SBC, AT&T Might Be Headed for Merger

In a potential blockbuster trade that could re-unite two telecommunication giants separated by regulators, SBC Communications is reportedly in talks with AT&T about a merger that could be worth at least US$16 billion.

If the deal comes to pass — and various reports say it is as likely to fall through as it is to be consummated — SBC would be acquiring its onetime parent company. The two were separated in 1984 as part of the massive breakup of the original AT&T. The remaining AT&T became a long distance specialist, and the regional “baby bells” handled local calling and basic service.

Since then, huge changes in the marketplace have made two of those baby bells — SBC and what is now known as Verizon — formidable telecommunications giants with a hand in everything from local calling to high-speed Internet service and mobile communications, while weakening AT&T as a consumer company and forcing it to focus on businesses to survive.

Powerful Business Focus

AT&T still has nearly 30 million long-distance customers, but has all but stopped seeking new customers on the residential side of its business. SBC has about 50 million local-phone customers.

Analysts said the deal would give SBC access to a powerful business-focused operation in AT&T, albeit one that is struggling to grow revenues and profits in the face of fierce price competition with MCI. AT&T’s massive global high-speed fiber network would likely be one of the main prizes if the merger were to take place, along with its enterprise client base.

Shares of SBC were lower in early trading today, losing more than 2 percent to $24.02. AT&T shares, meanwhile, surged higher, up as much as 7 percent to $19.58.

That the merger would partly undo the breakup ordered by regulators more than 20 years ago is not a surprise given the direction the rapidly evolving telecommunications marketplace is taking, independent telecom analyst Jeff Kagan told the E-Commerce Times.

“What’s interesting is that the marketplace is trying to put back together what the regulators took apart,” Kagan said. “But at least it’s putting it back together again in markets where there are multiple competitors.”

New Era

The telecom landscape has completely changed since the AT&T breakup, with telecoms now involved in businesses, such as data services, that weren’t envisioned at the time, and competitors — including cable companies and VoIP specialists — readily entering a business that was once thought to be barred to new entrants.

The bottom line, Kagan said, is that “long-distance wasn’t a standalone business. It’s only viable now as part of another business.”

While the Bush administration has been welcoming to changes in the marketplace and has taken a favorable, anti-regulatory approach — particularly under outgoing Federal Communications Chairman Michael Powell — the marketplace changes are more important than the regulatory ones, Kagan argues.

“We had mergers in the Clinton administration, then we had a break because of the telecom meltdown and WorldCom and the like,” he added. “Now we’re getting back into it in the Bush administration.”

“What we’ve learned is that we’re better off not trying to predict or mold the industry,” Kagan said. “The industry is changing and we’re better off letting it figure it out. We need to watch it, to make sure that consumers or other groups aren’t taken advantage. But I think the industry needs to find itself and we need to let it do that.”

Green Lights Predicted

Regulators would be likely to green-light the SBC/AT&T linkup because AT&T has largely moved away from servicing residential customers. Last year, it announced it would no longer service the local phone calling market after regulators gave baby bells the right to set their own prices to allow those calls to be carried on their networks. AT&T long ago spun off its wireless division.

Analysts said AT&T is ripe for acquisition because of its falling fortunes in recent years. BellSouth, another regional carrier created by the breakup, was reported to be in advanced talks of its own to buy AT&T, only to have discussions break down on issues of price.

While its traditional business is partly still a regional one with a heavy concentration in Texas and California and in the midwest, SBC’s reach is much greater in other areas. For instance, along with BellSouth it co-owns Cingular Wireless, which after the recent buy of AT&T Wireless now has around 48 million customers.

It became one of the first major carriers to offer nationwide VoIP service in November of 2003, and it has been a longtime partner of Yahoo, co-branding a high-speed Internet service with the portal.

While consumer groups might express concern and might even have success in mobilizing regulators or lawmakers, the merger would be good for the industry and consumers alike, Steve Titch, senior fellow for technology issues at The Heartland Institute, told the E-Commerce Times.

“If this merger in fact moves forward — which is in and of itself far from certain — it would probably be good for consumers and investors alike,” Titch said. “Regulators and elected officials ought to stay as far away from this development as the law allows.”

