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National Mobile Cramming Settlements Now Total $353 Million... 

FRANKFORT, Ky. (May 12, 2015) - Attorney General Jack Conway announced today that his Office of Consumer Protection Division — along with the Attorneys General of the other 49 States and the District of Columbia, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Federal Communications Commission — reached settlements with Sprint Corporation (Sprint) and Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless (Verizon), that include $158 million in payments and resolve allegations that Sprint and Verizon placed charges for third-party services on consumers’ mobile telephone bills that were not authorized by the consumers, a practice known as “mobile cramming.”

Consumers who have been “crammed” often have charges, typically $9.99 per month, for “premium” text message subscription services (also known as PSMS subscriptions) such as horoscopes, trivia, and sports scores that the consumers have never heard of or requested. The Attorneys General allege that cramming occurs when carriers place charges on consumers’ mobile telephone bills or deduct them from consumers’ prepaid accounts for third-party products without consumers’ knowledge and/or authorization.

Sprint and Verizon are the third and fourth mobile telephone providers to enter into nation-wide settlements to resolve allegations regarding cramming. Attorney General Conway announced similar settlements with AT&T in October of 2014 ($105 million), and T-Mobile in December of 2014 ($90 million). All four mobile carriers announced they would cease billing customers for commercial PSMS in the fall of 2013.

“These settlements will help protect Kentucky consumers from unauthorized third-party charges on their mobile telephone bills,” said Attorney General Conway said. “I encourage anyone who was affected by mobile cramming through Sprint or Verizon to submit a claim through the consumer redress programs required by these settlements.”

Under the terms of the settlements, Sprint will pay $68 million and Verizon will pay $90 million. Of these amounts, Sprint and Verizon are required to provide $50 million and $70 million, respectively, to consumers who were victims of cramming. Sprint and Verizon will each distribute refunds to harmed consumers through redress programs under the supervision of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Sprint will also pay $12 million to the Attorneys General and $6 million to the Federal Communications Commission, and Verizon will pay $16 million to the Attorneys General and $4 million to the Federal Communications Commission. Kentucky will receive $395,009.69 for its participation in the Sprint and Verizon settlements.

Consumers may submit claims under the redress programs by visiting www.SprintRefundPSMS.com (Sprint) or www.CFPBSettlementVerizon.com (Verizon). On those websites, consumers may submit claims, find information about refund eligibility and how to obtain a refund, and can request a free account summary that details PSMS purchases on their accounts. Consumers who have questions about the redress programs may visit the program websites or call the settlement administrators at: (877) 389-8787 (Sprint) or (888) 726-7063 (Verizon).

The settlements, like the settlements entered into by AT&T and T-Mobile in late 2014, require Sprint and Verizon to stay out of the commercial PSMS business—the platform to which law enforcement agencies attribute a large share of the mobile cramming problem. Under each of the four settlements, the carriers must also take a number of steps designed to ensure that they only bill consumers for third-party charges that have been authorized, including the following:

- The carriers must obtain consumers’ express consent before billing for third-party charges, and must ensure that consumers are only charged for services if the they have been informed of all material terms and conditions of their payment.


- The carriers must give consumers an opportunity to obtain a full refund or credit when they are billed for unauthorized third-party charges.


- The carriers must inform their customers when they sign up for services that their mobile phone can be used to pay for third-party charges, and must inform consumers of how those third-party charges can be blocked if the consumers do not want to use their phone to pay for third-party products.


- The carriers must present third-party charges in a dedicated section of consumers’ mobile phone bills, must clearly distinguish them from the carriers’ own charges, and must include information in that same section about the consumers’ ability to block third-party charges.

Considering these two settlements and the previously announced settlements with AT&T and T-Mobile, the national mobile cramming settlements with the four mobile carriers have called for refunds of about $290 million to consumers nationwide.

 

APRIL 20, 2015

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. – The East Kentucky Science Center and Planetarium (EKSC) will premiere a new full-dome planetarium show on Saturday, April 25, in conjunction with national Astronomy Day.

“SUNSTRUCK” takes viewers through the wonders of the sun, explores its incredible energy and how it is even threatening our technology and way of life. The show, which is only available in a handful of planetariums across the globe, was produced by the Michigan Science Center with a grant from NASA.

