All posts by paul

How AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast are working together to cheat you by "Discontinuing Landline Service"

(TL;DR summary: AT&T is buying entire legislatures to rewrite the laws to allow them to become a fully unregulated company with no wholesale obligations, creating a de-facto monopoly. They can (and likely will) use it to squash or hurt wireless competitors as well, as they're permitted to favor their own subsidiaries with the network built and created over a hundred plus year monopoly, and Comcast is fully on-board because they'd like to split the market created when all their competitors are dead)

UPDATE: The bill passed with some modifications. Click here for more information.

There is a new bill going through the michigan legislature right now. Referred to as Senate Bill 636, it claims to provide for the discontinuance of landline phone service.

Let me explain what this actually does, and why you care, even if you only use wireless phones and cable.

First, the bill shores up a lot of language in the intercarrier compensation reform that went through last year. No big deal.

The big deal is that there are:

  • Language changes that seem to trend away from the use of tariffs to provide published service types, rates, and service territories. No big deal on it's face, but as part of a larger scheme, why this is being altered makes sense.
  • Language changes that allow a provider to leave a community high and dry, with no telephone service, starting in 2017. That's just over 3 years from now.

So you'll ask – I use cellphones and use Comcast for internet – how does this apply to me?

First – there are thousands of people that will continue to need, and desire landline service. And businesses aren't going to switch away from landline phone service to cell phones. And AT&T has no desire to cede this business to a competitor, so what's the deal?

Part of this dates back to the last "reform" of the Michigan Telecommunications Act. HB 4314 of 2011 removed many regulatory oversights that protected customers and competitors.

Most of interest today are clauses of HB4314 that:

  • Permit AT&T and other companies to sell, lease, or otherwise transfer assets and sell service to an affiliate below cost,
  • Allow companies to discriminate in favor of an affiliated burglar and fire alarm service over a similar service offered by another provider,
  • Allow AT&T and other phone companies to discontinue service in any area provided with anything resembling a two-way telecommunications service including wireless, radio, or Voice Over IP service. Last year's bill does not permit them to leave customers high and dry, there must be something there that people can use as a substitute instead.

(Have you noticed lately that AT&T through their UVerse brand, and Comcast through their Xfinity brand are offering home security and automation? That was sudden, right? Well – there's a reason. AT&T UVerse and Comcast are not required to provide landline service suitable for use by outside alarm company vendors for their services. And quality requirements are eliminated as well, so if your current alarm system doesn't work right, tough. So now AT&T and Comcast can deliberately impair alarm systems, then sell you their own when they don't work instead of fixing the degradation.)

But more concerning is AT&T's trend of wanting to leave the "landline" business. First it's important to understand that what legislators and lawyers consider a landline, and what you consider a landline are TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THINGS.

A layperson looks at a phone coming out of their wall with a wire attached to it, and says "landline!"

What AT&T wants to eliminate is something very specific:

Telephone service that is:

  • Regulated for price and quality,
  • Offered on nondiscriminatory, consistent and identical terms to everyone in their service area,
  • Is delivered on copper pair,
  • Has dialtone even with no equipment attached inside the customer premises

Do you have uverse? Then you don't have "landline" service – even if you have phone service from them.

You'll note that AT&T speaks a lot about how their "landline" service is losing customers hand over fist, and is highly unprofitable. Guess who they are losing much of their lines to? AT&T.

See where I earlier mentioned 2011's HB4314 "Permits AT&T and other companies to sell, lease, or otherwise transfer assets and sell service to an affiliate below cost"? They are allowed to sell their phone service to themselves at below cost. When you switch from AT&T landline to UVerse, you are "disconnecting your landline". For regulatory purposes, AT&T can claim they lost your services to a competitor. A competitor that the more they sell services to, the more unprofitable their "landline" division becomes. Of course, AT&T doesn't really lose money on the deal, they're just taking the profits from your uverse and allocating them all to their "affiliate" rather than the company actually providing the service. They can show that divison as being artificially profitable, and the landline division as a huge drain on their bottom line.

Now they can say their landline division is losing tons of customers, and costing them a fortune. But hey, our uverse division is doing better than ever!

What does this let them do?

