Saturday, January 25, 2014

AT&T Launches Several New 4G LTE Markets, 11 States Affected

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AT&T launched a big list of new 4G LTE markets this morning, opening up about 20 new markets across the US, including Puerto Rico. San Bernardino County in So-Cal has a few new markets to show off, while Michigan also got a hearty serving of improved mobile data speeds.

AT&T is now right on Verizon's heels in terms of the number of LTE markets available, and with all of the talks now surrounding LTE-Advanced, 2014 and 2015 should be a couple of great years for data speed.

The full list of new markets can be found below.

New Markets

  • El Centro and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.
  • Jasper, Ind.
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • Danville, Richmond and Somerset, Ky.
  • Cadillac and Niles-Benton Harbor, Mich.
  • Tunica, Miss.
  • East Liverpool, Ohio
  • Erie and New Castle. Pa.
  • Aguadilla-Isabela-San Sebastian, Fajardo and Ponce, Puerto Rico
  • Barre and Burlington, Vt.
  • Wheeling, W.Va.
  • La Crosse, Wis.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

White House rejects review board finding that NSA data sweep is illegal

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The White House on Thursday disputed the findings of an independent review board that said the National Security Agency's mass data collection program is illegal and should be ended, indicating the administration would not be taking that advice.

"We simply disagree with the board's analysis on the legality of the program," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

He was responding to a scathing report from The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), which said the program ran afoul of the law on several fronts.

"The ... bulk telephone records program lacks a viable legal foundation," the board's report said, adding that it raises "serious threats to privacy and civil liberties" and has "only limited value." The report, further, said the NSA should "purge" the files.

The president did not go nearly as far when he called last week for ending government control of phone data collected from hundreds of millions of Americans.

Carney claimed the president, in his address last week, did "directly derive" some of his ideas from the board's draft recommendations. But he made clear that Obama does not see eye to eye with them on the legitimacy of mass phone record collection.

"The administration believes that the program is lawful," he said.

Nevertheless, the findings could be used as leverage in federal lawsuits against NSA spying. The report concluded that the NSA collection raises "constitutional concerns" with regard to U.S. citizens' rights of speech, association and privacy.

"The connections revealed by the extensive database of telephone records gathered under the program will necessarily include relationships established among individuals and groups for political, religious, and other expressive purposes," it said. "Compelled disclosure to the government of information revealing these associations can have a chilling effect on the exercise of First Amendment rights."

The panel added that the program "implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments."

The recommendations are sure to meet resistance in Washington. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who has been a staunch defender of the NSA, voiced dismay at the report's findings.

"I am disappointed that three members of the Board decided to step well beyond their policy and oversight role and conducted a legal review of a program that has been thoroughly reviewed," he said in a statement, noting that federal judges have found the program to be legal dozens of times.

The report also rejected claims that the program was necessary to cover up a gap in intelligence arising from a failure to detect Al Qaeda members in the United States prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. U.S. officials had claimed that the phone data collection program would have made clear that terrorist Khalid al-Mihdhar was calling a safehouse in Yemen from a San Diego address.

"The failure to identify Mihdhar's presence in the United States stemmed primarily from a lack of information sharing among federal agencies, not of a lack of surveillance capabilities," the report said. "This was a failure to connect the dots, not a failure to connect enough dots."

The board's recommendations go well beyond the reforms ordered by Obama in a major speech last Friday, in which he said that the phone records database would no longer be held by the NSA. Obama also tightened restrictions on gathering and accessing phone data, but did not recommend the program's end.

The PCLOB recommendations also are more sweeping than reforms proposed by another panel of experts. That panel, the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, advised Obama in December to restrict phone surveillance to limited court-ordered sweeps.

Along with its call for ending bulk phone surveillance, the oversight board report outlined 11 other recommendations on surveillance policy, calling for more government transparency and other reforms aimed at bolstering civil liberties and privacy protections. The board called for special attorneys to provide independent views in some proceedings before the secret spy court -- as opposed to Obama's plan for a panel of experts that would participate at times. The board also urged the administration to provide the public with clear explanations of the legal authority behind any surveillance affecting Americans.

