Mobile Phone Service Provider Responds to Denver TV Station Discovery of Fraud in ‘Obamaphone’ Program

A mobile phone provider has responded to a Denver television station’s undercover report that found several representatives circumvented eligibility requirements when they signed applicants up for a low income cell phone program.

In November 2014, KCNC reporter Brian Maass conducted an undercover investigation into how Total Call Mobile, a national mobile service provider based in Gardena, Calif., improperly signed applicants up for the federally-funded Lifeline program.

Lifeline was originally created in 1985 by the FCC to provide discount landline service to low income consumers. In 2005, the program expanded under the Bush Administration to include wireless service. The program has expanded significantly under President Obama, and as a result, the free phones provided by the program are often referred to as ‘Obamaphones’.

Lifeline is funded from taxes tacked on to mobile phone bills. It typically appears in statements as a line item reading ‘Universal Service Tax’ or something similar. According to KCNC, the program costs $2 billion per year.

There are strict eligibility requirements for Lifeline, among them is the requirement that the applicant is on a low income program like food stamps, Medicaid or housing assistance.

Undercover KCNC employees posing as Lifeline applicants were still able to receive free cell phones even after stating they could not document they were in a low income program. Their applications were accepted using someone else’s food stamp card, Medicaid card or other proof of low income.

Another form of fraud the report found was that many people who already had separate mobile service with smartphones had successfully signed up for Lifeline. One applicant in particular showed a KCNC reporter that he had a smartphone with service costing $57 a month. He was initially turned down for Lifeline, because he did not have a food stamp card, but after obtaining one with no money on it, was able to re-apply and get a free cell phone.

Total Call sent a letter to KCNC expressing outrage over the actions of the representatives and the applicants. The company claimed that it would report these actions to authorities. According to KCNC’s November report, the FCC claims it has fined vendors more than $95 million since 2012 for actions similar to those in the report. Total Call has also set up a hotline to report fraud; whistleblowers can call 1-800-589-6316. The company has also identified all agents in the report and blocked them from accessing its systems.

While Total Mobile has responded appropriately to the fraudulent actions of these agents, several doubts arise about the sincerity of the company’s actions. Nothing was done to discourage this kind of behavior until after the KCNC report. Some may view the million in fines compared to the billions that have been collected as a cost of doing business.

It’s unacceptable that people who can afford regular mobile service are also obtaining Lifeline phones. At a time when payphones have all but disappeared from the landscape, cell phones can literally be a lifeline in an emergency. Hopefully those who should have Lifeline but don’t, won’t be in a situation where they need to make a call. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

TelStrat EngageRecord Passes Avaya Compatibility Testing

The cooperation of enterprises with one another can go a long way toward product/device interoperability and increased sales for their products. Avaya, a provider of business business communications and collaboration software, has created its DevConnect program to involve third parties that wish to combine Avaya's global reach with their own products.

One partner in the DevConnect program, TelStrat, recently announced that its EngageRecord call recording software is now complaint with Avaya IP Office Contact Center 9.0.3 and Avaya IP Office 9.0. EngageRecord allows call centers to record customer-agent interaction data that may be relevant to federal and state laws regarding customer privacy. This makes it possible, said Bob Carroll, the CEO of TelStrat, for small and midsize companies that use Avaya products to take advantage of industry-class call recording that operates seamlessly with call center inter-office communications.

“Small and midsized customers have access to the same innovative contact center recording and [workforce optimization] tools previously available only to large enterprises. We look forward to helping more organizations, regardless of their size, deliver an exceptional customer experience,” Carroll commented.

Eric Rossman, the vice president of Developer Relations at Avaya, continued by stating that customers can now purchase EngageRecord directly from Avaya and its channel partners now that TelStrat has completed compliance testing as part of the DevConnect program.

DevConnect appears to be growing at a rapid pace. TMC noted that the addition of third party Fonolo, with its In-Call Rescue product that offers virtual queuing, has cemented Avaya's program as a place where other companies want to be. Like Fonolo, TelStrat submitted its product to the Avaya Solution Interoperability and Test Lab where a group of Avaya engineers tested its product to determine its level of compatibility with Avaya software.

TelStrat's passing of that compliance testing means that companies that wish to adopt a call recording program can be assured their use of EngageRecord will work well with the infrastructure they already have in place.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Philippines Contact Center Industry Threatened

Philippines Contact Center Industry Threatened

January 29, 2015

Despite all the noise about call centers relocating back to the U.S. from overseas locales, the industry is still going strong in the Philippines. A recent report noted that some 94 percent of its call center industry is with American companies, who outsource their business to the island nation.

