March 18, 2014
Current proposals to deregulate "landline" phone service in Pennsylvania will have a negative impact on our state's senior citizens.
Legislation sponsored by Rep. Warren Kampf and currently in the Consumer Affairs Committee, would remove regulations guaranteeing that anyone who wants a landline can get one, as well as the controls on costs for this service. Verizon, the state's default provider of landline service, is pushing this deregulation scheme, claiming that the landline network is no longer profitable to maintain because so many customers have chosen digital or wireless phone options.
As a result of deregulation, Verizon may decline to provide service to areas of the state where maintenance of the wires is costly. Customers in these areas would be forced pay much more for their landline, or switch to a new technology that is more expensive and less reliable. My organization, the Alliance for Retired Americans, represents senior citizens, who make up a significant population of phone customers who do not wish to become part of the cell phone community.
Phone coverage is essential to the safety and well-being of many seniors, who need easy access to a technology they feel comfortable with in a stressful situation in order to call for help. While many seniors have made the transition to wireless technology, many have not. After a fall, while experiencing a health issue or during a home break-in, even seniors who have some proficiency with their cell phone will fare better with a traditional phone that they are more comfortable using in a flustered state. In other words, most seniors will fare better with a landline in a life-or-death situation. There may come a time when the next generation of seniors is universally comfortable with wireless technology, but that time has certainly not come in 2014. At the very least, this legislation is a generation too early.
Under this deregulation proposal, many seniors on a fixed income will struggle to afford their phone service. Landline coverage allows people on strict budgets to have an affordable, accessible option for communication. Without regulation, Verizon will be free to raise phone rates dramatically. Or Verizon may decline landline service and force more costly wireless options onto customers. Many seniors struggling to stay in their homes due to the rising cost of food, medicine and property taxes need regulation of phone service so that it does not join the long list of costs spiraling out of control.
Verizon certainly has the right to make a profit. But according to the company's own website, Verizon enjoyed double-digit earnings growth in every quarter of 2013. Does this sound like a company that needs to dip further into the pockets of vulnerable seniors to stay afloat? Along with safety and financial concerns, we must not forget that for seniors who find it difficult to travel, their quality of life depends on being able to communicate with friends and family. Lack of companionship can be a real problem for widows and widowers who live far from children and grandchildren. Especially during long and snowy winters like we've had this year, many seniors would feel extremely isolated by the loss of their telephone service due to rising costs or unusable technology.
Although de-regulation has been popular in Pennsylvania of late, we're now seeing that deregulation of electricity suppliers is not producing the savings it was promised to do, as customers' bills double, triple or more. Arguments can be made about energy prices and other factors leading to these skyrocketing bills, but one thing is certain. Under the regulated system, costs would be lower. Pennsylvanians who are lucky enough to keep their landline can expect more of the same from their phone bill if deregulation becomes law. After all, if the aim was not to increase prices, why would Verizon push for deregulation in the first place?
Landline coverage is an important public service provided by a private company. This is why state government regulation is necessary. The Legislature should place the financial and quality-of-life concerns of Pennsylvania seniors ahead of a quest by Verizon to increase their already-healthy profit margin. Legislators should preserve low-cost, accessible phone technology for Pennsylvania seniors by rejecting Kampf's bill or any other attempts to deregulate phone service. pennlive.com (Op-ed by Wayne Burton, President of the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans and retired professor of Political Science at West Chester University)
Amazon.com Inc. will begin shipping its long-awaited video-streaming device in early April, through its website as well as retailers including Best Buy Co. and Staples Inc., said people familiar with the company's plans. The Amazon device will carry a variety of apps available on Roku Inc. and Apple Inc. set-top boxes and run on a version of Google Inc. 's Android software, like Amazon's tablet computers, these people said. Roku's most popular apps include video services Netflix and Hulu Plus and music service Pandora, as well as Amazon's own video-streaming service.
Pricing remains unclear, though the people familiar with the company's plans said the device likely would come with incentives available to members of Amazon's Prime streaming video and shipping program. Last week Amazon said it is increasing the price of Prime by $20 to $99 annually, in part because of the rising cost of acquiring video. The device will thrust Amazon into an intensely competitive market in set-top boxes, which include the Roku device, Apple TV and Google's Chromecast, a top-seller on Amazon's own website. Roku's streaming devices sell for as little as $50, while the Chromecast is $35.
But the product would give Amazon more access to the living room. Amazon offers its own streaming-video service, for which it produces original programming. For now, the service is available only on other companies' devices, so Amazon misses out on revenue from ads or app downloads, as well as data about consumers' behavior. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.
Streaming video is becoming an important new arena for Amazon, as it battles for viewers with Netflix Inc., Hulu LLC and Time Warner Inc.'s HBO Go. Amazon is set to produce a new slate of original television shows, following the critical success last year of political comedy "Alpha House," which the company offered free to Prime customers. In recent weeks, Amazon has held talks with record companies and music publishers in hopes of creating an on-demand music-streaming service for Prime customers, people familiar with the matter have said.
Amazon has distributed a pre-production version of its streaming device to select app developers, and has indicated it will carry the Fire name Amazon uses for Kindle tablet computers, these people said. A TechCrunch report Monday said the device will resemble Chromecast's dongle, which plugs into a television and looks like a thumb drive. The people familiar with Amazon's plans warned that the company may alter the rollout because of financial, performance or other concerns. The device has been in development since at least April of last year. Amazon plans to ship it with a simple remote control, the people familiar with the plans said, though reports this month suggest Amazon may sell a more advanced controller separately. Amazon last year demonstrated how its latest tablet computer can connect with television sets to work like a remote control. Wall Street Journal
Google Inc. and Viacom Inc. said they resolved a lawsuit regarding copyright infringement by the search giant's Youtube video service. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. The cable network owner had filed a $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube and others in 2007. It accused YouTube of broadcasting 79,000 copyrighted videos on its website between 2005 and 2008. Last April, for the second time in three years, a U.S. District Judge in Manhattan rejected Viacom's damages claims over Google's alleged unauthorized posting of clips from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "South Park," "SpongeBob SquarePants" and other programs that viewers had uploaded to YouTube. Reuters
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