Amazon’s Alexa Inches Closer To Human With Ability To Whisper, Raise Voice

Sure, talking to a speaker definitely isn’t the same as talking to your friend, but if you have an Echo — or other device with Alexa integration — it may soon seem more like a human-to-human convo. 

That’s because Amazon is providing the virtual assistant with a new set of speaking skills that allow her to have a more “natural” expression.

According to Amazon, this means giving Alexa the ability to pause for emphasis, whisper, change pitch and volume, and bleep out expletives (which humans don’t do when they speak, but it is kind of funny).

The new abilities were created through Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML) that allows app developers to code Alexa reactions into applications. By adding the codes, Amazon says developers will be able to control how Alexa generates speech.

For example, including the Amazon effect “whispered” will result in Alexa using a softer voice, while “expletive” will make the assistant bleep out a word that may cause offense.

TechCrunch notes that while developers can now make Alexa sound more humanlike, Amazon has also put some controls in place. For example, you won’t be able to make Alexa project high-pitched screams or squeaks — yet.

So, no annoying your friends when they walk in the door.


Source: Consumer Reviews

Apple, Uber, Tesla Ask California To Revise Rules For Self-Driving Cars

Now that California has proposed rules intended to make it easier for tech companies to test self-driving vehicles on public streets, those companies are calling on the state to make additional changes that would further favor the industry.

Tesla, Apple, Uber, and other companies delving into the self-driving vehicle market asked the California DMV to revise its proposals related to the type of vehicles allowed under the self-driving programs and reporting systems.

The proposed rules require that autonomous vehicle testers include data on the times a car’s self-driving mechanisms are turned off, or disengaged, and put under the control of a human driver. The idea is that this will provide some transparency about the amount of time these cars spend actually driving themselves.

However, in its letter [PDF] to the DMV, Apple argues that this requirement is too strict and that it doesn’t provide the public an accurate metric to consider.

Apple, which is reportedly prepping to begin testing self-driving tech, lists a number of situations where autonomous systems might be turned off that shouldn’t be factored into these reports.

For example, if a system is turned off so that the driver can navigate a construction zone; or when a driver uses their discretion to manually disengage the system because of a possible threat from an approaching vehicle.

The letter even suggests that system errors or failures should not be included in these disengagement reports, unless they affect the safety of the vehicle.

In fact, Apple only wants to limit these reports to incidents where a driver has to assume control “to prevent a crash or traffic violation.”

Seeking to possibly test larger self-driving vehicles, Tesla asked [PDF] the DMV to revise a provision that would bar autonomous testing in vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds. Tesla contends this does not promote safety and stifles innovation.

The company also disagreed with a DMV proposal that prevents companies from selling test vehicles to anyone other than another company that is testing self-driving cars.

While this rule is intended to prevent prototype vehicles from making their way to the market, Tesla says that many of the cars it currently manufactures have the sensing and computational hardware necessary for full self-driving — they just haven’t had the features activated. As opposed to some cars with obvious mounted sensor rigs, the only difference between a self-driving Tesla and a Tesla you’d see at the mall parking lot is software.

Tesla says it should be able to sell test cars because it can “return the vehicles to production condition by re-loading production software… However, if such a vehicle has participated in any testing on public roads in California, the rule-making would prevent Tesla from ever being able to re-sell the vehicle.”

Uber, which has had a back-and-forth relationship with California when it comes to self-driving tests, is obviously hoping to have a fleet of self-driving cars to pick up paying customers, but the proposed rule would not allow Uber or anyone to charge for rides in test vehicles.

“Paying members of the public should have the opportunity to ride in autonomous test vehicles with drivers,” the company says [PDF]. “Having paying riders is an important part of testing… and the safety represents in the Department’s testing regulations are sufficient to keep passengers safe.”

Uber also takes issue with a provision that asks companies to coordinate tests with local law enforcement.

While it might be nice to give a heads up that driverless cars are going to be testing in the area, Uber believes it would not provide an accurate testing environment.

