Monday, March 30, 2015

Archive: May, 2010

POSTED: Tuesday, May 11, 2010, 11:04 AM

The FCC says it may have identified at least a partial answer to the longstanding problem of cell-phone customers' getting burned by unexpectedly large bills: requiring carriers to send text messages when subscribers' bills are - predictably - about to explode.

"The concept is transparency and simplicity," Joel Gurin, chief of the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, said at a news conference this morning. Gurin, a former Consumers Union official who since January has headed the FCC's new Consumer Task Force, says the agency is starting out gingerly by asking for comments before it proposes a rule.

"In the European Union, carriers are required by law to send text messages to consumers when they are running up roaming charges or getting close to a set limit for data roaming," Gurin says. "We’re issuing a Public Notice to see if there’s any reason that American carriers can’t use similar automatic alerts to inform consumers when they are at risk of running up a high bill.”

POSTED: Monday, May 10, 2010, 4:35 PM

Ryan Singel clearly thinks so, and then some: In an article published Friday in Wired, he says Facebook is "drunk on founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams of world domination."

I can't match the hyperbole, but it's hard to argue with Singel's basic point:

Facebook used to be a place to share photos and thoughts with friends and family and maybe play a few stupid games that let you pretend you were a mafia don or a homesteader. It became a very useful way to connect with your friends, long-lost friends and family members. Even if you didn’t really want to keep up with them.

Soon everybody — including your uncle Louie and that guy you hated from your last job — had a profile.

And Facebook realized it owned the network.

Then Facebook decided to turn “your” profile page into your identity online — figuring, rightly, that there’s money and power in being the place where people define themselves. But to do that, the folks at Facebook had to make sure that the information you give it was public.

POSTED: Friday, May 7, 2010, 10:19 AM

I was listening to Angelo Cataldi at WIP yesterday morning, and in the snippet I heard, he asked the intriguing question: What's the biggest ripoff at Citizens Bank Park?

I wasn't in the car long enough to hear any answers, or to say whether he was riffing on the Daily News' more extensive (and serious) Philly Fan Project.  But I liked his question enough to pass it along here. Sports stadiums are notorious for this stuff, and we all love the Phillies. But that shouldn't let anybody off the hook for squeezing fans just a little too hard.

My nominees:

  • Paying $4 for a bottle of water, especially on a sweltering summer afternoon.
  • Paying $15 to park. Weren't those same lots $11 last year?
  • Paying $40 to watch Kyle Kendrick pitch - though after Wednesday night's gem, maybe I'd better take that one back.
POSTED: Thursday, May 6, 2010, 12:06 PM

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski just announced news to cheer open-Internet advocates: a new policy that stands up for the principle of network neutrality and recognizes the broadband Internet for what it obviously is: the essential telecommunications service of the 21st century.

In regulator-speak, Genachowski's plan says that broadband transmission will be reclassified as a "Title II" service - a telecommunications service of the type subject to close oversight since the FCC was established in the 1930s. Under the Bush administration, the FCC declared broadband offerings to be "Title I" data service, subject to much looser regulation. Although the plan also promises to carefully limit the regulators' role - the buzzwords are "narrowly tailored" and "third way" - it has predictably been denounced as a "power grab."

This fight came to the fore because of Comcast's appeals-court victory last month in the BitTorrent case. Bush's FCC set up a framework so loose that the appeals court said it couldn't even uphold its own "open Internet" principles, which the FCC claimed authority to impose even on a data service. But when FCC then took Comcast to task for surreptitiously blocking users of file-sharing software such as BitTorrent, the court said no dice - not under the rules established by a commission majority torn between support for neutrality and antagonism to regulation.(You can read my recent column about the case here.)

POSTED: Wednesday, May 5, 2010, 12:40 PM

Yesterday, two more shoes dropped in the latest product scare that bears the Tylenol name.

Shoe No. 1: McNeil Consumer Healthcare said it had temporarily shut down its production plant in Fort Washington, Pa., where it makes dozens of different liquid versions of four brand-name medicines - Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl and Zyrtec - designed for babies and kids.

Shoe No. 2: The FDA released an inspection report that pretty well explained why.

POSTED: Tuesday, May 4, 2010, 12:01 PM

Add this to the perils of the Internet era, which already include increased exposure to stalkers, pedophiles, and financial frauds: Police in the state of Washington believe that a 43-year-old man was killed last week by robbers who were after a diamond ring he listed for sale on Craigslist.

According to, the family in Edgewood, Wash., just east of Tacoma, was attacked by four robbers who posed as possible buyers to get into the family's home and came armed with guns and "zip ties," which are used to bind electrical cable:

Once inside, they shot and killed the 43-year-old father, pistol whipped his 14-year-old son and tied up the mom and the younger son. Police say the younger son managed to get the ties off and called 911 after the attackers fled in a car.

POSTED: Monday, May 3, 2010, 12:30 PM

Back before Valentine's Day,  I heard from a Delaware County florist with a recommendation that struck a chord. He suggested that consumers who buy flowers for loved ones far from home should learn to skip the Web- or phone-based middlemen - companies like 1-800-Flowers and Teleflora - and use the Internet in a more creative way: to buy directly from a local florist close to your recipient's home.

It's a great idea, and worthy of a reminder in the run-up to Mother's Day, the year's other huge boost for flower sales  and probably a bigger one for remote-control sales.  All it takes to skip the middleman is quick look on a search engine and a payment card, which you'd need in any event.

Mike Urban's main point is that the intermediaries make a lot of noise about which one is better (you can read my February column here about the budding Don Rickleses hawking one company's service), but all share one key characteristic. They all add service charges to their transactions - typically $10 to $15 per order. That's money you'd probably rather save, or have put toward more or better flowers for Mom.

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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