AT&T Boosts Dividend, Launches Buyback and Expands TV Push

In a nod to its recent success and an expression of confidence in its future, AT&T will boost its dividend by the largest amount ever and buy back as many as 400 million shares of its own stock.

The AT&T board of directors voted to increase the company’s quarterly dividend rate from 35 US cents per share to 40 cents per share. On an annual basis, the dividend rate rose from $1.42 to $1.60 per share, an increase of 12.7 percent — the largest annual boost in the company’s history.

The board also approved a massive stock buyback program, authorizing the 400 million share purchase, which would represent 7 percent of the total outstanding with a value of just under $16 billion worth of stock at current prices.

Growing the Business

AT&T will exercise the right to buy back shares based on trading prices and other market conditions between now and the end of 2009, it said.

The telecom giant said it already bought back $13 billion worth of its own stock through a program that ended earlier this month.

AT&T shares moved higher by more than 6 percent on the news to $40.30.

The action “reflects the strength of AT&T’s operations, and our board’s confidence in the future of our business and our ability to continue to deliver strong results,” noted AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. “AT&T has great assets in a growth industry, and we’re excited about the opportunities we have to continue to grow our business while also delivering value to shareowners.”

Masters of the Universe

Indeed, the moves seem to underscore how well AT&T has navigated the massive wave of consolidation that hit the telecom sector over the past five years, which saw the onetime phone monopoly rebuild itself through the rollup of regional carriers as a national wireless powerhouse.

AT&T and Verizon have used the consolidation wave and the aftermath to separate themselves from the rest of the pack in the telecom space, industry analyst Jeff Kagan told the E-Commerce Times.

“AT&T has excelled by taking advantage of the consolidation trend that is changing the telecom industry,” he said. “Ten years ago, it was the smallest Baby Bell, and today it is the largest, and it is selling all the services — telephone, television, wireless and Internet.”

Most recently, AT&T has benefited from the partnership with Apple on the iPhone, which has helped boost an already strong wireless unit. AT&T has signed 2 million users to two-year iPhone contracts and the gadgets users are producing higher monthly revenue for the carrier because they are more likely to use data services than other subscribers.

“Wireless is a big part of that mix, but other parts of the business like business services and Internet products are also growing quickly” for both Verizon and AT&T, Kagan added.

Second U-Verse

The buyback likely suggests AT&T is not about to pull the trigger on a long-rumored acquisition of satellite TV provider Dish Network. Instead, it seems committed to investing billions in rolling out its fiber-optics network capable of delivering video services.

Such services are a key part of the long-range growth plan for all telecoms, especially because some parts of the wireless business are maturing rapidly, Yankee Group analyst John Jackson told the E-Commerce Times.

“Right now, wireless is the growth engine, but that won’t last forever,” Jackson said.

Raising Targets

Video service is one area where AT&T has lagged behind Verizon. The company had 126,000 customers for U-verse at the end of the third quarter, below where it was expected to be at this time.

However, AT&T is raising its targets for how many potential users its U-verse video service will reach by the end of 2011, Stephenson said. The company now says 30 million customers will have access to U-verse by that time.

“Verizon has an early lead into more markets with their FiOS (Fiber Optic Service) product, but AT&T looks like they are getting ready to make up for lost time in 2008,” Kagan said. “Through all the change during the last few years, AT&T seems to be batting one thousand. It will be interesting to watch the next few quarters and years unfold.”

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License Change May Spark New Pricing Trend for Open-Source Projects

software license

Cloud-native microservices platform Lightbend wants open-source licensing to better meet developers’ needs and is doing something to make that happen. However, the replacement fix is not a traditional open-source license. Rather, it transitions there in time.

The company, whose user base includes some of the world’s largest brands, on Wednesday announced significant changes to the licensing model for its Akka technology. The platform is used extensively by industry leaders in financial services, e-commerce, automotive, web services, cloud infrastructure, and gaming.

Akka offers devs the ability to deliver concurrent, distributed, and resilient event-driven applications for Java and Scala. Lightbend is changing the license on all Akka modules from Apache 2.0 to Business Source License (BSL) v1.1, starting with Akka v2.7 which will be delivered in October.

That change will bring hefty licensing costs to high-end users. But Lightbend expects it to bring no major problems on open-source projects.

