All that’s wrong with New York’s government

May 23, 2016

This startling story in yesterday’s New York Daily News shows an almost criminal disregard by our Legislature for the taxpayers’ dollar.  It’s another example of how wastefulness or ineptitude by government can turn liberals into conservatives.  Those who would like government to do more ultimately decide that our government should not do more, because it either won’t do the job well or will do it at an unreasonably high cost (some of the overage going to the “corruption tax”).

Consequences of governmental inefficiency are unmet needs, or privatization of traditional government functions. Traditional public education in New York is threatened by charters and alternatives because of its high cost and mediocre results, accountability for which proves elusive.  People vote with their feet and leave the State for places with lower taxes and services that are not appreciably worse than they get here (for example, I can’t think of anywhere, including the deep South, that has roads in worse condition than those in our area).

While people with differing ideologies can and do differ as to the scope of government’s role in our lives, there should be absolutely no disagreement among honest citizens that what government is called upon to do should be done as efficiently and effectively as possible, for the benefit of all, not special interests.  Maybe that is an idea that all citizens can support, putting aside their ideological differences until after it is achieved.

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Switching cell phone carriers – again

May 13, 2016

I have written extensively about my experiences with Verizon and, later, Consumer Cellular.  Both companies provided good service (Consumer Cellular, I am told, runs off the AT&T network; Verizon has its own network).  When I switched to Consumer Cellular, I bought myself an unlocked GSM phone, noting at the time it would allow me to switch carriers if things didn’t work out.

After my initial disappointment with Consumer Cellular’s less than transparent disclosure of the optional fees it chose to impose, I was basically a satisfied customer.  Consumer Cellular’s model is to have tiered voice and data/text plans that charge different rates for different levels of use.  Customers can change plans at will, even retroactively, within each billing period.  Thus, if you go over your voice minutes or data use, you can step up to a higher plan after the fact, as long as your billing period hasn’t expired.  Consumer Cellular helps with usage alerts and an app that lets you monitor your usage, though accurate totals often take hours or days to show up, which can cause a problem if your cumulative usage approaches you plan limit near the end of your billing period.

The problem for me was not so much on the voice end (I usually stayed within the 250 minute plan, with minutes being charged on every incoming or outgoing call, regardless of day or time).  Data allowances were very low, however, and if you went over 150 mb per month, you would end up paying over $30 per month with taxes and fees.  While staying within plans that cost under $30 per month usually was possible for me, I found I was worrying about usage more than I should, and not using my phone in situations where using it would be more convenient for me.

I therefore started looking at other carriers.  Not a major data user (as a result of having to monitor my use as a Consumer Cellular customer), and seeing that most plans now offer unlimited talk and text, I considered two carriers — MetroPCS, which offers a $30 plan with one gigabyte of data, and Cricket, which offers a $40 plan (which can be reduced to $35 with auto-pay enrollment) with 2.5 g of data.  The prices for both plans include all taxes and fees, and there are no extra charges if you go over your data limit — instead, you get “throttled” down to dial-up speeds for the rest of the billing period.

In part because I was satisfied with AT&T’s service while I was a Consumer Cellular customer (MetroPCS runs on the T-Mobile network), and in part because of the higher data allowance, I opted to try Cricket.  I saw on the web site a $50 offer for new customers (that would offset the cost of a new SIM card and activation) and stopped in at my local retailer to talk.  That retailer told me it could not honor the $50 offer; and it directed me to one of the stores that could.  There, I was told that my Consumer Cellular number was “owned” by AT&T, which owns Cricket, and as to which the offer did not apply. However, he offered me a $20 rebate available to AARP members, of which I am one.  I decided to take the plunge.

The switch over (“porting” in industry lingo) took a few hours, and everything worked after the process was complete.  I would rate the process as relatively painless.

So far, my experience with Cricket has been good.  I’ve had no operational or coverage issues at all.  I still have my phone set to use wi fi by default, and see no problem staying well within the 2.5 g monthly data allowance.

One nice feature Cricket offers is unlimited talk, data and texting in Canada and Mexico on higher priced plans.  The Cricket sales rep told me it was easy to temporarily switch plans, and I may give it a try when I take a planned trip to Canada later this summer.

 


Albany bike path update

May 1, 2016

Yesterday, I rode on the Albany County bike path from its beginning on South Pearl St., and I was pleased to find that its western end had been extended from central Delmar (behind the Stewart’s on Delaware Ave.) to New Scotland Avenue in Slingerlands, almost doubling its length.  On a beautiful Saturday, a lot of people were using the trail for walking and riding.  This type of project always gets a lot of use, and it makes surrounding properties, residential and commercial, more valuable.  It’s a low-cost, high-yield investment for government, that pays off in better health for citizens enjoying expanded recreational opportunities, as well as financially.  I hope the rest of the path opens  while the weather is still good, and I hope local governments throughout the region decide to make similar investments.