Southern California is one of the leading areas with solar installations (see this post) and San Diego is no different. So it makes sense that the City of San Diego would want to get involved with solar--not just as a way to stick it to SDG&E--but as a potential fix to the City’s budget deficit problem.
According to an article by KPBS, City Council is looking in to the possibility of putting solar panels on street lights in order to generate enough money to pay for the energy consumed by the lights. However, Councilman Kevin Faulconer also floated the idea that these solar panels could generate enough electricity to sell back to SDG&E for a profit.
This sounds like a great idea, and we want to encourage this type of creative thinking to encourage the use and creation of renewable energy sources. But, this may be a better idea in theory than in practice.
First, the PUC has yet to set a rate at which energy companies will buy back the surplus energy created by consumers. The PUC was supposed to have a rate set by the first of this year, but it hasn’t happened yet. It is supposed to be around wholesale rates, which is lower than the rates that SDG&E charges its customers to purchase electricity.
Second, the legislation that allowed consumers to sell back electricity was for net surplus electricity. This means that consumers could sell back the electricity it produced above and beyond its consumption. Even if there was a solar panel on every street light, the City would be hard pressed to have those solar panels generate enough electricity to cover all its energy needs and still have a net surplus.
The spirit behind the idea to have solar solve or reduce our City’s budget problems is wonderful, but it may not be the best way to tackle the problem. The City could, however, look into putting solar arrays on the roofs of the buildings and parking lots it owns. Google did this up in Northern California and is generating electricity from what would otherwise be wasted space.
Do you have a solar array installed at your home or business? Tell us in the comments how much money it saved you.
Although AT&T has not yet filed its official application to have the FCC review its proposed purchase of T-Mobile. The FCC has taken the necessary first step of opening a docket to receive documents and information from the corporations and the public. The docket number is WT 11-65 and is being overseen by the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau within the FCC. Consumers have already started to file comments. This will likely be a long process and consumers your voice needs to be heard. We encourage you to file comments in this proceeding. Stacey Higginbotham at gigaom.com has also posted a list of ways consumers can comment on the proposed merger.
Whether you are for or against this merger, the FCC and the DOJ need to hear from consumers how this merger could impact them. Knowing the opinion of the public will help the agencies decide whether to reject the merger or if they accept the merger how many and what type of conditions to put on AT&T to allow it to take over T-Mobile.
Chrip chirp chirp. Is that the sound of spring birds stretching their wings for a morning flight? Or is it the sound of crickets in response to AT&T’s announcement of its first prepaid Android phone? Engadget posted yesterday that, along with a new prepaid data plan, the wireless behemoth is dropping the LG Thrive on prepaid customers this Sunday, April 17. I guess crickets are a bit harsh, but let’s dive into what AT&T has to offer and compare it to another prepaid carrier that has had an Android handset available for prepaid service: Cricket Wireless.
Right out of the gate, the LG Thrive seems to be a lower end phone. The processor isn’t blazing fast, the screen isn’t massive, and the camera won’t make you Ansel Adams. However, this isn’t a phone targeted to high end users. Most likely this will be an entry level phone for those looking to get their first smart phone. And it is similar in specs to the Huawei Ascend Cricket offers. So on its face, there’s nothing really wrong with the phone. Priced at $179, it’s a bit more expensive that the Ascend’s $139.99 (after rebate).
The jelly to the phone’s peanut butter in this prepaid smart phone sandwich is the rate plan. Simply put, how much will you be spending each month for the privilege of using the carrier’s network?
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of prepaid phones, especially for people whose phone use doesn’t require unlimited everything. If you are a light eater, it doesn’t make sense to pay the bigger bucks for the all you can eat buffet when you simply need a sandwich to tide you over. Similarly, light phone users don’t need a buffet style rate plan.
There are generally two types of prepaid plans: (1) those that mimic postpaid plans, where you have a fixed monthly cost every month, and (2) traditional per minute plans, where you pay a certain rate only for the minutes you use.