“The coordination requirement risks created a fractured and inefficient testing regime because local authorities have neither the guidance nor expertise to evaluate the technology.”

As for Alphabet Inc’s Waymo, the company asks [PDF] the DMV to provide clarity on what type of permit is required depending on whether or not a driver is present.

The company also suggests that the DMV revise its definition of “remote operator,” as the current provision does not recognize that functions of a remote operator can be preformed by multiple people.


Source: Consumer Reviews

4 Misleading Things ISPs And The FCC Need To Stop Claiming About Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is a handy name for a pretty simple principle: the idea that the company providing your internet access should deliver you the online content of your choosing, when you choose it, without interfering. And since 2015, it’s been the law of the land. Now we stand to lose it once again — but the arguments that industry and some regulators are making against it are disingenuous at best, and a pack of lies at worst.

Industry and the FCC alike seemed surprised in 2014 when Americans — encouraged by John Oliver’s coverage of “cable company f*ckery” — reacted en masse to rally for net neutrality. This time around, however, they’re prepared.

Acting in lock-step, with the same set of talking points, companies like Comcast and AT&T, trade groups like USTelecom and the NCTA, and Chairman Ajit Pai himself have all been bombarding the public with lines from the same script about how terrible the existing rule is and why it needs to be reversed to “restore freedom.”

We’ll give credit where it’s due: This particular group of credulity-straining half-truths is a slightly different set than the ones the industry trotted out in 2014. What they still are, however, is rubbish — so let’s debunk a bunch of them.

Claim: Net neutrality has hurt investment and the broadband industry.

This is one we hear over and over from FCC chairman Ajit Pai, as in his speech where he introduced his new proposal:

“So what happened after the Commission adopted Title II? Sure enough, infrastructure investment declined. Among our nation’s 12 largest Internet service providers, domestic broadband capital expenditures decreased by 5.6% percent, or $3.6 billion, between 2014 and 2016, the first two years of the Title II era. This decline is extremely unusual. It is the first time that such investment has declined outside of a recession in the Internet era.”

Pai keeps making this claim, so we’ll keep debunking it. For one thing, the FCC didn’t vote to approve net neutrality until Feb. 2015 and it didn’t officially become law until June 2015 — so unless someone’s using a time machine, at least half the period Pai is talking about was not affected by the change in law.

For another thing, every time we look at the publicly available numbers for the big ISPs, the drop isn’t there. In both 2016 and 2017, the large, publicly-traded ISPs all gave glowing quarterly reports to investors, claiming high levels of investment in their networks and singing the praises of their own growth.

In fact, just this week, in its Q1 earnings report, Comcast said that 2017 is “off to the fastest start in five years.” Revenue from its broadband business increased more than 10%, and the company picked up another 397,000 residential broadband customers so far this year.

During the company’s April 27 results call, one analyst specifically asked about Pai’s plan to scrap Title II. “If [the reversal] goes as described,” he asked, “can you quantify any sort of investment opportunity you might see that would open up?”

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts deflected, however repeating only the tired line that Title II “puts a damper on ability to invest and react to change,” and generates “real dark clouds for the investment community” without actually saying how, where, when, or to what degree his company would be better able to spend money if the law changed.

Claim: “We support net neutrality, but just want to get rid of Title II.”

This has been a common refrain from AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and Verizon, as well as from industry lobbying groups.

Comcast has gone farthest to stress this particular point though, with an 1,100-word corporate blog post patiently explaining that “net neutrality and Title II are not the same thing.”

In fact, completely coincidentally we’re sure, several Consumerist staffers (as well as many readers, friends, and family) started seeing a Comcast ad campaign on Twitter in the hours immediately after Pai’s speech to promote and share that blog post and profess the company’s deep and abiding love for net neutrality.

In the post, Comcast mouthpiece David L. Cohen writes:

While some try to conflate the two issues, Title II and net neutrality are not the same. Title II is a source of authority to impose enforceable net neutrality rules. Title II is not net neutrality. Getting rid of Title II does not mean that we are repealing net neutrality protections for American consumers.

