Fusion to buy privately held Birch’s cloud, business services unit

By Liana B. Baker (Reuters) - Fusion Telecommunications International Inc plans to buy the cloud and business services unit of Birch Communications in an all-stock deal that it said would broaden its customer base. Fusion shares rose 70 percent to $2.09 on Monday on news of the deal, which would form one of the largest North American cloud services providers, with more than 150,000 business customers, 30 data centers and 31,000 miles of fiber network. Fusion's management will run the combined company. However, private equity firm Birch Equity Partners LLC, Birch's majority owner, will get 75 percent of the new company, while Fusion shareholders will have only 25 percent. Together, the company expects annual revenue of $575 million. The deal is the latest example of consolidation in the business communications sector as smaller vendors like Fusion try to lure enterprise customers from larger companies such as AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc by offering integrated voice, data and cloud services. Last year CenturyLink Inc announced plans to buy Level 3 Communications Inc for $24 billion. The deal is still awaiting regulatory clearance. "We are picking up a much broader set of customers," said Fusion Chief Executive Officer Matthew Rosen, who will become the combined company's chairman. "We'll be able to cross-sell and upsell everything from contact center software to storage, disaster recovery and other cloud solutions." The deal does not include Birch's less-profitable business of providing communications services to consumers. Birch Equity and other Birch shareholders will get about 73 million Fusion shares that the companies said would be worth $3.85 each, or about $281 million in total. That would be a premium of more than 200 percent to Fusion's closing price on Friday. Fusion has agreed to assume Birch's existing debt of about $458 million. It will refinance that along with its own debt of about $101 million. "We Continue Reading

Verizon strike: Unions say it’s happening

Nearly 40,000 Verizon workers will walk off the job at 6 a.m. Wednesday, two unions said Tuesday night.It includes about 5,000 workers, represented by the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, in New Jersey."Our families and our customers deserve more from Verizon," said Isaac Collazo, a technician and CWA member from Brooklyn in a statement Tuesday evening. "Through our hard work, Verizon is making record profits while our families are left with threats to our jobs and our customers aren't getting the service they need." PREVIOUSLY: Verizon unions announce strike dateUnion officials have said the strike would affect customers as well, delaying repairs and service orders. On Tuesday, Verizon said the company was ready."Let's make it clear – we are ready for a strike," said Bob Mudge, president of Verizon's wireline network operations, in a statement.  "With any sort of job action or disruption to our business, our primary goal is to ensure our customers can count on the critical communications services that they pay for and we provide. I want them to know that will happen." MORE: Behind-the-scenes look at how Verizon tests smartphonesEarlier Tuesday, Verizon said it was willing to accept mediation by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service if the union moved the strike deadline.The contract with Verizon's union workforce expired on Aug. 1. Ten months worth of negotiations have resulted in both sides being far apart, the unions said.The unions' issues include company efforts to contract out work to the Philippines, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, customer service calls that originate in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states; outsourcing line work, including installing and maintaining telephone poles, to contractors; closing call centers; and assigning wireline technicians to out-of-state work for as long as two months at a time. Verizon also has refused to negotiate Continue Reading

Verizon strike: How will customers be affected?

For Verizon employee Stephen Gruver, the sole breadwinner for his Beachwood family, the decision to go on strike and walk the picket line outside his office in Hamilton was not easy."With a one-income family that I live in, it's everything," Gruver said. "But you have to stand up for your principles, you have to stand up for your rights. I'm not just talking the talk. We're all walking the walk."Gruver, a technical support worker in the Fios call center, was one of thousands of employees who hit the picket lines shortly before daybreak Wednesday morning, frustrated over the lack of a contract after 10 months of negotiations. READ: Verizon strike happening, unions sayThe strike affects nearly 40,000 Verizon workers who are members of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, including about 5,000 in New Jersey.How will customers be affected? It depends on how long the strike lasts, says one analyst."You've got people who aren't used to doing jobs either at all or in recent history who are now doing jobs that they don't do on a daily basis," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research in Utah. "In some cases, they are going to do those jobs less well. In other cases, there are going to be certain things that they just can't do at all." MORE: Verizon: Dumping copper for fiber is bestFewer people in certain roles "could potentially be disruptive over time," he said. It could mean longer times on hold for customers, outages that take longer to fix or services that takes longer to install, Dawson said.Verizon said it has trained nonunion employees from other parts of the company to fill in for the tasks of striking workers. Those jobs include handling customer inquiries, inside and outside network plant management, fiber and copper network maintenance and repair, both on the ground and on poles."We remain fully prepared to handle any work stoppage so that our Continue Reading