Legal opinions and documents "describing the government's legal analysis should be made public so there can be a free and open debate regarding the law's scope," the board said. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have been criticized by civil liberties advocates and by tech industry officials for failing to provide clear public explanations of the decision-making behind their surveillance policies.

While the oversight board found consensus in some of its recommendations for transparency, its members were sharply divided when it came to the surveillance programs and their judicial oversight.

Two members, former Bush administration Justice Department lawyers Rachel Brand and Elisebeth Collins Cook, defended the bulk phone sweeps and said they were too valuable to shut down.

"I am concerned about the detrimental effect this superfluous second-guessing can have on our national security agencies and their staff," said Brand, who as a Justice lawyer defended USA Patriot Act legislation that provided the NSA with its authority to make the bulk phone collections.

But the oversight board's three other members -- executive director David Medine, former federal judge Patricia Wald and civil liberties advocate James Dempsey -- held firm for broad changes.

"When the government collects all of a person's telephone records, storing them for five years in a government database that is subjected to high-speed digital searching and analysis, the privacy implications go far beyond what can be revealed by the metadata of a single telephone call," the majority wrote.

The oversight board was created at the urging of the independent commission on the 9/11 attacks as a key organizational reform needed to balance counterterrorism policy with civil liberties concerns. The board functioned fitfully for several years, often short on members because of Congress' inaction. It finally won legislative approval last year for all five members and staff and took on its study of the NSA programs at the urging of Obama and congressional leaders.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Amazon to collect NC sales tax

Online retailer Deal Of The Day confirmed Saturday that it will begin charging sales tax to North Carolina customers on Feb. 1.

Amazon currently collects state sales taxes in 19 states, including Virginia. Because it has no offices or warehouses in North Carolina, the company isn't required to collect sales tax on purchases.

Customers are required to pay taxes for online purchases, but the requirement is rarely enforced by retailers.

The amount of tax charged will depend on factors such as the identity of the seller, the type of item purchased and the destination of the shipment, according to the retailer. The company has not said why they changed course on charging sales tax to North Carolina customers.

Disputes between the state and Amazon go back to at least 2009, when the retailer opposed state budget plans to collect online sales taxes.

Amazon sued the state Department of Revenue in 2010 to block the department's attempt to obtain names and addresses of North Carolina residents who bought or received items from the company. Amazon claimed it provided the department with purchase data, including product codes revealing the exact items purchased. A U.S. district court judge ruled against the state, which eventually settled with Amazon.

Former state Revenue Secretary David Hoyle vowed in 2010 to collect sales tax on purchases North Carolina residents made from online retailers.

In 2012, the Department of Revenue estimated North Carolina lost as much as $214 million in online sales taxes each year.

A measure introduced by U.S. lawmakers last year - the Marketplace Fairness Act - would allow each state to collect sales taxes on online purchases from out-of-state vendors. The measure passed the U.S. Senate but is currently stuck in the House of Representatives.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Use Options For a Chance To Buy NRF at a 36% Discount

Looking back to 32 days ago, Northstar Realty Finance Corp ( NYSE: NRF) priced a 50,000,000 share secondary stock offering at $11.65 per share. Buyers in that offering made a considerable investment into the company, expecting that their investment would go up over the course of time and based on early trading on Monday, the stock is now 20.5% above the offering price.

Investors who did not participate in the offering but would be a buyer of NRF at a cheaper price, might benefit from considering selling puts among the alternative strategies at their disposal. One interesting put contract in particular, is the January 2016 put at the $10 strike, which has a bid at the time of this writing of 95 cents. That would result in a cost basis of $9.05 per share before broker commissions in the scenario where the contract is exercised. If the contract is never exercised, the put seller would still keep the premium, which represents a 9.5% return against the $10.00 purchase commitment, or a 4.7% annualized rate of return (at Stock Options Channel we call this the YieldBoost).