Half of this is completely, inarguably true: Title II classification, in and of itself, has nothing to do with net neutrality. It merely decides whether internet services are treated under the same kind of common carrier rules that phone services are, or whether they’re considered “information services” (Title I) instead of infrastructure.

AT&T similarly blasts the FCC for using Title II to put the new rule in place, pointing to the 1990s and then saying, “Unfortunately, in the Wheeler era, politics trumped good policy and the Order ultimately adopted by the Wheeler FCC abandoned the careful balance that the Genachowski FCC [2009-2013] had struck.”

But it’s not as though former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler woke up one day in 2014 and suddenly thought, “I know! I think I’ll rewrite net neutrality today!”

The Commission might have left well enough alone except that Verizon sued to have the 2010 rule, which imposed basic net neutrality rules without invoking Title II classification, overturned — and won.

A federal court ruled in early 2014 that the legal underpinning for the FCC’s rules was no good, and strongly implied the best way to square that circle would be common carrier classification. Without it the FCC did not have the legal authority to make ISPs adhere to rules about blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization of content. The 2015 Open Internet Rule was crafted after nearly a year of back-and-forth legal wrangling and public comment, directly in response to that 2014 ruling.

In short: Been there, done that. Absent a major change to the Communications Act or some other law, the FCC literally cannot impose or enforce net neutrality rules that stick without using Title II.

Claim: You can’t use old law because the internet is new technology.

This is where we get to outright, bald-faced hypocrisy, instead of disingenuous misdirection.

Net neutrality opponents like to say that because the Communications Act dates to 1934 — a time when mass communication meant the nascent technologies of radio and wired telephones, not even TV and certainly not the internet — it cannot possibly still apply.

For example, Pai said in his speech:

Going forward, we cannot stick with regulations from the Great Depression meant to micromanage Ma Bell. Instead, we need rules that focus on growth and infrastructure investment, rules that expand high-speed Internet access everywhere and give Americans more online choice, faster speeds, and more innovation.

Aside from the fact that early regulation did not so much “micromanage” Ma Bell as it did allow a monopoly system to continue — the Bell breakup wouldn’t happen until 1983 — there are two big problems with this.

For one thing, the Communications Act was significantly overhauled in 1996. Even aside from that, however, several ISPs — including Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T — have all been completely happy to accept Title II designation for some or all of their services when doing so protects their interests or their bottom line.

The companies are all also happy to rely on old law to protect them from you. Every major ISP you can think of, home and mobile, is on the ever-growing list of companies that imposes mandatory binding arbitration on its customers, and strips you of your right to sue if wronged.

The Federal Arbitration Act, which makes all that possible, was passed in 1925 and took effect on Jan. 1, 1926. If law from eight years later is too outdated for our modern era, surely this one is, too?

Claim: “We should leave this to Congress.”

This is a popular one: Every one of the biggies seems to want Congress all up in its business.

AT&T: “The question is also whether Congress will commit on a bi-partisan basis to adopt a balanced and durable statutory framework that will enshrine reasonable rules for the digital road with specificity and clarity. That, in the end, is the only way to resolve the open internet debate once and for all.”

Charter: “To ensure certainty in the marketplace and to cement protections for consumers, Charter supports Congress passing bipartisan legislation that sets forth clear, enforceable and permanent rules to preserve an open internet within a modern regulatory framework that encourages infrastructure investment and innovation.”

Comcast: “In our view, there is no better way to put in place an enduring set of enforceable Open Internet protections than for Congress to act.”

Verizon: “We continue to believe that the right answer is for Congress to move forward on legislation that once and for all adopts clear, enforceable, and strong net neutrality protections.”

In the hyper-partisan, hyper-polarized, frankly completely bonkers political world of 2017, getting Congress to act on anything is an uphill battle, to put it mildly. Getting them to do it in a bipartisan way is like herding unicorns.