Titch said the merger would not be a reconstruction of the old Ma Bell. “It is about simplifying home technology for consumers,” he added. “Legislators and antitrust officials should carefully consider the impact that blocking mergers like this would have on progress toward networked applications in the home.”

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New Linux Laptop Line Advances HP, System76 Open-Source Collaboration

Pop!_OS is preinstalled on the HP Dev One laptop.

Collaboration between Linux computer and software firm System76 and HP is pushing for greater commercial adoption of open-source software and hardware optimized for Linux.

System76 and HP on Thursday announced a new premium computer line designed to attract a wider audience to the developer-focused HP Dev One laptop computer.

HP’s new Dev One, powered by System76’s popular Pop!_OS Linux distribution, empowers developers to create their ideal work experience with multiple tools to help them perform tasks at peak efficiency not available on other computing platforms.

The Pop!_OS platform features auto-tiling, workspaces, and easy keyboard navigation. This flexibility allows software developers to create unique optimized workflows to unleash their coding potential.

Typically, Linux users install their preferred Linux platform as a replacement for the default Microsoft Windows on computers they purchase. Relatively few OEMs build their own hardware line and tune it for specific Linux offerings.

Denver-based System76 developed its own customized version of the GNOME desktop environment to help advance Linux as the future of computing. The company developed Pop!_OS after Canonical decided to stop the development of the Unity 8 desktop shell in 2017 and replaced its default desktop with GNOME 3.

“By bringing together our engineering, marketing, and customer support, System76 [and] HP are introducing HP Dev One to combine powerful hardware with optimized Pop!_OS for the app dev community,” announced Carl Richell, CEO, System76.

HP Dev One Laptop

HP’s Dev One laptop has a stunning classic appearance that belies the Linux hardware and software customizations designed for developers.


Targeting Coders

Software developers want a customized device optimized for the way they code, added Tylitha Stewart, vice president and global head of consumer services and subscriptions at HP.

“By working with System76, we are meeting this need and providing a premium experience with Linux Pop!_OS preinstalled to deliver the new HP Dev One. The device has features important to developers including an optional Linux keyboard tuned with a super key and designed to be more efficient at the core,” offered Stewart.

The companies hope collaboration will speed up the usefulness of Pop!_OS, pushing its boundaries beyond typical mainstream use for home and office computing. Pop!_OS development and innovation have always been a top priority for System76, noted Jeremy Soller, principal engineer at System76.

“We are working to develop new features and optimize current ones into Pop!_OS at a much faster pace than previously possible,” he said.

Unique Plan Has Potential

This interesting announcement suggests HP realizes that developers are a significant enough market to warrant specific products and attention, noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“While the company has certified its laptops for Linux for several years and offered Ubuntu as an option on some high-end mobile workstations, it mostly left installation and configuration chores to end-users. This new AMD-based solution and partnership with System76 changes that,” he told LinuxInsider.

The larger question, though, is how much of a market there is for an HP-branded developer laptop given other vendors’ longer and deeper involvement in this area. Consider that Dell has been delivering developer-focused Linux solutions for over a decade, King observed.

Dell offers XPS 13 and Latitude laptops and fixed and mobile Precision workstations pre-loaded with Ubuntu Linux and certified for Red Hat Linux. In 2020 Lenovo expanded access to its Linux-ready solutions that previously were only available as special orders to enterprise clients. The expanded product lines include over two dozen Thinkpad laptops, ThinkStation PCs, and ThinkStation Workstations.

A handful of specialty OEMs, including System76, complete in this space, observed King.

“Overall, this qualifies as HP moving from dipping its toe into the developer endpoint market to wading in up to its ankles. Depending on how it finds the water, HP may eventually take a deep breath and dive in,” predicted King.

About the Hardware

The HP Dev One is a premium laptop built for coding. It is not designed for casual computing.

HP’s new Linux-based laptop is built for the way software developers work. It is equipped with an 8-Core AMD Ryzen 7 PRO 5850U Processor 1 and AMD integrated Radeon Graphics.

Dev One’s internal specs offer much more power than normally found in laptops developed for casual and business computing tasks. It is loaded with 16 GB of RAM memory provided by DDR4 @ 3200MHz and offers 1TB PCIe NVMe 3×4 NVMe M.2 2280 Solid State Drive storage. Its full HD display shines with 1,000 nits brightness.

