website utilities

People before Profit

Follow alonovo.com on:

The Consumerist

Pizza Hut Employees Fired For Writing “KKK” & Drawing Swastika Inside Pizza Box

Wed, 2015-05-20 18:19

pizzahutracismIf your racism runs so deep that you feel compelled to spell it out for people on the inside of fast food containers, maybe you shouldn’t be in a job that involves serving food to other human beings. Perhaps the three Arkansas Pizza Hut employees who were fired for this sort of behavior will remember that when they look for their next jobs.

FOX16 in Little Rock reports that some customers of a Pizza Hut in Bryant, AR, opened up their pizza box and saw that “KKK” and a swastika had been scribbled on the inside of the lid in marker. Underneath the pizza, someone had written a racial slur.

In response to incident, Pizza Hut HQ says that the employees involved in the scribbling have been fired for their “inexcusable” actions.

“We have a zero tolerance policy for this type of behavior and regularly train our employees to treat everyone fairly, equally and with respect,” reads a statement from the company. “As soon as the local franchise owner found out about this he contacted the customer and apologized. We extend that sincere apology to everyone who was offended by this ignorant act. Obviously not a true reflection of the company or the local franchisee who acted very swiftly in responding.”

The customers say they were indeed offered free dinner as a make-good, but one tells FOX16, “I don’t want it. I can’t eat Pizza Hut again. I won’t.”

[via Eater.com]

NYC Food Vendor Accused Of Charging Tourists $30 For A Hot Dog

Wed, 2015-05-20 18:12

(NBC New York)

(NBC New York [link has video that autoplays])

One of the joys of street food is that it’s usually cheap, compared to what you’d get in a sit down restaurant or even a fast food joint. But New York City officials say a rumble broke out near Ground Zero recently when a food vendor was accused of charging tourists $30 for a hot dog, while sticking to the $3 price for locals.

NBC New York (warning: link has video that autoplays) says fights have been breaking out at one particular food stand near the World Trade Center site, with customers accusing the vendor of overcharging not only for hot dogs but for soda, water and pretzels.

The news station says multiple people have reported ripoffs, some saying he’d tried to charge $20 to $30 for a hot dog, or say, $15 for a pretzel and a water. The channel’s cameras captured the vendor apparently trying to charge a local $15 for a hot dog and a pretzel.

“I said, ‘What are you, a crook?'” the customer later told NBC 4 New York. “I’m not a tourist, so I know the price in New York.”

A representative from the Alliance for Downtown New York said she heard about fights breaking out last week over the sky-high prices, saying “it gives New York a bad name.”

“To rip-off somebody, to charge them $35 for a hot dog and a pretzel, that leaves a terrible impression,” she said.

The head of security for the Alliance added that there have been five times in the last week that they’ve “observed altercations on the street over the prices being charged for hot dogs, pretzels, water, soda.”

The issue is exacerbated by the fact that the vendor’s prices aren’t posted, as required by the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs. The department says it’s investigating the vendor’s practices now, encourages those who feel they’ve been charged more than the posted price, or who find a stand that doesn’t have prices listed at all, to file a complaint at nyc.gov/consumers or to call 311.

In general, if a street cart is selling $30 hot dogs, you can always walk a few feet or a few blocks and find more street meat at a much better price.

Fights Break Out Over $30 Hot Dog Price at Stand Near Ground Zero: Officials [NBC New York]

Care.com Bans Members Without Investigating Complaints Against Them First

Wed, 2015-05-20 17:55

caredotcomWe live in a world where consumers not only expect instant gratification from the online products and services they pay for, but also instant justice when they believe they’ve been wronged. That’s why a growing number of websites now take a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach to complaints — removing content, and locking down accounts before they investigate. While many sites try to balance this preemptive practice by allowing affected users to appeal, that can’t be said about one prominent site that connects users with professional caregivers.

Becoming a new parent is hard enough, but trying to figure out what you’re going to do about care for your child when you have to go back to work is another problem entirely. That’s why some moms and dads turn to services like Care.com that are set up to help connect parents in their search for caretakers (as well as petsitters, housekeepers, and other “care” services), with those seeking employment.

So when Consumerist reader “Theresa” found herself suddenly locked out of her Care.com account in the midst of her search for a nanny, she was confused.

Theresa, who was looking for help with taking care of her newborn in advance of her return to work, tells us that she recently went to login to Care.com only to find she could not access the site.

When she called customer service to report that her password no longer worked, she received an e-mail informing her that a refund had been processed for the three-month premium membership she’d paid for.

Wait, what? She hadn’t asked about a refund, she wanted to get back into her account.

She replied saying as much, mentioning that she had interviews set up that day and as such, really needed access to her account.

A customer service rep replied, and said that after researching her issue, she’d found that her account had been closed by Care.com.

“Unfortunately we are unable to accept your membership,” the e-mail explained. “This decision is final and irreversible. No exceptions will be made to these terms.”

So no explanation, no warning, and no way to appeal?

In an effort to figure out why Theresa might have been given the boot from the site, we looked at Care.com’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use, which state that it’s not required to release the specific details about why an account has been closed.

The site does, however, provide a list of common reasons why an account might be terminated. The customer service rep wouldn’t disclose that information when Theresa asked, though going through the list item by item, Theresa discounted all of the reasons… except for possibly two.