Beyond that, though — Congress already did pass a law that gives the FCC a way to protect net neutrality both seamlessly and robustly. It’s called the Communications Act of 1934, which got a refresh with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and internet service providers are currently regulated under the terms of Title II of that law.

Because that’s the way law and regulation work, in this country: Congress comes up with an idea, writes and passes a bill, gets it across the President’s desk … and then it’s some agency’s job to hammer out the details and enforce it.

Not every one of the dozens of agencies in the nation has the authority to pass its own rules, but the FCC is one of the ones that does. And so when Congress passes a law about telecommunications, it specifically directs the FCC to handle the details in whatever way best meet the goals Congress has laid out.

As the Commission did, already, in 2015.


Source: Consumer Reviews

Flower Shop Owner Accused Of Stealing Plants From Cemetery

You might walk past a grave and see a beautiful bouquet of flowers and think “Those would look good in my living room,” but (we’re hoping) you don’t follow through on the impulse for free flora. However, one florist has been accused of repeatedly stealing plants and flowers from local grave sites.

Police in Pequannock Township, NJ, say they received multiple reports of items being filched from graves at a church cemetery.

Detectives went to work, replacing two of the missing plants in front of an ash columbarium and installing surveillance cameras in the area last week.

Two days later, property managers reported that the plants were missing again. Surveillance footage showed a woman driving up in a minivan, getting out of the car, and taking the plants.

Officers working with another local police department were able to identify the suspect from the video footage, as she’s a former police dispatcher and current flower shop owner in the neighboring town.

The woman was arrested and charged with the theft of moveable property and released. It’s unclear whether or not she actually sold any of the pilfered plants. Because nothing says “I love you” like a bouquet of freshly gathered grave flowers.

[h/t ABC-7]


Source: Consumer Reviews

AT&T Users Have No Way To Know How Much Data They’re Tethering, Despite 10GB Cap

When AT&T resurrected unlimited data plans, it also introduced a feature it had shunned the first time around: letting subscribers use their phone as a mobile hotspot (AKA “tethering”), but only up to 10 GB per month. But there’s a flaw in AT&T’s execution that prevents users from knowing how much tethering data they’ve actually used.

AT&T’s new “unlimited” plans have a total monthly threshold of 22 GB, but only 10 GB of that can be used for tethering. Problem is, the wireless giant doesn’t separate hotspot data from the rest, meaning there’s no way to tell when you’ll hit that 10 GB limit, after which AT&T can slow tethering data down to a crawl.

Reader Michael uses one of these plans, and was annoyed to discover that he can’t keep track of how much of that data cap he’s used. He says he contacted various AT&T support departments, all of which confirmed his suspicion that while the carrier keeps track of his data use through his phone and when using the phone as a hotspot, customers have no way to access this information.

“I was told that their system keeps track and will throttle customers but that neither I, nor any AT&T rep has the ability to check on the amount of data used over tethering,” he wrote to Consumerist.

Michael is an iPhone user, and iOS does keep track of this information, but it tracks data use over the lifetime of the phone or between manual resets. He would have to remember to reset the meter exactly when the billing cycle rolls over. That might not be all that useful, anyway.

“I suspect [the iPhone’s] number will be different from the AT&T internal system,” he speculates.

Consumerist contacted AT&T and found that what the support employees told Michael is true. No one can tell him how much data he’s used through tethering.

“AT&T wireless customers can check their overall data usage per line through the MyAT&T portal either online or through the app on their device,” a spokesperson for the carrier told us. “We do not currently break out the tethering usage as a line item but plan to do so later this year.”

There you have it, AT&T unlimited customers. The feature isn’t available in time for the actual debut of tethering on unlimited accounts, but it will be at some point in 2017.

Was this helpful? We’re a non-profit! You can get more stories like this in our twice weekly ad-free newsletter! Click here to sign up.