Cricket’s up first, since it is the easiest. If you have an Android phone from Cricket, you need Cricket’s Android plan. It’s an unlimited plan, in that you get unlimited talk, text, and web. But it’s unlimited in the sense that T-Mobile’s newest plan is unlimited. With Cricket, you get 1 GB of web use at the normal download and upload speeds. But once you hit that 1 GB ceiling, Cricket throttles your speed. That’s not really unlimited.
In comparison, AT&T has several prepaid plans from which to choose. Like Cricket, you have an unlimited option. Two options, in fact. For $60 a month, you get unlimited talk and text, but you must pay $.01/kilobyte for web. To put that in normal people terms, 1024 kilobytes = 1 megabyte. With an average mp3 song file being around 3 megabytes, it would cost you around $30. Ouch! For $75 a month, you get unlimited talk and text, plus 200 MB to play with (about 136 kB per cent). It already seems that Cricket is the better deal, but what about AT&T’s other prepaid options?
With AT&T’s requirement that the LG Thrive have a data plan (even though it’s a prepaid phone with a Wi-Fi radio built in), AT&T also launched a new prepaid rate plan. Straight from AT&T’s press release, here is the new offer: $25 for 500MB, $5 for 10MB (previously $4.99 for 1MB)
* $15 for 100MB (previously $19.99). These don’t seem to be the best offerings and certainly aren't the cheapest. But this line that followed the rate plans is key: The above data packages include unlimited Wi-Fi usage at thousands of AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots from your smartphone.
Hmm. This means that you can pay $5 a month to access all AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots, which normally cost around $4 a session. With almost 4,000 hotspots throughout California, this could be a good deal for those who want to keep their mobile web costs down.
Bottom line? AT&T’s unlimited plans are more expensive than Cricket’s unlimited plans--although neither are truly unlimited. But the real thing to take away is that you need to look at what your actual phone use is to pick the best plan. If you are texting away in between checking your e-mail and downloading apps, you may want to look to a plan that is unlimited. But if you are a light user looking to keep your phone bill as low as possible, you may want to check out one of the traditional prepaid options.
T-Mobile--despite plans to merge with AT&T--has gone forward with a new plan offering. The announcement, however, has lost some of its luster because first T-Mobile took great pains to highlight the fact it is limited time only, and second, it seems to accompany the disappearance of T-Mobile’s “Even More Plus” plans. When the new unlimited plan was first rumored, T-Mobile was going to release a $79.99 unlimited Even More (contract) plan and a $59.99 unlimited Even More Plus (no contract) plan. The Even More Plus plan was scrapped and what’s more T-Mobile stopped listing the plans on the website with a webpage noting customers should head to a T-Mobile store to learn more details about Even More Plus.
Setting aside T-Mobile’s disappointing actions the 2-year contract plan is a pretty decent plan. T-Mobile has not changed its other contract prices so you can see this plan is currently on par with its 500 minutes per month unlimited text and data plan and $10 cheaper than its 1000 minutes per month, unlimited text and data plan. T-Mobile does cap your unlimited data at 2GB per month, but it does not charge you for going over, it just throttles the data speed for the rest of the month if you hit the 2GB limit. It is also available for with their HSPA+ (sorry I just can’t call it 4G) service if you buy a phone that can access the network.
AT&T in comparison offers unlimited voice for $69.99 and then you can add unlimited messaging for $20 per month, and 2GB of data access for $25 per month (if 2GB is exceeded an additional 1GB is automatically provided at a rate of $10 per GB) for a grand total (assuming you don’t go over 2 GB) of $114.99 per month (looking forward to that AT&T-T-Mobile merger yet). With this plan you also get access to AT&T’s HSPA+ network if you buy a phone the operates on the network and AT&T discontinues its policy of disabling its phones from accessing HSPA+ to upload data.