But that success may be in jeopardy. According to a report in Business World Online, a Filipino publication, there’s a movement taking shape to do away with a current “income tax holiday” on call center business.

“The government should hold and re-think the proposed amendment to erase the income tax holiday from [a] list of incentives [currently being considered], as many foreign companies will find our country not that good for business, especially with a lot of countries giving better and bigger incentives than the Philippines.” That comment was made by Benedict C. Hernandez, current president and chairman of the Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP), speaking while attending an industry conference in the Philippines’ Pasay City.

As if the threat of removing a tax break for call centers wasn’t enough of a concern, Hernandez also noted that finding individuals with the necessary skill set to work in a call center is a growing challenge.

“If we want to surpass or even achieve the (industry’s) 15 percent growth forecast, we need to ‘man up’ our workstations, but now, there’s lack of qualified talent so we’re having a hard time in that respect,” he told Business World Online.

In 2014, CCAP posted revenue of $11.7 billion, up from $10 billion a year earlier. For 2015, the group is forecasting $13.5 billion in revenue, hoping to maintain its 15 percent to 18 percent growth projection.

In response to industry concerns, Philippine President Benigno S. C. Aquino III said in his closing remarks at the conference in Pasay City that the government is eager to work with the industry in building a more inclusive economy.

“Our administration is aware that among the concerns of your industry is finding individuals with the necessary skill sets to man your workstations,” he said. “This is why we have focused on improving programs like the Training for Work Scholarship Program.”

So far, Aquino said the government has allocated P125 million to roll out the program in 17 pilot state universities and colleges both in metro Manila and smaller cities.

HTML5 Video Now a Fact of Life on YouTube

For years, Flash was the video of choice when it came to life on YouTube, but for users of Google (News - Alert) Chrome, Internet Explorer 11, and those using the current Firefox beta, there's a change in the wind. For some time, the idea of YouTube making the move from Flash to HTML5 video has been in the works, and now, it's official; YouTube (News - Alert) has started the move to make the HTML5 player the default player of video on the site.

The HTML5 beta was available to users, but more as a side choice than an actual platform. Indeed, some videos wouldn't even work with HTML5, though the use of Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) in HTML5 has allowed YouTube to offer up a complete rights management solution. YouTube's Richard Leider, who serves as engineering manager, noted that using EME allows for a separation between content protection and content delivery, which means that the same HTML5 player can be used on several different platforms. Leider also noted that YouTube wasn't alone in this development, as several other video providers have turned to HTML5 in a bid to serve up video faster, better, and on more platforms. Both Netflix and Vimeo (News - Alert) are turning to the concept, according to Leider, and such aren't alone in the field. Netflix, however, does still have quite a bit of Silverlight in its video delivery systems, so the process is likely a gradual one.

YouTube is also eagerly pointing out its use of the VP9 codec, which has been a part of “hundreds of billions” of videos served up already. Plus, YouTube notes that its use of the adaptive bitrate streaming concept allows for higher-quality video to be streamed with less buffering getting in the way and slowing up the mix, meaning that video—as Leider put it—is now “faster and smoother” than seen before.

There's a lot of value in using HTML5 as a video delivery platform, particularly in that it works well on a variety of different platforms, keeping development costs to something of a minimum and allowing ready access to new audiences who weren't formerly putting the system to work on other platforms. Yet there does seem to be a note of mixed reaction when it comes to this decision; some appear to believe that HTML5 isn't itself quite “ready for prime time”, so to speak, and needed some more in the way of optimization before it became such a major part of one of the biggest video streaming sites around.

Still, with YouTube being a fairly major part of a lot of people's entertainment budget—and with good reason, too; there's a host of videos in just about every classification ranging from short horror film to comedy to cat videos and beyond—bolstering its capability to present said video smoothly and efficiently is going to prove valuable in the end to YouTube's users, content providers, and advertisers as well. This likely won't prove a bad decision, and may well give us just the edge we needed to make YouTube video a lot easier to come by regardless of where we are and on what we're watching that content.

Edited by Alisen Downey

YouTube says Goodbye Flash and Hello to HTML5 and WebRTC

January 29, 2015

If you have been paying attention to YouTube lately you may be aware of the news broken on their blog recently by Richard Leider, Engineering Manager, about the decision to abandon the long and much despised Flash for playing video in favor of HTML5.  What you may not be aware of, which is of more than passing interest to the WebRTC community, is the endorsement of WebRTC as well. 