Source: Consumer Reviews

Mallgoers Would Rather Deal With Pigeon Poop Than Noisy Bird Call Recordings

Although music to shop by isn’t going to please everyone, shoppers at one New York mall would rather risk getting hit by bird droppings than listen to the sounds coming out of the complex’s speakers.

Officials at the Rego Center mall in the NYC borough of Queens have installed a system that blasts noisy bird calls every 30 seconds or so, in an effort to deal with a recent infestation of pigeons that have been nesting and pooping in an atrium near one of the mall’s entrances, reports The New York Post.

“That place had a serious bird problem,” one employee told dnainfo, with droppings crusting thickly on planters and benches in the area.

It seems to be working so far, notes ABC-7, noting that only a handful of pigeons landed in the area in a two-hour period.

But the amplified recorded screeching of aggressive birds — macaws, reports CBS New York — is getting on some shoppers’ nerves.

“Many people have been scratching their heads and other are feeling annoyed by the ‘influx of automated birds,’” a local resident and activist told danainfo. “There are better methods of reducing the assembly of pigeons and birds.”

Even one shopper who has been pooped on previously at the mall says he prefers the risk of falling feces to the noise coming out of the mall speakers.

“If you stay here for an hour, it starts to bother you. Of course, it’s going to make you crazy,” he told the Post.

Some say the noise is worth putting up with, however.

“I’d rather hear the bird calls, lesser of two evils,” a Queens resident told ABC-7, though he admitted that he personally didn’t find the noise to be “obtrusive or annoying.”


Source: Consumer Reviews

Why Aren’t More Cord-Cutters Flocking To Live-TV Streaming Services?

Millions of Americans have canceled their cable TV subscriptions in the last decade, choosing instead to get their video entertainment over the internet. A growing number of services have popped up in recent years that offer cable-like live-TV streaming for this audience: Sling TV, DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV, with Hulu planning to launch a competitor soon, and Comcast reportedly looking to get into the fray. Yet, despite the multiple options and the large potential market of cord-cutters and cord-nevers, these platforms have yet to win over the masses.

While most companies have been cagey about their subscriber numbers to these relatively new streaming platforms, analyst Dan Rayburn estimated this week that Sling TV — the oldest of the existing live-TV services — has around 1.3 million subscribers after more than two years of availability.

In all, predicts Rayburn, this entire market will have a total of fewer than 3 million subscribers by year’s end. While that’s not horrible, it’s only a fraction of the potential audience for these services. Even the estimate of 1.3 million Sling subscribers is about one-tenth the size of parent company’s Dish’s subscriber base.

AT&T’s DirecTV Now reportedly got off to a decent start, adding 200,000 subscribers in its first month, but it’s unclear how many of those people have stuck around or how many subscribers have been added in the months since.

So why haven’t the many millions of people who have cut the cord, never had a cable connection, or really hate their cable company rushed to give their money to these services that are generally less-expensive than pay-TV, and don’t require contracts or leased hardware?

We have some thoughts.

1. They’re Too Much Like Cable

The dream of many cord-cutters is the ability to cherry-pick the channels they pay for, but — in spite of Sling’s potentiall misleading “A La Carte TV” slogan — none of these live-TV services come even close to fulfilling that goal.

At best, they provide somewhat affordable alternatives to basic cable, but what are the odds that Sling TV subscribers are regularly watching more than 4-5 of the 20+ channels they have to pay for?

Additionally, DirecTV Now and PS Vue have largely copied the cable TV model of charging different rates for tiers of channels. For example, if you want NFL Network on PS Vue, you’ve got to pay for the mid-level “Core” tier that is $5/month more expensive. Yes, it also includes a bunch of other channels, but you may not want any of them.

2. Some People Still Like Pay-TV

While traditional cable companies have indeed lost a lot of subscribers as video streaming has become more popular, it’s still the overwhelmingly most popular way to get TV.

Since 2007, Comcast has lost around 3 million video subscribers, but it still has more than 21 million households paying for TV service. And its video subscriber losses appear to have flattened in recent quarters. That doesn’t mean the cord-cutting is done; it’s just an indicator that — as we get to in a second — many people aren’t ready to replace their current setup with live-TV streaming.