Well, the prices they set to sell wholesale services to competitors are based on the costs of providing service. As are the regulated products they tariff and provide to end users. So now, they can go to public commissions and the FCC and show how despite technical advances and the network being a mostly sunk cost, that expenses of providing service are going up, and they must raise rates to competitors and end users to cover for the massive atrophy the network is experiencing (even as it grows exponentially to handle the load from the supposedly nonexistent customers that ride it).

So okay, what's the big deal, right? What will happen in 2017? What's possible here?

First, it's important to go back to the initial Telecommunications act of 1996 and the Triennial Review and Remand Order of 2002.

TA 1996 created the concept of competitive local exchange carriers, and abolished the legal monopoly that the incumbent carriers enjoyed from the 1870s to 1996. The phone companies were required to share their lines (and service) with competitors under the idea that since numerous tax breaks, subsidies, grants and other instruments were used to fund the network at the public's expense, and because the network grew based on the legal monopoly status that was provided to the carriers, the thought is that while the lines legally belonged to the private carrier, they were fully funded by the ratepayers, and the ratepayers had an interest in the facilities, as they had no other options but to pay the monopoly provider for service. Because the incumbent was provided an unequal footing for over a hundred years, the cost of building a competing network overtop of the current one would be financially unfeasible for any market entrant, because the ILEC could simply leverage the fact their network is mostly bought and paid for, and price the competitive entrant out of the market.

So the ILECs, under many (but not all) circumstances, were required to share their networks with competitive entrants based on TELRIC (Total Element Long Run Incremental Cost) pricing. This (to be brief) says that the cost of the network element, from installation to maintenance over the cost of its lifetime, divided by the number of months in its lifetime, PLUS A REASONABLE PROFIT FOR THE ILEC, shall be the monthly cost of that part of the network.

This creates an entrenched position for the ILEC. The competitors are sharing the costs of providing the line, with installation costs and repair risks amortized over time. You'd think this would be good for both sides, right? Problem was, AT&T and others turned out to be incredibly financially inefficient at offering services. Competitive carriers came in, paid for the costs of dialtone, the local wire going to the house, and a DSLAM (the phone company side of a DSL connection) and blew them out of the water! Some carriers were able to cut the cost of a residential line in half, while still providing broadband services over that line. AT&T was obviously quite displeased.

By 2002, AT&T and Verizon were able to argue that the new entrants were no longer in need of certain services, and should have to construct them themselves to continue offering them. (let's ignore here that the entrants were subsidizing the cost of the ILECs existing equipment, so why should they have to go out and buy new equipment that is unnecessary?).

The Triennial Review and Remand Order (TRRO) eliminated the following services:

  • Use of the long haul fiber network of the incumbent, except in certain limited circumstances
  • Use of the incumbent’s excess phone switch capacity to provide dialtone on the line
  • Use of the local fiber loops installed into the customer premises (if you sold someone fiber, get digging, because you now have to overbuild AT&T to provide it, and quickly!)
    • (Does it suddenly make sense why Verizon rolled out FiOS so quickly in their biggest markets, and then stopped? They did just enough to serve a market need, and destroy competitors in that area. In many states, when they install the fiber, they are allowed to remove the copper phone wiring into the building. This permanently eliminates your ability to get broadband services from a competitive phone provider, as they cannot use the fiber into your house, and must pay exorbitant fees to reinstall the copper cabling into your building, IF they can get the ILEC to do it at all. If you previously had copper to the home, and copper is available nearby, there's a way to get the ILEC to provide copper again under the "brownfield" rule in the TRRO, but they hate doing this and often the technician will try to talk you out of it when they arrive to do the work (which is illegal, violating TA 1996 as well as most interconnection agreements, but it definitely happens anyway)).
    • AT&T, when entering new subdivisions, now typically deploys fiber to the home, but typically only offers the same uverse packages over it that they do to copper customers. Why do they roll out fiber and cripple it like this? Because it doesn't require them to upgrade their network heavily, and it invokes the "greenfield" rule in the TRRO – if the area never had copper before, the ILEC is not required to build copper to satisfy a CLEC order. They used their entrenched market position, and economies of scale to ensure that your only choices would be them and the local cable company, if that. When the ILEC does offer faster speeds in fiber areas, they only do so when the cable company comes in with a higher speed, and they actually have to compete to get your business.
  • Services provided by affiliates do not have to be shared with competitors, including DSL services, and uverse/FiOS.

Is it starting to make sense now?

If you were AT&T, what would you do in 2017?