Readers sound off on dropping the ball on New Year’s Eve and Gov. Cuomo’s Aqueduct convention center

They really dropped the ball on New Year’s Eve Howard Beach: What has happenened to American pride? All the service men and women returning, and not one could push the button to drop the New Year’s ball? What a disgrace to New York and the world. Rochelle G. Cohen On gov’s conventional wisdom Brooklyn : Gov. Cuomo wants to put the biggest convention center in the U.S.A. and a casino at the Aqueduct Racetrack site. I hope he also plans on making the Belt Parkway the biggest highway in the U.S.A. There is no way it can handle that kind of traffic in its current condition. Christopher Burner West Haverstraw, N.Y. : Great idea, Gov. Cuomo, replacing the Javits Center. I just wish you had thought of it before piddling away millions of dollars on the Javits Center “expansion.” William B. O’Leary Brooklyn : I applaud Gov. Cuomo’s plan to build the biggest and best” convention center in the city (even though Queens is out of the way for a lot of us). But I take issue with his choice of Genting, a Malaysian company with a New York branch, as developer. Surely there must be an American company that can handle this project. Susan A. Cassano Poor performance Brooklyn: To Voicer Kenneth Kucinskas: Is it possible that Gov. Cuomo understands the poor financial situation we are in? Absolutely not. He has only aspirations for President and will do whatever he can to appeal to voters. He’ll give struggling people hope of becoming wealthy by gambling. Most casino visitors are working poor and elderly hoping for an impossibly lucky break, and casinos increase the risk of overindebtedness, credit delinquency and bankruptcy. Eddie Watson Punctuation nation East Northport, L.I.: Why do we have to hyphenate our Americanism? I’m proud to be an American, no matter what my ethnic background. Glenn Abby Garvin Basket cases Brooklyn: City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer is adding litter baskets in Queens. Continue Reading

At CTIA, smaller phone vendors take center stage

LAS VEGAS — A celebrity got more coverage than any wireless carrier or phone manufacturer at the wireless industry's trade show.Verizon Wireless's welcoming Jennifer Lopez on stage Wednesday to announce a marketing deal with the singer, actress and businesswoman's new Viva Móvil phone retail chain came after two days of little to no news at CTIA 2013 from it, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile and the companies that make most of their phones: Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC and so on.Apple doesn't exhibit at other people's conventions, but the other companies scaled back their presence to near-invisibility at the final spring CTIA show — starting next year, the Washington trade association of the same name will run one big show in the fall instead of two a year.In other words, the giants left the field to the midgets.And some of them had news as interesting as Lopez's venture into phone retail, through which Verizon hopes to win the business of more Latino customers.For instance, while the big-name phone vendors introduced this season's crop of phones at February's Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona or in smaller events since, some smaller ones elected to unveil noteworthy, cheaper models here.Kyocera Wireless, which has been trying to revive itself after a few years of decline with ruggedized phones, showed up with two new waterproof Android models: the Hydro Edge and the Hydro XTRM (pronounced "Extreme"); the latter goes on sale at US Cellular on Thursday.Coolpad, a Chinese manufacturer trying to get into the U.S. market, had the Quattro II 4G, an Android phone due to arrive at the pre-paid carrier C Spire. The sales pitch here is a larger screen, at 4.5 inches, at about the same price as lesser phones.Why worry about the cost of a phone when most major carriers subsidize the price? Beyond T-Mobile's switch to unsubsidized pricing, most of the even-cheaper services reselling the big four expect you to bring your own phone or pay a price they didn't chip Continue Reading

