Weekly output: security attitudes at Black Hat, American Airlines bullish on Boom, Visible changes plans, business cybersecurity worries, Mark Vena podcast

With our kid going back to school a week from Monday, this is my last week of day-camp-commute driving for the year.

Screenshot of column as seen in Firefox for macOS8/16/2022: As Black Hat security conference turns 25, a lesson: security doesn’t have an end point, USA Today

I didn’t finish writing this recap until leaving Vegas and using that conference’s video-on-demand option to watch the panel I’d most regretted missing.

8/16/2022: American Airlines Puts Down Deposit on 20 Boom Supersonic Overture Jets, PCMag

Once again, Boom Supersonic had news of an airline order for its Overture jet land unaccompanied by news of an engine design, so this time I reminded readers of how long two recent jet engines took to enter revenue service.

8/17/2022: Visible Reshuffles Plans: No More Party Pay, But Solo Service Is Now $10 Cheaper, PCMag

Visible is taking a page out of its parent firm Verizon’s book by having more than one plan with “unlimited” data.

8/18/2022: What Do Business Execs Worry About Most? Getting Hacked, PCMag

A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey finding that business executives worry most about information security shouldn’t be news… except that none of PwC’s previous surveys of suits had found infosec to be their top anxiety.

8/19/2022: S02 E34 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

Recording this week’s episode of the podcast hit a few technical glitches, and for once they weren’t on my end.

Weekly output: FCC chair at MWC, Rocket Lab in Virginia, Verizon’s fixed-wireless 5G ambitions, Russia bans Facebook, U.S. tech companies fire Russia

I got home from MWC Thursday afternoon and finally got a Flickr album uploaded Sunday night. I’m blaming not just jet lag and a busy schedule, but a weird bug in the Flickr Android app that strips out geotags from photos automatically backed up. My workaround for this has been to select the pictures I want to share in Google Photos, download them to my Mac, and then upload them to Flickr. I would very much like to see this bug get fixed already.

Screenshot of the story as I viewed it in my Android phone's copy of Chrome on the way to MWC3/1/2022: Rosenworcel’s MWC appearance hints at shifting spectrum policy, Light Reading

My first MWC dateline came from me covering a speech by somebody whose office sits less than five miles from my house–Federal Communications Commission chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who came to Barcelona to suggest two changes in the FCC’s spectrum-policy priorities.

3/1/2022: Rocket Lab to Build, Launch, and Land Reusable Rockets in Virginia, PCMag

The second story I filed from Barcelona also had a back-home component–the news that Rocket Lab USA would build a factory for its partially-reusable Neutron rocket on Wallops Island, Va.

3/3/2022: Verizon’s Sowmyanarayan on how FWA supports edge computing, private wireless, Light Reading

Story number three from Barcelona involved me interviewing a Verizon executive who works 200+ miles northeast of me.

3/4/2022: Russia Blocks Facebook for Not Giving State Media Free Rein, PCMag

The day after I got back from Barcelona, I covered Russia’s latest temper tantrum over American social networks not obliging its authoritarian streak.

3/5/2022: American tech sanctions against Russia, Al Jazeera

Saturday, I joined the Arabic-language news network (overdubbed live) to talk about the trend of U.S. tech companies cutting off Russia. As I noted, the likes of Apple and Intel can afford to fire Russia as a customer–it’s not a Japan, a U.K. or even a Canada.

Weekly output: Verizon Tracfone purchase approved, spectrum-sharing progress, cloud-storage choices

This year’s Thanksgiving, unlike last year’s, did not warrant descriptions like “house arrest.” And now I will follow up that overdue family time by flying almost 5,000 miles away from my own for a tech event, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Tech Summit 2021. I have clients awaiting coverage of this event (and who are fine with Qualcomm covering the airfare and lodging, another departure of sorts for me) and I’m sure I will learn a lot and appreciate connecting with other telecom nerds starting Monday afternoon in Hawaii. But… yeah, if this travel schedule leads you once again to question my life choices, I can only reply “fair.”

11/23/2021: FCC Greenlights Verizon’s Purchase of Tracfone, With Conditions, PCMag

The Federal Communications Commission seems confident that a set of temporary rules can ensure that the nation’s largest wireless carrier buying the nation’s largest wireless reseller will not lead to harm to customers.

11/24/2021: Spectrum-sharing task force chair: ‘It really doesn’t have to be a spectrum fight’, Light Reading

This post offered a welcome chance to get into the weeds about the finer points of freeing up wireless spectrum currently in use by some non-trivial military hardware.

11/27/2021: Apple, Google or Microsoft? How to match cloud storage to your computers – and cut costs, USA Today

Yes, you’ve read a version of this column before, down to its emphasis on picking an online backup service that pairs best with the hardware you’re most likely to take out of the house. But unlike the 2018 release, this one incorporates some money-saving tricks I’ve picked up over the past few years–like checking to see if credit cards have cash-back offers on one company’s cloud storage, or if you can buy a gift card good for that storage at a discount from a third-party retailer.

Weekly output: smartphone plans, online misinformation, Twitter perceptions, SpaceX Starship, cord cutting stats, online-privacy bill

I have a short workweek followed by my first family-reunion Thanksgiving in two years.