3. Playing Wait-And-See

Even though video technology seems to change on a moment-by-moment basis, consumers aren’t always eager to be the first to test the latest thing, especially if it means having to ditch the system you’re familiar with.

There continue to be hiccups and issues with the current streaming platforms — connection errors; lagging, stuttering video; hardware requirements; geographic and content limitations — that most people don’t feel they need to worry about with cable.

The lack of DVR service in Sling, DirecTV Now, and Vue have also not helped. Vue offers an ability to tag shows that will be remotely stored, but watching “recorded” content on the Sony platform can be so much of a chore that you don’t want to use it. Likewise, many networks and shows on these platforms don’t allow DVR functionality like pausing or rewinding.

Despite these streaming platforms being marketed as cable replacements, their user interfaces often appear to have been designed by people who have never seen a basic TV listing grid, and often present the platform’s

So there are certainly some potential cord-cutters — how many, we can’t even begin to estimate — just waiting to be convinced that these platforms will work and offer them something worth going through the hassle of canceling their cable subscription.

After all…

4. Breaking Up With Cable Companies Is A Pain

Aside from multi-year contracts that can result in hundreds — sometimes thousands — of dollars in penalties for early cancellation, cable providers do not make it easy to sever your ties with the company.

Unlike purchasing service, which can usually be done online without ever having to speak to anyone, cancelling can involve lengthy chats with desperate customer-retention employees. If you make it through that gauntlet, you’ll then have to return your TV equipment, which often means putting it in the mail or going to the local cable company office and waiting in line while holding several DVRs (that you’ve probably paid hundreds of dollars in leasing fees for but must return ASAP or face having to pay for in full).

Even when customers return their cable boxes, there’s always the chance that a mistake will be made and you’ll continue to charged for equipment you no longer possess, or charged the full price for equipment they claim you never returned. We’ve heard countless stories of this sort of buffoonery from customers of seemingly every cable and satellite provider, so there’s no reason to assume that once you hand over your cable box, that’s the last you’ll have to deal with your pay-TV carrier.

In fact, many cord-cutters aren’t fully cutting their connection to their cable company, as it’s often their internet service provider. Depending on their package and the discounts offered to customers who purchase bundles of services, there may be little to no savings in replacing their pay-TV subscription with a TV-streaming service if the cost of their internet service goes up.

5. Some People Just Don’t Want Live TV

The real danger for cable providers isn’t cord-cutting, but the coming generations of consumers that prefer to watch whatever they want wherever they want on whatever device they want. Yes, many pay-TV companies offer the ability to watch live-TV anywhere, but what about viewers who don’t really care about watching something live?

These are people who may be perfectly content watching shows on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Amazon Prime, or any of the other growing array of subscription streaming libraries. They may not miss being able to watch the local evening news because they don’t understand why you would wait until 10 or 11 p.m. to watch a short, ad-interrupted recap of news that you already saw elsewhere because you were online most of the day.

It may be difficult for both cable companies and live-TV streaming services to convince these consumers to pay $20-$100/month for a bunch of channels they will probably never watch and limited on-demand content.

There’s no doubt that streaming is the future of video entertainment. Even the cable companies plan to (eventually, maybe) replace most cable boxes with apps that work on your TV and connected devices. The question that still needs to be answered is whether live TV is the future, or if coming generations will snicker at us for trying to shoehorn this decades-old “you’ll watch when we tell you to watch” format into technology that is intended to give the user the ultimate control over when and what they view.

Want more stories from Consumerist? We’re a non-profit! You can get more stories like this in our twice weekly ad-free newsletter! Click here to sign up.


Source: Consumer Reviews

Appeals Court Upholds Decision To Block $54B Anthem, Cigna Merger

The $54 billion marriage between health insurance behemoths Anthem and Cigna is still off after a federal appeals court denied Anthem’s efforts to overturn a previous court order blocking the mega-merger.

