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August 2, 2014
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5 Reasons Why People Still Buy Stuff From Companies They Hate

Image courtesy of Knight725

In an ideal world, there would be ample, healthy competition in every industry and consumers everywhere would have access to these numerous options. Additionally, every company would behave ethically and efficiently, respecting consumers and the law. But from what I’ve been told from people familiar with the situation, our world is slightly imperfect and sometimes we end up doing business with companies we’d rather avoid.

And since we do live in an imperfect, complicated, multifaceted world, there are numerous ways we end up standing at the cashier of some big box store, or giving our payment info to some anonymous website, wondering just how it is we got to that point.

We’re sure that readers will come up with more, but we boiled down the most common reasons that consumers give for continuing to work with a company they despise into five categories…

There’s a reason why Internet Service Providers are the lowest-ranked of all the industries in the 2014 American Customer Satisfaction Index, and why these same companies account for 11 of the bottom 12 names in the 2014 individual rankings. And it’s not just because they provide mediocre service at a high price.

It’s because most consumers have no choice of provider. Your ISP is often determined by your street address, much like you often have no choice for water, gas, electric or landline phone service. But unlike those public utilities, broadband is largely unregulated and the industry is doing everything it can to keep it that way.

Another company that gets your money whether you want it to or not is your mortgage servicer.

You spent all that time finding just the right loan from just the right company, only to have that loan sold to another company without any input from you. This can, and probably will, happen again and again, with a new name showing up on your mortgage statement more regularly than you buy new shoes.

Then there are some no-choice situations that exist because of one’s location. If you live far from a major airport, you’re stuck having to deal with whatever airline services the airport closest to you. If you hate that airline so much you won’t fly it, then prepare to drive even farther.

And if you live in a “food desert,” you’re either doing your grocery shopping at 7-Eleven or you’re traveling a far distance to the closest supermarket you might also hate.

You’d really like to buy your clothes, books, food, furniture, and video games at small, independent retailers that support the local economy. But in your town, all those things are so much cheaper to buy at the big box stores with their mammoth, characterless parking lots.

To some, the extra cost of shopping at the mom-and-pop stores is justifiable on principle. To others, a dislike for Walmart, Target, Best Buy or any other huge retail chain might not be enough to counter the temptation of deep discounts.

The same can be said of those who would love to patronize their local bookstore but can’t avoid the siren song of cheaper prices on Amazon or Overstock. Sure, Amazon gets into immature staring contests with publishers over a few pennies, but… $14.99 for a new hardcover!?

And while you might hate a particular petroleum company for its involvement in environmental disasters, unsafe working conditions at its refineries, or for receiving huge tax breaks from the government, it’s hard for some to justify filling up elsewhere if that company’s gas stations sell fuel cheaper than anyone in town.

As my grandfather never said (but I’m going to pretend he did), “Principles are for those who can afford them.”

You once again pull into the parking lot of the big box stores. But this time, it’s not because Walmart or Meijer is cheaper than what you can get elsewhere. Instead, you’re begrudgingly shopping there because you can get everything you want without having to drive all over town going from store to store.

The get-it-now convenience of a bricks-and-mortar store is another reason some people put aside their distaste for a retailer. The Super Bowl won’t wait for Amazon to deliver that new TV, so you suck it up and deal with the company you’d been trying to avoid.

On the flip side of that coin are people who have a dislike for online retail but turn to the Web in a pinch.

Airline-choice can also be a matter of convenience. Even if you live in a city serviced by multiple carriers, you might still end up traveling on an airline you despise simply because it has the most direct route to your destination, or because it flies at times that are most convenient for you.

We’ve seen this a lot in recent years with the fast food industry. Maybe you’re upset with McDonald’s over concerns about questionable employment practices, or maybe you weren’t pleased when Chick fil-A’s top exec shared his personal views on same-sex marriage — but damn if you don’t occasionally crave a Big Mac or a spicy chicken sandwich with a big cup of iced tea.

Perhaps you find out that the luxury hotel you’ve been waiting years to stay at is owned by a dictatorial despot from a country you’ve barely heard of. Do you cancel your second honeymoon on principle? If there’s no refund, it’s not like you’re doing any financial damage with your cancelation.

This tug-of-war between one’s deeply felt affection for a product and his abject disgust with the business behind that product is expressed elegantly in this John Oliver segment about trying to enjoy the World Cup while being fully aware of the unfathomable greed of FIFA:

Sometimes you can have all the principles in the world and it just doesn’t matter.

