Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In the Red? Sprint Says Gouge the Customers

Sprint isn’t just losing millions of customers and billions of dollars, it’s in the midst of pioneering a new management philosophy. We’ll call it the Three-Megabit Monte. Similar to the venerable street con, this is where Sprint leads a customer down a confusing line of lies and inflated charges in the hopes of making a buck.

As detailed by Allen Harkleroad (who is one wrathful Southerner) on his web site, Sprint has been charging him almost four times the price of the amount it pays the local telephone company for two T-1 access lines. That’s about a 75 percent gross margin. But what really drove Harkleroad around the bend was being lied to by a Sprint salesman, who claimed that the company was charged $1,998 for the T-1s (the phone company, on the other hand, said it charges some $500). Harkleroad has since switched providers and pays about $1,500 less per month.

But he’s not done with Sprint yet. He figures the company owes him about $56,000 (for charging him so much), and he wants to get paid. Harkleroad also wants to encourage the rest of Sprint’s customer base on the access side to take a close look at their bills. And the icing on this cake? He alleges that Sprint charged him for providing 3 mbps download speed, but only provided 2.5 mbps, saying that the difference was lost to overhead. And that’s where the the Three-Megabit Monte philosophy gets it name.

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BrandTags - Logo Association Experiment

Remember playing the “word association” game as a kid, where you’d be told one word and then immediately say the next thing that comes to mind?

Tech-marketer Noah Brier has taken this concept and applied it to brands in a clever experiment in Web 2.0 crowdsourcing at BrandTags.net.

The concept is simple: visitors are shown images of a popular brand and type in the very first thing that comes to mind. Then, a tag cloud is used to visibly show the popular words typed in by visitors associated with each brand.

The responses run the gambit from the obvious to the obscure, and it’s interesting to see how many similar inputs there are. The site has been circulating around tech/marketing blogs and Twitter, so it’s mostly connected people who are replying. I’d say that since this crowd is made up of web influencers and early adopters, it’s relevant research for the big brands who are curious of how they’re viewed by the Internet.

Noah describes the site with:

“The basic idea of this site is that a brand exists entirely in people’s heads. Therefore, whatever it is they say a brand is, is what it is.”

There’s definitely a bit of truth to this.

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White House denies Iran attack report

The White House on Tuesday flatly denied an Army Radio report that claimed US President George W. Bush intends to attack Iran before the end of his term. It said that while the military option had not been taken off the table, the administration preferred to resolve concerns about Iran's push for a nuclear weapon "through peaceful diplomatic means."

A US Navy aircraft carrier.
Photo: AP

Army Radio had quoted a top official in Jerusalem claiming that a senior member in the entourage of President Bush, who visited Israel last week, had said in a closed meeting here that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were of the opinion that military action against Iran was called for.

The official reportedly went on to say that, for the time being, "the hesitancy of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice" was preventing the administration from deciding to launch such an attack on the Islamic Republic.

The Army Radio report, which was quoted by The Jerusalem Post and resonated widely, stated that according to assessments in Israel, the recent turmoil in Lebanon, where Hizbullah has established de facto control of the country, was advancing an American attack.

Bush, the official reportedly said, considered Hizbullah's show of strength evidence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's growing influence. In Bush's view, the official said, "the disease must be treated - not its symptoms."

However, the White House on Tuesday afternoon dismissed the story. In a statement, it said that "[the US] remain[s] opposed to Iran's ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon. To that end, we are working to bring tough diplomatic and economic pressure on the Iranians to get them to change their behavior and to halt their uranium enrichment program."

US President George W. Bush during his Knesset address.
Photo: AP

It went on: "As the president has said, no president of the United States should ever take options off the table, but our preference and our actions for dealing with this matter remain through peaceful diplomatic means. Nothing has changed in that regard."

In an interview last week in the Oval Office, Bush told the Post that "Iran is an incredibly negative influence" and "the biggest long-term threat to peace in the Middle East," but that the US was "pushing back hard and will continue to do so."

He noted that "Iran is involved in funding Hamas and Hizbullah, and it's that Iranian influence which I'm deeply concerned about. But there needs to be more than just the United States concerned about it."

Bush said: "We take [seriously] this issue of [Iran] getting the technology, the know-how on how to develop a nuclear weapon."

"All options are on the table," he said, but, "Of course you want to try to solve this problem diplomatically."

