Tag Archives: AT&T

IRS, Among Others, Catching Too Many on Other Side of Internet Divide

0623_tax-800x480New Orleans    The IRS has problems. I get that. Well hated as a necessary evil, the Republican Congress has cut their budget to the nub in recent years to make it harder to collect taxes. In the 2015 tax season millions rightly complained that they had a better chance of talking to Santa Claus long distance from the North Pole than getting the IRS on the phone to handle a question. But, we have problems with the IRS, too, and part of the problem is with their plan to go even higher tech with a system of online taxpayer accounts and even worse to outsource more of the work to third party tax preparers, who have done little to earn anyone’s trust of the years.

The Taxpayer Advocate, Nina Olson, an independent office within the IRS, points out the obvious about the IRS’s new grand plan reminding them that millions don’t have internet access so what the heck? And, these are some of the folks that might need the most help. The Advocate in her annual report zinged her IRS employer as trying to create a “pay-to-play” system and essentially accused them of trying to run away from Jane and Joe Citizen Taxpayer. She also noted that lower income families were already been targeted too often by unscrupulous tax preparers asking, “Why would we want to give these preparers even more access to taxpayer information.” From ACORN’s experience in negotiating with H&R Block, Jackson-Hewitt, and Liberty Tax Services – the big three – who the IRS probably see as the good guys – were the same outfits that invented and fought tenaciously to hold onto completely predatory products like refund anticipation loans by spitting on the IRS for being a couple of days slower therefore worth paying what might amount to 350% or more in interest to get your refund a wee bit earlier.

Let’s be honest. In solving consumer problems, the internet does not make it easier by one iota to solve a problem for anyone with any outfit, it just makes it cheaper for the companies by reducing the staffing account of real problem solvers. This is a job reduction program, not a problem solving solution.

A couple of days ago I spent 75 minutes on the AT&T website and chat room trying to get a bill which is to say, trying to give them money! And, that didn’t fix it. They claimed they had been trying to send me a bill by email, but never managed to get it to me. Two days later when I summoned my resolve to try again I was finally able to get the amount owed and the address to send it, but was only able to get it fixed when then finally gave me an 800 number and a woman named LaShonda to get me straight. Their money is now in the mail, and, no indeed, after all of that would I have ever trusted them enough to electronically send the money.

PayPal has to be one of the most sophisticated and seamless of the new internet tech companies in the Silicon Valley. They are giving away a device so that you will use PayPal at the point of sale. KABF, the great noncommercial 100,000 watt station said, good idea. We are now caught in the second day of a dispute resolution process because they want us to verify the address and social security number of the station, but only wanted a utility bill. No phone number to call. No person who can work it out. We have now sent them 8 different pieces of information via the internet, and the only thing they have accepted on the upload and checked, “resolved,” was a personal passport, which a noncommercial corporation doesn’t even have. Geez!

And, those are two of a gazillion examples just this week, and I’m at least as smart as the average bear and a couple of steps away from being a techno-peasant. We’ve already had the huge internet enrollment fiascoes on the Affordable Care Act, and now we’re going to move the whole online system over to the IRS. We haven’t crossed the internet divide yet, but I can assure you this plan will engulf us in total and abject horror on the other side of gulf, if we’re ever able to get there at all!

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FCC Seems Unwilling to Confront Monopolies to Create Digital Access

New Orleans  In Congressional hearings vetting the President’s nominee, Tom Wheeler, as the new Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) there seems to be little hope that we will get the progress needed in creating national standards for higher speed internet connections or a reduction of the digital divide. Wheeler was quoted yesterday stating his philosophy that “competitive markets produce better outcomes than regulated or uncompetitive markets.”  Since in the land of Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Times-Warner we have monopoly practices and uncompetitive markets, Wheeler seems clueless about the current communications environment, and he would be the person responsible for regulation.  

            Despite our campaign over the last two years to force the FCC and Comcast to finally live up to the FCC’s requirement in their order approving Comcast’s purchase of NBC/Universal that they provide a plan for less than $10 per month for lower income families, they persist in doing the least they can get away with, rather than acting in the spirit of the order.  The FCC seems either powerless or passive in its unwillingness to enforce its order with any enthusiasm despite our complaints.   Toney Orr, Local 100’s Arkansas director, reported that of the 25 customers we turned into Comcast recently, 20 have now received their “internet essentials” program, but that proves my point:  they are not doing outreach to eligible participants, only waving their hands in the direction of lower income families.  If Local 100 does the work, they are happy to lift a little finger, but lord no do not ask them to create a real program with real penetration in the market to reduce the digital divide. 

            Don’t take my word for it.  Read Professor Susan Crawford’s excellent new book:  Captive Audience:  The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.   This one sentence on page 266 says everything anyone might want to know about the effectiveness of the Comcast Internet Essentials offering or the even lamer “voluntary” promises from Cox Cable and Times-Warner to provide lower cost access to low income families:

“Voluntary services from private carriers are costly gifts that do little to move the country forward.”

Amen!

Earlier in the same paragraph Crawford is even clearer about the whole challenge:

“Moving from a high-speed Internet access model based on overcharging rich, urban residents for bundles of services while letting the state subsidize slow access for poor or rural residents to a model based on the assumption that America requires fast, standard, reliable, and unbundled fiber-optic Internet access at reasonable prices will present many challenges…government intervention is necessary to ensure unfettered competition.”

Crawford makes an excellent, irrefutable case that Comcast, AT&T, and others are simply operating now as monopolies with the sycophantic assistance of the FCC and too many in Congress are allowing them to do it.  In the name of their own profits and business model these companies are retarding America’s economic growth and competitive position around the world.  She states the obvious:  the internet and telecommunications are utilities like water and electricity.  As such they are necessities that need to be regulated in the same way, and that’s not happening now.

Unfortunately every word that came out of Wheeler’s mouth in his nomination hearing indicates that he is a captive of the monopolies and absolutely doesn’t get it!  We have trouble ahead of us.

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