In a 2-1 ruling [PDF] the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a federal judge’s ruling from February that blocked the merger on grounds that the deal would not benefit consumers.

Anthem and Cigna, who are now suing each other over the merger, appealed the February decision [PDF] claiming that the court improperly declined to consider the claimed billions of dollars in medical savings.

According to Anthem, the merger’s efficiencies would benefit customers directly by reducing the costs of customer medical claims through lower provider rates, without harm to the providers.

However, the court — along with the Department of Justice and several states that sued to prevent the merger — point out that medical cost savings claims were “not verified, not specific to the merger, and not even real efficiencies.”

“The evidence has also shown that the merger is likely to result in higher prices, and that it will have other anticompetitive effects,” D.C. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in the initial order blocking the merger. “It will eliminate the two firms’ vigorous competition against each other for national accounts, reduce the number of national carriers available to respond to solicitations in the future, and diminish the prospects for innovation in the market.”

As such, the appeals court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in blocking the merger based on Anthem’s failure to show that savings from the deal was enough to offset anticompetitive effect of removing Cigna from the marketplace.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was part of the group that filed a lawsuit against the merger, applauded the appeals court decision.

“Today’s decision is a win for consumers in New York and across the country,” he said in a statement. “We are very pleased that the Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court’s finding that this merger would violate antitrust laws by substantially lessening competition in commercial health insurance markets, likely leading to increased health insurance premiums and reduced quality and innovation.“

How We Got Here

Anthem and Cigna announced their intention to live in corporate merged bliss back in 2015.

A year later, however, the Department of Justice and 14 several states filed suit to block the deal, arguing that the merger would “fundamentally reshape the health insurance industry,” reduce health care access, competition, and options for tens of millions of Americans.

The DOJ argued that the mergers would reduce competition in three key places: for individuals buying health insurance on the exchange marketplace, for employers buying group plans for employees, and for Medicare recipients seeking supplemental care.

Since the February decision, Cigna has given up its dreams of a merger with Anthem, suing the company not only for its $1.85 billion “break-up fee” but for other damages totaling $13 billion. Cigna claims that Anthem violated the terms of their agreement, and that its strategy was the deal’s downfall.

Anthem wasn’t ready to let go, however, and quickly shot back with a lawsuit of its own, seeking a temporary restraining order to block Cigna from ending their agreement.

Anthem said the lawsuit is a reaction to “Cigna’s campaign to sabotage the merger and to try to deflect attention from its repeated willful breaches of the merger agreement.”

While these legal matters are in realm of their own, the two companies likely won’t have much to argue about soon, as the appeal’s court ruling Friday effectively kills the merger bid.


Source: Consumer Reviews

It’s Disturbingly Easy To Reroute Someone Else’s Mail

The U.S. Postal Service has made the process of changing your address when you move super easy and convenient, by just filling out a form online and paying $1. Maybe that’s not so good, though: The process is so easy that an identity thief can redirect your mall to their address by just filling out a form online and paying $1.

A couple who were victims of this scheme contacted Kurtis Ming of CBS Sacramento to share their story. Yes, they received a letter at their home address that told them their mail was being redirected, but by the time that showed up, important mail like a Medicare card and a package containing prescription medication was redirected to the identity thief. The identity thief also opened a credit card in the husband’s name.

As an experiment, reporter Ming tried the USPS change of address form and tried to have a co-worker’s mail re-directed to him. She didn’t have to give permission, and her mail began to appear in his mailbox just over a week later.

The chief postal inspector issued only a statement about how important security is, while still making no changes to the process of changing one’s address.

“The U.S. Postal Service considers the security and sanctity of mail as one of its highest priorities. We continue to assess enhanced security options, as we determine the best alternatives to protect the needs of consumers.”

A local congressman is now pushing for hearings, and the Chief Postal Inspector would be compelled to testify.

The system that we have now was designed to make changing one’s address when moving more convenient.