Asked whether the Iranians would be deterred from their nuclear drive by the time he left office, Bush told the Post: "What definitely will be done [before I leave office will be the establishment of] a structure on how to deal with this, to try to resolve this diplomatically. In other words sanctions, pressures, financial pressures. You know, a history of pressure that will serve as a framework to make sure other countries are involved."

Days later, in his address to the Knesset, Bush said that "the president of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages" and "America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions."

"Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," he said.

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Teenager faces prosecution for calling Scientology 'cult'

The Church of Scientology Centre in Queen Victoria Street, London. Photograph: Sarah Lee

A teenager is facing prosecution for using the word "cult" to describe the Church of Scientology.

The unnamed 15-year-old was served the summons by City of London police when he took part in a peaceful demonstration opposite the London headquarters of the controversial religion.

Officers confiscated a placard with the word "cult" on it from the youth, who is under 18, and a case file has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

A date has not yet been set for him to appear in court.

The decision to issue the summons has angered human rights activists and support groups for the victims of cults.

The incident happened during a protest against the Church of Scientology on May 10. Demonstrators from the anti-Scientology group, Anonymous, who were outside the church's £23m headquarters near St Paul's cathedral, were banned by police from describing Scientology as a cult by police because it was "abusive and insulting".

Writing on an anti-Scientology website, the teenager facing court said: "I brought a sign to the May 10th protest that said: 'Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.'

"'Within five minutes of arriving I was told by a member of the police that I was not allowed to use that word, and that the final decision would be made by the inspector."

A policewoman later read him section five of the Public Order Act and "strongly advised" him to remove the sign. The section prohibits signs which have representations or words which are threatening, abusive or insulting.

The teenager refused to back down, quoting a 1984 high court ruling from Mr Justice Latey, in which he described the Church of Scientology as a "cult" which was "corrupt, sinister and dangerous".

After the exchange, a policewoman handed him a court summons and removed his sign.

On the website he asks for advice on how to fight the charge: "What's the likelihood I'll need a lawyer? If I do have to get one, it'll have to come out of my pocket money."

Writing on the same website, another anonymous demonstrator said: "We also protested outside another Scientology building in Tottenham Court Road which is policed by a separate force, the Metropolitan police, who have never tried to stop us using the word cult.

"We're completely peaceful protesters expressing a perfectly valid opinion. This whole thing stinks."

Liberty director, Shami Chakrabarti, said: "This barmy prosecution makes a mockery of Britain's free speech traditions.

"After criminalising the use of the word 'cult', perhaps the next step is to ban the words 'war' and 'tax' from peaceful demonstrations?"

Ian Haworth, from the Cult Information Centre which provides advice for victims of cults and their families, said: "This is an extraordinary situation. If it wasn't so serious it would be farcical. The police's job is to protect and serve. Who is being served and who is being protected in this situation? I find it very worrying.

"Scientology is well known to my organisation, and has been of great concern to me for 22 years. I get many calls from families with loved ones involved and ex-members who are in need of one form of help."

The City of London police came under fire two years ago when it emerged that more than 20 officers, ranging from constable to chief superintendent, had accepted gifts worth thousands of pounds from the Church of Scientology.

The City of London Chief Superintendent, Kevin Hurley, praised Scientology for "raising the spiritual wealth of society" during the opening
of its headquarters in 2006.

Last year a video praising Scientology emerged featuring Ken Stewart, another of the City of London's chief superintendents, although he is not a member of the group.

The group was founded by the science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard in 1952 and espouses the idea that humans are descended from an exiled race of aliens called Thetans.

The church continues to attract controversy over claims that it separates members from their families and indoctrinates followers.

A spokeswoman for the force said today: "City of London police had received complaints about demonstrators using the words 'cult' and 'Scientology kills' during protests against the Church of Scientology.

"Following advice from the Crown Prosecution Service some demonstrators were warned verbally and in writing that their signs breached section five of the Public Order Act.

"One demonstrator continued to display a placard despite police warnings and was reported for an offence under section five. A file on the case will go to the CPS."

A CPS spokesman said no specific advice was given to police regarding the boy's placard.

"In April, prior to this demonstration, as part of our normal working relationship we gave the City of London police general advice on the law around demonstrations and religiously aggravated crime in particular.

"We did not advise on this specific case prior to the summons being issued – which the police can do without reference to us – but if we receive a file we will review it in the normal way according to the code for crown prosecutors."

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