The multicore processor is designed to improve the performance of certain software products. Though not all customers or software applications will necessarily benefit from the use of this technology, noted HP. Performance and clock frequency vary depending on application workload, hardware, and software configurations. AMD’s numbering is not a measurement of clock speed.

HP Dev One ports side view

The Dev One maintains HP’s classic layout with ample ports on both left and right edges of the 3.24 lb lightweight 14-inch mineral silver colored clam shell.


For software developers, however, the multicore performance allows coders to seamlessly multitask between IDEs and photo editing software all while testing their releases. The 16 GB memory supply provides transfer rates of up to 3,200 MT/s of speed and responsiveness for developers.

More storage size and speed mean developers can spend less time managing their files. The high-speed sequential transfer — up to three GB/s — makes it possible to experience very fast loading and saving of files.

The Dev One laptop measures 12.73 x 8.44 x 0.75 inches (32.34 x 21.46 x 1.91 cm).

Birthing a Collaboration To Grow Linux

A group of engineers at HP approached System76 about the possibility of putting Pop!_OS on one of its laptop computers. After a few initial discussions, both companies saw a real win-win possibility if they worked together to bring Pop!_OS and Linux to a wider audience and allowed HP to move into a new segment, according to a System76’s public relations department spokesperson.

“The rest, as they say, is history,” the spokesperson told LinuxInsider.

But even casual coders and non-professional users can download the free open-source operating system without shelling out cold cash for a top-end laptop. The version of Pop!_OS that comes with the HP Dev One is the same version that will be available for download on the System76 website.

No specially altered software version is available. Users can freely download and install any Linux distribution. Linux runs on a variety of hardware configurations. It breathes new life into aging computers, especially those that no longer can run current versions of Microsoft Windows.

The added benefit Pop!_OS brings is its customized user interface (UI) that makes it simple and intuitive to use out of the box.

“There is no question that HP has an extremely far reach in terms of their audience. By bringing Linux into their portfolio as a viable option for their customers, it allows Linux and Pop!_OS to reach a larger audience as well,” said the spokesperson.

A Matter of Time

Only time will tell how successfully the HP-System76 partnership will advance the adoption of Linux. History shows that a lack of coordinated advertising and few major OEM providers of hardware preinstalled with Linux has slowed mainstream Linux desktop adoption.

“At this time, it is too early to say. We think it definitely ties into the above question, though, just in that a larger audience learning about the benefits of Linux will in time drive greater adoption of the platform,” according to System76.

But the collaboration with HP has really pushed System76’s ability to do this much further, offered the spokesperson.

The Pop!_OS Edge

The System76 POP!_OS is not a skinned version of Ubuntu GNOME as a replacement. It involves much more.

System76 has an impressive track record in pushing this customized Linux operating system to the forefront. It created a uniquely branded GNOME-based desktop environment designed for the company’s own hardware.

The collaboration with HP fine-tunes both hardware and software to make a computing platform not available anywhere else. Seasoned Linux users have many reasons to be attracted to POP!_OS’ integration of the GNOME desktop.

Selecting this unique Linux desktop emphasizes the continuing improvements System76 builds into the GNOME UI. The customized special features can make this collaborative endeavor a winning proposition for coders and related industry settings.

Pop!_OS version 22.04 LTS is designed to have a minimal amount of clutter on the desktop to eliminate distractions. The layout lets users focus fully on using it more productively.

The latest POP!_OS System76, released prior to the Dev One announcement with HP, added the ability to assign applications to run on a specific graphics card. Besides switching between Intel and Nvidia graphics, users can choose Hybrid Graphics mode. In this mode, the computer runs on the battery-saving Intel GPU and only uses the Nvidia GPU for user-designated applications.

Expanded keyboard shortcuts create a fluid experience. Not having to vacate the keyboard rows to carry out a mouse action is a refreshing approach to navigating the desktop. These new keyboard shortcuts let you launch and switch between applications, toggle settings, and much more. This should work well for coders.

Getting It and More

HP Dev One is available now with a starting price of US$1,099.

This laptop comes with full-disk encryption, Hall sensor, and ambient light sensor. It also has a dual-point backlit spill-resistant premium keyboard with a glass click pad and gesture support as default.

Wireless connectivity includes Realtek RTL8822CE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2×2) Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5 combo. This device has no fingerprint reader.

