Weekly output: Verizon’s unlimited plan (x3), video-game economic impact, chatbots, broadband competition

Presidents’ Day used to feel like a real holiday–preferably experienced while enjoying views from a chairlift somewhere–but Monday doesn’t feel like much of one. I’m facing an abbreviated workweek, thanks to my Friday departure for Barcelona to cover Mobile World Congress. On the upside, I’m about to spend a few days in Spain for work.

2/13/2017: How Verizon’s new ‘unlimited’ plan compares to the competition, Yahoo Finance

This workweek technically started Sunday afternoon, when Verizon announced that it would once again sell an unlimited–more accurately called “unmetered”–data plan. After I’d filed this post, I got to rewrite a quarter of it to catch up with T-Mobile lifting the two worst restrictions on its own “unlimited” plan.

esa-panel-screengrab2/14/2017: Achievement Unlocked: The Video Game Industry’s Economic Impact, Entertainment Software Association

The nice thing about moderating a panel with members of Congress: They are guaranteed to make you look timely. Rep. Pete Aguilar (D.-Calif.) had to duck out halfway through this discussion, just as Rep. Doug Collins (R.-Ga.) made his belated entrance. You can watch the conversation, also featuring Higher Education Video Game Alliance president Constance Steinkuehler, on Twitch (this is the first and probably the last time I’ll appear on that game-centric network) and see photos from the event at ESA’s Facebook page.

2/15/2017: A Chatbot Is Here to Help, FedTech

I filed this story about the potential of chatbots to ease federal-government services in a simpler time when a Facebook Messenger bot would walk you through sending a message to the president. The Trump administration shut that down; I don’t know why, as my e-mailed inquiry to the White House press office did not yield a response.

2/15/2017: Here are the catches in Verizon’s new plan, USA Today

My editors at USAT asked if I could file my column early, recognizing that something about Verizon advertising unlimited data was driving readers bonkers. The piece now has 27,788 Facebook shares, which suggests they had the right idea.

usat-facebook-live2/17/2017: Unlimited data! But at what cost?, USA Today

My USAT editors also asked if I could do a Facebook Live spot with tech and media reporter Mike Snider. This allowed me to see what USAT’s Tysons Corner newsroom looks like–yes, more than five years after I started writing for the place.

2/18/2017: Wireless carriers are fighting for your cash, and that’s good news, Yahoo Finance

While I was gathering string for a story on broadband infrastructure, I realized I already had almost everything needed to write a post about the wireless industry’s recent display of the benefits of competition–and the equally telling behavior of residential-broadband services that face few or no rivals.

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Weekly output: DSL speeds, Uber economics, Windows 10 setup, tech policy in 2017

Merry Christmas! Today is five years and a day from the start of my USA Today column. They never did get around to putting a “#Help” title on the column (though I still use that on my invoices) and they’ve cut back on its length (shrinking its share of my income), but they have kept running it and paying me for it within two weeks of each invoice, which is what counts.

12/20/2016: FCC study shows DSL is terrible, but it doesn’t have to be, Yahoo Finance

This study came out at the start of the month, but it took me a little longer to consult some experts about the potential of digital-subscriber-line connections to compete with cable and fiber. It’s there, but not if phone-based Internet providers choose to forego investing in it. If those same ISPs–hi, Verizon–also forgo expanding fiber into new markets, we have a bigger problem.

yahoo-uber-study-post12/21/2016: 3 ways Uber can help its drivers, Yahoo Finance

Years ago, a mobile-development shop called Proteus had space in a building across the street from the Post, and I’d occasionally lean on its CEO Patrick McQuown for background guidance about the business. Years later, I’m finally quoting him directly in his role as a professor at Brown University who just published a study of the economics of Uber from a driver’s perspective.

12/24/2016: You’ve got a new PC. Now what?, USA Today

When I wrote about Windows 10’s Anniversary Update this summer, a few readers got on my case for not covering their concerns about privacy in Win 10’s operating system. I read up on the subject and took detailed notes as I set up a couple of different Win 10 tablets from scratch, and this column resulted.

12/25/2016: A 2017 tech-policy forecast: Washington slams the ‘undo’ button, Yahoo Finance

I am not optimistic about the state of tech policy under President Trump, and I’ve yet to hear anybody advance a cogent explanation of why I should feel any different. Congress’s history of failing to reform laws that govern law-enforcement access to stored e-mail privacy and enable patent trolling doesn’t improve my forecast.

