding robocalls. The U.S. has other measures in place to prevent robocalls, including companies having to ask permission before calling and allowing people to add their number to the FTC’s Do Not Call list.
AT&T Call Protect is available on the App Store for free [Direct Link]
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Yes, you can block phone numbers used for robocalls and tech support scams, but that usually means having to take at least one call (or running the right software) before you realize something’s fishy. And AT&T, at least, is trying to do better. In response to the FCC’s request for tougher action, the carrier has introduced a free Call Protect service for HD Voice (voice over LTE) users that aims to block fraudulent and spam calls, in many cases before they even reach your phone. An automatic fraud blocking feature will stop scams at the network level, while you’ll also get warnings about suspected spam calls if you’re in an HD Voice coverage area.
You can activate the feature either through your account or a dedicated Call Protect app that also offers temporary blocking (up to 30 days) for known numbers. And yes, you can make sure that the automatic fraud screening doesn’t inadvertently exclude your employer or a distant friend — you can greenlight certain numbers to make sure they get through. While AT&T would ideally have Call Protect on by default, this optional approach may have to do so long as call filtering is less than bulletproof.
Source: AT&T (1), (2)
AT&T and Verizon have pointed words for the FCC. In early December, FCC chief of wireless telecommunication Jon Wilkins sent separate letters to AT&T and Verizon warning that their zero-rating deals appeared to violate net neutrality rules. Yesterday, both companies responded with their own letters to Wilkins defending their programs as “pro-consumer.”
In zero-rating schemes, ISPs offer services that don’t count toward users’ collective data plans, which could easily give affiliated companies an advantage over outsiders. It’s a practice Engadget has called “the antithesis of a free and open internet.”
In his letter to AT&T, Wilkins said the company’s Data Free TV program “denies unaffiliated third parties the same ability to compete over AT&T’s network on reasonable terms.” He offered an example: Unaffiliated companies don’t receive the same discount on data rates as DirecTV — which AT&T happens to own — giving that provider an unfair advantage.
AT&T argues Data Free TV is fair to providers and a benefit for customers.
“The Bureau’s approach thus would deny consumers a service they value, raise prices, lower consumption, and curb the disruptive potential of Data Free TV, all in the name of preserving profit margins for individual DirecTV rivals,” AT&T says. “That approach would upend the most basic principles of American competition policy, which is designed for ‘the protection of competition, not competitors.’”
Verizon similarly defended its FreeBee Data 360 program, which gives preferential treatment to providers on the go90 video platform.
“Offering customers free services is a well-known competitive tactic,” Verizon writes. “FreeBee and other free or sponsored data services work much like toll-free calling, where the provider of the content, instead of its consumer, pays the cost.”
In its conclusion, AT&T says the FCC lacks the authority to stop its Data Free TV program — and besides, AT&T argues, the bureau is going to drastically change next month as President-elect Donald Trump’s conservative administration takes over. FCC chairman and net neutrality advocate Tom Wheeler plans to step down on Inauguration Day, January 20th, and Trump will choose his replacement.
“Whatever judgment the Bureau purports to pass on this program before January 20th will very likely be reversed shortly thereafter,” AT&T writes.
Source: The Verge, Variety
T-Mobile is trying to counter AT&T by offering AT&T customers a year of its rival’s own DirecTV Now streaming service if they switch to magenta. The offer has some flaws: You’ll just get a $35 monthly credit, which represents the lowest tier of DirecTV now, for one. You’ll also need to pay $120 per month (minimum) for two lines on the new T-Mobile One “unlimited” plan, which doesn’t include LTE tethering or high-definition video.
John Legere’s company is also willing to match AT&T’s zero-rating by saying that streaming DirecTV Now won’t count against your data caps. By doing that, both companies are violating net neutrality rules in spirit, if not in law, by giving one service (DirecTV) an advantage over, say, Comcast (bad example, I know). Also, as mentioned, unless you pay an extra $25 per month, any video on T-Mobile is heavily compressed 480p, not HD.