Verizon Wireless, in contrast to the T-Mobile plan, also only offers unlimited voice and text for $89.99 per month and you can add on unlimited data for $30 per month (required if you are buying a smartphone). Thus you get unlimited Voice, Messaging, and Data for $119.99 per month. Their LTE network is available if you purchase a phone that can access the network. Verizon Wireless, according to its terms and conditions, will only throttle your data speed if you data use puts you within the top 5% of Verizon Wireless data users. It is unclear whether Verizon Wireless has set a cap in which it assumes a consumer is within the 5% or if it has another means of determining you are within the top 5% or otherwise using an extraordinary amount of data.
Lastly, Sprint offers its unlimited plan which is on par with T-Mobile as it is unlimited Voice, Messaging, and Data for $99.99 for access to its 3G network. It is an extra $10 per month if you purchase a phone that can access its Wi-Max network for a total of $109.99 per month. Wi-Max is not currently available is San Diego, but you can still purchase a phone that has the ability to access the network and have to pay the extra fee known as the “Premium Data Add-on.” Sprint also does not cap its data use but reserves the right to throttle your speed.
These are all 2-year contract plans though in some cases the length of the contract can be adjusted depending upon the amount of money a consumer pays for the smartphone upfront. It also ignores ancillary costs for additional services such as mobile hotspot access, tethering, international messaging, etc… and does not discuss early termination fees, or other charges that may be incurred as part of your wireless service.
So there you have it: T-Mobile is offering for a limited time a new individual plan (no family plan equivalent) at a fairly good price especially if you don’t plan on using more than 2GB of data per month. Because I was specifically looking at the new T-Mobile plan I did not include an analysis of the numerous prepaid plans also available out there.
On KPBS's Editor's Roundtable last Friday, the topic was how "Water Rates Don't Flow from Usage." What this means is that even if you conserve, your water bill won't necessarily go down as expected. I couldn't help calling in and emphasizing how this could change if the City reduced its fixed charges, or base fee, on our water bills. The City also needs to stop dragging its feet and restructure its water rates right now, instead of waiting until 2013 when the next Cost of Service Study is scheduled. Listen to the broadcast or read the transcript to hear more on this important issue. If you want your voice heard, call or write your City Council Member and say you want your base fee reduced, and our water rates changed to a water budget structure!
Verizon recently announced that it will be dumping its one year contract option. Why? Huff Post tells us Verizon claims there is not enough customer demand to justify the service - - that customers prefer two year contracts to take advantage of promotional pricing.
It is common knowledge that carriers can sell these $600 phones for a penny because they recoup the cost via locking you into an extended contract. One year plans would often require a higher initial phone cost because the carrier won’t be able to recoup their losses to the same extent.
So it’s all the same for consumers, right? Not really. Cell phone contracts are notoriously unfriendly to consumers - - even calling it a contract is a bit of a misnomer. The carrier can change the terms or rates at any time and leave you with a phone that probably isn’t compatible with other carriers. But if YOU want to change the terms of the contract? You’re up a creek without a paddle and stuck with an early termination fee upwards of $300.
It’s difficult to say if Verizon’s numbers are true, but it seems a tad bit suspicious to me. If consumers don’t see the benefit in one year contracts, consumer advocates certainly do. When Germany’s economic minister Rainer Bruederle proposed pro-consumer changes to telecom laws, he focused on contract terms. In fact, he proposed a ban on two year contracts and suggested all service contracts last a maximum of twelve months. U.S. regulators have paid a lot of lip service to ETFs and two year contracts but haven’t made any substantial moves in regards to contract lengths.
So now you’ve lost your option for a one year contract with Verizon. But at least you can get your device at a huge discount with your two year contract now, right? Wrong. In January, Verizon axed their “New Every Two” program that allowed you to upgrade your phone every two years. So they’ll still be charging you the high monthly fees associated with recouping the phone cost … except there’s no phone cost to recoup, so it’s just pure profit for them. Very sneaky, Verizon.
There are rumors that Verizon will be offering a $50/month month to month plan with unlimited calls and text with an additional $30/month for data. This would be an excellent option for those of us ready to loose ourselves from the shackles of oppressive phone contracts, but as of now they are still rumors. In fact, Verizon purposefully leaked the information to DroidLife the day after they announced the end of their one year contracts. It’s hard to tell if they are serious or if it was a PR move to soften the blowback from canceling the one year contracts. Only time will tell.
