Weekly output: Verizon earnings, Netflix casting, Verizon Fios TV apps, Redbox + Wurl, AT&T earnings, Twitter tests downvotes, Locast comes to Pittsburgh

I spent three days filling in at my trade-pub client FierceVideo covering industry developments–which allowed me to spotlight yet another example of customer abuse by a telecom conglomerate.

7/21/2021: Verizon Q2 earnings show video continuing to shrivel, FierceVideo

As I wrote in a Forbes post months ago, the sales pitch awaiting at Verizon’s site suggests this company is already acting like a post-pay-TV provider.

7/21/2021: Netflix launches in-house casting department, FierceVideo

Before writing this post, I would have guessed that Netflix had set up its own casting operation long ago, but I’m not exactly a student of Hollywood’s workings.

Screenshot of the story as seen on an iPad mini's copy of Safari

7/22/2021: Verizon adds Apple TV, Fire TV apps for Fios TV, FierceVideo

I had this story mostly written when I thought I should step through the ordering process on Verizon’s site to see if it would suggest its new Apple TV and Fire TV apps as alternatives to renting its Fios TV boxes–and then I was surprised and annoyed to see the company list a $20 monthly fee for the privilege of using these apps. Verizon’s inability to read the room here–even after it’s seen more than 20% of its TV subscriber base boil away in the last four years–is something to behold.

7/22/2021: Redbox turns to Wurl to boost its free-with-ads streaming TV, FierceVideo

My editor asked me to write up this bit of embargoed news she’d gotten; no problem.

7/22/2021: AT&T continues to shed video subs but touts HBO Max success, FierceVideo

AT&T’s earnings call confused me more than a little when the company spent so much time talking up the HBO Max video business that it will soon spin off into an independent company.

7/22/2021: Twitter tests downvotes, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me on to discuss Twitter’s new experiment in letting some iOS users downvote replies–with that negative feedback only shown to the authors of those replies, not to the general Twitter public.

7/23/2021: Locast lights up Pittsburgh, FierceVideo

My last post for Fierce this week covered the expansion of this non-profit organization’s free streaming of local broadcast stations to the Pittsburgh market, which I used as an opportunity to educate readers about that region’s unusual second-person plural pronoun “yinz.”

Weekly output: Spotify privacy, Halo’s 5G-powered car service, Internet providers

Our kid was out this week at camp, but in a few days it will be my turn to be out of the house: I’m doing some of the drive testing for this year’s edition of PCMag.com’s Fastest Mobile Networks guide. Yes, on the road for actual business travel.

7/7/2021: At Spotify, private listening is not a simple proposition, USA Today

I’ve had the idea for a while of a column unpacking the inconsistent and often unhelpful privacy settings in Spotify, but the chance to interview a Spotify executive for the virtual edition of Dublin Tech Summit last month gave me quotes to anchor the piece.

Screenshot of the Fast Company story on Halo as seen on an iPad mini.7/8/2021: This driverless car-sharing service uses remote human ‘pilots,’ not AI, Fast Company

I was supposed to write this story last month about the Halo car service and its use of T-Mobile 5G to have remotely-driven vehicles show up before car-share customers. But then T-Mobile said they wanted to push the embargo back; that gave me time to get an industry analyst’s perspective and write an explainer for Patreon supporters about PR embargoes.

7/8/2021: Internet Providers, U.S. News & World Report

My latest round of work at U.S. News–consisting of profiles of AT&T, Comcast, Spectrum, and Verizon; comparisons of Spectrum and AT&TComcast and AT&T, and Verizon and Spectrum; and guides to fiber broadband, cheaper Internet access, and ways to speed up your connection–was much more work than my previous efforts. That is mostly the fault of the many large Internet providers that show no interest in clearly displaying their prices, speeds and terms of service. Las Vegas hotels and their resort fees are models of transparency compared to this lot–although maybe I can’t be too cranky about their willful opacity, since it gave me the material for a USA Today column.

Weekly output: T-Mobile and Verizon wireless home broadband, sports on streaming TV, MLB streaming (x2), Netflix earnings, WiFi hotspots, the future of live events, Fios TV, WWE, Facebook’s new audio features, Mark Vena podcast

The list you see below reflects a lot of work done in earlier weeks–three virtual panels recorded in advance, plus a Wirecutter update that I started researching last year.