Verizon strike impacts Delaware businesses

When customers call Fortunata's Bakery in Milford, they go directly to voice mail.Owner Ruth Clifton said she has to use her personal cell phone to return calls because Verizon Wireless hasn’t been able to install equipment for a month."The strike must is definitely working," Clifton said. "It must be hurting Verizon. I think they don't know quite what to do."Verizon landline and cable employees, including those in Delaware, on April 13 went on strike over concerns about reduced benefits and outsourced jobs.Delaware workers representing Communication Workers of America locals 13100 and 13101 have been picketing outside Verizon retail locations on Concord Pike, Churchmans Road and Kirkwood Highway. Protests also have targeted Verizon call centers throughout the state.Richard Young, a Verizon spokesman, said he was unfamiliar with Clifton's case, but did concede the company has had hiccups transitioning into a staff of 20,000 replacement employees while nearly 40,000 workers are on strike across the U.S."Will I say there have been no problems?" Young said. "Absolutely not. Our employees with 20 years of experience have more experience than those who are on the job for a month. Considering what we are dealing with, we are pleased the number of complaints is as small as it is."Since the strike, Verizon has delayed installations to better meet existing customer demand, Young said. But for business owners, time is money and delays have added costs to their bottom line.Similar strikes are happening across the East Coast by Verizon workers. The CWA and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in a statement said Verizon has hired more than 5,000 employees outside the United States — primarily in Philippines, Mexico and the Dominican Republic — to handle customer service calls, part of an effort to expand the outsourcing of work to "low-wage, non-union contractors."Verizon officials have said they are Continue Reading

Delaware Verizon workers strike, say 600 jobs at stake

Nearly 40,000 Verizon landline and cable workers on the East Coast – including those in Delaware – went on strike Wednesday morning.In Delaware, workers representing Communications Workers of America Locals 13100 and 13101 picketed outside Verizon locations on Concord Pike, Churchmans Road and Kirkwood Highway. More protests are planned for Thursday with striking workers targeting Verizon call centers throughout Delaware, according to Maria Martin, a 25-year Verizon employee and a member of Local 13101.Martin said the issue for her is protecting jobs in Delaware. She said if Verizon closes call centers in the state, it could cost 50 jobs in southern Delaware and 100 jobs in New Castle County. In addition, she said 300 technicians could also lose their jobs. Those 450 jobs are just for Local 13101. An additional 150 workers at Local 13001 could also lose their jobs, bringing the total job losses in Delaware to nearly 600."Verizon wants to offshore jobs, close call centers in Delaware and send those jobs elsewhere," she said while picketing in front of the Verizon store at 4407 Concord Pike.The last Verizon strike was in 2011 and lasted two weeks.Martin was joined by roughly 25 colleagues beginning at 6 a.m. They were joined later in the morning by New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon."They are fighting the fight for living wages and against outsourcing," Gordon said. "We need to draw a line in the sand."Verizon has hired more than 5,000 employees outside the United States to handle customer service calls, according to a statement by CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The unions allege the overseas workers, including those in the Philippines, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, are part of the company's plan to expand the outsourcing of work to "low-wage, non-union contractors."By closing the call centers, the unions claimed "hundreds of Verizon workers are at risk of losing their Continue Reading

