Weekly output: KnowRoaming, Apple Watch app rules, wireless spectrum, Comcast (x2), cable unbundling, wireless broadband

I didn’t decide to attend the cable industry’s INTX trade show until late March. But seeing that convention would take place in one of my favorite cities, Chicago, made it an easy call. And I’m glad I went to the cable confab for the first time since 2012. I picked up a lot and wrote a lot, as you can see below. For more about the event, see my Flickr album.

All this work did catch up with me on Friday, in the form of my filing my USAT column ridiculously late. A contributing factor to that tardiness: I stepped out for an hour or so to watch the WW2 flyover down the Potomac. There’s a Flickr album for that, too.

5/4/2015: Hands-on with the KnowRoaming Sticker that Cuts Smarphone Costs for International Travelers, Yahoo Tech

This review concludes my coverage of Mobile World Congress–yes, I probably could have written it weeks earlier. Speaking of overdue tasks, I only just now noticed the typo in the headline; I’ll ping the editors to get that fixed.

5/5/2015: Apple’s Rules Tell Developers Precisely Whose Time It Is, Yahoo Tech

It had been a while since I’d last written about Apple’s App Store rules. As you can see, I still don’t like them but can no longer pretend the company hasn’t made them scale in a way that I thought impossible five years ago.

5/52015: Across the Spectrum: Strategies for a Changing Wireless Marketplace, INTX 2015

At this panel, I discussed the coming arrival of higher-performing wireless spectrum with Liberty Global’s Timothy Burke, Arris’s Charles Cheevers, Comcast’s Evan Koch, and T-Mobile’s Tony Silveira. I’d like to see cable companies use some of this to reach new customers–maybe people who find themselves a couple of thousand feet from the closest Comcast line?–but I don’t know that cable’s ready to take that step.

Yahoo Tech Comcast-service post5/6/2015: Comcast Really, Really Wants You to Like It, Yahoo Tech

Most reader reactions to this description of Comcast’s moves to upgrade its customer service ranged from “yeah right” to “screw them.” The company has its work cut out for it.

5/7/2015: Big Cable CEOs Insist Viewers Like Their Bundles, but the Tide Is Turning, Yahoo Tech

When I started writing this answer to a question many friends asked after learning I was headed to the cable industry’s annual gathering, I was a little more pessimistic about the future than I was by the time I’d finished it.

5/8/2015: Comcast customer service, WBAL

I talked about Comcast’s customer-service initiative with the Baltimore news station’s Mary Beth Marsden. I did not get to hear the story but assume they used some part of my interview; if you did, please let me know in the comments if I sounded coherent.

5/10/2015: Unlimited wireless broadband possible, just not beyond phone, USA Today

A reader’s question about replacing her Clear unlimited residential wireless broadband gave me an invitation to update readers about the impending retirement of Sprint’s WiMax broadband (it’s kind of awful that some WiMax resellers still offer WiMax devices that will go defunct in six months without clearly warning potential customers of the network’s coming demise) and note the continued inability of wireless broadband to compete with the wired kind for residential use.

Weekly output: wearables and privacy, Verizon Custom TV, Tech Titans, EMV credit cards

My streak of never getting an invitation to the White House Correspondents Dinner continued, although I once again partook of Yahoo’s hospitality at their pre-dinner reception. I am okay with that streak; I look at it as one of my few remaining bits of indie cred.

4/20/2015: A Conversation on Wearables, State of the Net Wireless 2015

At the end of this half-day policy conference, I quizzed Center for Democracy and Technology president Nuala O’Connor about the privacy issues posed by wearable gadgets like the Apple Watch.

4/21/2015: Verizon’s ‘Custom TV’ Fixes Overpriced Channel Bundles — or Does It?, Yahoo Tech

I applauded Verizon for finally taking a step I’d suggested back in 2004: letting viewers buy packs of related channels instead of making them buy up to a higher tier of service. I was a lot less excited to see equipment fees and other surcharges inflate the advertised $54.99 price by over a third.

Washingtonian Tech Titans page4/23/2015: Tech Titans, Washingtonian

Every two years, the magazine puts together this list of “the most important people in digital Washington,” and this time around enough D.C.-tech types apparently spoke well of me to get me included in this list. I am honored and flattered by that. (The story’s not online yet, but I’ll add a link once it is. 5/4: Link added.)

4/26/2015: Chip-card security remains scarce in wallets, USA Today

A half-day conference I attended Thursday gave me some useful material for this update on the “EMV” chips that remain absent from all but one of our credit cards–and which have yet to see any retail use on that Amex. There’s also a tip about a new Sprint international-roaming offer with a nasty surprise in its fine print, something I first covered in an April 13 update to my Wirecutter guide to wireless carriers that was too small to mention here.

A cord cutter visits the Cable Show

I spent the first half of this week at a place I wasn’t sure I’d be welcome–the Cable Show, the annual convention put on by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. After my wife and I canceled our Dish Network TV service back in October of 2009 and realized we could live without pay TV, I’ve repeatedly suggested that other TV subscribers weigh that option.

ImageFortunately, no bouncer tossed me out of the convention center in Boston (disclosure: one reason I attended was the chance to stay with my brother and catch up with his family), and I learned a few things about the market I’ve been avoiding since 2009.

(Yes, even though one of my clients is cable giant Discovery Communications. The irony is duly noted.)

One was that there is an enormous amount of stuff to watch on TV if you’re willing to pay for it–as JetBlue reminded on my way to and from Boston. Another was that the cable industry has recognized that the cable box is not exactly everybody’s  favorite gadget and is working to streamline its interface and reduce its power consumption. (My wrap-up of that awaits an editor’s attention; my photos of the show are up.)

But I also got a reminder that in some fundamental ways, the cable industry thinks it’s doing fine–NCTA president Michael Powell said in his opening keynote that “this industry has never been content to rest on aging business models”–and doesn’t need a fundamental change of course.

I don’t recall hearing the words “à la carte” spoken at any point, nor did I run into any serious discussions about the lesser step of offering subscribers a wider choice of channel bundles. “AllVid”–a nebulous proposal by the Federal Communications Commission for a unified standard for subscription-TV reception that might open the market for tuning and reception hardware–only came up when I asked an FCC staffer about it after a panel on regulatory issues had failed to mention the topic.

And you can continue to forget about paying for real-time online access to shows without the conventional cable subscription required by such Web-viewing options as HBO Go. The industry sees that and other cable-subscription-first “TV Everywhere” offerings as customer-retention moves, not ways to draw in new viewers.

And as for cord-cutting–a topic that drew me to Boston a year ago, when I led a panel about the topic at Free Press’s media-reform conference–the cable industry doesn’t seem to think it’s a serious issue. Chief executives and lower-ranking staffers all repeated that it’s not losing any viewers it would want to keep. For example, during Tuesday’s opening session, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said a predicted wave of cord cutting “didn’t happen” except for “economically challenged customers… many of who didn’t even have boadband at home.”

I thought about standing up, waving my hand and shouting “dude, I’m right here!” But I did not.

I might have also said then that my brother and his wife cut the cord last summer (while retaining a Comcast Internet connection). After day one of the show, I went home to my brother’s house and watched a few episodes of NBC’s Community on his paid-for Hulu Plus subscription. After day two, we caught an episode of HBO’s Game Of Thrones that he obtained… somehow.