You'd send a letter to all your traditional customers, informing them they have 90 days to convert services to AT&T UVerse or face disconnection, as AT&T is discontinuing landline services. But don't worry, there's some special 3 year promotional deals where you can keep paying what you're paying now, but get more! Worry not!

You'd send a letter to your CLEC competitors, saying 'nice knowing you! Thanks for your subsidy for so many years. See ya!'. Send letters to all their customers offering special deals to convert them.

In 90 days, you shut off all services that are considered "landline phone service", converting a few holdouts to VoIP or cellular based landline services or whatever you have to do in order to make it happen.

You sell your remaining assets to your uverse affiliate for a dollar, or whatever the legal minimum is. You know how you're complaining about how expensive copper is to maintain? Guess nobody noticed that when you enter a new neighborhood with uverse, you often install a new F2 cable into the area that goes directly to the uverse "VRAD", bypassing existing copper cabling and investing new money in, you guessed it! Copper!

Then you evict the CLECs, and the fiber networks they built through your building (that you forced them to build) as the central office access is only for access to unbundled network elements, and since they're not a phone company anymore, they don't have any unbundled network elements, so get out. Upside is, there's now no credible way to compete with you other than buy a nearby building, build fiber to that, and run cables to all your customers from there.

When there's public outcry, or if it makes things easier for you from a regulatory standpoint, pick a few of your favorite CLECs that don't hurt you too much, and offer them special private contracts under secret terms that let them resell uverse wholesale. Don't worry – as you control the pricing for the product, you can make sure they never devalue the product too much, and don't provide any services that require you to really step up your game, as they'll only be able to provide what you can provide. You can sell this to the legislators as a way that you're "preserving competition".

And now that the local government is irrelevant, you don't have to expend any more money supporting every candidate (strangely, all of the AT&T bills passed in the last 10 years have done so nearly unanimously, across party lines. If you know the Michigan legislature, this is no small feat! It doesn't hurt that AT&T contributes equally and heavily to both sides of the aisle, and because of term limits, every person there has their eye on the next elected office they can hold. Get voted out? No problem, there's plenty of lobbying positions and think tanks who could use someone with your wisdom and experience! You'll land on your feet!). Think of the cost savings!

(You're thinking – but there's still a phone switch in Michigan, right? So the call doesn't cross state lines! – hah! AT&T placed their uverse switching systems in Pennsylvania, where they're not a local provider. So all calls, even down the street, are interstate in nature and regulated by the FCC and federal law. And Pennsylvania has no reason to regulate them, as it's just a pile of servers and switches that connect to other states.)

So okay, this is all well and good. I hate government regulations! Why should I care?

Well, it's simple. AT&T just effectively eliminated all competition except the cable company. They also are eliminating wholesale services used by Sprint and T-Mobile to connect their cell towers to the network. See CLECAM13-099 as an example of the changes they're making to eliminate DS1/DS3/OC-3/OC-12/OC-48/OC-192 service around the same time by removing the ability to sign contracts that go past this target date. Who uses these? CLECs do, to some extent, but wireless/cellular companies use them more heavily. If you think that this change is for Sprint and T-Mobile's own good, I have some DS3s I'd like to sell you. Don't worry – you'll still be able to get them – at a private market based contract rate that AT&T can more or less negotiate unilaterally, as there's no effective competition to many areas where towers are at.

When AT&T only has to compete with Comcast, and it's unaffordable for Sprint and T-Mobile to put oodles of bandwidth to their towers (don't worry, AT&T and Verizon each own massive fiber networks (that they'll probably pay $1 to themselves for), and can work out capacity trades to make sure that each has cheap access to their networks outside their ILEC footprints!) – how do you think that will work out for you as the consumer?

There's a reason why Comcast has been speaking to the Senate and House in favor of this "modernization" – AT&T is eliminating Comcast's competitors too!

Even if you and your neighbors don't use competitive services, you benefit strongly by their existence. Even if they're not available in your area, they could be if your existing providers upped your rates enough where it made sense for the competitor to swoop in and try to undercut them. Usually your prices are not based on the cost of providing service, they're based on what the other providers will charge for similar services, and if they keep the prices just low enough to keep other competitors out of the market, you benefit. So you should definitely care.