Verizon strike: Union claims ‘big gains’ in deal

With workers on strike for six weeks, Verizon and its unions have reached an "agreement in principle" on a new four-year contract, the U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced Friday afternoon.He said he expects workers will be back on the job next week.“Today, I am pleased to announce that the parties have reached an agreement in principle on a four-year contract, resolving the open issues in the ongoing labor dispute between Verizon’s workers, unions, and management," Perez said in a statement. "The parties are now working to reduce the agreement to writing, after which the proposal will be submitted to CWA and IBEW union members for ratification."Details of the proposed settlement were not available. The proposal will be shared with members in the "immediate days ahead," the IBEW said.In a statement, the Communications Workers of America said striking workers have won "big gains.""After 44 days of the largest strike in recent history, striking CWA members have achieved our major goals of improving working families’ standard of living, creating good union jobs in our communities and achieving a first contract for wireless retail store workers," the union said. The contract for retail workers covers six wireless stores in Brooklyn and one in Everett, Massachusetts. WATCH: Verizon strikers won't back downIn a statement, Verizon said it was "very pleased" with the agreement."The agreement is consistent with our objective of creating high quality American jobs and achieving meaningful changes and enhancements to the contracts that will better enable our wireline business unit to compete and succeed in the digital world," said Marc Reed, Verizon’s chief administrative officer. "In the meantime, we look forward to having all of our employees soon back at work in their regular positions and doing what they do best – serving our customers.”Nearly 40,000 workers, including 4,600 in New Jersey, walked off the job April Continue Reading

Former Brooklyn small business owners: rezoning pushed us out

downtown Brooklyn for more office space have come at the expense of small business owners, a new survey found.The study by Urban Justice Center and Families United for Racial and Economic Equality reported 57% of the businesses have moved or been forced to close.The report takes aim at the city's 2004 rezoning, noting it upped real estate prices and encouraged developers to build higher at the expense of local residents and minorities."The displacement is so severe here," said Harvey Epstein of the Urban Justice Center, who called on the city to set aside loans and grants for small businesses as was done when Williamsburg and Greenpoint were rezoned. "It's not like it happened on its own....This is after the city took direct action to rezone this community." Officials defended the city's efforts to improve the area."Downtown Brooklyn is one of the fastest growing urban centers in America," said Joe Chan, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. "The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership [works] to connect small business owners with available resources and appropriate service providers."Maisha Morales was lucky enough to find new retail space for Gallery Religious Supplies last year, after she was booted from Albee Square Mall, but it came at a price. Her rent tripled."When so many people were evicted from the mall, you had so many people trying to reach out and find the nearest location, so landlords took advantage," said Morales, 35, who lives in Fort Greene.Morales started working for the store in college and bought the shop in 2001. She built up the business and had started to negotiate a 20-year lease in the mall when it was sold.In the last year she spent $120,000 - all of her savings and some of her parents' retirement funds. Morales recently protested her treatment (right) along with her son, Anthony, 9. Moving has been a hardship, and the city should do more to help small businesses, she said."It's not easy for a business to get up and leave," she said. "I've Continue Reading


A BUSY VERIZON call center in downtown Jamaica is about to get even busier. Right now, the call center services the needs of customers whose native language is Chinese, Korean or Russian. The service area it covers includes Metro New York, New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia and West Virginia. That will change, however, when Verizon expands the call center's service area to include the entire East Coast. Located in a second-floor office at 164th St. and Hillside Ave., the center has 40 representatives to deal with Chinese-speaking customers, center manager Lena Yu said. It is also staffed with 30 people to help those who prefer to speak Russian and another 11 for Korean speakers. The big push, Verizon officials concede, is to handle the needs of Chinese customers. Sales representatives who speak Mandarin and Cantonese dialects will help place orders for Verizon products and services, provide information and answer questions. Meanwhile, the company is also continuing to provide customers with in-language sales representatives who speak Spanish, Russian, Korean and Vietnamese. "Verizon is committed to serving all of our diverse customers," said Clare Fang, group manager for multicultural marketing for Verizon. "We understand that some times it's just easier to conduct business in your own language," Fang said. At the Jamaica office, Verizon is looking to hire about 12 new Korean representatives, said Yu. "We are looking for people who are fluent in both English and their native language," said Yu, who lives in nearby Flushing. "We mainly conduct our business in English so therefore whenever we communicate or do any type of training it is always conducted in English," said Yu, who has worked in the Jamaica call center for 10 years. "But in dealing with the customer it is different." She says many customers are interested in Verizon's FiOS TV, which delivers hundreds Continue Reading