Common cents no longer makes sense? (I know, I know, terrible pun, but it needed to be said) According to an article by Fierce Wireless, Sprint announced last week that it was ending one of its many prepaid mobile phone service providers: Common Cents Mobile. Common Cents wasn’t the cheapest or best prepaid mobile phone service out there, but it did have an interesting trick up its sleeve.
With most cell phone providers, if you used any fraction of a minute, you were billed as having used that whole minute. It’s like the parking garages who charge you for every “15-minute segment or fraction thereof.” Those signs are ridiculously confusing and basically mean that the parking garage is going to charge you as much as possible, because it can! But instead of rounding up, Common Cents Mobile rounded down. So instead of being charged six minutes for a five minute and 15 second phone conversation, Common Cents would charge you five minutes.
Now, this sounds like it’s only a minute, but this was fantastic news for mobile phone users who didn’t really talk all that much. Many of our members like to keep prepaid phones with them in case of emergencies, since the prepaid option allows them to avoid high monthly charges and high cancellation and early termination fees. If you make 20 five minute and 15 second phone calls, you’ve just saved 20 minutes. That’s 20 minutes that you don’t have to add on to your phone’s minute balance.
Sadly, Sprint felt that it had just too many prepaid carriers. With Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, and Assurance Wireless, it sounds like Sprint had its hands full in the prepaid game. Since Common Cents was only available at Walmart and didn’t go through an aggressive marketing campaign, it sounds like the brand didn’t take off very quickly.
For those current Common Cents customers, it looks like Virgin Mobile will be taking the place as your carrier. Branded as payLo by Virgin Mobile, current customers shouldn’t see any change in service, other than a different logo. The change should happen in May, roughly one year after Sprint released Common Cents Mobile into the world.
Questions about prepaid wireless companies? Check out our prepaid mobile comparison chart.
The long-awaited Chevy Volt electric-hybrid is available to the public and....against all odds and expectations, GM has possibly hit one out of the park. This car is sweet. It truly is the bridge to the next generation of green cars. But its price tag isn't so much so.
First the good news. GM has done a really wonderful job designing and manufacturing the car. The car drives solidly and, in sport mode, it feels like a bona fide sports car with g-force acceleration and road-hugging handling. Thanks to the electric motor, the car is very quiet when running off the battery. When the gasoline-driven electric generator is running (after you've exhausted the 40-mile battery charge) you can hear some engine noise. But you really have to listen for it.
The car is a 21st century car, designed to work in an Internet-based, wireless world. So you can access and even start the car using a wireless phone or Net-based computer. Other highlights: the car comes with a five-year On-Star package included in the price which includes GPS services, road assistance and hands-free communication using your cell phone or On-Star's phone package. All included in the purchase price.
You can make up your mind about its eye appeal, but there's no doubting the road appeal. According to Motor Trend and other web-based engineering sites, the car is also an engineering marvel. For the lay-person the highest compliment one can offer is that you can't see the technologically complexities. For the driver, it feels like a typical hybrid automobile. A bit smaller than the Prius, but a heckuva a lot more fun to drive.
Now, here's the real kicker. If you keep your trips to below 40 miles, you can probably drive the car forever without ever using a drop of gasoline. BUT, if your trip exceeds 40 miles, you have the gasoline engine that allegedly provides about 300 total miles on a full tank (9 gallons of gasoline). So this car CAN go the distance, but if it is used for local city driving, it will literally never need a drop of gasoline. And if you use a solar photovoltaic array to produce the electricity that charges the batteries, then your car is effectively being propelled by the sun. It doesn't get a lot more elegant than that.
We've test-driven the Nissan Leaf and find the Volt to be more fun to drive, a little more road-worth and far more practical, given its broader range (300 miles compared to the Leaf's 100 miles) The Volt and other electric-hybrids will likely serve as the bridge to the next generation of green cars. Fuel-cell powered cars are probably five-ten years away.