Audio configuration includes dual stereo speakers and two multi-array microphones. The power supply is an HP Smart 65 W External AC power adapter. The battery type is an HP Long Life three-cell, 53 Watt Li-ion.

Ports and connectors include two SuperSpeed USB Type-C 10 Gbps signaling rate (USB Power Delivery, DisplayPort 1.4); two SuperSpeed USB Type-A 5 Gbps signaling rate (one charging); one headphone/microphone combo; one HDMI 2.0; one AC power (HDMI cable sold separately).

Also included is one 720p HD camera.

For more information or to order, visit hpdevone.com.

The POP!_OS distro is available for free download in two versions. One ISO is for Intel and AMD systems. A second ISO is for Nvidia graphics systems.

Both installation ISOs boot the computer into a live session that does not alter the existing operating system or the computer’s hard drive. It is installed from the live session with the click of a button.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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Marketers: Beware Florida’s Mini-TCPA

If you do electronic marketing of any kind, you’ve been a captive audience to the ever-changing requirements of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, known familiarly as the “TCPA.” But now, the state of Florida has amended its Telemarketing Act, creating what is being called the “Mini-TCPA.” Florida’s new law changes electronic and telemarketing in significant ways — even if you’re not in Florida.

Years of litigation over the federal TCPA has taught most companies to understand the different forms of consent, how to distinguish sales calls from informational calls, what kinds of call could legally gather information from consumers without straying into highly restricted “sales calls,” and what in the world constitutes an automated telephone dialing system (ATDS).

Now, just as we thought the law was settled — or at least settling — the new Florida state law overturns the apple cart. Many of our prior understandings are out the window. Telemarketing practices will have to change substantially, and the costs of violating the Florida law will be substantial.

Law Applies Even if You Don’t Do Business in Florida

The new statute covers any call made to any device with a Florida area code no matter where the receiving phone is located, and calls made to a person who happens to be in Florida at the time they receive a covered call.

In either case, the calling company will be considered to be “doing business in Florida” and therefore subject to the Mini-TCPA. That’s true even if the calling company has no way to know that these seemingly non-Floridian numbers in fact have some relationship to Florida.

In either scenario, there is a “rebuttable presumption” that the calls are covered by the Florida statute. “Rebuttable presumption” means as a practical matter that government regulators or class action plaintiffs can make you spend lots of money in attorney’s fees trying to prove that the calls weren’t covered.

For economic reasons, many businesses will end up making the business decision to settle these cases rather than litigating the law’s application to them.

Role of the ‘Private Right of Action’

The big danger presented by this statute is the claims that may be made by private parties, not government enforcement actions. That’s because the new Mini-TCPA contains a “private right of action.” Any consumer can sue you claiming you violated the statute. Those suits can be class actions, real or threatened.

Although the statute appears to limit recoverable damages to a maximum of only $500 per violation, that figure is a red herring for a couple of reasons. Plaintiffs tend to claim that each individual call to their phone is a separate violation. One consumer’s calls can quickly become multiple violations and therefore multiples of $500.

In addition, under some circumstances, the law trebles damages. The Mini-TCPA provides for triple the damages and attorney’s fees if the violation was intentional. Since marketing and informational calls are both generally the result of a pre-planned marketing campaign, every call is going to be asserted to be intentional.

Moreover, general Florida consumer law allows recovery of attorney’s fees and, potentially, statutory additional punitive damages.

The ATDS Rabbit Trail

All the noise generated by litigation around the federal TCPA about automated telephone dialing systems may have given businesses the impression that if you avoid using particular kinds of ATDS, you can be sure of avoiding liability. But here again, Florida’s new law changes the game.

Instead of diving into the controversy over what constitutes a covered ATDS machine, Florida simplifies the issue — and expands the danger zone. The new statute focuses its attention simply on “automated systems.” The definition of “automated system” under the Mini-TCPA is much broader than the federal TCPA’s.

As defined by the Mini-TCPA, it encompasses any system that does any one of three things: it either selects the persons to be called, or it dials calls, or it plays recorded messages. It’s hard to imagine a telephonic machine (including the one in your pocket) that isn’t potentially covered by this definition.