 

Verizon’s online tech support needs some serious work

Yesterday I logged into my Verizon account for the first time in months and got an unpleasant and embarrassing surprise: a $2.80 “router maintenance” fee for having an old router. It was unpleasant as all junk fees are, embarrassing because I’d covered this exact problem in my USA Today column.

And Verizon had even warned me about the charge. Once. A July 19 e-mail advised me to upgrade my router to avoid the fee but offered no instructions on returning the router I hadn’t used since 2012–since we don’t get Fios TV, I’ve always been able to plug in the router of my choice.

verizon-chat-safari-incompatibilityI saw on Verizon’s support site that I could have them call me back, so I plugged in my number. After a day of nobody calling, I tweeted to the @VerizonSupport account that this support option wasn’t too supportive. In a direct-message reply, a rep told me to try Verizon’s chat instead.

I hadn’t seen that as a choice on the support site earlier, and clicking that link yielded a 1990s-esque error page with the useless message “We are sorry, but a problem with your request has occurred.” Somehow, this chat doesn’t work in Safari. Memo to Verizon: Running the default Mac browser is not an edge case.

I asked why we couldn’t deal with my problem in our direct-message chat. My interlocutor’s reply: “We have to secure your account and the chat is the secure location for that.”

verizon-tech-support-chatFine. The chat link did work in Chrome, and then I was treated to thanks-for-your-patience automated messages every 30 seconds, each heralded by an annoying chime. The chimes stopped at some point, but a rep never showed up until I closed the chat window by mistake.

I tried again, and a human entered the chat right away. The rep asked for my name, phone number, address and account number–an understandable request, since I wasn’t logged into my Verizon account in Chrome, but also information that I could have given just as easily in a Twitter DM chat.

Which would have been more secure too: Chrome reports that Verizon’s chat site employs the obsolete and insecure SHA-1 algorithm.

After some back and forth to establish that I haven’t powered on this old, Verizon-issued router in years, the rep said Verizon would send a return mailer kit for the thing and, after I asked a second time, said they would also refund the two months of router-maintenance charges.

Total time to get $5.60 returned to me: about two hours. I need to rethink this particular business model.

 

Weekly output: social-media mimicry, T-Mobile’s network, Windows 10 and Android notifications, Windows 10’s reception

Last week, I had Bernie Sanders dead-enders and WikiLeaks zealots angry at me. This week, it’s Windows 7 users. I have to imagine that some of these embittered Microsoft customers also voted for Sanders and have WikiLeaks bookmarked, which I guess means they’re now shopping for voodoo dolls to name after me.

8/3/2016: 3 features that social networks should never, ever borrow from one another, Yahoo Finance

I had been sketching out an essay along these lines for a while when Instagram copied a Snapchat feature almost wholesale, giving me a news peg on which to hang this post.

Yahoo Finance T-Mobile network post8/4/2016: T-Mobile now has America’s second-best availability, new ranking says, Yahoo Finance

We changed the headline on this after AT&T PR complained about the use of the word “coverage” in it when OpenSignal takes care to say they only track LTE availability over time, not over geography. That struck me as a fair objection, so we revised the hed.

8/7/2016: Get Windows 10 in touch with your Android phone, USA Today

I was working on a different topic, which you may read next weekend or the week after, when I decided I could get this week’s column done quicker by devoting it to a walk-through of a nifty cross-platform notification system available in Windows 10’s new Anniversary Update, an upgrade I’d just installed with zero issues on two tablets I’m testing for an upcoming story.

8/7/2016: Windows 10 isn’t perfect — but it’s time to let go of Windows 7, Yahoo Finance

Reader reaction has been pretty negative to this piece. Some of it is fair–like objecting to Microsoft’s problem-monitoring telemetry or the company’s pushy presentation of this update–but to call the 2009-era Win 7 a better fit for the hardware and Internet of today strikes me as a serious reach. If you had an update to Windows 10 hobble your computer, I’m sorry for your loss. But I’ve heard that complaint about every single Windows release ever, and my own experience and the prior reader input I’ve seen suggests Win 10 is a less risky upgrade than its predecessors

Weekly output: EMV cards, wearable gadgets, cable-TV apps, Apple, upload speeds

I’m halfway through an obnoxiously transatlantic fortnight: I spent four days in New York this past week for CE Week, and Tuesday I fly to Paris to moderate a handful of panels at the VivaTechnology conference. But when I step off the plane at Dulles a week from today, I’ll have more than a month before my next work trip.

6/20/2016: What Home Depot’s Chip-and-Pin Lawsuit Means to You, Consumer Reports

If you’re wondering why people get so insistent about having a PIN on their credit cards, this story may clear things up for you. (Spoiler alert: It won’t do much for the biggest source of credit-card fraud.)

