Verizon Launches Verizon Unlimited For $80 Per Month

The wireless communication sector is highly competitive, thanks to the increasing demand. Mobile users and subscribers have become increasingly data hungry due to the expansion of social networks and other apps. Various mobile carriers like T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T have already launched unlimited data plans. Now, Verizon has also joined the bandwagon as it introduces Verizon Unlimited with unlimited data, texting and talking plans starting at $80 per month per line. Families can enjoy Unlimited plan for four devices through the group plan that costs $45 per line. In the group plan, the addition of new devices after the first four devices will cost $20 per line for up to ten lines.

Unlimited data plans are long awaited by the experts as users share more photos and videos using their mobile devices. The wireless networks have become feasible due to the growing subscriber numbers. The improvements in networking technology have reduced the cost of delivering data by almost 50%.

Verizon has carefully analyzed the market before launching its unlimited plan. The proposed Verizon Unlimited provides unlimited data usage on smartphones and tablets at LTE speeds up to 22GB. After that limit, the speed will be downgraded to 3G. Unlike T-Mobile or Sprint, Verizon has promised high-resolution videos at no extra charge. Moreover, Verizon subscribers can also get 10GB of mobile hotspot usage. They can also enjoy unlimited calls to Canada and Mexico. It also includes 500MB per day of LTE data in Mexico and Canada. Outside of North America, the same features can be enjoyed for $10 per day.

Technically, even though the plan is unlimited, LTE speeds can only be enjoyed up to 22GB. However, this is not new because other carriers also impose similar restrictions on the capacity of LTE speed data. Verizon had unlimited plan launched long back, but it was withdrawn in 2011 as mobile data became more expensive for the carriers. Now that the demand for data has increased among heavy users, several mobile carriers have re-launched unlimited plans.

T Mobile has dropped its tiered data plan after the introduction of the unlimited plan. Verizon has however retained the older data plans to allow the subscribers the flexibility they require. The current focus is to provide a fast data speed for data-heavy users who don’t want to spend a lot of money. The unlimited plan from T-Mobile is cheaper costing $70 per month, while AT&T plan is costlier starting at $100. AT&T provides unlimited plan only for those subscribers who pay for DirecTV or U-Verse.

Even though Verizon Unlimited is slightly expensive compared to its competitors, it has several desirable features. HD videos are a great advantage, even though it is not clear whether the videos will have a 720p resolution. The older S, M and L plans are also in place for those who don’t use the data heavily. The starting plan costs $35 per month and it provides 2GB of LTE data. According to the official announcement, the Unlimited plan is an introductory plan and so, users can expect more features soon.

Army to Issue Final Permit for Dakota Access Pipeline

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced its decision to grant the final permit to the developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline on Wednesday. However, the American Indian tribe that has been protesting for months has promised to keep fighting.

The $3.8 billion project, which has been stalled due to intense protests by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and environmental activists, was granted an easement by the Army to finish construction of the controversial pipeline under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

The Army declared on Tuesday that it will allow the four-state pipeline to cross under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota, which is the final stage of construction, much to the chagrin of Standing Rock Sioux, which has promised to fight a legal battle against the decision.

The pipeline’s developer, Dakota Access, which is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, will now be entitled to construct the pipeline through government land at the Lake Oahe Dam and Reservoir in North Dakota. The tribe has argued that constructing the pipeline under Lake Oahe would not only affect the quality of drinking water in the area, but would also affect the water supply for the 17 million people living downstream.

The 1,200-mile long pipeline would carry North Dakota oil through the two Dakotas and the Hawkeye State to a shipping point in Illinois. While the pipeline was expected to be operational by the end of 2016, the construction has been delayed with the Native Indians opposing the pipeline near their home. The natives said that the Obama administration had determined other sites for the pipeline, and that they Army must consider those sites.

The Army’s decision comes after President Donald Trump signed executive actions on January 24 asking the Corps to advance approval of this pipeline and others, which is in stark contrast to the Obama administration’s efforts aimed to blocking construction.

The order urged “the acting secretary of the Army to expeditiously review requests for approvals to construct and operate the Dakota Access Pipeline in compliance with the law.”

The Army said that its decision was made on the basis of “a sufficient amount of information already available which supported approval to grant the easement request.”

Robert Speer, the Acting Secretary of the Army, termed the easement as “final steps” in complying with the President’s executive action.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was, however, not very pleased with the latest development in the controversial issue. It promised a legal fight to thwart the project. The Tribe intends to base its argument on the premise that the environmental impact statement process was wrongfully terminated.