Mini-TCPA Goes Beyond Classic Telemarketing

Many businesses’ response to warnings about the applicability of the TCPA to their operations was “we don’t do telemarketing.” That’s because a distinction between telemarketing calls and informational calls has been enshrined in telemarketing regulation since the enactment of the TCPA law. Telemarketing calls were the bad ones; informational calls were the good ones. Later generations of FCC regulations, rules, and orders focus on this difference.

Again, Florida’s Mini-TCPA breaks new ground. While the new Florida statute regulates “telephonic sales calls” made for the traditional TCPA and telemarketing purposes, it appears that the new statute goes further. It now seems to include calls marketing products and services that were in the grey area of TCPA coverage. For example, extensions of credit.

“Non-commercial” calls are going to be exempt from coverage by the Mini-TCPA, but only if the caller has some level of licensure or certification e.g., IRS Section 501(c) and Florida state registration.

However, some authorities say that the statute also covers calls made for ultimate purpose of obtaining information for later use in sales. If this is the case, any calls used to harvest consumers’ personal information for later use in sales will require the called party’s prior express written consent under this statue.

Much of this sits squarely in a grey area. Litigation and additional legislation will certainly affect what the law will actually say. The true application to your individual marketing strategy is going to be hard to predict. Seeking legal counsel is going to be crucial to making wise decisions in this area.

Establishig Consent

If the TCPA taught us any clear lesson, it was that to make (almost) any call “legal” all you needed to do was get the called party’s consent.

What constitutes the appropriate level of consent under TCPA depends on various factors: kinds of calls, call technologies, kind of phone called, who was making the call, etc. For that reason, determining what level of consent is required for any given call under TCPA can require a complicated and troublesome analysis.

The new Florida law simplifies all of this: it mandates that the only acceptable consent for all covered calls is prior express written consent. It then carefully defines what prior express written consent must look like, with several required qualifying elements:

The consent must be in writing, bear the signature of the called party, “clearly authorize” a call using an automated system, include the authorization to call a particular number specified by the calling party, and inform the called party of certain enumerated rights.

In addition, the call must provide to consumers identifying information about the calling party. The new statute also requires that the calling party must maintain records of calls made and the consent obtained.

Sleeper Provisions

The Mini-TCPA, like the federal TCPA, is long and convoluted. There’s too much in the law to cover all the provisions in this short article. So here are some other provisions that may be worth a look:

  • Limitations on call frequency and timing;
  • the way information mining calls will be treated;
  • the liability of a company for the violations of its third-party contractors;
  • the requirements for callers to transmit identifying information; and
  • potential criminal penalties for certain activity.

There is good news, nonetheless: the Mini-TCPA law provides a long list of types of calls which are exempt from coverage by the new statute. However, the exemptions are many and complicated. Many provisions provide an exemption from liability under the statute, then take the exemption away with exceptions to the exemptions.

Competent legal counsel is a must before deciding that a company’s telemarketing is exempt from the statute.

A Final Thought

It’s easy to think that the real threat of this statute is actual litigation. It’s not. It’s the Hobson’s choice presented when your company receives a claim from either government or a private party.

When you receive a claim under the statute, if you weigh the costs of fighting it or settling it, you will quickly come to an ugly realization. Every claim can cost you upwards of $1500, plus attorney’s fees for the claimant, on top of paying your own attorney, plus trebled damages, and other possible damages.

It will almost always turn out that the potential out-of-pocket cost to fight even a bogus claim is going to be much larger than the settlement demands from a plaintiff. Given the possible downsides of litigation, good counsel may well urge you to settle any claim as quickly and as cheaply as possible. If you consider the economics when determining how to respond to a claim, this makes sense.

All of that puts a higher premium on prevention. Talk to your lawyer about how this statute might apply to you, what your exposure is, and how you might bullet-proof your marketing strategy.

The only sure way to win at these claims it to prevent them from being filed.

This article is provided for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. The purpose is merely to make the reader aware of some issues that must be addressed by legal counsel. This article cannot substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel addressing the reader’s specific situation.

Brad Elbein is a partner in the Atlanta office of Culhane Meadows, PLLC and is co-chair of the Government, Regulatory and Compliance Practice Group. Brad guides clients through matters involving telemarketing, electronic marketing, advertising, consumer laws (FTC Act, FDCPA, FRCA, TILA, and more), and defense of consumer law claims by government and by consumers.

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