“The goal is to have as little impact on the open-source community and projects as possible. Open-source projects using Akka can contact Lightbend and apply for a license to use Akka within the realms of the open-source project. We have already called about the Play Framework in the Additional Usage Grant in the license itself,” Jonas Bonér, Lightbend’s founder and CEO and the creator of Akka, told LinuxInsider.

The new license will ensure a healthy balance between all parties, shared responsibility, and by extension, contribute to Akka’s future development, he explained.

Addresses Broken Business Model

The “open core” business model on which Akka is based has shown its limitations for Lightbend and many other organizations in similar circumstances, he offered. The toolkit’s licensing changes will ensure its future development.

Once an OSS project becomes so critical to an organization’s daily operation, many larger enterprises turn to self-supporting this software, without contributing anything more to its development or the community at large, Bonér observed. In many instances, these organizations are generating significant profits leveraging this “free” technology.

Under Akka’s new licensing model, any organization with less than $25 million in annual revenue will not require license fees for production usage of the software. However, Lightbend must still grant those users a $0 commercial license.

Larger businesses with more than $25 million annual revenue must now acquire a paid license plus a subscription for production usage. The BSL is available with several options. The new license does not permit back-porting of any software released.

“I think it is a viable path toward sustainable open source. I expect more companies that are building a business around open source to go down this path,” Bonér noted about the impact the BSL license switch will have on open-source projects.

How It Works

MariaDB Corporation crafted the BSL v1.1 now used by Cockroach Labs and other organizations. The BSL is not an open-source license.

In short, the difference is slight between the BSL 1.0 and BSL 1.1, explained Bonér. Version 1.1 fixed the loophole where a company could opt to never convert to a “change license” by now making it explicit that it could not be more than four years. A full discussion of the version change is available at MariaDB.

Akka’s new license works in two stages. First it has commercial overtones. Then it becomes “customizable.”

Under the commercial stage, users can view the source code of the software they obtain for the $0 license. They can download and use it in non-production environments. However, production usage requires users to obtain an upgraded software license from Lightbend.

The second stage kicks in under an open-source license after three years. That version then is released under the current Apache 2.0 license. It offers a customizable “Additional Use Grant” that will be used to grant usage for other OSS projects such as the Play Framework.

Pricing and Versioning Matters

Each new minor version of the software will have its own change date. A “minor version” is defined as a release that changes the second digit of the version number.

For example, a change from Akka 2.7.19 to 2.8.0 would reset the change date. A patch build change from 2.7.19 to 2.7.20 would not, according to Bonér.

Based on this license revision, here is Lightbend’s revised pricing and packaging for the Akka software:

Lightbend's Akka platform, packaging and pricing options

Organizations seeking more information about the implementation of BSL licensing can explore Bonér’s blog.

Jack M. Germain

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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OPINION

How Not To Do CX, Lenovo Style

Sometimes the world of smart technology innovations collides with the planet of dumb customer service provisions. That collision usually does not bode well for the customer.

In my case, that scenario is particularly true. I bought Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet 5 for an attractive price from a major national electronics store. In hindsight, that was a purchase I wish I could undo.

The Duet 5 is regarded in numerous reliable reviews as the best overall ChromeOS tablet/detachable computer available this year. Its larger screen and detachable full-size keyboard make a usable and fun tablet experience not available with pure Android devices.

For me, that accolade falls far short of reaching that mark. In fact, if your primary need for a Chromebook is to run Linux apps, think again about not buying Lenovo’s Duet 5. You might get a unit like mine that does not do Linux even though it is supposed to work. That failure is not considered a valid claim under Lenovo’s warranty.

I have become quite fond of Chromebooks. ChromeOS devices supplement my home office cadre of Linux computers. They link to my Android phone and its apps. I can run the same productivity apps and access their data directly on the Chromebook.

What fed my attraction to the Duet 5 is its logical follow-up to the very popular 10.1″ original Duet I bought a few years ago. The Duet line has a detachable keyboard and is a stand-alone ChromeOS tablet.

Putting want versus need aside, I debated the prospect of more productivity and convenience with a bigger screen at 400 nits, larger keyboard, and 8GB of RAM. I knew the manufacturer and the retail store as well as the product line. Or so I thought.

What could go wrong? Three things: a failed product, no support, and a warranty that also did not work!

Maybe One Too Many

The last thing I needed to buy was yet another Chromebook. Over the last few years, I have used four or five models from HP, Lenovo, and Asus.