“The individual does not meet membership criteria (e.g., is underage)”: Not the issue, Theresa is over 18.

“Care.com does not offer its services where the member is located”: The company does offer its services in the area Theresa lives in Florida, so this wasn’t it either.

“The member is not active in the service”: Not applicable here, Theresa had been on the site for a few weeks setting up interviews.

“Care.com determines that the services offered by the member are not being sufficiently utilized”: Theresa hadn’t hired a nanny yet, so she couldn’t be under-utilizing any other member’s services.

“The member has misrepresented himself or herself and/or has provided false information to Care.com”: Not the case, as Theresa had submitted all required information truthfully, she says.

“We were unable to verify the information the member provided when he/she registered”: Again, Theresa hadn’t provided any unverifiable information.

“The member has posted or searched for inappropriate words/phrases and/or content on Care.com”: Nope. Theresa is a new mom trying to find a nanny, and wasn’t using the site for any nefarious reasons.

“The member has been accused of, arrested for, or convicted of a crime”: Theresa doesn’t have a criminal past either, so this wasn’t it.

By process of elimination, there were only two items on the Care.com that Theresa says don’t apply to her, but couldn’t be eliminated outright — only because they involve other people making allegations against the banned user:

“Allegations of theft, abuse, or neglect have been brought against the member” and “The member has been alleged to have harassed other member(s) of Care.com.”

Could it be possible that someone had made this sort of complaint about Theresa?

Theresa says that she had only positive encounters with candidates she’d set up interviews with or corresponded with — and had even had her mother present for some of those meetings who could vouch for her — so she didn’t think she’d done anything that an interviewee could take umbrage with: no abuse, or harassment, and she certainly hadn’t stolen anything from interviewees. Neglect could only take place if she’d already hired someone, which she hadn’t.

She wondered, however, if someone was perhaps upset at not getting the job and had decided to retaliate by complaining to Care.com. But if that were the case, could an unfounded complaint from a disgruntled candidate be enough to get her axed from the site, without any chance to resolve or investigate the situation?

While Care.com would not discuss the specifics of Theresa’s case with Consumerist, when we asked in general if it investigates complaints on the possibility that an angry or vengeful member might lie in retaliation for not getting a job, a rep for the company said that with 14 million members, “it’s not practical to investigate every complaint.”

Once your account has been terminated, there’s no recourse to plead your case, Care.com confirmed to Consumerist, saying, “We do not have an appeals process for members whose accounts have been terminated.”

This is pretty surprising, considering much larger sites like YouTube and Twitter have appeals processes for suspended users.

What also upset Theresa about the Care.com ban was the fact that while the site wouldn’t tell her why she’d been banned, it could alert others to the fact that she’d been kicked off the site.

The Care.com e-mail about her account termination noted that the site may “remove a member for any reason or no reason,” and any decision to do so “does not constitute and should not be interpreted or used as information bearing on the member’s character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living.”

Then she received an e-mail after her termination that said Care.com reserves the right to alert other members of her termination. Her concern is that such an alert might tacitly suggest to others that she’d done something wrong, despite Care.com’s disclaimer.

Though it might seem unnecessary to share the news of a member’s termination, if using a service is the primary means of communication you have with someone else you’re either trying to hire or be hired by, it would be useful to know if that person was no longer using the site, for whatever reason. Someone seeking work who ended up finding a job, for example, would likely not want to keep receiving communication from employers, so letting them know the account is no longer active would be helpful in that scenario.

Though Theresa was unable to get her Care.com account restored, there’s still a happy ending to her ordeal: She ended up hiring one of the candidates she had interviewed before her account was terminated.

But while Theresa says she thinks Care.com is “important and necessary for working parents,” she adds that “no new mother should be treated the way I was.”

“It is shocking that a company that prides itself on being an advocate for working families wouldn’t do any due diligence before summarily canceling the account of a new mom desperate to find good care for her baby before going back to work,” Theresa tells Consumerist. “I understand it’s hard to vet millions of members, but transparency is the minimum responsibility good faith requires.”

Sam’s Club Doing Worse Than Costco, Will Try More Organic Food Maybe

Wed, 2015-05-20 17:18

(Ryan)

(Ryan)

If you’d like to study the uneven economic recovery of the last few years, just compare warehouse chains Costco and Sam’s Club. While both warehouse chains serve people who like to buy their granola bars 48 at a time, Walmart-owned Sam’s serves customers who are less affluent than the more urban customer base of Costco.

Overall revenue is down at Sam’s, and their same-store sales have increased only a tiny bit over last quarter. Discounted gas is an important member benefit, and overall lower gas prices may mean that the middle class customers of Sam’s simply aren’t bothering to make the drive over to the store for gas, picking up a box of 40 Bagel Bites while they’re at it. Yet Costco also offers gas discounts, and their customers are spending more at the warehouse store. Their revenue is up 8%.

One stock analyst told Bloomberg Business that the problem is very simple: the products at Sam’s Club simply aren’t as good as the ones offered at Costco.

Another issue might be that lower-income and middle-income Americans simply haven’t recovered from the most recent recession as well as their wealthier counterparts. That would have a direct effect on their spending at warehouse clubs, and even on the decision of whether to join or not. A card that gives someone the right to buy massive packages of toilet paper is not a necessity, even if toilet paper itself is.