Not for lack of choice or because one company’s offerings are alluringly cheap, tasty, or convenient, but rather because any company you choose is probably a losing bet.

Take the wireless industry as an example. After nearly five years of posting about problems with ATT, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, and all the various prepaid brands, I’ve realized that a substantial percentage of customers of each of these carriers is convinced that their provider is the worst. Sometimes it’s because their current provider charges more. Other times it’s because the carrier has sketchy coverage in their area. And they all have problems with customer service and billing.

To many people, switching from one carrier to another is like jumping from the frying pan into a different colored frying pan. This is because wireless providers spend so much money throwing promotions at new customers.

Another example of this “no win” attitude is banking. Many people who only have basic checking accounts are, at best, mildly satisfied by their financial institution.

While consumers once had close relationships with their bankers, even if they just popped in once or twice a week to deposit a check or two, this connection has faded in recent decades as banks have encouraged customers to do all of their transactions online or via ATMs; it’s hard to relate to a bank when you have no interaction with it.

Combine that impersonal relationship with banks’ roles in the Great Recession and you’ve got a large chunk of the population that doesn’t really care where they bank because they feel like they’re getting screwed regardless.

August 2, 2014
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NEWSMAKER-Xavier Niel – France’s telecom rebel sets his sights on the US


PARIS Aug 1 (Reuters) – For all the surprise that has
greeted French telecom group Iliad’s bid for T-Mobile
US, there is one thing a procession of broadband and
mobile firms have learnt in recent years: don’t underestimate
Xaviel Niel.

The 47-year-old, one-time computer hacker built up Iliad as
France sought to open its telecom market in the early 2000s with
a mantra of rock bottom prices and simple offers. It is now a
$16 billion business that has grabbed 13 percent of France’s
mobile market in little more than two years, leaving rivals
issuing profit warnings and seeking merger deals in its wake.

On Thursday, Iliad – which has long been tipped to strike a
deal to bolster its No.4 position in French mobile – surprised
investors with a $15 billion offer for 56.6 percent of T-Mobile
US, the No. 4 U.S. mobile operator.

The move pits Niel against Sprint, the No.3 U.S.
mobile firm owned by Japan’s Softbank that has also bid
for T-Mobile US.

And if successful, he would be taking on the $150
billion-plus giants of ATT and Verizon Communications
in the world’s second-biggest mobile market by revenue
after China.

Jacques-Antoine Granjon, the founder of flash sales site
venteprivee.com and a friend of Niel’s, said the plan was by no
means as improbable as it sounds.

“His journey in France has taken him quite far and he now
has the means both financially and organisationally to go
further,” Granjon told Reuters. “France had become a bit small
for him. He needed to spread his wings.”

Niel’s successes have also not gone unnoticed across the
Atlantic. “He’s got a big network of contacts in the tech and
start-up world there. People in the industry know all about
Iliad there – Steve Jobs used to call him to talk about
telecoms,” Granjon said.

FIGHTING EVERY STEP

An auto-didact who dropped out of university – de rigeur for
Silicon Valley entrepreneurs but almost unheard of among
successful businessmen in France – Niel has fought every step of
the way to become a billionaire pillar of the establishment.

Even former French President Nicolas Sarkozy once weighed in
against him, deriding Niel as the “peepshow guy” in reference to
an adult chat and dating service he once set up and questioning
whether France really needed another mobile operator.

But the father of three persevered, fending off lawsuits and
lobbying, and amassing a fortune on the way. Niel is 144th on
Forbes’ list of billionaires, and ranks among the top ten in
France, ahead of the likes of luxury tycoon Bernard Arnault.

Niel had his third child with Arnault’s daughter Delphine,
an executive at luxury goods house LVMH, and is now
cheered on by even a government minister.

“Bravo @Xavier75 who aims to conquer T-Mobile in the United
States,” tweeted Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg, who only a
year ago criticised Niel for destroying jobs. “France wishes you
good luck.”

Not that Niel courts the limelight. Described by colleagues,
friends, and rivals as brilliant, awkward and loyal to a small
circle of allies, the long-haired, jeans-wearing executive is
also deeply solitary.

“I remember the night after our second day of roadshow in
London for the Iliad IPO,” said one person who works with Niel,
referring to the 2004 flotation of the company that was then
focused on broadband.