The Duet 5 seemed to check all the boxes. As it turned out, the check mark fell out of the box for reliable tech support and customer service.

Nope, I could not return the computer. By the time I discovered its defective nature the undo window had closed.

I suppose this incident will nudge me to buy expensive add-on store warranties for less expensive electronic devices. Adding insult to injury, Lenovo tech support said the malfunction was “beyond the scope of the manufacturer’s one-year warranty.”

A final correspondence from Lenovo’s tech support told me that if I shipped the device to its repair facility, all the technicians would do is reset the unit to its original OS status and remove Linux.

Heck, I had already done the same thing twice.

Lenovo Buyers Beware

This account is not intended to be a product review. Rather, it tells what happens when corporate arrogance destroys the customer experience.

I usually write about business technology issues and open-source developments impacting the Linux OS. My reporting beat overlaps with e-commerce and customer relationship management (CRM) issues.

As a tech writer and product reviewer, I am used to manufacturers sending me top-of-their-line products in hopes of showing off their best wares. Marketing marvels often offer high-end configurations to curry consumers’ attention. They go out of their way to make sure the reviewer is fully satisfied.

Too bad that mentality does not always exist when lowly consumers are on the receiving end. But I was not using a loaner unit I would send back anyway, satisfied or not. I bought this model with no plans to review it. I just wanted to use it.

My personal experience hardened my resolve to not buy a Lenovo product going forward. Not because of a bad product encounter. Lenovo lost my customer loyalty because of shoddy customer service and no dedication to resolving my issue with a malfunctioning computer that they built.

The Gory Details

According to Lenovo’s ill-conceived logic, the warranty on Chromebooks does not cover user modifications. Since I activated the Linux partition, ran into a problem, removed the partition, and reinstalled Linux apps not there when I bought it, I was guilty of modifying the device.

To clarify, all Chromebooks require the user to turn on the Linux partition and install Linux apps. That is the same process for using Android apps on Chromebooks.

Chromebooks are built to run the ChromeOS and optionally to run in separate built-in containers Android and Linux software. Google certifies the hardware to ensure the software works.

The ChromeOS similarly enables users to access websites in a browser environment. An added option lets users access those web destinations to run application services within tabbed browser windows or as progressive web apps (PWAs) in their own isolated windows.

That is what Chromebooks are designed to do on any manufacturer’s hardware. Turning these built-in features on/off should not be construed as “modifying” the device.

Tech Support Hell

A few weeks after receiving the Duet 5, I experienced only an intermittent screen flickering issue. That cleared up after a system update. No worries. No concerns.

At that point I turned on the Linux partition and installed the same Linux apps that I use on my other lesser-endowed Chromebooks. Those devices worked fine with the same apps installed.

But the Lenovo Duet 5 froze after loading the Linux apps and running for a few minutes. Glitchy installations happen. So I did what is standard troubleshooting. I reset the ChromeOS to its original status. I then set up the Linux partition and sized it well beyond the Google-recommended minimum size.

Problem NOT solved. So I wiped the Linux partition again. This time, I installed a single Linux app one at a time looking for the culprit throwing the others out of whack. Every Linux app in isolation froze.

Lenovo tech support declined to investigate or test the hardware. The agents suggested finding an affiliated tech center to pursue a solution.

Stuck With No Options

I gladly would have done that. But the nearest such Lenovo repair center was across state lines some 150 miles away.

I reached out to the Google Chromebook support community for an alternative solution. A support person there had me run the “df command” in a Linux terminal to determine the physical health of the partition.

The readout from that diagnostic confirmed the device has a valid and working Linux container. That partially settled the question about the hardware. It did not, however, identify what other hardware issues might be involved.

The Google support forum tech then suggested I look for one or more dud packages by following the procedure outlined above. But, of course, I already did that several times.

Lousy Lessons Learned

If you plan to buy a Chromebook just to have easy access to selected Linux apps, seriously consider my experience. Maybe look elsewhere instead of the Duet 5. Numerous Chromebook alternatives exist.

Who knows? Maybe the Linux apps will work fine for you on your Duet 5. As I said, I have not had this situation on any other Chromebook product I use.

No doubt my experience was a gross anomaly. The aggravating part in all of this is that I will never know the cause.

But if you buy a Duet 5 from a retail outlet instead of directly from the manufacturer, be sure to confirm how that store honors the warranty. You now know how Lenovo honors its warranty.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.
Jack M. Germain

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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