A helpful guide to my elementary school

So I wanted to write a piece for Autistics Speaking Day. I wrote this blog post that was well over 2100 words, and spoke to the idea of making sure that if a child is different, don't be their first bully. It went far deeper into things than I really feel comfortable talking about in public (not so much about my parents, who despite their faults are/were generally okay, but more about the absolutely hellish experience I had in elementary school – kindergarden through 6th grade. It spoke about involuntary restraint, seclusion, bullying (just about as much by the adults and the system as the kids), acting out violently, and wandering.)

I decided instead to publish this. I drew a helpful map of my old elementary school for non-typical children like I was, so they can easily navigate their days like I was able to. It's not really comprehensive, but it's a start.

A helpful guide to my elementary school

(Needless to say, I know exactly what to be hyper vigilant for as my child goes through school. And I know that my child's school nowadays has acceptable procedures for handling many of the issues I dealt with as a kid.)

The difference 2 words make

 

 

 

For the past nearly 10 years, I've been patiently waiting for a single event to happen. In November 2003, a ton of my personal belongings walked out the door of my apartment. I was told to forget about them forever. That the government would find a way to keep them, destroy them, or auction them.

I made it my personal goal to get that equipment back. I didn't have a lot of resources to fight that battle, and I still don't. Lawyers cost tons of money, far more than the equipment could ever be worth. But what walked out that day wasn't just a pile of equipment. It was 100% of my personal data I had ever collected, EVER, in the time I had computers. In that collection is floppy disks, hard drives, zip disks, DAT tapes, basically everything I had ever done from the time I first laid hands on a keyboard (or video camera, as they took all my VHS-C and SVHS tapes with raw footage on them too). I never really shot analog, so every photo I had ever taken, from my Polaroid PDC 640 onward, gone. I think I even have webcam shots, and pictures from our school's Sony Mavica in this pile of computers. Tons of scanned photos that were taken by others, from my first flatbed scanner.

Logs from some of the first BBSes I ever connected to. Some of the first programs I ever wrote.

And what they told me on that November day, is that all of this was gone forever. Even the stuff I wrote the week before. Back then we didn't have a cloud like you kids have nowadays. We had a garden hose and a sprinkler, and we got our rainbows that way, and we liked it… But seriously. If you woke up and someone said "all your stuff is stolen. We know where it is, but you'll never see it again. You need to let go and start over…."

Sure, you're thinking – why didn't you back it up? I did. On all the media that went out the door with it. DVD-RW, gone. DAT backups? gone. If it plugged into the wall, or stored a magnetic charge, it was fair game. They took my dreamcast games, for crying out loud.

So for years, I've been bugging the FBI any way I know how to find out where my belongings are, so I can go back and get them. For years, I'd get bounced around. I'd get referred to people who couldn't help. Irritated, I filed a FOIA/PA request, hoping to find any information about the whereabouts of my belongings (among other things). I was dismayed to find no information about the whereabouts of my belongings in the files.

But obviously it triggered something. I filed the request in July of 2012, and the response was (after a month of research time), well… literally stating that my FBI file was larger than the Bible. I got several CDROMs, which had interesting information (including the fact that they unsuccessfully continued to attempt to indict me for other crimes (I also did not commit) until 2009 with a standing grand jury. Yes, they had continued to fight to prosecute me for over 6 years afterward.). But nothing at all about the seizure except some notes they took during the raid.

I got my last CD from them in late December of 2012. In February 2013, I get a very upset call from Becky. "An FBI agent just left me a voicemail, he's looking for *YOU AND ME!* He didn't say why.". Obviously I immediately backed up a copy of everything I had offsite, then grabbed my phone and called the agent back, expecting the worst. … "I have some items we're looking to return to you. I need you to fill out some forms."

I don't have to tell you at this point my jaw just about hit the floor.

He went on to tell me about all these computers they found in a warehouse. Ones that belonged to me, from a case in 2003. I told him where to send the paperwork.

I get the letters a bit later, and my heart sank. They were authorization to return my computers, CONDITIONAL ON MY CONSENT TO WIPE THE DRIVES.

Because what I really want is the kind of computer I could afford in 2003, with no data on it. Yeahhhhhh.

It had a 30 day deadline. I redlined the sections providing consent to wipe the drives, initialed them and signed them, and sent them to the agent.

He calls and explains policy, and procedure. Tells me how lucky I am since "they don't have to return anything, according to my plea bargain"

I start to grin. Here's the turning point in that conversation.