Click here to find out the Top YieldBoost Puts of of Stocks with Recent Secondaries "

Secondaries can often present buying opportunities for bullish investors interested in purchasing shares, because the sudden extra supply of stock tends to require that the offering be priced at an attractive Discount to where the stock had previously been trading before the offering announcement. That can also introduce near-term volatility which improves the premiums a put seller can achieve. Selling a put does not give an investor access to NRF's upside potential the way owning shares would, because the put seller only ends up owning shares in the scenario where the contract is exercised. The chart below shows the one year performance of NRF shares, versus its 200 day moving average:

Looking at the chart above, NRF's low point in its 52 week range is $7.38 per share, with $14.27 as the 52 week high point - that compares with a last trade of $14.15.

The current annualized dividend paid by Northstar Realty Finance Corp is $0.84/share, currently paid in quarterly installments, and its most recent dividend ex-date was on 11/06/2013. Below is a long-term dividend history chart for NRF, which can be of good help in judging whether the most recent dividend with approx. 5.9% annualized yield is likely to continue.

According to the ETF Finder at, NRF makes up 5.98% of the iShares Mortgage Real Estate Capped ETF ( AMEX: REM) which is trading higher by about 0.1% on the day Monday.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sports Authority Coupon 2014: 15% off Coupons, Printable Coupon & Deals

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The Sports Authority coupon code is the best way to save money on purchasing gym equipment or the latest and greatest gear from the sports world at a very reasonable cost. This Sports Authority coupon code will allow customers to get the opportunity of saving on different versions of accessories that can be used for outdoor activities and the amount of money that customers got as their savings can be used to purchase other products that they might need. Sports Authority coupons provide additional discounts off the original price. These Sports Authority coupon codes are exclusive unadvertised deals and are not published outside of Sports Authority's affiliate networks. Consumers must hunt Sports Authority coupons down through the internet. The discount is calculated when the ordering is processed. To use the Sports Authority coupon code, consumers must enter it on the check out page before they submit their ordering.

Sports Authority is a full-line sporting goods store, which is dedicated to providing our customers with the best shopping experience possible by consistently providing an impressive assortment of brand name merchandise at great values in over 1,200 categories including equipment, footwear and apparel. Dedicated to increasing that value, Sports Authority strives to be the first choice for the sports, leisure and recreational customer by providing industry-leading customer service and product knowledge as well as "Specialty Service at Everyday Low Prices". When customers sign up for the newsletter they will also receive a Sports Authority coupon for 10% on their next purchase.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

T-Mobile fuels wireless pricing wars, but will Verizon finally take the bait?

LAS VEGAS--The 2014 Consumer Electronic Show took an interesting turn this year. Typically CES is a glitzy, gadget-centric convention. And in some ways it still is: wearables and connected automobiles garnered significant attention. But this year the convention also became a venue for wireless operators to fuel their competitive juices and launch some new rate plans. Yep, that's right--rate plans.

In case you haven't noticed, the U.S. wireless operators are at war with each other. T-Mobile US ( NYSE:TMUS) set the stage for this battle a year ago when it unveiled its "Uncarrier" strategy and promised to revamp the way wireless operators traditionally do business.

If disruption was T-Mobile's goal, and it appears it was, then the company has succeeded. First T-Mobile riled up its competitors with its Simple Choice no contract plans, then it announced Jump, a program that allows customers to upgrade their wireless devices up to two times per year after an initial six-month enrollment period. Then last October it put an end to international data plans and it gave tablet customers 200 MB of free data for life as long as they keep their tablet on the company's network.

But the final straw that appears to be setting the industry in a full-tilt spin is yesterday's announcement by T-Mobile that it will pay up to $650 in early termination fees (ETFs) for customers that want to switch to T-Mobile from AT&T Mobility ( NYSE:T), sprint lte las vegas ( NYSE:S) or Verizon Wireless ( NYSE:VZ).