Sam’s Club Losing to Costco in Battle for 30-Pack Toilet Paper [Bloomberg News]

California Grass Painters Dyeing More Lawns Green Than Ever Before Amidst Drought

Wed, 2015-05-20 17:06

(Mike Matney Photography)

(Mike Matney Photography)

We first heard of homeowners spray-painting their lawns green last summer to avoid local “brown lawn” fees on the West Coast, a trend that has only grown now that grass isn’t growing amidst California’s current drought. The owner of one such service that provides landscape painting says he’s taking more orders than ever before, as lack of rain keeps lawns thirsty and dry.

The owner of a West Sacramento business says business is booming. He charges about $0.25 per square foot, which is much cheaper than replacing an entire yard with drought-friendly plant material, another alternative.

“I probably have about seven appointments scheduled in just the next week or so,” he told News 10 (warning: link has autoplay video).

If you’re worried about things that creep and crawl, he says the dye he uses is an all-natural earth pigment that won’t hurt pets or people.

“It’s just like the regular old grass when they eat it,” he explains. “It won’t hurt them at all.”

Painting lawns green is big business in Sacramento [News 10]

Cablevision Sues Verizon Over FiOS Ads, Claims Verizon’s Touted All-Fiber Network Actually Isn’t

Wed, 2015-05-20 16:41

(erocsid)

(erocsid)


Most of the country doesn’t have much competition for broadband services. But in some of New York City’s boroughs, particularly Brooklyn and the Bronx, Cablevision and Verizon FiOS fight head to head for residential customers. The battle between the two is often ugly, and with a new lawsuit filed yesterday, it just got uglier.

Here’s the background: Verizon claims that their FiOS networks in New York are entirely fiber-optic. Cablevision runs an ad in that market claiming that Verizon’s networks actually use coaxial cables in part, and are therefore not actually all fiber. Verizon challenged Cablevision’s ads with the National Advertising Board, industry’s advertising self-regulation group. Cablevision, however, is not responding in that NAB process, and is instead filing suit against Verizon.

In the lawsuit, Cablevision is asking for the court to give them the all-clear (a declaratory judgement) to continue airing their ad on the basis that it is true and “exposes Verizon’s false and misleading marketing claim against FiOS.”

So what is Verizon saying that isn’t true? According to Cablevision, Verizon uses coax, and not fiber cable, inside the home in “all or nearly all cases.” Verizon might be fiber to the home, in other words, but not through it — FiOS customers’ routers, cable modems, and set-top boxes are using the same kind of wiring as anyone else’s.

Cablevision also contends that “in certain situations,” Verizon has used ordinary coaxial cable outside the home, as well as inside it, and therefore their all-fiber claims are even more false.

In a statement, Cablevision said, “Consumers deserve to make informed decisions based on facts, and Cablevision is asking the court to intervene to stop Verizon from attempting to continue to mislead the public.”

In their statement, meanwhile, Verizon representatives said, “Cablevision cannot compete with Verizon FiOS, or even come close to providing the Internet speeds and performance available from Verizon’s 100% fiber-optic network. Since their network can’t compete against FiOS, they resort to legal stunts, which we will challenge vigorously.”

Not only is this not Cablevision’s first lawsuit against Verizon, but it’s not even their first one this year. At the end of January, Cablevision sued Verizon over their wifi ads. In that suit, Cablevision claimed that Verizon’s “fastest wifi” ads were misleading, as the two companies offer basically the same service through the same routers.

Both lawsuits are now in progress.

California Suspends GI Bill Eligibility For ITT Tech

Wed, 2015-05-20 16:40

ITTThousands of California students planning to use veterans benefits to enroll at ITT Technical Institute campuses will need to find other means of financing their education after the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs suspended ITT Educational Services’ eligibility for GI Bill funding.

The California State Approving Agency for Veteran Education (CSAAVE), a division of the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs, suspended ITT Educational Services ability to accept GI Bill benefits after the company failed to provide required financial filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Military.com reports.

The suspension, which covers all 15 ITT Technical campuses operating in the state, only stops new enrollments and re-enrollment of veterans and their dependents who use the GI Bill. The 1,400 currently enrolled ITT Tech students using the benefits to fund their education are not affected by the suspension.

“CalVet takes very seriously our duty to ensure our California Veterans receive the education and training they are paying for with their earned GI Bill benefits,” Keith Boylan, CalVet Deputy Secretary of Veteran Services, said in a statement. “CSAAVE suspended ITT because ITT does not meet the required accreditation standards for approval.”

CalVet says that the company’s inability to provide the SEC with audited financial statements provided enough evidence to support the suspension of fund eligibility.

ITT Educational Services has until July 13 to produce the required financial documents. If it fails to do so, CalVet has the authority to withdraw the company’s VA provider status in California. At that point all students currently enrolled at the campuses would no longer be able to use GI Bill benefits to pay for their education at ITT schools in the state.

The action in California is just the latest issue ITT Educational Services has faced with regard to its finances.

Last week, the SEC filed fraud charges against current and former executives with the company for their part in concealing problems with company-run student loan programs.

The charges against the company, former CEO Kevin Modany and current CFO Daniel Fitzpatrick stem from their alleged fraudulent concealment of the poor performance and looming negative financial impact of two student loan programs the company financially guaranteed to investors.