Patreon readers got an extra post this week: a look at my attempts to ensure that the panels on which I speak aren’t filled out by people who look more or less like me.

Wirecutter phone-plans guide, as seen in Chrome on a Pixel 3a Android phone11/15/2021 The Best Cell Phone Plans, Wirecutter

This update–the first substantial revision to this guide since the summer of 2020–should not have taken this long, but it’s been a trying year for everybody.

11/15/2021: How Do You Combat Online Misinformation? Katie Couric, Prince Harry Have Some Ideas, PCMag

I wrote about a report on online misinformation from an unusual group of experts.

11/15/2021: We Read Twitter for Entertainment, Trust It for News (Unless We Vote Republican), PCMag

This post covered a pair of Pew Research Center studies about people’s attitudes towards Twitter. The most susprising finding: how many Twitter users misunderstood their own privacy settings.

11/18/2021: Elon Musk’s Starship rocket may launch to orbit in January, Fast Company

The SpaceX founder was scheduled to speak for 30 minutes but spent more than twice as much time at this virtual National Academy of Science meeting. I could have filed a vastly longer story, but I didn’t want to write myself into a bad per-word rate.

11/18/2021: Cord Cutting’s Latest Toll: 1.34 Million Legacy Pay-TV Subscribers Gone, PCMag

I decided to write up this report on pay-TV subscriptions by comparing the numbers involved to cities. Hence: “The top seven cable operators combined to lose 700,500 subscribers, a figure you may find easier to visualize as ‘almost the population of Denver’.”

11/19/2021: Who Owns Your Data? Calif. Congresswomen Try Again With Online Privacy Act, PCMag

The Online Privacy Act reintroduced by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D.-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D.-Calif.) seems to get a lot of things right, but it lands in a Congress that seems singularly incapable of passing even incremental privacy upgrades.

A customer-service journey: upgrading my mom’s Fios TV boxes

No family visit can be that complete for somebody in my line of work without some tech support for relatives, and this week that took the form of getting my mom’s Fios TV boxes replaced so she could get on a cheaper TV plan. I thought that would be a simple errand, but it was not.

Step one was to call Verizon to put in the order, dumping her old “More Fios TV” plan for a cheaper “Your Fios TV” bundle with fewer channels and a little more customization possibilities. To complete that switch, I’d also have to drop off her two old TV boxes and pick up two newer Fios TV One models compatible with this offering Verizon introduced in January of 2020.

(My Patreon readers may recall reading about the first part of this customer-service interaction, back in July; for a variety of reasons, nobody had gotten around to doing the box exchange, leaving only Mom’s Internet service changed.)

I lucked out by having an extraordinarily patient and helpful rep named King answer my call. He walked me through the ordering process, explaining the various options available, then called the nearest Fios service location (a third-party shop) to verify that they had two of these new boxes. He also said the $50 hardware-upgrade fee we’d been quoted before would no longer apply, and we promptly got an e-mail confirmation of the order he’d put in. Great!

My brother and I drove to that location, barely 10 minutes away, and then things started going sideways. After waiting on line at this store as people ahead of me had various issues with their phones addressed, I sat down before a rep and showed the boxes and the order number we’d just gotten. He looked that up and showed me a screen indicating we’d need a technician to install the boxes. I replied that we’d had a lengthy phone conversation informing us otherwise and asked if he could double-check that, after which he did some more investigation and then said the store didn’t have any of these new boxes anyway. Not great!

The rep did look up which other authorized service locations might have them, called one to confirm, and gave me the address–about a 25-minute drive away. My brother had to get back to work, so I endured traffic crawling along some of the less scenic parts of U.S. 1 solo. At the second place, I barely waited for a rep to look up my order, collect the old boxes, hand me two new ones–a larger one for the primary TV in the living room, a smaller one for the bedroom TV–along with a printed receipt and a second printout listing a tech-support number in case of trouble.

On the drive home, King called me to verify that I’d gotten the boxes; I said I had but it had taken much longer than expected, so he couldn’t switch out the old TV plan just yet.

And then when I plugged the larger box into the living-room TV, its setup stalled at a screen saying it couldn’t download required data because it needed an activation number that should have been on the receipt but was not.

I called Verizon yet again and lucked out a second time when another incredibly helpful and patient rep pick up, and I wish I’d jotted down her name. She asked me to read out the serial number on that new box, then plugged that into the system to get the box activated. This took her a good 30 minutes, most of which I occupied by rearranging wires and boxes under the TV to tidy up the layout. 

Finally, the remote activation worked. We repeated the process on the second box in much less time, with the only hiccup coming when I had to power-cycle it after it stalled out in the setup.

The next morning, King called yet again to confirm that the new boxes were working fine, then completed the plan changeout. Verizon executives, please look up this gentleman and give him a raise. I’d also like to see the same recognition given to the second phone rep.

After all of this, my mom has a cheaper TV bill, two boxes that take up less space, an onscreen interface that’s much faster and a good deal cleaner (see after the jump for the settings I changed), and compact voice-controlled remotes that don’t look like their hardware designers got paid by the button.

I’m glad I was able to do that for my mom. And I’m glad I only have Fios Internet and so am at no danger of repeating this particular experience at home.

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.