T-Mobile isn't really the first carrier to target ETFs; AT&T announced last week that it was going to offer up to $450 in credit to customers who switch from T-Mobile to AT&T and trade in their smartphones. However, AT&T executives have said this is only a temporary offer while T-Mobile insists its offer is permanent and intended to go after the lucrative family plan customers of AT&T and Verizon. Moreover, numerous carriers have routinely offered to pay EFTs during the past several years as competition has increased--but those offerings have been promotional and not permanent.

Sprint also used CES as a forum to announce its new "Framily Plan," a new calling circle offering launching tomorrow that promises greater savings for everyone in the group as more people join. In addition, Sprint announced "Easy Pay," an equipment installment plan.

In a research note, Jefferies analysts pointed out that Sprint's new plans largely mimic T-Mobile's existing Simple Choice and EIP plans, and are most likely a knee-jerk response to the fact that T-Mobile is taking customers away from Sprint at a rapid rate. At T-Mobile's media event at CES yesterday, T-Mobile CEO John Legere quoted porting ratio stats that seem to indicate that all carriers are taking a hit from T-Mobile. He said that Sprint's porting ratio, or the number of customers who are switching from Sprint to T-Mobile, has been above 2.0 percent ever since T-Mobile announced its new strategy in early 2013. He also said that AT&T's porting ratio is above 2.0 percent and hinted that Verizon's porting ratio may be climbing. He said it was 1.7 percent for the first seven days of 2014.

But Verizon appears to be the only U.S. operator staying on the sidelines of this price war. Sure the company did respond to T-Mobile's Jump with the launch of Edge, a handset upgrade program that lets customers upgrade to a new device every six months if 50 percent of the retail cost of the phone has been paid. Analysts, however, panned Verizon's the program because Verizon doesn't take the cost of a device subsidy out of its rate plans. Thus, customers who sign up for Edge effectively pay the cost of the device twice--upfront and in the handset subsidy in the rate plan.

Will Verizon take T-Mobile's bait and start eliminating ETFs? Or International roaming fees? Or revise its rate plans? The operator, which has long touted its LTE coverage and capacity, has recently admitted to experiencing network issues due to higher-than-expected LTE data traffic. The company is in the midst of deploying LTE in its AWS spectrum to help alleviate that stress, but it will take time because Verizon needs to launch more handsets capable of operating on its AWS spectrum first.

For now, it's unlikely that Verizon will enter the price battle. However, if T-Mobile's latest ETF elimination strategy starts to make inroads with Verizon's customers, the operator will surely have to respond. The wireless pricing wars are escalating, but I have a feeling we are in for a long and treacherous battle ahead. -- Sue

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Amazon to start collecting sales tax in three new states in 2014

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Amazon has begun collecting sales tax in three additional states - Nevada, Tennessee and Indiana - this year. The online retail giant has fought for years to avoid collecting sales tax in as many states as possible, but it now collects sales tax in 19 states.

State officials from the three new states joining the club say that it will help generate $50 million a year, reports The Wall Street Journal.

As part of its deal with Tennessee officials, Amazon said it will build two warehouses there. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Gov. Bill Haslam said that the warehouses should create 3,500 jobs for the state.

The general rule of thumb used to be that an online retailer would only collect sales tax if the company had a physical presence within the state. However, Amazon had been successful in fighting that, until the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to rule on a New York case, in which Amazon tried to avoid charging tax there. New York State argued that since Amazon had affiliates in the state - used to help boost online traffic - that it had a foothold there and should charge tax. Amazon decided to cancel agreements with affiliates in Minnesota and Missouri just to avoid charging tax there, notes the Wall Street Journal.

In 2013, Amazon did reach a deal to bring warehouses to Florida, so sales tax will be collected there soon as well. Tax will begin being collected in 2016 for South Carolina residents.

image: Wikimedia Commons