According to the SEC complaint, the loans performed so poorly by 2012 that the company’s guarantee obligations were triggered. However, instead of disclosing the issue to investors, the SEC alleges that ITT and the executives engaged in a fraudulent scheme and made a number of false and misleading statements to hide the magnitude of ITT’s guaranteed obligations to the loan programs.

In addition to its SEC issues, ITT Technical Institute also made an appearance on the Department of Education’s Heightened Cash Monitoring list.

Placing schools on the list is a step the Dept. of Education’s Federal Student Aid office can take to provide additional oversight for a number of financial or federal compliance issues – that could can put restrictions on the college’s ability to access federal aid.

California Suspends ITT Tech GI Bill Eligibility [Military.com]

ATM Debit Card Data Theft Is Up As Much As 317%

Wed, 2015-05-20 16:30

(Ludovic Bertron)

(Ludovic Bertron)

While retailers and payment networks work to cut down on data breaches in stores and online, it looks like fraudsters are relying more on stealing your card info at the ATM, as recent months have seen an unprecedented spike in the number of debit card data thefts from both non-bank and in-bank ATMs.

The Wall Street Journal reports on data from FICO, which operates card-monitoring services covering about 2/3 of all debit cards in the U.S.

According to the company, the level of skimming attacks — where a criminal compromises an ATM machine to capture data from an ATM user’s card — on debit cards reached a 20-year peak in the first three months of 2015.

ATMs not located at banks saw the highest increase, a jump of 317% over the same period a year earlier. But ATMs actually located on bank property didn’t do too well either, up 174%. FICO can’t give actual numbers of incidents because of its deals with the financial institutions it monitors.

ATMs and other unattended places where you swipe your card — like gas pumps and even the card readers used to unlock bank vestibule doors after hours — have long been targets of scammers who install skimming devices that collect the information on a card as it’s inserted. More sophisticated skimmers also employ cameras and other technology to collect information that’s not stored on the card, like a user’s PIN.

This information can be used to make online purchases, drain a user’s bank account, or make counterfeit cards with identical information.

The banking industry is hoping that the introduction of chip-embedded cards in the coming months will reduce the level of fraud, as they are often the ones on the hook for fraudulent transactions. Many retailers have already began upgrading their payment equipment to work with the new cards, but the ATM rollout is just beginning.

An exec for NCR, a company that makes many of the ATMs currently in use, tells the journals that skim artists “know there is still vulnerability [at the ATM] and they are trying to capitalize on it.”

Group Of Travel Sites Claim Delta Air Lines Has Cut Them Off From Using Its Data

Wed, 2015-05-20 16:03

(zonaphoto)

(zonaphoto)

Travelers often turn to travel websites to search for the cheapest fares and quickest flights out there, but a group of more than a dozen sites now says Delta Air Lines has shut them out, and is keeping its data to itself.

A report set to be released today by the Travel Technology Association says sites like TripAdvisor, Hipmunk and CheapOair.com no longer have accesses to Delta’s information, reports the Wall Street Journal. The report says Delta claims it didn’t authorize those sites and others to use its data.

The group cites this move as another example of airlines trying to restrict how sites can use their fare and schedule data, if at all, claiming that American Airlines and United have also changed their policies to limit how the sites use their data.

Southwest Airlines already keeps its data from travel sites, in an effort to push customers to its own site, where it’s easier to upsell passengers on seat upgrades and frequent-flier points.

Though these sites Delta has shut out make up somewhat of a small piece of the pie when it comes to flight searches, the group says its members fear in general that the airlines are preparing to eventually pull out of such fare-comparison sites all together, which the organization says would make it easier for airlines to rase fares.

“Delta has been the most egregious, but this is about the large carriers leveraging their market dominance to restrict and selectively choose the winners and losers—and the losers are the American public,” Bryan Saltzburg, head of flight search at TripAdvisor told the WSJ. “We are far from the only company impacted from this. We just feel strongly enough to talk about it.”

Other sites like Expedia and its new merger partner Orbitz and Priceline declined to comment to the WSJ.

While Delta wouldn’t specifically comment on this case, it said it “reserves the right to determine who it does business with, and where and how its information is displayed.” It said it would “continue partnering with a limited, but responsive and adaptable group of online retailers.”

This has shades of the American versus Orbitz kerfuffle last year, when the airline temporarily yanked its flight data from Orbitz over a booking fee feud, before deciding to kiss and make up a week later.

Travel Websites Allege Delta Air Lines Is Shutting Them Out [Wall Street Journal]

KFC Creates Tray Keyboard, So Your Greasy Fingers Don’t Smudge The Smartphone

Wed, 2015-05-20 15:45

KFC restaurants in Germany rolled out a limited-time tray liner that moonlights as a keyboard for your smartphone.

KFC restaurants in Germany rolled out a limited-time tray liner that moonlights as a keyboard for your smartphone.

For many consumers sitting down for dinner now includes an extra guest: their smartphone. But sometimes the meal can get a bit messy. To keep your grubby fingers off your pristine mobile device, Kentucky Fried Chicken has created the Tray Typer; a bluetooth keyboard that keeps you connected even with the greasiest of fingers.

The Verge reports that the keyboard, which replaces the traditional paper liners found on fast food trays, is part of the company’s latest advertising campaign in Germany.