Now the bad news. The sticker price is high. Out the door, after taxes, the car runs $46,000-48,000. Even after the federal $7500 tax credit, that is almost $40,000 out of pocket. Even if the electricity was totally free (generated by yourself rather than purchased from a utility), the fuel savings alone don't offset the $10,000-$20,000 premium you pay over hybrid cars like the Prius or electric cars like the Leaf. So this isn't a purely economic play. However, the car is a lot of fun to drive and might appeal to the sports-car enthusiasts for whom no green cars currently exist. Or it may simply be an atta-boy to General Motors. The company finally came through with a groundbreaking, solidly engineered automobile for consumers who want to do right by the Earth and still have some fun.
The other bad news is the Volt's availability is limited. It is only being sold in certain markets throughout the country and the wait list for the car is said to be quite long. It took us about four months to get the car and, with gas prices at near-record high levels, that wait-list might get longer this year.
As a follow up to my colleague’s blog on how AT&T’s 4G network isn’t actually 4G, it looks like the real, honest-to-goodness 4G standard has been approved. The IEEE (which isn’t an onomatopoeia but an acronym that stands for Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and approves wireless radio standards), according to an article by Rethink Wireless, approved the first true 4G standard.
This is big news because this means that wireless companies like AT&T can actually finally put 4G technology in those smartphones it claims to have 4G speeds. The 4G standard claims to have maximum download speeds of over 300 Mbps, which is smoking fast for a phone download. For comparison, Cox’s Utlimate tier of cable broadband promises download speeds of up to 50 Mbps.
Now, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to download the latest version of Angry Birds at a blazing 300 Mbps, because--as we all know--theoretical speeds and actual speeds are two different things. AT&T managed to top a speed test performed by PC World, throwing down a jaw-dropping 1410 kpbs. For conversion, 1 Mbps is 1024 kbps. For simplicity’s sake, if there are 1000 kbps per Mbps, this gives AT&T’s 3G network a whopping 1.4 Mbps.
If 4G can increase this number by 10 fold, it would be a great day for wireless consumers across the nation. Now if AT&T could only work on its dropped call rate.
Questions about 4G? Excited to be getting the next generation of technology? Let us know in the comments.
The Legal Aspect of Fighting Your Water Bill
If you have an issue with your water bill, and would like to file a complaint, or claim, please read on! Under the Government Claims Act, all complaints must go through the City’s Risk Management Department before they can be taken to court. Unfortunately, Small Claims Court (where you would normally take this type of claim) is not available for claims against the City.
If you have a claim and are ready to file, there is a claim form to fill out. You must file this form within 6 months of the incident. If you feel like you have a claim, but are unsure, you can give us a call and we will help advise you on your situation.
In addition to your claim form, we recommend you write a separate letter and attach it to your form before sending it to the City. In your letter you should include specific relevant dates, times, and amounts. If you can, try to identify any law that supports your claim. (E.g. California Constitution Article 13(d) Section 6(b)(3) which says that the amount you are charged has to be proportional to cost of the service you are provided). You also DEFINITELY want to attach copies of any relevant documentation that you have.
If you have any questions after you draft a copy of the letter, feel free to give us a call.
When the city receives your claim, they will notify you of their acceptance or denial of the claim usually within 45 days.
If they reject your claim, you can fight it at Superior Court. Superior Court is significantly different from Small Claims Court. You will need to pay filing fees ($225 just for filing the complaint) and it’s not as easy to represent yourself. Keep in mind there may be options for getting these fees waived.
It pains me to say that this is the only available way to judicial relief. You send a claim to a biased party who is likely to reject it, then are denied access to the easier to navigate, more relevant, and less costly, venue of Small Claims Court, forcing you to resort to paying excessive fees (likely higher than what you are trying to fight) all because the City doesn’t want to be swamped with small claims actions.
Oddly enough, if they were honest and responsible in their billing, they wouldn’t need to be concerned with being swamped with small claims actions. Go figure.
Welcome to the broken system of claim filing. We will do our best to help.