4/19/2021: Time to cut internet cords: T-Mobile, Verizon up their bids to be your next home broadband, USA Today

I wrote about the fixed-wireless home-broadband services now available from these two carriers–one of which looks better positioned to let more Americans dump their local cable or telco monopoly.

4/19/2021: A key lesson of sports on OTT: first, do no lag, FierceVideo

An editor at this trade pub asked if I could fill in with coverage of an online event they were hosting. That work started with a write-up of a panel about lessons learned in distributing live sports events on over-the-top (aka “OTT,” meaning delivered on a third party’s broadband) video services.

Screenshot of the panel as seen on an iPad, with me at the left and Marinak at the right4/20/2021: Keynote Interview: Producing OTT Sports Content, StreamTV Sports Summit

I didn’t just write about Fierce’s conference, I also participated in it by interviewing Chris Marinak, Major League Baseball’s chief operations and strategy officer. You can watch our banter after registering with your e-mail or Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter accounts; meanwhile, take a close look at the screenshot at the right and you may be able to recognize the Nationals bobblehead I’d placed on my desk for this recording.

4/20/2021: MLB to RSNs: It’s time to think direct-to-consumer, FierceVideo

Fierce then invited me to write up my own appearance at its show, so I led with Marinak’s answer to my question about his statements in a March season-preview event that MLB wants regional sports networks to sell game coverage direct to subscribers instead of making them sign up for a big pay-TV bundle. (I’d covered those earlier comments in an Opening Day post at Forbes.) Marinak reiterated that stance, and my recap got picked up at a few places; among them, Awful Announcing‘s Andrew Bucholtz and The Streamable‘s Jason Gurwin provided useful context.

4/21/2021: Netflix subscriber growth downshifts in Q1, FierceVideo

I wrote one more post for Fierce, in this case because the usual reporter was taking a just-in-case day off after getting his second dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Netflix earnings are less annoying to cover than those of other tech companies, because NFLX posts an “earnings interview” video instead of making people listen to an audio-only recording on which all the executives usually sound alike.

4/21/2021: The Best Wi-Fi Hotspot, Wirecutter

This overdue update to the guide I’d last revised in those innocent days of early 2020 brings a new 5G-specific pick, T-Mobile’s M2000 hotspot. AT&T and Verizon’s 5G hotspots, lacking the midband 5G T-Mo offers, were nowhere close–and yet Verizon’s LTE remains so good that the top pick went to the same Vz 4G hotspot as last year.

4/21/2021: Preparing for the return to live, Collision

I started this interview of Nathan Hubbard (formerly of Musictoday, Ticketmaster, Twitter and Rival) by mentioning the last game and concert I’d attended in the Before Times. That last musical event was a John Hiatt set at the Birchmere, which led Hubbard to recount how he’d once played that Alexandria venue himself.

4/21/2021: Verizon’s Slumping Video-Subscriber Numbers: Here’s What A Post-TV Provider Looks Like, Forbes

Seeing Verizon lose another stadium’s worth of pay-TV subscribers led me to take a closer look at both its Fios TV service and its sales pitch for it online, which at this point represents the softest of sells.

4/22/2021: WWE: Breaking down the data, Collision

I talked to WWE CTO Rajan Mehta about the network’s applications of technology… after offering the disclaimer that not only am I not anybody’s idea of a WWE viewer, as a D.C.-based journalist I must self-identify as a C-SPAN man.

4/22/2021: Facebook Exec Sounds Off On Its New Audio Features, Forbes

Fidji Simo, who heads Facebook’s app efforts, spoke at a couple of Collision panels about the social network’s upcoming audio features–while other Collision speakers made some good points about Facebook’s history of not thinking through the implications of new products and features.

4/24/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (4-23-21), Mark Vena

I returned to my tech-analyst friend’s podcast to discuss Apple’s announcements from its “Spring Loaded” event and talk about my findings from testing 5G hotspots around the D.C. area.