“Trump’s reversal of (Obama’s) decision continues a historic pattern of broken promises to Indian tribes and a violation of treaty rights,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who will be fighting the case for the tribe. Confident that this decision will be reversed in the court, Hasselman added, “Trump and his administration will be held accountable in court.”

The pipeline also has its fair share of supporters who have claimed that the project would be an “economic boon”. The pipeline, which would move approximately 47,000 barrels of crude oil a day, is estimated to earn revenue of $156 million for the state and local governments through sales and income taxes, besides creating 8,000 to 12,000 jobs in the construction industry.

Starbucks Poised to Offer Free Legal Advice to Immigrant Employees

Starbucks’ immigrant employees won’t need to worry about the costs and complexities associated with hiring a lawyer as the clouds of confusion looming over President Trump’s travel ban intensify.

In a letter addressed to workers on Monday, the company’s executives declared that the company would be teaming up with Ernst & Young, which is one of the world’s largest professional service firms, to provide its employees with an immigration advisory program.

Referring to its employees as partners, the company said that it understood that “many partners still have questions about what this (the travel ban) means for them”. “[W]e are putting our partners first and leading with humanity,” the letter added.

“Our partners and their families have questions about travel and immigration status, so we wanted to provide them with a newly developed Immigration Advisory Program to meet their needs”, Starbucks spokesman Reggie Borges was reported to have said to The Huffington Post in an email.

The resource will be available to both full-time and part-time employees and their families.

The company announced that Ernst & Young will offer all Starbucks’ employees and their families free legal advice to “help navigate immigration issues and get answers in these uncertain times.”

“Our Partner Resources team has and will continue to proactively reach out to partners who we know are impacted by the Executive Order, and any related actions, to connect them to the legal resources needed for their individual scenarios,” the company added.

The step follows a recent announcement by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz that the company would hire 10,000 refugees worldwide over the next five years. Schultz had announced that the initial hiring efforts will be focused on refugees “who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support personnel in the various countries where our military has asked for such support.”

In doing so, the 63-year-old joined a growing list of businessmen who took a stand against Trump’s travel ban. The Brooklyn-born top executive of one of the world’s most reputed coffee companies had said that the ban evoked “confusion, surprise and opposition”.

The immigration ban, aimed at countries like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, all of which are Muslim-majority nations, was implemented on January 27. The order had also resulted in the suspension of the US refugee program for 120 days.

The ban has, however, faced stiff resistance from business houses, ethics groups and politicians. It hit a legal roadblock last week after a federal judge in Washington put a halt on the order only to see the Trump administration vow to appeal against the ruling to restore the ban at the earliest.

In its letter, Starbucks has made a list of special email addresses to which the employees can send their queries about the travel ban. The company also said that it had initiated the process to reach out to the employees holding visas from any of the affected countries.

With over 238,000 employees working at more than 25,000 stores in 75 countries all over the world, Starbucks is one of the most well-known coffeehouse chains worldwide.

PayPal Announces Estimate-Beating Revenue in Third Quarter

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The revenue of PayPal Holdings Inc grew in the third quarter at a level higher than predicted by analysts, helped by continuing stable growth in the number of active customer accounts over the past few years.

Net revenue for the quarter was up to $2.67 billion, according to a release from the online payment processor Thursday. The figure represents an increase of 18 percent on the revenue for same period a year ago.

The third-quarter revenue slightly bettered average estimate of $2.65 billion from analysts.

PayPal said the number of active customer accounts jumped 11 percent, while the number of transactions processed gained 24 percent. It now boasts 192 million active accounts, up from 173 million in 2015. Total payment volume in the quarter jumped to $87 billion, up 25 percent from a year ago.

The number of active customer accounts has been steadily growing over the past five years, as reported by CNBC. Aside its core service, the payments company attributed the growth mainly to Venmo. The peer-to-peer payment platform handled $4.9 billion in transactions during the third quarter – that was about 131 percent more than the figure for same period last year.

“We are further expanding the ubiquity and value of the PayPal brand and moving deliberately towards achieving our vision of becoming an everyday, essential financial service for people around the world,” PayPal President and Chief Executive Dan Schulman said.

The report also identified money transfer service Xoom as a driver of growth in active customer accounts.

PayPal reported adjusted earnings of $425 million, or 35 cents a share, an improvement on profit of $377 million, or 31 cents per share, a year ago. The earnings were in line with Wall Street expectations.

Shares of the popular payment processor were trading at more than 3 percent higher in after-hours trading following the announcement. The stock closed at $40.09 during regular trading on Thursday.