Me: "Actually, according to my plea bargain, there's only one computer you don't have to return. The rest, I'm constitutionally entitled to due process to receive."

Agent: "Plea bargains always contain a forfeiture clause. It states we can dispose of the seized items however we like. We just like to give the opportunity to return them."

Me: "Mine, you'll find, is worded differently. The change is subtle, but important. Can you pull mine up, and read the first sentence of the forfeiture clause to me?"

Agent: "'The defendant forfeits and otherwise waives any ownership right in all items involved in the acts alleged in the Bill of Information or Bill of Indictment.' Now see, I told you…"

Me: "Read Adam's Forfeiture clause. His is the boilerplate one. He had much bigger fish to fry than I did."

Agent: "*murmering to himself as he read it, tried to compare it*. 'I don't see the difference here.'."

Me: "I'll fax over a copy for your review, so you can see the difference. This was specifically negotiated, and I should be able to enforce it in court."

Agent: "I'm just trying to do my job, and close this case out."

Me: "I understand that, but I had a deal with the US government, and they can't try to get out of their obligations under the agreement just because they're inconvenient 10 years later. This is a written and enforceable contract, and this was an inseparable part of the deal. I can't go and un-serve probation, and the government can't change their mind after the fact"

Agent: "If you can fax me the highlighted sections, I'll run this by my boss."

Me: "No problem, I'm hitting send on the fax right now. Talk to you soon!"

My lawyer thought I was crazy for worrying about this, but I demanded a 2 word change in the plea bargain. The prosecutor was anxious to close the deal, and figured it was a very minor change, he assured me it 'only changed the wording, as I'd get back anything not used in the crime anyway'. I knew otherwise.

Adam's forfeiture language
Adam's forfeiture language
My forfeiture language
My forfeiture language

Suddenly, the change is clear, isn't it? The court only had the right to dispose of one computer – the laptop used to connect to the Lowe's network to check my email.

Small problem for them – They never bothered doing forensics on any of my data.

The FBI agent calls back a few days later, says this is all well and good, but there's over 40 hard drives and do I really expect them to do forensics on the drives to determine what was used in the crime and what wasn't? ABSOLUTELY. I offered to tell them the serial number of the laptop used to connect to the wifi, to let them wipe that, but they stated they couldn't just take my word for it.

Then, I said, they'd better dust off their copies of encase, and get to work. Because "it'd look stupid if you had to tell a judge you didn't want to honor my civil rights because it's really hard, and time consuming, but not important enough to do over the past 10 years we've had the data"

I didn't hear from them for a few months. I figured they were mulling their options.

…3 months later…

A very upset call from Fedex to my cell phone. Apparently I missed a dropoff. And the items were very, very large. And they were not pleased about that.

"Where are the items shipping from?"

"US Department of Justice, Western District of North Carolina…. Sounds like these are important, huh?"

"That's an understatement. My wife was at an appointment, she'll be home all day tomorrow. Can you reattempt delivery then?"

"Sure. Thanks for choosing FedEx!"

I got a call from Becky the next day. Apparently, the packages were too large for the FedEx delivery driver to carry himself. Becky had to help unload and carry them. Inside, were hundreds of pounds of equipment, paperwork, videotapes, CDs, … everything. Untouched.

Over the last month, I've been firing up machines one by one, and finding to my amazement that after a decade in storage, 100% of the data was intact and recoverable. I haven't gotten to the floppy disks yet, but my Kryoflux controller should make short work of that. Then my professional grade editing SVHS deck should make viewing the videotapes a snap.

I leave you with a celebratory posting of the oldest photo I can find of myself – this is from October of 2000, on my last day at Isiah.com before they went out of business. I looked like a dweeb back then.

paul n richard

Craft Herpes

So today Becky was trying to make some sensory bottles (as featured on MamaOT's blog here). I attempted to provide assistance in my usual ways, contributing useful advice like 'the easiest way to remove the label is WD-40, don't waste your time with scrubbers and soap, that won't work, you need a solvent'. And then material assistance in spraying them down with WD-40 outdoors. (insert regrets for opening my fat mouth here).