 

Weekly output: Starlink beta testers, Wikipedia code of conduct, Verizon’s 5G play at the Super Bowl

A year ago today, I was in New York to moderate a panel at what turned out to be my last out-of-town conference. I miss leading discussions with people in the same room instead of on the same screen. And I miss NYC–especially now that I could get off the train and exit into Moynihan Train Hall instead of Penn Station’s subterranean squalor.

Screenshot of the story as seen in Safari on an iPad2/1/2021: What Starlink beta testers really think about Elon Musk’s satellite internet, Fast Company

Reddit once again proved to be a good place to find early adopters of a new broadband technology, although I also found one Starlink beta tester on NASASpaceFlight.com’s forums.

2/3/2021: Wikipedia’s New Code Of Conduct Gets One Thing Right; Another Will Be A Struggle, Forbes

This post gave me an excuse to reconnect with two experts on social-media behavior I hadn’t talked to in way too long, Alex Howard and Caroline Sinders.

2/6/2021: Verizon Is Talking A Big Game About 5G At The Super Bowl, Forbes

Out of all of the overhyped use cases for 5G, crowded sports stadiums would actually let the extra capacity of millimeter-wave 5G shine. But with in-person attendance at Raymond James Stadium capped at a third of the venue’s capacity, Verizon is left with an empty demo.

Weekly output: 5G reality check, Business Access Media, 5G coverage maps

My last business trip of the year–at least, the last one I have on my schedule as of now–starts Saturday when I fly to Lisbon for the Web Summit conference. That’ll be my fifth trip to that event, my fourth as a panel moderator. In the meantime, I need the Washington Nationals to win two baseball games. Not one, not three, exactly two.

10/23/2019: What will 5G mean for you? A reality check on the hype, Fast Company

My first post in a series of twice-a-week “Connected World” posts that’s set to run through the rest of this year covered how the opening keynote at the MWC Los Angeles trade show wound up undermining some of the hype about 5G wireless I’ve seen at previous MWC conventions. No, I was not in L.A. for this; I thought about going but didn’t see how I’d sell enough stories to recoup my travel costs, so I watched the conference livestream instead.

10/24/2019: Business Access Media, Wynne Events

With this panel of journalists–including my fellow ex-Postie Neil Irwin–I spoke to a roomful of business-school PR types about where I look for stories, what kind of information from them might help me do my job and how to reach me. After a brief round of audience Q&A, the organizers of this event hosted at Georgetown University’s business school left the balance of this hour to one-on-one pitching from these publicists. I may have picked up a story idea or two from that.

10/25/2019: Where does your carrier offer 5G? That’s an excellent question!, Fast Company

My second Connected World post for FC covered how three of the four nationwide wireless carriers have yet to put their 5G service into their regular coverage maps. That’s kind of crazy, considering all the time these companies spend talking about how great their 5G is. That’s also yet another reason not to buy a 5G phone just yet.

We finally got an Amazon Echo

More than four years after I first tried out an Amazon Echo, there’s now one in our house. Even by my late-adopter habits, that’s an exceptionally long time for us to pick up on a tech trend.

But waiting so many years did allow us to get an Echo at a good price: $0.00. Late last year, Verizon added a free Echo to its menu of promotions to new and renewing Fios subscribers, and the company (also the parent firm of my client Yahoo Finance) included us in this offer even though we only pay it for Internet access.

(Even weirder, this free Echo came on top of being offered a lower rate for a faster connection. I guess I should see that as belated compensation for us missing out on other new-customer incentives Verizon’s offered since our fiber-optic connection went live nine years ago today.)

We got the code to redeem for a free second-generation Echo a couple of weeks after our speed upgrade went through, I waited a week to cash it in, and our new voice-controlled gadget arrived Friday. I promptly found a spot for this cybernetic cylinder in our kitchen.

So far, I’ve set up our Echo with only a few skills: it can play Pandora Internet radio, read the news from WAMU and can control our Philips Hue lightbulbs. (The Echo’s role as a smart-home hub is the use case that I utterly ignored in the first-look post I wrote for Yahoo Tech.) I’ve already determined that the Alexa app does not make for a great grocery-list manager, so I’m now going to see if Todoist can better handle that role. And I’ve changed one setting from the default: Because we have an eight-year-old at home, purchasing by voice is off.