“Everyone was drinking and laughing, but Xavier was kind of
looking moody and quiet. When I asked him what was up, he said
‘you guys don’t understand anything. The real next thing for
Iliad is mobile. We need to be in mobile.’”

“He always has the next 3 moves in mind,” the person said,
speaking on condition of anonymity.

While his company focuses on low prices, Niel himself is
also frugal, with one employee saying in 2011 he still had to
ask for his approval each time he bought 50 euros worth of pens.

With such a close eye on his company’s own resources, Niel
takes pleasure in tormenting his deep-pocketed competitors.

“I ride my bike to work and their CEOs drive around in
chauffeured cars with a team of PR people,” he quipped at a
lunch with reporters in 2011.

He has become a member of the elite though, living in an
exclusive gated commuting in Paris frequented by pop stars and
fellow billionaires and is a co-owner of the influential le
Monde newspaper and several magazines.

BIGGER BETS

Raised in a middle-class Paris suburb, Niel became an
amateur computer hacker. At 20, he’d dropped out of maths
courses preparing France’s brightest for top universities and
started an adult chat and dating service on Minitel, rudimentary
networked computers that pre-dated the Internet in France.

About seven years later, he used that money to start Iliad
and there too, a hacker spirit ruled. Niel asked engineers to
build telecom hardware for Iliad’s networks because
off-the-shelf gear was too expensive and didn’t have the
functionality he wanted, such as delivering TV over telephone
lines.

At night, Niel would surf E-Bay to bid on telecom gear being
sold by U.S. companies that went bust when the Internet bubble
burst, sending off $10,000 payments for routers and devices that
his engineers would then re-purpose.

Niel was an operator in the regulatory sphere too, twinning
Iliad’s fate to the government’s desire to spur competition in
the sector and surfing on the trend for liberalisation.

Fifteen years later, Iliad has over 6,800 employees, more
than 14 million mobile and broadband subscribers, and quarterly
sales of over 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion).

Despite this, Neil has at times been his own worst enemy:
only six months after Iliad’s high-flying stock market debut in
2004, he was jailed for a month on charges that sex shops in
which he was a partial investor had encouraged prostitution.

He was cleared of the prostitution charges but paid a
250,000 euro fine and got a suspended sentence of 2 years for
misappropriation of funds. He emerged fiercely protective of his
privacy and ultra-driven to succeed, say people who know him.

Niel has looked for ways to give back to the community,
though in typically idiosyncratic fashion he spends his money to
address industry problems rather than via traditional charities.

He teamed up with two entrepreneur friends to found a school
for Internet careers in Paris after noticing a dearth of
qualified recruits for Iliad. He started a seed fund that backs
start-ups to fill a gap left by wary French banks.

Niel is also still prepared to put his own money into deals,
with a person familiar with the matter saying he will put up to
1 billion euros into the T-Mobile bid.

“Sure he’s making a big bet, but the life of an entrepreneur
is made of taking risks,” venteprivee.com’s Granjon said. “The
richer you get the bigger the bets. Otherwise you might as well
hang it up and put your money in a savings account.”

(1 US dollar = 0.7445 euro)

(Editing by Mark Potter)

August 2, 2014
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US Sen. Rockefeller releases mobile phone billing report

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, released a majority staff report on the findings of the Committee’s investigation into wireless cramming – where consumers get charged on their phone bills for goods and services they never agreed to purchase.

The new report titled, “Cramming on Mobile Phone Bills: A Report on Wireless Billing Practices,” describes a billion dollar industry that has cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in unauthorized charges on their wireless bill while at the same time yielding tremendous revenues for the major wireless carriers. Cramming became a problem several decades ago when phone companies opened their billing platforms to allow third-party vendors to charge consumers for goods and services unrelated to their phone service such as photo storage, voicemail, and faxes.

Rockefeller said major phone companies have assured Congress and the public they are protecting their customers from billing fraud.

“Industry representatives told us that their voluntary policies and practices provide consumers – and I quote – a ‘robust process designed to protect customers from unscrupulous actors,’ and that cramming on wireless phones has been ‘de minimis,’” Rockefeller said. “But this report makes it clear that is not the case. Cramming on wireless phones has been widespread and has caused consumers substantial harm.”