So when we got home tonight, Becky showed me an attempt at an earlier bottle showing the glue and glitter (or as it's known around here, "craft herpes" as it is easily spread, and tends to leave a very obvious visible sign of infection, and is incurable/irremovable). It had clumped together in this horrid goopy ball. As I'm in "problem solver" mode, rather than simply share the feeling of failure and reassure her that "next time it'll go right", I leapt into action doing what anyone would do, trying to break up the clump. After shaking it like a madman, I opened the lid and jammed my finger into the bottle.

Now, if you're sane, you're thinking "WHY IN GOD'S NAME DID YOU JAM YOUR FINGER INTO A WATER BOTTLE FULL OF GLITTER AND GLUE?". And if you know me, the answer is of course "Because Paul".

And when my finger ended up glued inside the neck of the bottle, because well, glue, I did what any normal person would do under the circumstances – panic and try to get my finger out by any means necessary. Which, because Paul, ends up meaning "covering myself, and my laptop in sticky glitter".

Then when trying to figure out the mystery of why ours was less awesome than the OT's bottles, I asked Becky to hand me the glue to make my own attempt. It too clumped (though I did not yet put in glitter). That's when I saw the glue – "Craft Glue"… "Waterproof"…. Water and hydrophobic glue don't mix. And of course, because I poured it out into the sink, there was a huge glob of hardening glue stuck to the sink. I managed to get a majority of that cleaned up, at least, and thankfully it didn't go down the drain.

"F* you, man"

This weekend, I was at Eastern Market, I was approached while enjoying an orange with my son and uncle by a guy. This happens all the time in eastern market, there's always someone circulating a petition for one reason or another.

So anyway, this guy interrupts our orange related bliss to talk about linking liquor licenses to not having expired food on the shelves, if the liquor store also sells food.

I stated I thought liquor licenses were stupid anyway, and didn't like how complicated they already are, and how they shouldn't pass laws making them more complex, and frankly, I don't understand why we require a special license to sell alcohol at all.

He agreed (!) saying that he didn't like liquor licenses either. So I asked him why he was making an already generally absurd process even more complex, especially since selling expired food is already a health department violation, and this really adds nothing but complexity to a process I already didn't support.

He explains how it would just force people to carry fresh food. I asked how, since they already were in violation of the law and they did not care. And again, that I didn't like that a special permit is required to sell alcohol.

So he started getting agitated with me about it, and I broke it down for him:

"You want me to support making a license I think should be abolished specifically because the rules surrounding them are already onerous and often absurd MORE COMPLICATED, in order to stop people who are violating the law by creating an additional law that they'd be breaking.". Then I just stare at him.

He walks past me and screams "F*** you, man" in front of me and my kid. I yelled "stay classy" as he walked away.

Am I missing something, or was that guy just crazy?

Autism screening paperwork

Now we've got the 16 page medical history form, and the 40 question social communication questionnaire out of the way, we only have the 12 page questionnaire, and the 100+ question child behavior checklist (actually visible at http://www.aseba.org/forms/preschoolcbcl.pdf ) to fill out before we can schedule the autism screening at Henry Ford's Autism center.

I don't know who they're testing at this point – him or us. I swear some of them are just to make us feel forgetful or senile. "At what age did your child first walk?". The questions are always thought provoking and remind us the ways he's different from other kids, as many of them besides the speech delay are subtle. But they're interesting nonetheless.

"If you come into a room and start talking to him without calling his name, does he usually look up and pay attention to you?" "no"

"Does he ever use odd phrases or say the same thing over and over in almost exactly the same way (either phrases that he hears other people use, or ones that he makes up)?" "yes"

"Does he ever have complicated movements of his whole body, such as spinning or repeatedly bouncing up and down" "yes" (they don't have a "basically constantly" option)

The master plan to be debt free is coming into place…

Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don't fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.
— Jim Rohn

Sometimes it's harder to be honest with yourself, than it is to be with others.

Ever since 18, when I began living independently, I learned a lot about putting myself in financial peril the hard way. Between numerous (likely actionable) missteps by employers when compensating me in my earlier years, misuse of credit, failure to plan ahead for my savings, failure to pay my bills timely, failure to stay organized, failure to file taxes timely and keep proper accountings of things, and unexpected expenses, I've put myself in quite a perilous place.