The PayPal results were also boosted by the resolution of the faceoff the company had with the world’s leading card networks. In the quarter, it reached agreement with both Visa and MasterCard that would enable users to choose its service as an option when paying for purchases with their smartphones. The deal with Visa allows debit users to instantly move money on PayPal and Venmo accounts.

The online payments firm expects total revenue in the range $2.92 billion to $2.99 billion during the current quarter, which will represent growth of 14 percent to 17 percent. It has also forecast between 40 cents and 42 cents in adjusted earnings per share.

PayPal has also slightly boosted the lower threshold of its revenue guidance for the current fiscal year. It is now $10.78 billion, up from the previous $10.75 billion. The upper revenue range for the year remains at $10.85 billion.

Edward Jones analyst John Olson said in a note that his company expects peer-to-peer transactions handled by Venmo to grow considerably in the coming years. He predicted transaction volume would rise to roughly $84 billion in 2019, according to CNBC. The peer-to-peer payment platform processed $14 billion in transactions in 2014.

Prepaid Credit Cards Bigger Problem Than Bad Credit Loans for Consumers

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Previous studies have suggested that payday loans were one of the biggest problems facing impoverished and unbanked households in the United States. With these short-term, high-interest loans, the most vulnerable would enter into perpetual debt cycles that would be difficult to escape.

A new report now suggests that prepaid cards play a bigger factor for these homes than payday loans.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) published the results of a new survey on Thursday that discovered that 10 percent of all American households are regularly using prepaid cards. This is up from 7.9 percent in 2013. In the 12 months prior to June 2015, more than one-quarter (27 percent) of U.S. households reported using a prepaid card. This is also up from 22 percent in 2013.

And these numbers are a lot higher than experts had anticipated before the release of the results.

Rather than maintaining a basic bank account that comes with receiving deposits, making purchases and saving for the future (even with low interest rates), these individuals are using prepaid cards.

What’s going on in the U.S. today? FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg said more research is needed.

For now, experts are alluding to income volatility, criminal records, bank fees, bad credit, language barriers and poor fiscal management as potential reasons for millions of Americans being unbanked.

More than half of unbanked Americans think they don’t have enough money to start a bank account.

In terms of bank fees, Americans forked over more than $11 billion fees, including overdrafts and non-sufficient fund (NSF) penalties. But oftentimes these fees can be much lower than unconventional alternatives, such as businesses offering payday loans, check cashing and other services not offered by banks.

New technology and innovations have made prepaid cards a regular financial management tool. In recent years, prepaid cards have provided users with features similar to that of a bank checking account. This has made prepaid cards attractive, but has also drawn the corn of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which established new comprehensive rules for prepaid cards.

According to the same FDIC study, one-fifth of Americans are underbanked. These are individuals that have bank accounts but also utilize payday loans, check cashing services and money orders as a means to get a loan with bad credit. As previous studies have found, the unbanked and underbanked are doling out unnecessary amounts of money to pay for these types of services. This erodes their hard-earned incomes and sends them deeper into poverty. The CFPB has been looking at getting more impoverished communities banked.

In response to the study, the credit union industry says it’s time local and state governments give credit union facilities more opportunities and leverage to open up in unbanked areas of the country.

“While this study did not specifically include credit union data, NAFCU knows that there are many consumers that do not access traditional banking channels, including not-for-profit member-owned credit unions,” said NAFCU Executive Vice President of Government Affairs and General Counsel Carrie Hunt in a statement.

“In fact, NAFCU has been pressing for field of membership improvements so that credit unions can reach more of the unbanked. In particular, we support regulatory changes to the NCUA’s field of membership rules and H.R. 5541, Financial Services for the Underserved Act of 2016, so that credit unions can reach the underserved.”

Until then, a large number of Americans will depend on payday loans, prepaid cards and money orders to get by. With the CFPB cracking down on these services, it won’t be for much longer.

Lawmakers Quiz Ariad on Leukemia Drug Price Hike

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Ariad Pharmaceuticals has become the latest drug maker to be questioned on its drug pricing practices after two lawmakers asked it to explain huge hikes in the price of a medication used in treating leukemia patients.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter to the drug maker on Thursday asking it to provide justification for more than $80,000 hike in the price of the drug Iclusig, according to NPR.

The price of the drug, used to treat patients with chronic myeloid leukemia, has jumped to nearly $200,000 per year. It has been hiked on four occasions in 2016.

The lawmakers are not only complaining that the price of Iclusig has repeatedly been increased this year, but also that the dose has been reduced at the same time. This essentially raises the price paid for the drug further.