The rechargeable high-tech tray liner is reportedly durable enough to be wiped down and used over and over at the restaurants.

However, the launch of the limited-time gimmick was so popular, a representative for the advertising company that made the product tells The Verge, that each one that was handed out during the initial campaign ended up going home with customers.

( function() { var func = function() { var iframe_form = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-form-e752d66ed840a8d01bfe2b98ee30d141-555c94482ed0b'); var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-e752d66ed840a8d01bfe2b98ee30d141-555c94482ed0b'); if ( iframe_form && iframe ) { iframe_form.submit(); iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-e752d66ed840a8d01bfe2b98ee30d141-555c94482ed0b' }, window.location.protocol + '//wpcomwidgets.com' ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( 'wpcomwidgets.com' !== origin.host ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof e.data || undefined === e.data.msg_type ) return; switch ( e.data.msg_type ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( e.data._request.frame_id ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( e.data.height ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )();

KFC Tray Typer keyboard is finger clickin’ good [The Verge]

West Coast Port Slowdown Is A Bonanza For Fashion Bargain-Hunters

Wed, 2015-05-20 01:18

Listener42

Listener42

The cargo-unloading slowdown on the West Coast of the United States had far-reaching effects on the global economy, causing problems for everyone from McDonald’s in Japan to truckers in Los Angeles. It was especially harmful to the fashion industry, which saw hot styles shipped over from Asia cool down as they sat off the coast, unable to be unloaded and put in stores. However, this means a bonanza for off-price retailers.

Some of these clothes and accessories might find their way to the department store chains’ own downscale stores, like Nordstrom Rack and Off 5th. There are entire off-price chains built on opportunities like this, though, and TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, and their colleagues are ready to buy up all of those clothes that have finally found their way out of the cargo backlog. This led to a great first quarter for TJX, owner of TJ Maxx and Marshalls,

Off-price retailers do produce their own clothing as well, often licensing the name of a prominent brand but making the clothes themselves a little bit downmarket from similar items from the original. However, the port slowdown has apparently been great for fashion discounters and for bargain-hunters alike.

Off-price retailers strike gold from West Coast slowdown [Reuters]

SprintShack Stores Will Be Fully Staffed And Stocked In June

Wed, 2015-05-20 00:22

sprintshackThe deal that Sprint made with the new owners of RadioShack means that the mobile carrier gets to effectively double the number of retail stores that it runs. That’s great for Sprint, but means that they need to hire people or move existing employees to the new stores. Don’t worry: Sprint will be ready and even have their signage out front by July.

We learned this from an appearance by the company’s chief financial officer, Joe Euteneuer, at a JP Morgan investor conference this week. He told investors that the good part about taking over stores that are already open is that there isn’t a lot to do: they need employees to work in them, of course, but the only other things they need to do are stock the shelves with Sprint, Virgin Mobile, and Boost phones, and put signs up with prominent Sprint branding.

Another interesting piece of information is that the numbers of people who begin Sprint service and then return their devices to the store within the initial 14-day return period is lower than ever, which is probably because the carrier is close to finished with their LTE network buildout.

Sprint-RadioShack Stores to Be Fully Staffed by Mid-June [Wireless Week]
Sprint’s Euteneuer: We’re looking at 600 MHz auction, but don’t need to participate [Fierce Wireless]

Senator Calls For Investigation Into Three For-Profit College Chains, Restrictions On Future Campus Sales

Tue, 2015-05-19 23:28
(bluwmongoose)

(bluwmongoose)

The struggle to protect students from potentially harmful for-profit college chains continued today as Illinois Senator Dick Durbin urged the Department of Education to investigate the business practices of three of the country’s largest propriety education companies – ITT Educational Services, Career Education Corporation, and Education Management Corporation.

In a letter [PDF] to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Durbin pushed the Dept. to increase its oversight of the companies, hold them accountable for their actions and put restrictions on any campus sales in order to protect students and taxpayers.

The companies are three of the largest for-profit players in the country; ITT Education Services owns the ITT Technical chain, EDMC operates a number of small colleges including The Arts Institutes and Argosy schools and CEC owns several career colleges and universities including Colorado Technical and American InterContinental.

Durbin asks the Secretary Duncan to provide information related to any steps the Dept. has taken to address allegations that the three schools have engaged in harmful practices such as inflating job placement rates, perpetrating deceptive recruitment tactics, pushing students into high-cost private loans and failure to provide required financial documents to regulators.

ITT Educational Services was recently charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

CEC has faced a number of lawsuits and investigations stemming from accusations it inflated job placement rates for its graduates.

Likewise, EDMC – which is partially owned by Goldman Sachs – has faced its share of issues in recent years, from falling enrollments and financial difficulties and increased scrutiny from state and federal regulators.

Back in 2011, the company was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice and four states. That lawsuit accused the company of violating a federal law against paying recruiters based on the number of students they manage to enroll.

“For each of these companies, what steps has the Department taken to ensure that current and prospective students are informed of ongoing investigations and lawsuits?” the letter asks.

Durbin warned that the Department’s failure to fully scrutinize ITT Tech, EDMC and CEC would be akin to risking “another Corinthian-style debacle.”