There’s a lot to learn, but at least I’m no longer quite so illiterate at such a major tech platform. I just hope I can keep up with our kid, who already talks to Alexa far more than my wife and I combined.

Weekly output: Verizon WiFi testing, cord cutting, Sprint + T-Mobile, Sprint unlimited plans

Not that the weather around here ever takes me up on any suggestions, but it sure would be nice to have a little rain every other day instead of having a few weeks of drought followed by a week of almost nonstop downpours.

7/17/2018: Inside Verizon’s unique approach to Wi-Fi testing, FierceWireless

I had a field trip two weeks ago to Ashburn to check out some of the testing facilities Verizon has set up there. Verizon PR offered to have an Uber fetch me from home, but instead of subjecting a driver and myself to morning I-66 traffic, I asked if they could move that pickup to the current end of the Silver Line–which let me get some work done on the train and then gawk at Silver Line Phase II construction on my way to Loudoun County.

7/18/2018: Cord-cutting will cost cable companies $5.5B this year: Survey, Yahoo Finance

I wrote up a new survey of cord cutting from the NYC-based management consultancy cg42. Some of the numbers in this survey looked a little out there, and quizzing cg42’s managing partner Stephen Beck revealed some reasons why.

7/19/2018: Why the Sprint and T-Mobile merger could be good for you, Yahoo Finance

My default attitude towards giant telecom mergers remains skepticism. But when two different studies of wireless network performance suggested that a combination of Sprint and T-Mobile would yield significantly better results than a simple addition of their coverage maps would suggest, I had to put that in the story–while noting that the effects of such a combination on pricing are another issue.

7/22/2018: How to tell if Sprint’s new unlimited data plans are worth the upgrade, USA Today

Speaking of wireless, yet another reshuffling of plans at Sprint led to this piece advising readers how to compare that carrier’s two new unlimited-data (read: unlimited on-phone data) plans. The column also takes yet another whack at Apple for shipping a data-usage meter in iOS that doesn’t break down bandwidth consumption by month.

Weekly output: locked phones, tax-return fraud

BARCELONA–Mobile World Congress officially starts tomorrow, but I’ve been here since Saturday morning and have already attended five vendor events here. The one you’ve read most about, Samsung’s unveiling of the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones, is also the one MWC event I knew beforehand that I wouldn’t have to cover–my regular clients all got pre-briefed before the show and had copy ready when Samsung’s embargo expired. That freed me to take notes and play with the S9’s AR Emoji feature at my relative leisure instead of hunkering down with my laptop to file a report.

2/22/2018: Verizon’s decision to stop selling unlocked phones means travelers need to plan ahead, USA Today

Verizon’s impending move to lock phones it sells for some period after subscribers activate them won’t be as strict as its competitors’ policies, but it also reinforces the argument I’ve been making for years: Don’t buy your phone from your wireless carrier. So does the $70-above-list prices three of the big four carriers announced tonight for Samsung’s new phones.

Yahoo tax-return-fraud post2/23/2018: Tax return scammers are taking a big hit, Yahoo Finance

A year and a half ago, I’d started gathering string for a post about the problem of tax-return identity-theft fraud–sparked by my seeing a Facebook post from a friend who is both a privacy professional and a serial victim of that problem. For various lame reasons, I failed to turn those notes into a story at the time. But tax time inevitably rolled around again–and then the IRS served up a novel and more interesting news peg by making serious progress in reducing this problem.

Porting out a Verizon landline number, part 2: my Fios account survives, my Vz mail moves

When I last wrote about my experience porting out a land-line phone number to Ooma’s Internet-calling service, I was still a little antsy that Verizon would cancel our Fios Internet service.

I need not have. A few weeks later–without any further action on my part–Verizon’s online account page no longer listed ours as being disconnected, my next automatic payment had gone through as usual, and I could cash in some accumulated My Rewards+ points for a $10 Amazon gift card. And then I finally got my invitation to migrate my Verizon e-mail to AOL–almost two months after I’d written about that change for USA Today.

I opted to keep my verizon.net account, less because I plan to use it anytime soon and more because I had to experience this switchover firsthand after getting so many reader questions about it.