Rockefeller launched the Committee’s inquiry into wireless cramming after the Committee’s 2010-2011landline cramming investigation found that widespread cramming had occurred on consumers’ landline phone bills and could have cost consumers billions. Since then, despite public assurances from industry that its self-regulatory system is effective at protecting consumers from unauthorized third-party charges on their phone bill, cramming on wireless phone bills has continued.

The report was released ahead of today’s Full Committee Hearing titled, “Cramming on Wireless Phone Bills: A Review of Consumer Protection Practices and Gaps.”

August 2, 2014
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Modern world is no place for dinosaurs

Brief history of mobile money services

It was 1983 when the Nottingham Building Society (United Kingdom) introduced “Homelink”, an online banking system which involved your television set and a telephone to pay bills and transfer money [it is important to note that the TV set was not as smart as it is in present day].

Nevanji E Madanhire Jr

This was the founding of online banking and mobile money transfer.
Several years later in 1997, a development for this system came from the Stanford Credit Union when they introduced the first banking website, allowing their credit union members to transact using the Internet.

Alas, Internet banking was born and adopted by banks worldwide.
In Zimbabwe, efforts to adopt an online banking method remained sluggish and the benefits of Internet banking were
not embraced as well as they were in other countries.

Maybe it was the technology that people were not receptive to, but I would like to think that it was a result of Zimbabweans losing confidence in the banking system plus not having access to the infrastructure that enabled them to carry out payments online; we did not have broadband Internet back then and having a cellphone was a luxury.

How telecommunication companies helped Zimbabwean masses

In 2011, when Ecocash was launched, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe had over five million subscribers on their network.

Ecocash was not an Internet banking solution as such, but it was an “online”-based mobile money transfer platform which provided convenience to the masses who took their time to register.

Instead of a father giving the rural-bound bus driver money to take to areas where banks are non-existent, the rustic grandmother received a cellphone which became her wallet, her safe and her means of communication.

Now money could be sent more frequently and it was cheaper since the bus driver was not getting a share for safe-keeping and delivery.

It was not long until people started using Ecocash in their businesses too.

Transactions became instant and there was no need to go to the bank anymore.

Gone were those days when one would stand in a queue for a Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) [remember those from 2009?] which would only reflect in the other persons’ account the next morning.

Within 14 months, Ecocash had two million subscribers and a total of $700 million had changed hands. The results were astounding. Every month, transactions amounted to $150 million making Ecocash a success.

Where are we today?

With the Ecocash success story fresh in our heads, everyone is trying to cash in on the potential that exists within mobile money transfer platforms.

Telecel Zimbabwe has since introduced its Telecash and NetOne its OneWallet.

The thing that interests me about the telecommunications industry is that service providers are not merely producing copycat products and services, but they continue to innovate
to outperform each other which gives users the best products that their money can buy.

Telecash has gone a step further than its competitors by introducing a debit card that allows you to withdraw money and make payments using ZimSwitch.

Wow! That’s certainly the way to go. Here is a scenario, you are in a grocery shop and the person in front of you is paying using the long codes with multiple asterisks (*) and a hashtags (#) on their cellphone; not forgetting the numbers in between.

Bottom-line is, that will take a while. Now, thanks to Telecel, one can swipe their Telecash gold debit card just like any bank card, making the process less tedious.

You don’t even need a bank account! Your phone is your bank account. This gets me excited and here is why.

Last year, a particular bank approached students at the university presenting the opportunity to open bank accounts [for free since we are students].

The application process was offline and form-based. They provided us with a photographer [free of charge] since
we needed passport size photos to be account holders.

I was keen on having a bank account with little bank charges, but all that was ruined for me. My account was confirmed four months later via SMS, I had even forgotten about my application.

If it took them that long to activate my account, how long would it take me to get some cash out?

So I kept my money. And it’s been six months now and they still text me requesting that I change my access codes.

No place for dinosaurs

This is not entirely an article about mobile money platforms as it is about change in our organisations and individual way of thinking.

When the whole world was rushing to automate its processes to cut on costs, Zimbabwean companies lagged behind — keeping a robust structure in our organisations.

Our companies are like dinosaurs, unable to adopt to the ever changing environment.

Executives use high initial costs of technology as an excuse not to implement advanced techniques in production — that is just an excuse covering up the fact that they are afraid of change.

I can tell you right now that there is technology that was invented 10 years ago that can increase efficiency by more than 500%. And I mean it, 500%.