In the letter directed at Ariad Chief Executive Paris Panayiotopoulos, Sanders and Cummings accused the drug maker of “outrageous sales tactics” and being concerned more with profit-making than the needs of patients.

Ariad said it knows that prices of oncology drugs are pricey. But it tried to justify the price hikes on the basis that the drug is very efficacious and caters to a very small group of patients whose needs are often not satisfied.

“Iclusig is the first drug that we have brought to the market after years of risk taking and research, and it serves a very small and seriously ill group of cancer patients,” the drug company said in a statement.

The list price for a year’s worth of supply of the drug has risen from $114,960 in 2012 up to $198,732 this October, according to Truven Health Analytics data.

CNBC reports that the drug was originally approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2012 for the treatment of a larger group of patients. But the drug was later temporarily taken off the market following complaints of life-threatening blood clots among other side effects. It was re-introduced in late 2013 for a smaller subset of chronic myeloid leukemia patients.

The FDA approves the use of Iclusig only for individuals with chronic myeloid leukemia who have developed resistance to other treatment options due to a genetic mutation.

Saunders recently vowed to increase pressure on drug companies so as to force them to reduce medication prices across the United States, where it is believed patients are being made to pay the most. A tweet from the senator, who represents Vermont, on Iclusig price hikes last week sent the shares of Ariad tumbling by around 15 percent.

The shares slumped by up to 7 percent following the announcement of the letter, whose receipt has been acknowledged by Ariad.

The pharmaceutical company has said its drug pricing is a reflection of how much money it spends on research and development. It said the prices are also influenced by its commitment to “the very small, ultra orphan cancer patient populations that we serve.”

Ariad stated that it disbursed 143 percent of its revenue last year for research and development efforts geared towards rare cancer treatments.

Mylan, Valeant and Turing are some of the pharmaceutical companies that have also been questioned by lawmakers over their drug pricing practices.

Ericsson Post Third-Quarter Loss on Slowing Demand

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Swedish telecommunications equipment company Ericsson on Friday revealed that it recorded a loss in the third quarter as a result of weak demand for its products and services.

For the quarter ended Sept. 30, Ericsson said in a statement that it recorded a net loss of 233 million Swedish kronor ($26.2 million), a massive reverse of the 3.08 billion kronor net profit posted in the same period a year ago.

The loss in the quarter was more than double what analysts had expected. Average estimate from analysts was for a 112 million kronor loss, according to Bloomberg.

Some investors were shocked last week when Ericsson issued an earnings warning on the basis of a 14-percent dive in third-quarter sales to 51.1 billion kronor, down from 59.2 billion kronor a year earlier. Its shares slumped by roughly 20 percent after that announcement.

Fall in sales of network equipment contributed significantly to the drop in revenue, the company said. Their sales were down by 19 percent.

The Swedish telecom equipment giant has been greatly hurt by the drop in mobile service providers’ spending on latest-generation 4G networks, with most upgrades already completed last year. Competition has also become more intense from Huawei Technologies Co. and Nokia Corp., with the former already making inroads into its domain in Europe.

Slumping demand in countries such as Russia and Brazil has had significant impact on Ericsson’s revenue. The company has been forced to embark on cost-cutting measures, including job cuts, to reduce operating expenses.

“The negative industry trends from the first half of 2016 have further accelerated,” Interim Chief Executive Jan Frykhammar said. “We will implement further short-term actions mainly to reduce cost of sales, in order to adapt our operations to weaker mobile broadband demand.”

Frykhammar became Ericsson CEO after former holder Hans Vestberg was ousted in July for failing to improve on the performance of the company. The current holder has not kept it secret however that he does not want the job on a permanent basis, reiterating that on Friday.

Some analysts believe lack of a permanent chief executive is one of the major problems facing Ericsson. They think it might not be able to improve on its business challenges until it gets one.

Two of the company’s biggest investors Industrivarden AB and Investor AB have also commented on the empty CEO seat issue. Investor Chief Executive Johan Forssell stated this week that the main priority before the Swedish telecom equipment maker is to find a new chief executive, as reported by Bloomberg.

Ericsson shares, which were down about 49 percent this year, shed more than 3 percent on Friday.

Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded the debt of the company. Analysts say it may need to cut dividend to save cash and shore up its credit ratings.

It was only the second time in a decade that Ericsson has posted a loss. The first was in the four quarter of 2012 and was due to an 8 billion kronor write-down on the alliance with STMicroelectronics NV.

The Stockholm-based company has its sight set on the development of next-generation, 5G wireless networks. However, analysts say the rollout of the super-fast networks are still years away.