Source: Consumer Reviews

People Who Paid Thousands For “Luxury” Music Festival Stuck In The Bahamas After Event Falls Apart

For some, an outdoor music festival means portable toilets, camping, and braving the elements in the name of a good time with good tunes. But for music lovers who shelled out anywhere from $1,500 to $200,000 for a ticket to a “luxury” festival experience in the Bahamas that promised famous faces and fancy food, they were expecting a much more lavish experience than what reality provided.

The Fyre Festival — organized by ‘90s rapper Ja Rule — was billed as “an immersive music festival” held over “two transformative weekends” on a “remote and private island” (that was once owned by Pablo Escobar, a fact no doubt relished by the hipster) in the Exumas district featuring “the best in food, art, music, and adventure.”

On social media as well as in its own promotional video, the event — nay! Experience — appears to take place in a land where everyone looks good in a bikini and they can spend all day jumping off yachts and all night partying with their fellow beautiful people before sleeping it off in an “eco-friendly, geodesic dome.”

For the chance to attend this luxury event, hundreds of festivalgoers reportedly paid anywhere from $1,500 to $12,000 per ticket, depending on the package. The Washington Post notes that there was even a $250,000 pass for a full VIP experience.

But when ticketholders showed up, they say they found themselves not in paradise, but in some kind of island hell from which they could not escape: One festival attendee says things started going wrong as soon as people started to arrive Thursday morning: Villas were just tents, no famous musical acts were on the bill, and top chefs were nowhere to be found.

“The food they served was like a soup kitchen, and there wasn’t enough of it,” she told CBS Dallas-Fort Worth.

Others Tweeted photos of the promised event versus the real one:

Even Blink 1-82 dropped out, points out Buzzfeed, and Ja Rule was nowhere to be found, despite promoting the event just days before:

Those geodesic domes? Not as promised, either, and more like tents:

A writer who was on the island told Buzzfeed that although people had suspicions the event would disappoint in the weeks leading up to it, they gave Fyre the benefit of the doubt. That was a mistake.

“It was complete chaos,” he told Buzzfeed, saying that lodging hadn’t been set up when they arrived, and that the food court “was reminiscent of a state fair and not the ‘world class international culinary experience’ that they advertised.”

Many people had had enough, by this point, including the festivalgoer who spoke with CBS DFW. She was in a group of more than 100 people who grabbed a bus to Nassau Airport. They say they were promised a plane out on Friday morning.

“Everyone was ready to go, but they checked our passports a million times, said things weren’t matching up,” she says. “They asked us to step out of the plane.”

Others noted that airport officials had chained the doors to keep people from going anywhere:

As of this morning, people were still waiting in the Bahamas:

Some people couldn’t get to Exumas in the first place, despite Fyre’s promise of a roundtrip flight from Miami to the district, as the festival announced it had to cancel all inbound charter flights.

This morning, Fyre issued a statement on Twitter and its website saying that the festival had been “fully postponed,” and asked for customers’ patience.

“Due to circumstances out of our control, the physical infrastructure was not in place on time and we are unable to fulfill on that vision safely and enjoyably for our guests,” Fyre said.

Festival officials say they are “working tirelessly to get flights scheduled and get everyone off of Great Exuma and home safely as quickly as we can.”

“We are working to place everyone on complimentary charters back to Miami today; this process has commenced and the safety and comfort of our guests is our top priority.”

Soon after, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism apologized to travelers, and said it was “extremely disappointed in the way events unfolded” with the festival.

UPDATE: Rapper Ja Rule has issued a statement on the festival fail, telling Rolling Stone that festival customers will get refunds, and insisting that he’s heartbroken, and that Fyre “was not a scam.”

He said his first priority is to make sure attendees who are still stuck in the Exumas can get off the island.

“We are working right now on getting everyone off the island safely; that is my immediate concern,” he told RS, adding, “I truly apologize as this is NOT MY FAULT … but I’m taking responsibility I’m deeply sorry to everyone who was inconvenienced by this.”


Source: Consumer Reviews