The offer is also a way for T-Mobile to drum up free publicity — something Legere excels at — and as I’m writing this article, it’s obviously working. However, it also offers me the opportunity to point out that in France, I have 1Gbps of internet, 161 channels and two mobile phone lines with 10GB of data each for 70 euros, or under $75 per month. So even with T-Mobile throwing in DirecTV for free, US consumers are paying a lot in comparison to the rest of the world for what has become an essential service.
Thanks to some shady business dealings between AT&T and a pair of companies known for bloating customers’ cell phone bills, roughly 2.7 million current and former AT&T mobile subscribers are getting more than $88 million dollars in refunds from the Federal Trade Commission. The refunds are part of a 2014 settlement in which AT&T was accused of “mobile cramming” — the practice of tacking unnecessary third-party fees onto your bill without consent — along with two known cramming companies Tatto and Acquinity.
According to the FTC’s statement, AT&T was tacking on unauthorized $9.99 monthly charges for things like horoscopes, ringtones, “love tips,” and other “fun facts” from third-party companies and then keeping 35 percent of the charges. After the FTC crackdown, AT&T changed its billing practices and had to pay into the FTC fund that is now issuing refunds amounting to, “the most money ever returned to consumers in a mobile cramming case.”
As the FTC’s new consumer blog notes, customers should be getting back about $31 each on average. Around 2.5 million customers will see their refunds show up on their AT&T mobile bill in the next 75 days and another 300,000 former customers will get their refund via a check in the mail.
Source: Federal Trade Commision, FTC Consumer Blog
The United States Federal Trade Commission today announced that it is giving more than $88 million in refunds to 2.7 million AT&T customers who had unauthorized third-party charges added to their service bills, something better known as “mobile cramming.”
The refunds come from a $105 million settlement AT&T paid the FTC back in October of 2014, after the carrier was accused of allowing third-party companies to bill customers for things like ringtone subscriptions without their consent. Money was also collected from Tatto and Acquinity, two companies involved in the cramming scheme.
Nearly 2.5 million AT&T customers can expect to receive a credit on their bill within the next 75 days, and over 300,000 former customers will be given refund checks. The FTC says the average refund amount customers will receive is $31, and checks are going out starting today.
“AT&T received a high volume of complaints related to mobile cramming prior to the FTC and other federal and state agencies stepping in on consumers’ behalf,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “I am pleased that consumers are now being refunded their money and that AT&T has changed its mobile billing practices.”
According to the FTC, the AT&T refunds being provided to customers represent the most money that’s ever been returned to consumers in a mobile cramming case.
Up until late 2014, AT&T and several third-party companies were charging customers up to $9.99 per month for subscriptions that provided sham services like ringtones, horoscopes, love tips, and more, with AT&T keeping 35 percent of the money that was taken from its subscribers.
Other mobile carriers, such as T-Mobile, had similar cramming practices. Back in December of 2014, T-Mobile agreed to pay out $90 million in fines.
Recently, AT&T also agreed to pay out an additional $7.75 million for a separate issue that allowed scammers to charge AT&T customers $9 per month for a fake directory service.
Tags: FTC, AT&T
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Verizon may have beat AT&T to the punch, but no matter — the second-biggest US carrier has started testing 5G wireless technology that promises to bring gigabit bandwidth to our mobile devices in the coming years. In a blog post, AT&T says that it is taking the 5G bandwidth tests it was making in labs out into the field, with Intel and Ericsson serving as partners in this venture. Like Verizon, AT&T is using millimeter wave technology; in this case, the 5G technology is working inside of one of Intel’s Austin offices.
AT&T appears to be right on schedule — earlier this year, the carrier said that it was planning to run these Austin test by the end of the year. Specifically, AT&T says it is interested in how this new network will stand up to streaming 4K video, but it’ll also be testing a wide variety of office use cases including VPN, VoIP, “unified communications applications” and good old internet access. But 4K video is of particular interest, given how important video is to the mobile landscape.
It’s worth noting that this test does not mean we’re going to see 5G wireless technology any time soon. The standard hasn’t been decided yet, which means we might get a repeat of the nonsense back-and-forth over what exactly “4G” means that we lived through in 2010 and 2011. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?