I make more myself than the average income of my neighborhood. But a few months ago, I was so far behind on my bills I was struggling to keep the lights on, and was only weeks from foreclosure. I didn't want to talk about it. I still don't. You write hardship letters to banks, and you don't know what to say. It's not like I lost an arm in a machine shop and lost my income, I made a ton of poor choices, poor organizational planning, and didn't keep track of what bills I was paying and when they were due. I was often a month behind on all my bills. I had only $500 in savings. When unexpected expenses came up, no way I was going further in debt, but I always thought "I can pay this, I have money in the bank!" and then a week later, I was all "oh crap, I forgot to pay DTE. That's why my power just went out.".. yeah.

2 years ago I locked all my revolving credit cards except a small $300 limit one for emergencies in a firesafe. I haven't touched them since. I cut my debts in half by focusing my efforts on paying those down as aggressively as possible. But I wasn't keeping track of things well, and more than a few times got more aggressive than I should have, and put money toward debt retirement I should have put toward normal bills. Obviously this was an untenable plan. I sat down and realized if I didn't put some serious math toward things and figure out a plan, I'd lose everything I worked for, and worst – continue to work my ass off and have nothing to show for it. I'd get massive bonuses, and dump them into paying bills.

I realized between jacked up penalty interest rates as high as 30% on balances as high as $5,000, and late fees, that my previously affordable plans had become a massive mess of unpayable penalties. I was getting kicked when I was down from every possible direction, and was liable every month for more than I made, despite the plans being affordable only months before. When you fail to pay one card, all the other cards take notice. They crank your limits down, they jack up your interest, and when you pay late on them, WHAM, 15% revolving interest just became 30%. Your budget to pay this card off in 3 years? No longer makes the monthly minimum payment anymore, which by the way  now has a $35 late fee.

After putting my head around every bill I was past due on, every revolving credit line I have, and the rare few collections I had, I realized I need a comprehensive plan. And then my car insurance doubled. WTF.

Today I got the fedwire transfer from a massive 401k loan (at 4something% interest). My first impulse when I saw the amount in my bank, combined with my biweekly paycheck, was to run to tijuana and say screw it all. But of course,  my debt will be 100% paid off in 5 years, and I'll save thousands in interest. The money I'm saving will be going directly into savings to cover rainy day funds, and my goal is to build up 3-6 months of pay in buffer money, as the financial folks always recommend.

I know 401k loans can be risky, but I read the risk carefully, and fully understand what I'm doing. By doing this, I've saved literally $500 a month in late fees, excessive interest, and other costs. That will obviously help when it comes to savings. I'm going to leverage the situation to try to refinance my horrid sub-prime 8.25% mortgage (shouldn't be hard, they said I could before if I were caught up in payments (as of tomorrow, I will be current to 4/1/2013 – I am current on mortgage payments on day 1 of the month for the first time in 3 years!) it's not like my debts disappeared, they just all went into one place). I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And esurance cut my insurance rates in half for the same coverage. So there's another $150 a month I can put toward savings. EXCELLENT.

And when I have a buffer, I can safely put all my bills on autopay, and never screw them up again.

Things are coming together nicely! For the first time in 3 years, I'm looking forward to opening quicken, my online banking, and I'm feeling better about answering numbers I don't recognize on my cell phone. My credit score dropped 200 points this year. It's at 550. I have a long ways to go, but I'll get there. I can do this.

Uh wow. The second CD from the FBI arrived today…

Ok, the second CD from the FBI arrived today. I just popped it into the drive and haven't read it yet.

When I guessed there were things beyond the original case in my file, I didn't quite expect the stuff I found.

There's an entire CD they've refused to provide based on a second grand jury investigation I didn't even realize happened.

I'm starting to figure out why they've stalled releasing my stuff back to me. Not that I think it's justified, but their odd responses back in 2005-2006 make more sense in context now. Ugh.

 

More to follow. Sorry it's vague, I haven't even read everything yet.

Recaptcha

So I was commenting on a special needs parent blog, and this new ugly recaptcha variant came up, where it's a crummy picture and a distorted word, and you need to read text from a slanty image of a sign on a building, or whatever. It's pretty awful. So I tried that a few times and gave up, and tried the audio version.

Recaptcha sound

I don't know if any of you can make that out, but I can't. I assume the majority can, or they wouldn't post it. I cannot hear the numbers over the noise at all.

Ultimately, Becky had to help me with a text version to get the comment to post. I think we're starting to hit a wall, where we're taking reverse turing tests so far they assume you have good sensory skills and can handle visual and auditory noise well, or you're not a human. That's a scary world for someone who doesn't.