The EKSC will open at noon with hands-on activities, planetarium shows and solar observing (weather permitting). Admission is free and door prizes will be given away.

For more information, contact Steve Russo, director of the EKSC, at (606) 889-4809 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

April 1, 2015

Dr. Ben Malphrus, Department of Earth and Space Sciences chair and Space Science Center director, center, announced MSU has received a NASA contract worth $7.9 million. Other MSU officials on hand were: Dr. Roger McNeil, College of Science and Technology dean; Dr. Michael C. Henson, associate vice president and graduate school dean; Jeff Kruth, space science antenna engineer; Dr. Steve Ralston, provost and vice president for academic affairs; Dr. Wayne D. Andrews, president.

 

MOREHEAD, Ky.---Building on the success of NASA’s partnerships with commercial industry, NASA has selected Morehead State University as one of the 12 Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) to advance concept studies and technology development projects in the areas of advanced propulsion, habitation and small satellites.

The NASA contract is one of the biggest in MSU history at $7.9 million.

“We are extremely excited about this opportunity.  This competitive selection is a credit to the staff and students of the Space Science program who have worked tirelessly on previous smallsat missions -5 to date- to ensure the success of these missions in Low Earth Orbit.  Taking the next steps toward lunar and interplanetary smallsat missions with Morehead State University as a partner could not have happened without the success of these precursor missions,” said Dr. Ben Malphrus, MSU’s  Department of Earth and Space Sciences chair and Space Science Center director.

Through these public-private partnerships, selected companies will partner with NASA to develop the exploration capabilities necessary to enable commercial endeavors in space and human exploration to deep-space destinations such as the proving ground of space around the moon, known as cis-lunar space, and Mars.

“Commercial partners were selected for their technical ability to mature key technologies and their commitment to the potential applications both for government and private sector uses,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA headquarters.“This work ultimately will inform the strategy to move human presence further into the solar system.”

Two small satellite missions (CubeSats) were selected and will potentially fly as secondary payload missions on the first flight of the Space Launch System, Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), scheduled to launch in 2017 or 2018. The smallsat missions will address NASA’s strategic knowledge gaps in order to reduce risk, increase effectiveness, and improve the design of robotic and human space exploration. EM-1 will provide a rare opportunity to boost these CubeSats to deep space and enable science, technology demonstration, exploration or commercial applications in that environment. The selected companies are Morehead State University and Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company of Denver, Colorado.

Under this NASA NextSTEP program, Morehead State University and its partners, the Busek Company (Natick MA), NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center (GSFC in Greenbelt MD), and the Catholic University of America (CUA), will develop and build a 6U CubeSat designed to prospect for water ice and other lunar volatiles from a low-perigee lunar orbit flying only 100 km (62 miles) above the lunar surface. The Lunar IceCube will be deployed during lunar trajectory by the SLS (which will be the most powerful rocket ever built) and use an innovative RF Ion engine to achieve lunar capture and the science orbit to allow the team to make systematic measurements of lunar water features.  The science goals are to investigate the distribution of water and other volatiles, as a function of time of day, latitude, and regolith composition/mineralogy.

IceCube will include a version of the Broadband InfraRed Compact High Resolution Exploration Spectrometer (BIRCHES) instrument, developed by NASA GSFC. BIRCHES is a compact version of the successful volatile-seeking spectrometer instrument on the New Horizons mission that is currently approaching Pluto.

Dr. Malphrus is serving as the project principal investigator (PI) with Dr. Pamela Clark (NASA GSFC and CUA) serving as the science principal investigator. 

The team includes space systems engineers from Morehead State University, including Jeff Kruth, Kevin Z. Brown, Bob Twiggs, Michael Combs and Eric Thomas, and propulsion engineers from Busek including Kurt Hohman and Mike Tsay. The Science Team includes Dr. Roger McNeil and Dr. Eric Jerde  of MSU and Robert MacDowall, Noah Petro, Dennis Reuter,  Cliff Brambora, Deepak Patel, Stuart Banks and Avi Mandell from the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center. The navigation team is led by Dr. Dave Folta (NASA GSFC), who has calculated a trajectory to the moon that utilizes an innovative low energy manifold trajectory.

One of the enabling technologies that make missions like this possible is the use of a cutting edge ion electric propulsion system. The Lunar IceCube mission will use an ion propulsion system based on Busek’s 3cm RF ion thruster known as BIT-3.  It utilizes a solid iodine propellant and an inductively-coupled plasma system that produces significant thrust even with the low power available to CubeSats.