Verdict: fine. AOL’s site asked me to create a new password, choose from one of four preset (and not all that secure) security questions, and add a mobile number, presumably to confirm any strange logins in the future. AOL suggested I might have to wait a few hours for the messages to appear in my new inbox, but all 7,000-plus spam messages and the 50 or so legitimate e-mails accompanying them were waiting for me moments later.

Two weeks later, the single best part of having AOL manage my mail is having a spam filter that works. When I logged in today, I only had four messages waiting in my inbox, all legit, with 33 junk messages tucked away in the spam folder instead of littering my inbox the way they did on Verizon’s mail system.

The downside is a much tackier login experience, since AOL defaults to showing you its clickbait-stuffed “Today on AOL” page. To fix that and go directly to your inbox, click the Options menu at the top right corner of the page below your e-mail address, choose “Mail Settings,” and uncheck “Show me Today on AOL when signing in.” And for a recurring dose of 1990s nostalgia, check “Play ‘You’ve Got Mail’ alert at login if there are new messages.”

I still need to figure out why Verizon’s site thinks I should pay $127.99 for gigabit Fios, well above its advertised new-customer rates. But solving that (and finding a use case for that  much speed, versus a measly 50 or 100 Mbps) will have to wait for yet another post.

Keeping Fios while porting out a landline phone number can be tricky

For years, my secret shame has been that we still have a landline phone at home. Why? The number dates to 1997, so all my relatives know it and some of them still call it. Besides, I find the robocalls it attracts in campaign seasons weirdly fascinating.

Those things, however, weren’t worth the $15 Verizon charged us for the most minimal level of phone service. The obvious fix, one I endorsed in a 2015 USA Today column, was to port our number to an Internet-calling service. But months after third-party reviews and some testing of my own led me to pick Ooma‘s free service as that VoIP alternative, we were still wasting $15 a month–because I am sometimes slow and always easily distracted.

Finally, a Costco sale on a bundle of Ooma’s Telo VoIP adapter, a WiFi/Bluetooth module for it, and Ooma’s cordless handset got me to get moving on this transition.

After I put in the order on March 18 to port out our number (for which Ooma charges $40), it was active in Ooma’s system on the 22nd, allowing us to place and receive calls through the Telo. The next day I logged into our Verizon account to confirm the transfer.

That’s where things got interesting, as that site said our account had been disconnected.

Prior reports from Ooma users in various forums as well as Verizon PR’s own statements had led me to expect an industry-standard porting experience: You start the port with the new service, and there’s no need to talk to the old one until your number’s out of their grasp.

Perhaps I was wrong? I called Verizon to find out. That March 23 call was a model of how phone customer-support should work–I only had to provide my account number once, I wasn’t left on hold, and the rep said my Internet service should be fine.

Alas, other parts of Verizon had other ideas. A day later, a recorded message advised us to contact Verizon by April 14 to discuss new service options or risk disconnection a second robocall a week later cited the same April 14 deadline.

On April 4, our Internet went out.

The error page that interrupted my Web browsing told me to set up automatic payments to reactivate my service, but each attempt (using the same credit card as before) yielded a generic error message. It was time to call Verizon again.

Thirty-one minutes later, another pleasant rep was as confused as me, saying she couldn’t get the auto-pay setup to go through either. She said she’d get a specialist to work on my case and would call back with an update.

In the meantime, I enjoyed the unfair advantage of having two LTE hotspots in the house–required research to update a Wirecutter guide–that I could lean on for free in place of our inert Internet connection.

By the next evening, our Fios connection was back online, in keeping with the second rep’s “you should be all set” voicemail that afternoon. But Verizon’s site still listed our account as disconnected.

A third call Friday deepened the mystery. This rep said she saw two account numbers–and the one she could access listed our service as pending disconnection. Then I took another look at the e-mail Verizon sent after the second phone rep had pushed through my auto-pay enrollment: It cited an account number ending with seven digits that did not match my old one.

My best guess here, based only on my dealing with Verizon since it was Bell Atlantic, is that Verizon’s system has created a new account for me because the old one was somehow too intertwined with the phone number to keep around.

If so, I should be getting a letter with the new account number in the next day or so, after which I may or may not need to set up a new account online. Sound right? Or am I in for another long phone call?

Either way, I suspect I have not written my last post here on this subject.