Gone in a Flash! YouTube says goodbye and hello to better technologies

Without going into the details of YouTube’s early infatuation with HTML5 and all of the reasons it has decided to through its full and unadulterated support behind it, the blog spells it out in some detail.  The realities are that the good folks at YouTube are now convinced that HTML5’s maturation in terms specifically of its support of Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) now makes it not just ready literally for prime time but is the preferred way to show videos with less buffering. In fact, YouTube uses HTML5 <video> by default in Chrome, IE 11, Safari 8 and in beta versions of Firefox. And, as Leider notes, “The benefits of HTML5 extend beyond Web browsers, and it's now also used in smart TVs and other streaming devices.”

He then goes on to cite what he calls a few key technologies that have enabled this. They include:

  • MediaSource Extensions:  ABR has reduced buffering by more than 50 percent and as much as 80 percent on heavily-congested networks. MediaSource Extensions enable live streaming in game consoles like Xbox and PS4, on devices like Chromecast and in Web browsers.
  • VP9 video codec: HTML5 lets you take advantage of the open VP9 codec, which gives users higher quality video resolution with an average bandwidth reduction of 35 percent.  
  • Encrypted Media Extensions and Common Encryption: Encrypted Media Extensions separate the work of content protection from delivery, enabling content providers like YouTube to use a single HTML5 video player across a wide range of platforms. Combined with Common Encryption, YouTube can support multiple content protection technologies on different platforms with a single set of assets, making YouTube play faster and smoother.
  • Fullscreen: Using new fullscreen APIs in HTML5, YouTube can provide an enhanced fullscreen experience, (which it says is perfect for the new 4K videos being created, using a standard HTML user interface (UI).

And, as to the endorsement of WebRTC, Leider explains that it:

Enables everyone to share their videos with the world, whether uploading pre-recorded videos or broadcasting live. WebRTC allows us to build on the same technology that enables plugin-free Google Hangouts to provide broadcasting tools from within the browser.

YouTube for obvious reasons has always been and continues to be focused on using the best technologies for improving the user experience. This is includes not just the viewing experience but also making uploading easier as well. The fact that they are now defaulting to the HTML5 player on the Web really is big news for both viewing and also for sharing, and it is why they are encouraging all embedders to use the <iframe> API.  The endorsement of WebRTC as a vehicle for viewing and easily sharing should also not be overlooked.  It is just one more indication of how WebRTC is increasingly becoming a critical part of the next generation communications foundational fabric. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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Remember What Technology Can Do for You

January 29, 2015

As much of the nation is in the grips of winter weather, this serves as a good time for a friendly reminder of what technology can do for you today. Many of us are capable of doing our respective jobs and fulfilling the responsibilities therein from outside the office. Question: Would you rather be one of the lemmings, barely awake, dodging impatient drivers in the midst of inclement weather just so you can make it into the office?

My answer is a resounding no, allow me to expand. Conference call services like Web conferencing allow for seamless collaboration and communication with one’s team. Documents can still be shared, client communication remains at optimum quality and productivity remains the status quo—actually, in some cases working remotely has shown to be more productive.

Would you still rather mad the mad dash littered with men bobbing and weaving on snowy roads or women applying that mascara they didn’t have time to when they weren’t driving their car?

I’ve raised a few issues of safety—heed them well because those of us who drive to work know exactly what I am talking about.

I can understand that many have not felt the freedom of the remote workforce, but according to a recent study 41 percent of respondents felt more productive at home.  Another recent study boasts that 83 percent of respondents work from home for at least part of the week—it’s official, the remote workforce is moving mainstream.

So back to my original example of that nasty (weather-wise) morning commute, is it necessary to go through that stress? I say no. It is however worth finding out what your employer’s policy of telecommuting is.

Technology exists today to make our lives easier; the archaic ways of the 9-5 workday are no longer. The office is in many cases today is, where and when you want it to be. So the next time you’re headed to work during a wintery mix and you get cut off by the man drinking his coffee and talking on his smartphone at the same time while simultaneously making a left turn, allow the serenity of what working from home could mean to wash over you. And, when you get to the office, I’d suggest finding out your options

Edited by Alisen Downey

911 Dispatch Call Centers Suffering from Revenue Loss Due to Landline Abandonment

January 29, 2015

Contributing Writer

The explosion of mobile phones and resultant dwindling of landline phones has produced an unexpected effect: funds for 911 call centers are drying up due to most of them being sourced from a landline tax. A perfect example of the gravity of this situation is the Franklin County Sheriff's Department 911 call center near St. Louis, Missouri, as reported by local television station KMOV.