Now-bankrupt Corinthian Colleges Inc. – the operator of chains Everest University, Heald College and WyoTech – endured a slow downfall after finding itself under investigation from several state and federal agencies beginning in 2012.

The school entered into an agreement with the Department of Education last July to sell or close a majority of its campuses. Prior to the agreement CCI enrolled 72,000 students and received $1.4 billion in federal student aid. The company closed all of its campuses last month.

“The collapse of Corinthian Colleges, Inc. should be a wake-up call for the Department of Education and lead to earlier and more aggressive oversight of for-profit colleges,” the letter states. “Unfortunately, Corinthian is not unique in the for-profit industry. Other major for-profit education companies, including CEC, EDMC, and ITT Tech, face a litany of investigations and lawsuits similar to Corinthian and are all on the Department’s own Heightened Cash Monitoring list. The Department must investigate these companies and aggressively hold them accountable for wrongdoing in order to protect students and taxpayers.”

In the letter, Durbin argues that the Dept. allowed CCI to continue receiving billions of dollars in federal funds despite a litany of investigations and lawsuits levied against the company.

“Those mistakes must not be repeated,” Durbin writes. “Failure to act now with respect to wrongdoing by other for-profit colleges will harm a large population of student borrowers and subject the Department to a new wave of legitimate claims for loan relief.”

In addition to requesting information about steps to oversee the companies, Durbin urged the Dept. to put conditions on any sale of CEC, EDMC and ITT Tech campuses.

Both CEC and EDMC have recently announced they would sell or close a number of schools in the wake of falling enrollment and decreased revenue.

“In August 2014, with respect to the sale of Corinthian campuses, you assured me in writing that ‘the Department will not approve a sale to another entity if that entity is currently under State and/or Federal investigation,'” Durbin writes. “Today, I ask you to make that same commitment with respect to the potential sale of brands or campuses owned by CEC, EDMC, and ITT Tech.”

Weight Watchers Ice Cream Bars Set Good Example, Lose Weight

Tue, 2015-05-19 22:42

Weight Watchers-branded meals and snacks are supposed to make it easier to follow the Weight Watchers points system and, well, lose weight. Reader M is a fan of their packaged ice cream bars, and was disappointed when she noticed that they’re a little bit smaller than they used to be after a recent package redesign. Yes, it was the Grocery Shrink Ray.

Granted, they aren’t a lot smaller. Each bar has lost 2 grams, which is about the same weight as a U.S. dime. Yet the fluid ounces remains the same, which means they may have switched to a slightly less dense formula for the frozen dairy dessert.

Here’s the original packaging:

giantfudge1

Here’s the nutritional information that went along with it:

giantfudge3

Here’s the redesigned package. Nothing different here, other than the addition of “No artificial sweeteners” to the front of the package.

giantfudge2

Ah, but the bar has lost two grams when you look at the nutrition information. “It really made me mad cause all the manufacturers are doing the same dirty tricks,” M writes. Then at some point in the future they’ll probably advertise ‘new larger size!!!'” Or advertise a “jumbo” fudge bar that weighs 80 grams and costs more than these bars.

giantfudge4

L.A. City Council Votes To Raise Minimum Wage To $15/Hour By 2020

Tue, 2015-05-19 22:42

(.sanden.)

(.sanden.)

At $9/hour, the current minimum wage in Los Angeles is already well above the $7.25/hour federal minimum. But today the L.A. City Council voted for a plan that will increase that wage to $15/hour by 2020.

According to the L.A. Times, some 800,000 workers in the city will be affected by the increase if it is adopted.

The original plan, put forth by Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2014, would have raised pay to $13.25/hour by 2017. But labor groups pushed for the $15 hourly rate, which will be phased into for many employees over the next five years. Nonprofits and businesses with fewer employees will have an additional year to comply.

One of the biggest criticisms of minimum wage rates is that they are often raised only periodically. This hurts workers whose pay may lag behind increases in cost of living, and it is often costly to employers who suddenly have to raise wages for workers.

The L.A. plan is to, starting in 2022, tie minimum wage increases to the consumer price index. The idea is that in years of price inflation, low-wage workers won’t get left behind while employers won’t be compelled to give raises during flat or down years.

While a number of labor groups cheered the decision, many small business owners maintain that the higher wages are untenable and they will be forced to reduce their headcount.

The plan, which was approved by a vote of 14-1, will now go to city attorney, who will draft an actual ordinance for the council to approve.

If signed into law by the mayor, the first stage of the wage increase would bring the minimum wage to $10.50/hour starting in July 2016.

Seattle was the first major city to get the $15/hour minimum wage ball rolling when its city council voted last summer to approve a plan to raise wages over the course of up to seven years. San Francisco, where the minimum wage is already over $12/hour, followed suit in November 2014. Its plan will reach the $15/hour target by July 2018. And like the L.A. proposal, future wage increases will be tied to the CPI.

Does Net Neutrality Give The FCC Authority To Overturn Data Caps?

Tue, 2015-05-19 22:19

(djgrafite)

(djgrafite)

While some cable companies, like Comcast and Cox, continue to run regional tests of data caps for their broadband services, at least one major industry analyst is egging the industry to establish harder data caps before the FCC’s new net neutrality rules go into effect in mid-June, even though the new rules don’t actually set any hard and clear guidelines about the Commission’s authority to intervene on the issue of data caps.