“Propulsion systems like this capable of producing adequate delta v and requiring only small volumes (for the propulsion system and propellant) and low power available to smallsat platforms will no doubt open a new door to solar system exploration,” said Dr. Malphrus. “The EM-1 CubeSat missions will usher in a new era of space exploration that is supported by innovative small satellite technologies.”

“This type of public-private partnership helps NASA stimulate the U.S. space industry while expanding the frontiers of knowledge, capabilities and opportunities in space,” said Jason Crusan, director of the Advanced Exploration Systems Division (AESD) of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

AESD manages NextSTEP and is committed to pioneering new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit.

For additional information about NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, visit: www.nasa.gov/nextstep.

Additional information about Lunar IceCube is available by contacting Dr. Malphrus at 606-783-2381 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

by Jason Blanton

MSU Media Relations Director

FRIDAY, APRIL 03, 2015


Providing broadband access to rural areas is not just a push for more residents to be able get online to surf the Internet. Broadband is key to improving rural health, through "more cost-effective and higher-quality care, such as video consultation, remote patient monitoring and electronic health record operability," reports Health Affairs. "And in many places—particularly rural areas that have the most to gain from telemedicine and connectivity—broadband remains too expensive, unreliable or simply not available at the speeds required to enable innovations in care."

Rural healthcare providers can get around a lack of broadband availability in a variety of ways, reports Health Affairs. "Health care providers can purchase broadband access through mass market options, which are similar to the internet access purchased by individual consumers and can meet the bandwidth needs of most small providers (four or fewer clinicians)."

Federal subsidies also are available, reports Health Affairs. Within the Rural Health Care Program "subsidies for three types of services are available to public and non-profit health care providers: telecommunication services for rural providers (Telecommunications Fund); Internet access for rural providers (Internet Access Fund); and one-time capital costs for network deployment with five years of support for costs of advanced telecommunications and information services for rural and urban providers (Pilot Program)."

They real key is to initiate recommendations made in the 2010 National Broadband Plan, reports Health Affairs. Plans are: Make it easier for rural health care providers to use broadband support; expand eligibility requirements to include more health care providers; and adjust the RHCP to address the rapidly changing broadband environment. (Read more)

 

Written by Tim Mandell Posted at 4/03/2015 12:50:00

 

FEBRUARY 26, 2015

The Federal Communications Commission released the new rules today making broadband Internet service a public utility, a move expected to help rural areas that lack broadband, Rebecca Ruiz and Steve Lohr report for The New York Times. The struggle for an open Internet had led to a massive battle involving Congressional members, large Internet providers and smaller Internet providers and businesses. So, how did we get to this point?

 "The case for strong government rules to protect an open Internet rests in large part on a perceived market failure—the lack of competition for high-speed Internet service into American homes," Steve Lohr reports for The New York Times. "The FCC's approach makes sense, proponents say, because for genuine high-speed Internet service most American households now have only one choice, and most often it is a cable company." (NYT graphic)

"The new rules will not ensure competition from new entrants, ranging from next-generation wireless technology to ultrahigh-speed networks built by municipalities," Lohr writes. "Instead, strong regulation is intended to prevent the dominant broadband suppliers from abusing their market power. Technology, of course, can change quickly and unpredictably. So, analysts say, it is impossible to predict what the competitive landscape might look like in several years or a decade from now."

Last month FCC redefined broadband to increase speeds from 4 megabits per second to 25 megabits per second and upload speeds from 1 megabit per second to 3 megabits per second. More than half of rural Americans—53 percent, or 22 million people—do not currently have Internet access at the new levels, while only 8 percent of urban residents lack access to the new speeds.

"With or without the new net neutrality rules, cable broadband faces numerous competitors," Lohr writes. "They include upgraded versions of the DSL, or digital subscriber line, technology offered by most telephone companies; next-generation wireless service; Internet access from low-orbit satellites; and very-high-speed fiber optic connections to homes. Each has promise, analysts say, but also limitations.

The telecommunications companies have employed a variety of techniques to increase the performance of DSL and have made progress. But cable remains a more capable technology and keeps advancing." (Read more)

Written by Tim Mandel