The Franklin County 911 fund has projected revenues of $692,550 in 2015 and expenditures are expected to reach $1.2 million, leaving a deficit of more than $490,000. Although the fund currently has a balance of $765,600 and therefore can cover the year's expenses, this is a strong indicator of inevitable financial issues down the road. In fact, the budget calls for a transference of about $125,000 to the county's general fund, leaving the 911 fund with a projected year-end balance of $150,000. Assuming 2016 figures are similar, $150,000 will clearly not cover revenue shortfalls unless something is done in the interim.

Revenues for the Franklin County 911 fund as recently as 2011 reached $1.1 million, generated almost entirely from a landline tax. Clearly a new solution will need to be sought out to keep the operation viable without outside help. Currently, the most prevalent proposal is to consolidate the call center with three others in surrounding towns - Washington, Pacific and Sullivan - yet it is not a very popular solution. If anything, it would serve as a quick fix to funding problems while severely undercutting the effectiveness of operations, stepping on the toes of leadership in these call centers and doing nothing to solve the underlying issue.

The Franklin County call center currently dispatches for 16 other agencies free of charge, although the declining revenue may quickly change that fact. Another proposal is for the call center to simply charge these agencies for providing its services, which is more likely to be put into effect. However this solution again serves as a quick fix while simply shifting the financial burden to other agencies, perfectly demonstrating the complexity of this issue.

In addition to the funding problems, the 911 fund has a number of tasks to complete during the next year placing even more of a strain on the system if nothing is done. Namely, the county plans to upgrade the dispatch center's structural integrity, negotiate a new maintenance contract and update the server network on the core 911 system VIPER, enhance the microwave network to reduce leased telecommunication line costs, integrate the radio network with the St. Louis Area Regional Response System network, use new STARRS towers for public safety and upgrade workstations at the county's four dispatching centers.

So far, no official plan for dealing with the revenue losses has been determined. However, as this side effect of mobile phone usage sweeps dispatch centers around the country surely some agency will come up with an ideal solution before citizens are put into danger due to inadequate 911 services.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Kurento: Next Stop the Cloud

With growing hype surrounding the capabilities that WebRTC can provide the enterprise and consumers alike it should come as no surprise that many are trying to get this burgeoning technology to reach its full potential. Developers are tasked with creating applications to expand capabilities, and open the door to a rich, real-time world.

One such group, Kurento was started in 2010 at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid in response to several students taking up projects in the real-time multimedia space.  Since its beginning, the open source development framework is seeing an ecosystem of researchers, individual contributors, final end users and companies expand globally. Kurento is devoted to creating an advanced media server.

Kurento’s Luis Lopez told TMC Group Editorial Director at the recent WebRTC Conference & EXPO V that the team is, “Devoted the creation of an advanced media server.” Since its inception, Lopez and company have seen how much they can really do with the open source framework.

“Our media server is capable of adding things on top of the media. So we are not only transporting, we are also enriching and transforming” Lopez stated.  Kurento is providing capabilities related to both the content and telco industries.

Developers are the prime target to leverage the fruits of Kurento’s labor. Use of the API allows developers to create real time applications.

Lopez elaborates, “For example, if you’re a developer and you want to create an application requiring facial detection…using Kurento you can incorporate that type of capability in a very simple way…you can create your application from the browser or from application servers…” He continues “we have created something useful for developers to create applications on top.” 

The next step is the ‘cloudification’ of the media server, and in 2015 we should expect to see an exposed infrastructure in the clouds operable with Open Stack.

Edited by Alisen Downey

Apple Reports Record First Quarter Results

Apple has announced financial results for its fiscal 2015 first quarter ended December 27, 2014. The company posted record quarterly revenue of $74.6 billion and record quarterly net profit of $18 billion, or $3.06 per diluted share. These results compare to revenue of $57.6 billion and net profit of $13.1 billion, or $2.07 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter. Gross margin was 39.9 percent compared to 37.9 percent in the year-ago quarter. International sales accounted for 65 percent of the quarter’s revenue. The results were fueled by all-time record revenue from iPhone and Mac sales as well as record performance of the App Store. iPhone unit sales of 74.5 million also set a new record. “We’d like to thank our customers for an incredible quarter, which saw demand for Apple products soar to an all-time high,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “Our revenue grew 30 percent over last year to $74.6 billion, and the execution by our teams to achieve these results was simply phenomenal.”

New Swift Development Courses Available on iTunes U

Stanford University's iOS programming course, one of the most popular on iTunes U with over 1.2 million downloads, is now being taught using Swift. Learn how to build apps with this exciting new programming language by following Stanford's curriculum: Developing iOS 8 Apps with Swift. The first two lectures for the winter 2015 quarter are now live and additional lessons will be added as they are taught. Swift courses from other internationally recognized universities, such as Plymouth University in the UK, are also now available on iTunes U with more courses from other top educational institutions coming soon.