The Open Internet Order [PDF] does include transparency rules that require Internet service providers are clear with their customers about data caps and any repercussions for exceeding those limits. Some companies throttle users’ speeds after passing a monthly limit; some shut off service unless the customer pays for additional gigabytes.

All of this is supposed to be clear to the customer. If the ISP is hiding this information or making it difficult to understand, the FCC could intervene. However, it’s likely that the intervention would only extend to making sure the policies are made clear, not getting rid of the caps.

These transparency rules have actually been in place since the 2010 Open Internet Order, and the FCC has warned ISPs about violating them, but data caps have continued to proliferate.

The only way that the new Open Internet Order could result in the FCC eliminating or curbing data caps is if they are found to be in violation of the so-called General Conduct Rule.

The FCC does not specifically call out data caps in the Order, so consumers or content companies would need to make their case that a data cap puts either or both of them at an unreasonable disadvantage.

A simple example would be a cable company ISP with a data cap so low that a large number of subscribers approach the monthly limit through regular use. This could be seen as a cable company trying to make streaming video competitors less attractive to the benefit of its own pay-TV business. Another possible reason is that the ISP is trying to earn overage fees by taking advantage of a lack of competition for broadband access in the area. In either case, the ISP would likely need to demonstrate that its cap is set so low because of a genuine congestion issue.

For now, the above example is an extreme, as most cable ISPs with caps set them well above the monthly usage average. But as streaming video grows in popularity — along with the increased use of web-connected devices in the home — there will come a time when it might not just be data hogs bumping their heads against that ceiling every month.

A more complicated example of a possible future challenge to data caps would involve so-called “zero-rating” arrangements between ISPs and certain content providers. In these deals, the data from that content provider is not charged against a user’s data cap.

If Cable Company X has this sort of arrangement with Streaming Video Company Y, then Y’s competition could try to argue that consumers are less likely to use their services because that could put users over their monthly limits. In that case, an FCC ruling could impact both the use of data caps and zero-rating agreements.

In short, the answer to whether or not the FCC can get rid of data caps is that the Commission has the authority to investigate and respond to practices that may unreasonably disadvantage consumers and/or content providers, but data cap opponents are going to have to make a convincing case that these restrictions are so unfair as to fall into that category.

Lawsuit Over JCPenney’s Alleged Imaginary Discounts Receives Class Action Status

Tue, 2015-05-19 22:06
(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

A class-action lawsuit that accuses JCPenney’s of violating consumer protection laws by using deceptive discount practices received the go-ahead from a federal judge on Tuesday.

Reuters reports that a U.S. District Judge in Los Angeles certified the class action over claims the retailer marked up prices on items to dupe customers into believing they were getting a good deal on apparel and accessories.

The judge said it was possible to determine through the California suit whether or not JCPenney’s pricing practices caused consumers in the state to buy items at fabricated discounts.

According to the complaint, the retailer ran a “massive, years-long, pervasive campaign” to deceive shoppers about the pricing of private-label brands and outside brands sold exclusively at the store, Reuters reports.

Following the judge’s certification, the suit will cover only purchases made from November 5, 2010 to January 31, 2012 at JCPenney stores in California. The transactions must include private-label or exclusive items from the retailer that were purported to be 30% off or more.

The lawsuit was filed by a California woman who says she bought three blouses for $17.00 each at a JCPenney store. The price of the blouses allegedly represented a 40% discount from the original price of $30, however the woman later learned the shirts hadn’t sold for more than $17.99 at any time in the previous three months.

According to Reuters, the Federal Trade Commission stipulates that retailers must sell items at original prices for a “reasonable length of time” before adding discounts, if they wish to provide the original prices to consumers who compare costs.

Judge certifies class action over JC Penney phantom discounts [Reuters]

34 Million Takata Airbags Declared Defective, More Recalls To Come

Tue, 2015-05-19 21:18

takataAfter months of resisting federal regulators’ push for a national recall of vehicles containing defective Takata-produced airbags that could spew shrapnel when deployed, the Japanese auto parts maker announced today that it has declared an estimated 34 million vehicles defective because of the potentially deadly safety devices. The declaration is the first step in what will likely be the county’s largest recall of a consumer product.

Takata’s decision was unveiled during a joint announcement with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head Mark Rosekind and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

“Takata has agreed to confirm that Takata airbag inflators are defective,” Foxx said. “It is fair to say this is the most complex consumer recall in U.S. history. The Department of Transportation is taking the proactive steps necessary to ensure that defective inflators are replaced with safe ones as quickly as possible, and that the highest risks are addressed first. We will not stop our work until every air bag is replaced.”

The latest action expands regional recalls of Takata passenger-side inflators, currently limited to areas of high absolute humidity, to nationwide recalls involving more than 16 million vehicles. They also expand the current nationwide recall of driver-side inflators to more than 17 million vehicles.

Prior to Tuesday, Takata-related recalls in the U.S. totaled about 17 million vehicles by 10 different automakers including BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota. Those automakers must now review Takata’s reports to determine which additional vehicles should be recalled.

NHTSA said that the added recalls could take years to finish, and that it expects vehicles will fixed based upon risk. Consumers can find vehicle identification numbers of the affected cars on safercar.gov/recallsspotlight.