NBA fans in the US will get their first chance to check out a live game in 4K Ultra HD on Saturday night when the Utah Jazz visit the Denver Nuggets. The broadcast will be available via DirecTV if you have the proper package and equipment (Genie HR54 DVR), as AT&T is working with NBA TV on the broadcast. In early 2015 (pre-Porzingis), the NBA did a very limited test 4K broadcast of a Knicks game, and in January it tried one on UK and Canadian TV, but this is apparently the first one available widely in the US. Keen-eyed forum posters noticed another Nuggets home game listed as 4K in November, but it’s unclear whether that one was actually in 4K. Additional 4K games are planned, although there’s no word yet on which ones.
The FCC has a few things to say about AT&T and Verizon’s takes on net neutrality. Jon Wilkins, the commission’s chief of wireless telecommunication, wrote separate letters to both telcos highlighting concerns about recent zero-rating moves — when consumed data doesn’t count against your monthly allotment.
In a letter to AT&T’s Robert W. Quinn, Jr., Wilkins said he was concerned that AT&T’s Sponsored Data program “denies unaffiliated third parties the same ability to compete over AT&T’s network on reasonable terms.” The issue here is that AT&T is not offering discounted data rates to outside service providers. Instead, it’s giving its newly acquired DirecTV preferential treatment when it comes to how streaming video will affect your monthly data cap.
Using the company’s own example against it, the FCC said that a video provider would have to pay $16 a month for zero-rated service (when data use doesn’t count against your monthly allotment). Should a customer bump up to 30 minutes of use in a day, the provider would have to pay $47.
“These costs alone would represent 46 percent to 134 percent of DirecTV Now’s $35 retail price,” Wilkins elaborated. The worry here is that as more people start using more data-hungry mobile services, that it’s going to make it harder and harder for third-party providers to compete against the likes of DirecTV, in AT&T’s case. “By contrast, AT&T incurs no comparable cost to offer its own DirecTV Now service on a zero-rated basis,” Wilkins wrote.
Further, Wilkins called out AT&T’s misleading evidence that what it’s doing is similar to what the FCC has approved prior. “In each of those cases, however, the validity of the comparisons between rates charged to affiliates and rates charged to third-party competitors were reinforced and accompanied by additional restrictions… No such safeguards are present here.”
Wilkins said that the FCC remains “very concerned” of the unfair playing field AT&T is trying to construct here and is worried that this would extend beyond just video providers in the future. AT&T has until December 15th to respond.
Verizon, on the other hand, is under the microscope for its “FreeBee Data 360” offering that gives preferential treatment to providers on the Go90 video platform. The concern there is that this could extend to its FiOS home internet service, and, again, provide an unfair advantage to its home-grown offerings.
“While there is no cash cost on a consolidated basis for Verizon to zero-rate its own affiliated edge service, an unaffiliated edge provider’s FreeBee Data 360 payment to Verizon is a true cash cost that could be significant,” Wilkins wrote. “Unaffiliated edge providers not purchasing FreeBee Data 360 would likewise face a significant competitive disadvantage in trying to serve Verizon’s customer base without zero-rating.”
People will naturally flock toward a service that doesn’t go against their data cap because of how Verizon has set up its content deals. Verizon stands to benefit, as customers are likely to choose the cheapest option they can — which will be its own. “Verizon customers subscribing to Verizon’s own zero-rated Go90 services would not encounter these cost or impacts,” Wilkins wrote. Like AT&T, Verizon has until December 15th to address the FCC’s concerns.
It’s worth noting that T-Mobile has similar deals in place with its “Binge On” offering, but since it doesn’t own the services, it’s less of a conflict of interest.
We’ve reached out to AT&T and Verizon for more information and will update this post should it arrive.
Update: AT&T has responded with the following statement:
“These are incredibly popular free services available to millions of customers. Once again, we will provide the FCC with additional information on why the government should not take away a service that saves consumers money.”
Source: The Verge (PDF) (1), (2)