That is a very convincing figure that ensures a high rate of return on investment and shareholder satisfaction. Whether our industrial leaders are unaware of the technology or simply ignorant and resistant to change — we will never know.

Zimbabwe should instil a culture of change in its people and its organisations.

For instance, if your organisation implemented a particular system, monitoring and evaluation should always be carried out to see if the system continues to meet the organisations requirements.

It is easier and more economic to make small changes to a system, add components and modules as they are needed, than to wait until the whole system is obsolete. In which case a new system has to be devised resulting in high costs.

IT personnel in organisations should be utilised to their full potential instead of merely providing technical support functions such as changing printer cartridges and managing the photocopier.
The personnel should look at applicable information communication technologies to best serve their organisations.

This should include process automation, system integration and training other employees on how best they can take advantage of changes in technology.

I would like to end by saying, change does not imply diversity. It is not always a matter of shifting your business model and product line, but a principle of adding efficiency to your processes, adding reliability, minimising human error and adding value to customers.

Old dinosaurs like banks can partner with telecommunication companies in a deal similar to that between CBZ and Telecel in coming up with the Telecash gold debit card.

It will be good if that partnership resulted in VISA or Mastercard being included with the debit card.
That will be real value addition and all leading companies should be racing to achieve this particular goal.

August 2, 2014
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Obama signs bill "unlocking" cell phones

WASHINGTON (CBS News) — President Barack Obama signed a bipartisan bill into law Friday that aims to make it easier for consumers to change their cell phone service providers without paying for a new phone.

The bill, known as the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, reverses a decision made by the Library of Congress two years ago that said it was illegal for consumers to “unlock” their cell phones for use on other networks without their service provider’s permission. That means that providers like ATT or Verizon could legally keep a consumer’s phone “locked,” in which case the person would face large costs switching carriers or attempting to link to other carriers overseas while traveling.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., sponsored the act, which easily sailed through Congress last week. Mr. Obama has been a longtime supporter of the act, especially after a White House petition asking the president to “champion a bill that makes unlocking permanently legal” garnered over 114,000 signatures. An online response to the petition from the Administration states that the White House not only agrees with the petitioners but also supports unlocking other portable devices, like tablets.

“The bill Congress passed today is another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice so they can find a cellphone carrier that meets their needs and their budget,” President Obama said in a statement last week.

Consumer groups are celebrating the passage of the act as well.

“This bill ensures that consumers will be able to do what they rightfully expect to be able to do with phones they have purchased: use them on whatever network they like,” Laura Moy, an attorney at advocacy group Public Knowledge, stated after last week’s votes. “It protects consumers who unlock their devices from possible criminal and civil liability under an overreaching copyright law known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was designed to protect copyright but has had enormous unintended consequences.”

Moy added that the bill will also “keep millions of devices out of landfills.”

Under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Library of Congress has the power to review copyright exceptions, including whether consumers can unlock their cellphones, every three years. In 2006 and 2010 cellphone unlocking was renewed as an exception to DMCA, meaning it was legal. But in 2012, the renewal was rejected, sparking the petition and later the bill.

But despite overwhelming support for the bill the president signed today, it may not be anything more than a temporary fix.

That’s because the Library of Congress will still have the power to determine whether consumer choice in cellphone unlocking is legal next year, at which point the Copyright Office could restore the ban. That’s led Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., to propose another bill that would make it permanently legal.

With support for cellphone unlocking coming from the president, Congress, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), though, the Library of Congress may change their position anyway. In a March 2013 response to the online petition, the Library acknowledged that “the question of locked cell phones has implications for telecommunications policy” and “it would benefit from review and resolution.”

Bill would let consumers “unlock” mobile phones

Cellphone “unlocking” to become legal

And besides being temporary, the new law may also be redundant. Cellphone carriers under pressure from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler already agreed to unlock phones after the expiration of contracts and said they would unlock prepaid cellphones one year after they were activated.

Additionally, just because cellphone unlocking is legal does not mean it will be easy to switch carriers. According to CNET, not all wireless operators use the same network technologies or the same radio frequencies for services. ATT and T-Mobile use a technology called GSM, which can be used abroad by changing to a different SIM card. But Verizon and Sprint use a different technology, called CDMA, which doesn’t even use a SIM card.

“Even though the new law is an easy one to rally around,” CNET concludes, “it’s not likely to have a major effect on the industry since most wireless operators unlock devices when asked by their customers anyway.”