Takata’s announcement was preceded by the filing of a series of four defect information reports with NHTSA that declare both driver and passenger airbag inflators defective in more than 33.8 million vehicles; roughly 17 million more than were previously recalled in the U.S., the Detroit News reported.

In all, the defect has been linked to six deaths and 105 injuries.

Despite the expanded recall, Takata, regulators and auto manufacturers have still failed to detect the root cause of the airbag’s tendency to explode with enough force to injure passengers and drivers. Previous reports have pointed to the likelihood that moisture seeping into the device rendered the chemical Takata uses – ammonium nitrate – unstable.

Back in November, Takata sent a senior vice president as the only Takata representative to address a U.S. congressional hearing. At that time Hiroshi Shimizu said the company wouldn’t initiate a national recall despite federal regulators urging to do so. He said the decision was made, in part, because the company doesn’t believe that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has the power to order such an initiative and because testing hasn’t shown what’s really behind the issue.

Regulators first opened an investigation into the issue in June 2014 after automakers began recalling millions of vehicles.

In February, the agency began fining the company $14,000 per day for failing to turn over documents and answer questions. Investigators said the fine was a result Takata’s slow pace in working with the agency.

A week later, NHTSA upgraded its probe to an engineering analysis. The regulators said the formal step intensifies the investigation and could help determine whether the company’s failure to quickly notify the agency of possible defects violated federal law or regulations.

Shortly after that, Takata said that it would double its production of replacement airbags over the next six months.

Takata to declare 33.8M vehicles defective [The Detroit News]

Survey Says: 30% Of People Who Admit To Tweeting While Driving Do It “All The Time”

Tue, 2015-05-19 21:14

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

While we’ve heard of people doing things they shouldn’t be doing while they’re driving — like playing the guitar and taking selfies, not to mention texting — it’s still shocking to look at the numbers tied to distracted driving. A new survey says the trendy thing to do behind the wheel now is using social media like Twitter, with plenty of people admitting they do it “all the time.”

AT&T released a survey it commissioned today that says drivers are increasingly using Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, while also taking selfies and shooting videos. The company has discouraged drivers from taking their eyes off the road, and teamed with Braun Research to poll people who own a smartphone and drive at least once a day.

Of those drivers, 27% ages 16 to 65 reported using Facebook behind the wheel, with 14% admitting to using Twitter. But of those, 30% said they were posting while driving “all the time.” Sigh.

That’s not all — chatting on video is also popular for drivers.

“One in 10 say they do video chat while driving. I don’t even have words for that,” Lori Lee, AT&T’s senior executive vice president for global marketing told the New York Times’ Bits Blog.

Texting is still the most popular activity for distracted drivers, with 61% of people reporting they do that on the road, followed by 33% who email and 28 percent who browse the Internet.

Distracted driving is a real and growing problem, safety advocates say: The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found in its 2014 survey about driver behavior that 36.% of drivers read a text or other message, and 27.1% had typed one. That’s in comparison to the 2012 survey, which found that 34.7% percent read a communication and 26.2% typed one.

New Jersey Won’t Get Self-Serve Gas Pumps Anytime Soon

Tue, 2015-05-19 20:12

(Morton Fox)

(Morton Fox)

As things stand right now, there are only two states in the nation where drivers are not allowed to pump their own gas: New Jersey and Oregon. Both states have legislation pending that would put an end to the days of full-serve only, but a powerful Garden State legislator has made it known that there will be no self-serve on his watch.

Lawmakers in New Jersey recently introduced a bill that would roll back the state’s 1949 Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act by decriminalizing self-serve gas. It would also allow for a three-year transition period where gas stations would be required to keep at least one full-serve island during that time.

However, State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who decides which bills get put up to a vote, is not only vocally opposed to the idea, he’s flat-out said that any legislation legalizing self-serve might as well be dead-on-arrival.

“I continue to support the full service requirement for New Jersey’s gas stations and I will oppose any attempt to rescind the law that has effectively served the best interests of the state’s motorists for decades,” the state senator said, according to NJ.com. “As long as I am Senate President, the ban on self-serve will stay in place.”

He maintains that full-serve gas is a “matter of convenience and especially important to the disabled, senior citizens and others who would find it difficult or impossible to operate gas pumps.”

Adds Sweeney, “We’ve been doing it the right way in New Jersey. We should not change.”

If Sweeney is true to his word and blocks any vote on pro-self-serve bills, the earliest that a vote could happen would be after the current senate session ends in 2017.

There are good arguments for and against mandatory full-serve. On the one hand, it is nice to have someone else deal with the pumping, especially in unpleasant weather. And it certainly is helpful for drivers who have difficulty getting in and out of their vehicles.

But anyone who has ever pulled into a NJ Turnpike rest stop to see long lines at the gas pumps because there aren’t enough attendants, or who have waited too long to get gas because an attendant is overwhelmed with too many customers at once, knows that some of these problems can be alleviated by just allowing drivers to pump their own gas.

The lower labor costs of operating a purely self-serve station are also seen as a reason for getting rid of full-serve, though it’s worth noting that most gas prices in New Jersey are already lower than they are in neighboring New York and Pennsylvania where self-serve is the norm. The AP reports that a full-serve attendant adds about $.05/gallon to the retail price of gas. If the gas station operators in NJ were to cut staff, would those savings be passed on to drivers?

Pages