CE Week wearables panel 20166/23/2016: Is that Tech You’re Wearing?, CE Week

I talked about the design, features and use of wearable gadgets with UNICEF Ventures’ Jeanette Duffy, WARE founder Pamela Kiernan, and ŌURA co-founder Kari Kivelä. Afterwards, GearDiary’s Judie Stanford interviewed the four of us, and the organizers posted that clip next week.

6/23/2016: Big cable has a plan to help you dump the cable box you’re renting, Yahoo Finance

While I was in NYC, I stopped by Yahoo’s offices to record an interview with Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer about the prospect of replacing cable boxes with cable apps; it runs atop this story.

6/25/2016: Rob Pegoraro on technology, plus a presentation by MacRecycleClinic, Washington Apple Pi

I drove over to the general meeting of this Apple user group to share my thoughts on the state of Apple–and to donate the 2002-vintage iMac I used for four years before handing it off to my mom, who relied on that computer until replacing it with an iPad Air last year.

6/26/2016: How to compare Internet service providers — by upload speed, USA Today

After a reader of last week’s USAT column commented that I should have addressed upload speeds–and some quick searching revealed that many Internet providers treat them as a bit of a state secret–I realized I had a column topic on my hands.

Updated 9/6 to add a link to Stanford’s interview.

Weekly output: Android backups, iOS app subscriptions, WWDC, net neutrality, Comcast vs. Verizon

For weeks now, I’ve been besieged with PR pitches about the right Father’s Day tech gift to get. You know what makes a great Father’s Day present? Letting Dad sleep in and/or get a nap. (That’s also a good Mother’s Day gift; I was glad to do my part to make it happen for my wife.)

USAT Android-backup post6/13/2016: Get back your data after resetting an Android phone, USA Today

I had to try to get a column out of my in-retrospect hilariously-stupid accidental resetting of my own phone at the end of a long notetaking session on the differences between Android’s standard interface and the one Samsung puts on its phones. You may have read it under a different headline; USAT reposted the piece under a new one a day or so after its debut in the midst of news from Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference.

6/13/2016: Apple is doing something generous for app developers — but it may cost you, Yahoo Finance

Apple announced some important changes to subscription-based apps in advance of WWDC. They seem good on the surface, but some details remained unclear when I wrote this–and there’s a history of Apple exercising its App Store oversight in developer-hostile ways that it didn’t think to document upfront.

6/13/2016: 5 previous WWDC debuts Apple might want to forget, Yahoo Finance

Apple is just like Google in one way: Its attempts to tell the technological future don’t always make reality bend in response.

6/14/2016: Big Telecom lost in court, but an open internet won. So did you., Yahoo Finance

I should have had this story written in advance, but I guess I couldn’t convince myself that the D.C. Circuit would ever hand down a net-neutrality ruling. Reader comments appear to be polarized between people who despise Comcast/Verizon/AT&T/Time Warner Cable and those equally upset over the Obama administration.

6/19/2016: How to choose between Comcast and Verizon for Internet service, USA Today

I’m not totally happy with how this came out: As one reader called out in the comments, I didn’t get into upload speeds. Given Comcast’s habit of staying mysterious about them–and the odds of other Internet providers being as cagey–I may need to devote a separate column to that angle. Should I?

Weekly output: customer satisfaction, net neutrality, Facebook interest-based ads

Having a holiday shorten this work week was much appreciated. So was the chance to catch up with some of my college-newspaper friends Saturday; my unpaid, no-course-credits-granted time at the Georgetown Voice remains the most career-relevant thing I did in college.

Yahoo Finance ACSI post6/1/2016: New customer service survey says Comcast is no longer the worst, Yahoo Finance

This was the first story I’ve written in an actual newsroom in quite some time, thanks to me visiting Yahoo Finance’s NYC offices for the day.

6/5/2016: The FCC’s ‘power grab’ on net neutrality still hasn’t burned your broadband provider, Yahoo Finance

I was working on another story when I saw that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had yet again failed to cough up a ruling on the suit challenging the Federal Communications Commission’s net-neutrality regulations. I decided that I was tired of waiting on that court to write my next post about the net-neutrality argument and cranked out this over a couple of hours.

6/5/2016: Status with Facebook ‘interest-based’ ads is complicated, USA Today

This was yet another piece that I didn’t have on my list of story ideas at the start of the week. My summary to my editor after spending two hours bouncing e-mails back and forth with Facebook PR to discern the privacy models behind two of the social network’s ad systems: “This was one of the bigger reporting hairballs I’ve had to eat.”