Friday, July 31, 2015

POSTED: Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 2:38 PM
do not use

There was never really much doubt, but the Federal Communications Commission today gave the go-ahead for the nation's number-four wireless carrier, T-Mobile, to acquire fifth-place MetroPCS. If approved by shareholders - and a couple of hedge-fund investors in MetroPCS are balking - the newly combined carrier would start with about 42 million subscribers, fewer than half the numbers claimed by both Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility.

The FCC, which had to find that the radio-license transfers underlying the deal were in the public interest, acknowledged that it was removing a competitor from the market - a company with special strength in concentrated urban markets such as Philadelphia. But it concluded that competition would be actually be strengthened by the deal - contrary to regulators' conclusions in 2011, when the Justice Department and then the FCC moved to block AT&T from swallowing up T-Mobile.

Since that merger collapsed, T-Mobile has begun a $4 billion upgrade of its nationwide network to the fourth-generation LTE standard used by the most up-to-date smartphones, such as Apple's iPhone 5. Through its innovative "bring-your-own-device" plan, T-Mobile has recently been adding about 100,000 unlocked iPhones to its network a month, and it says it expects to begin selling new Apple devices sometime this year - perhaps timed to Apple's expected rollout of a new iPhone.

POSTED: Friday, March 8, 2013, 2:00 PM

Need another reason to believe that we should move to break up the United States' "too big to fail" mega-banks? Consider this amazing exchange, transcribed here by the American Banker, between U.S, Senator Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Attorney General Eric Holder. During a Senate Banking Committee hearing, Grassley suggests that some of those same banks are "too big to jail," and Holder essentially agrees. Yes, he says, concerns about systemic risk may mean that some banks are able to avoid potential prosecution:

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa: In the case of bank prosecution. I'm concerned we have a mentality of 'too big to jail' in the financial sector, spreading from fraud cases to terrorist financing to money laundering cases. I would cite HSBC.

POSTED: Friday, March 8, 2013, 11:22 AM
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) building in Washington, D.C.

I don't know about you, but I pay as little attention to cellphone spam as I do to email spam. The last one I got said, "Hey ... check this out," then pointed me to a sketchy-sounding website in Colombia. I closed it without a second thought.

Like email spam, though, it's a thriving enterprise because pays off among some less-skeptical recipients. And worse than email spam, some of the unlucky recipients - those charged by carriers on a per-text basis - are actually paying to be targeted.

On Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission filed eight lawsuits in Illinois, Texas, California and Georgia against 29 companies and individuals it says are behind a sizable slice of the ugliness. Seven of the suits target those accused of sending more than 180 million "unsolicited text messages  containing deceptive promises of free gifts and prizes," the FTC says, and one targets SubscriberBASE Holdings Inc. and nine other companies and individuals it says operated deceptive websites where the victims were directed.

POSTED: Thursday, March 7, 2013, 1:14 PM

The always thoughtful Thomas Edsall has raised a question I've asked repeatedly myself: Why do so many of America's most prominent politicians, pundits, and deficit scolds, from billionaire Pete Peterson on down, call incessantly for "means testing" of Social Security and Medicare as a path to reforming those key entitlement programs? Rather than cutting what wealthier Americans collect in cash or medical benefits, why not just ask them to pay more to support these crucial old-age programs that benefit the entire society?

To put it more bluntly, why is one dollar out of your pocket different from another dollar out of your pocket?

In an excellent blog piece on the New York Times' website, the author and Columbia University journalism professor offers a wealth of data to illustrate the underlying economics and politics that explain this odd disconnect. He mentions the obvious answer, which I confess to having largely accepted: that means testing, by making the programs more like hated "welfare," will ultimately help undermine public support and lead to further reductions. Some conservatives have always considered Medicare and Social Security to be little more than "European-style socialism."

POSTED: Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 12:30 PM
Gladys Cooper, who lives in Center City, estimates that she received 30 or 40 political robocalls before the primary election in May. She wasn’t as happy about them as she looks. She hung up on most. (James Heaney / Staff Photographer)

Most consumers are baffled by the latest onslaught of unwanted telemarketing calls, according to a new survey by the Consumer Federation of America. To fight back, the CFA has prepared a valuable primer on consumers' rights - click here to see it. You can also watch this CFA video, below, illustrating some of the risks.

More than half the 1,008 people that CFA surveyed were on the Do Not Call registry, the CFA's Susan Grant said at a news conference today where she discussed the survey's findings. But those consumers were no more knowledgable about their telemarketing rights than those who weren't on the registry.

"Knowing your rights can help you tell the difference between legitimate telemarketing and scams," Grant said. "Legitimate companies usually follow the rules, but scammers don't."

POSTED: Tuesday, February 26, 2013, 1:46 PM

Lexus' luxury vehicles topped Consumer Reports' annual Car Brand Report Card, followed by Subaru, Mazda, Toyota and Acura. Audi and Mercedes-Benz were the only non-Japanese brands in the top 10 - a ranking revised this year to separate individual nameplates under single manufacturer's umbrella.

And the Americans? Cadillac scored the best for the home team, nosing out Chevrolet and GMC largely thanks to its high-scoring CTS model.

Among individual categories, Honda's redesigned Accord topped the list of midsize sedans, and Audi's A6 led the lurxury category, and Hyundai's Elantra led in the budget (sub-$20,000) category. You can find the top models here, though much of Consumer Reports' more detailed content will be behind a pay wall.

POSTED: Tuesday, February 19, 2013, 3:14 PM

If it seems like a gigantic game of Whac-a-Mole, that's probably because it is.  The Federal Trade Commission announced today that it had permanently eliminated a significant source of illegal and annoying robocalls pitching things like credit-card interest reductions, extended automobile warranties, and home security systems

The FTC announced a settlement in which Roy M. Cox Jr. agreed to a $1.1 million fine - suspended, for now, on the grounds that he is too broke to pay - and a permanent ban from the telemarketing industry.

When it first moved against Cox in December 2011, the FTC's lawsuit described him as a resident of Santa Ana, Calif., and the owner of a network of foreign-based corporations purportedly operating in countries such as Panama, Hungary, Argentina, and the Republic of Seychelles. Today's announcement says the FTC and Department of Justice have asked the court to dismiss five of Cox’s co-defendants who could not be served or are defunct. Its says the government will seek a default judgment against the fifth company: a Nevada corporation, Castle Rock Capital Management Inc., that operated in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

POSTED: Thursday, January 31, 2013, 2:51 PM
DISH Network president and CEO Joe Clayton greets the company mascot, Hopper, at the start of a news conference during press day at the Consumer Electronics Show, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Kudos to the Consumer Electronics Association for standing up for technology - even the disruptive kind.

Three weeks after the close of the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the CEA announced today that it was awarding a belated "Best of CES" award to the latest version of Dish Networks' Hopper, a multiroom DVR that makes it easier than ever for views to skip past commercials as they watch recordings of prime-time TV.

As I explained in today's Tech Life column, the Hopper ran into a sticky little problem en route to the best-of-show honors it deserved based on the views of the staff of CNET, the technology website that - until this hoo-ha erupted - was responsible for some of the show's best-known awards.

About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

Reach Jeff at

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
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